Why Biblical Languages Are a Seminary Priority

I was once a young and zealous seminary student. Every class I took was considered through the lense of “How can this help me on the streets.” I experienced the significant dissonance between academic approaches to the Bible, church history, doctrine, apologetics, etc. My initial response was, “Who needs this?”

This knee-jerk response was unhelpful in two ways. First, the mind does need to be trained, even in areas one considers unimportant at the time. Second, if evangelistically-minded students shun higher academia as unnecessary or unimportant, then they will not funnel-up to replenish the ranks of Bible commentators, church historians, and theologians who train up future generations of students.

I once complained to my father about having to take Greek in seminary. He responded to me somewhat sarcastically, “Then why not go to this other school instead!”

At the time, I did not understand the importance of the study of biblical Greek. It did not cross my mind the depth of the Word of God that can never be fully translated into the English language. My feeling at the time was, “We have the Great Commission. What are we waiting for?”

Now, more than 30 years after having received a Master of Divinity, I view things very differently. For example, consider the power and impact of Moses’ polytheistic education in Egypt:

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22.

Here are some thoughts that may benefit the current seminary student who has an evangelistic heart.

First, keep and nurture an evangelistic heart. Do not let your passion die. Plan into your schedule weekly times of initiative evangelism. A heart for the lost can easily become static or stagnant. Plan weekly opportunities for eye-to-eye contact with lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel.

Second, do not underestimate the importance and power of a deep knowledge of the biblical languages. Without a knowledge of the biblical text, verses that encourage evangelism or clearly affirm the gospel can be changed without your knowing it. For example, evangelistically important verses are often the first to be altered in Bible translations.

When Jesus sent out His disciples in evangelism, He told them to be careful:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.

We may too easily be “gentle as doves” without first being “wise as serpents.” In order to remain vigilant for biblical evangelism, depth of education is crucial.

Third, consider that evangelism and evangelists are often framed out of many topics of study. Whether these omissions are purposeful or unintentional, I will let the reader decide. In order to maintain a Great Commission approach in every subject, the student will need to intentionally seek it out and sometimes reinject it into the topic—if it is difficult to ascertain. This last step must be done with humility and gentleness, just as Jesus stated, in one’s own private study of the topic at hand.

As to evangelism and evangelists in church history, in the study of doctrine, and in ecclesiology. The Great Commission is always there—if Christ is truly Lord of His church. The words of Christ have always been obeyed by some in every generation!

Lastly, don’t give up on the Christian higher education that a seminary provides. The topics taught in seminary are crucial and valid. Especially fall in love with the biblical languages and with every word in the Bible. Become a servant of the Word of God—allow the words of the Word to rule over you. If you do that, then everything else will fall into its proper place, including proper obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

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The Problem of Dull Swords

I awoke this morning startled. My mind was thinking of a former student preparing to go to the mission field. I thought to myself, it’s good that he doesn’t need to translate the Scriptures before he gets there. He can build on the work of those that have gone before him. Evangelical missionaries have been translating the Scriptures since the eight translations made by William Carey in India at the beginning of the Great Century of Protestant Missions.

But then I thought about the Scriptures that are now available. Who controls the armament? And this woke me up with a start. Have Evangelicals turned over control of the armament to those who would dull the blade? To better understand the context of this question that woke me up with a start, a brief explanation is needed.

The Bible of the Protestant Reformation

Possibly or likely the greatest gift given by Martin Luther to the Protestant Reformation was a return to the text and authority of Holy Scriptures. The reader may ask, “What was the authority in the Western State Church prior to the Protestant Reformation?” It was:

  • Scripture + Tradition, or in actuality,
  • Tradition + Scripture.

Before the Protestant Reformation the Scriptures available to church leaders was only the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate, dated back to when Damasus, Bishop of Rome, commissioned Jerome to compile an authorized translation of the Bible into Latin in A.D. 383. An example of the doctrinal bias in this translation was his use of the verb “to do” + the noun “penance” to translate the Greek verb “to repent.” The blade of the New Testament was intentionally dulled for doctrinal or catechetical purposes.

The translation of this verb and many others were rectified by the Reformation Bibles translated directly from the Greek. Hence, Tyndale’s translated the verb μετανοέω differently to what was found in the Latin Vulgate:

  • Matthew 3:2 (Douai-Rheims), “And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Matthew 3:3 (Tyndale), “saynge; Repet the kyngdome of heue is at honde.”
  • Matthew 4:17 (Douai-Rheims), “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Matthew 4:17 (Tyndale), “From that tyme Iesus begane to preache and to saye: repet for ye kigdome of heven is at honed”

The 1899 Douai-Rheims was faithfully translated from the text of the Latin Vulgate. It has 69 uses of the word “penance” often with various forms of the verb “to do,” such as “did penance,” “do penance,” “had/have done penance,” etc.

For almost a thousand years the Western church was required to use only the Latin Vulgate in its readings in church, in its studies in schools, and in its development of Christian doctrine. The blade had been dulled. The clarity of “repentance” (for example) had been replaced with the need for the act of “doing penance”— entering the Confessional Booth is the beginning of the Sacrament of Penance to receive absolution from a sin and receive the required penance to complete atonement for that sin.

Fortunately, Luther and his Protestant contemporaries returned the Word of God to its original sharpness on the issue of repentance. The greatest gift of the Protestant Reformation was a sharpened Bible, honed through direct translation from the Greek and Hebrew, as well as loosed from the confusion of the apocryphal books. Since the Protestant Reformation Four Centuries of Protestant scholars have found their highest authority in the words of Bible’s translated from the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Enter 19th Century Secular Biblical Scholarship

In the late 19th Century the flames of secularism were fanned in academic circles. These flames burned in every area of theological studies. Two of the most crucial areas impacted, as far as biblical scholarship, were (1) approaching the Bible as a human book and (2) the question of original language texts.

In considering the Bible to be human, like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, biblical scholars raised their own intellectual abilities above those of the divine author. They reveled in their intellectual abilities to deconstruct the Bible and exhume its mythical elements. These scholars chipped away at the authority of the Bible from the inside out.

Meanwhile a more subtle secularism took hold of biblical scholarship. This renewed field of study deconstructed the original language text of the Bible. Conveniently ignoring that there was a culture of people who always spoke Greek and who had a Church more ancient in succession than was found in any Western Church region, Western Church scholars and their Protestant counterparts became viral to reconstruct a better original language text.

I once asked a New Testament scholar why Erasmus did not leave Bale and travel to Greece to find a full Greek text of the Book of Revelation. Apparently, Erasmus back-translated the Latin text into Greek to fill in gaps when he had no Greek text available to him. The New Testament scholar had no answer for me. Sure, the trip from Basel, Switzerland, to Athens, Greece, is 1,500 miles on today’s roads. But would not that trip be worth it to avoid back-translating from Latin into Greek, especially when establishing a new paradigm for the original language text? Textual criticism chips away at authority from the outside in.

These two fingers of secularism simmered within mainstream Protestant academic circles for about 100 years. Then they finally filtered down into Evangelical academia. It was English-language Evangelicalism that largely controlled (1) the worldwide Bible Society movement and (2) the 19th Century world missionary efforts.

Control of the Armament

The Bible societies had prospered on getting Bible’s into the hands of the common folk through Bible distribution and supporting missionaries who translated the Bible into the languages of the people where they ministered. In the early 20th Century a new kind of missionary emerged. These new ministers were the Wycliffe Bible Translators. They were energized by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. This was a new brand of Bible translators, founded by Cameron Townsend in 1942. They were non-denominational and non-theological. Their translators were “educators” not “missionaries.” They approached Bible translation from a purely secular linguistic approach, and intentionally avoided doctrinal controversies—if that were possible when translating the Bible.

One of the graduates of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Chicago was Eugene Nida. He would end up of playing a significant role in Bible translation on multiple fronts. Nida, and ordained Northern Baptist, joined the American Bible Society in 1943 and became its Executive Secretary for Translations in 1946, a post that he retained for 35 years.

In May 1946 Nida attended the smeeting in Elfinsward, England, when the United Bible Society was formed by joint agreement of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society, the National Bible Society of Scotland, and the Netherlands Bible Society.

In November 1964 was perhaps the most important meetings of Nida. It included Olivier Béguin of the United Bible Society and Augustin Cardinal Bea of Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute and met at Crêt-Bérard, Lausanne, Switzerland. It was at this meeting that Nida sketched out the preliminary form of what became the 1968 “Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible.”

Briefly, these principles guided the United Bible Society’s efforts from 1968 to 1987, deeding oversight of all their original language texts and all their translations as follows:

“C. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a Working Committee, 2. a Review Committee, and 3. a Consultative Group.

“a. Working Committee Consisting of 4 to 6 persons equally divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic constituencies and possessing four essential characteristics:

  1. equal standing,
  2. complementary abilities,
  3. mutual respect, and
  4. capacity to work together.”

The 1968 “Guiding Principles” were revised in 1987 as “Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible the New Revised Edition Rome.” The same section as above was revised to read:

“2.3. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE 

“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a translation team, 2. a review panel, and 3. a consultative group.

“2.3.1. Translation team Consisting of not more than six persons of high competence from the Roman Catholic and other Christian constituencies and possessing four essential characteristics:

  1. comparable qualifications,
  2. complementary abilities,
  3. mutual respect, and
  4. capacity to work together.”

The reader will note the changes in the composition of the Translation Teams according to this document. This author will allow the reader to discern who may now control the weapons cache held by the United Bible Society since 1987.

It may be no surprise that many of the most important “readings” in the UBS Greek text now correspond to those of the Latin Vulgate.

Sharpening the Sword

It almost sounds sacrilegious from an Evangelical point-of-view to consider the need for sharpening the sword of the Word of God. Is not the inherent sharpness of God’s sword self-evident? According to Hebrews 4:12-13 the sword of the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts to the bone and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
Hebrews 4:12-13.

And yet, although this Word is quick and lively, whether it be the Thomas Jefferson Bible, the Jehovah’s Witness “New World Translation,” or the Douai-Rheims Bible, there are Bibles that have been intentionally dulled. And whereas we in the English-speaking world are insulated from the battles of Bible translation in the many languages of the world, we would do well to be aware of what is happening in these many languages and cultures.

So, this morning, as I woke up with a startle, thinking of my former student going out as a missionary, my prayer for him is—that he would be “Wise as a serpent and gentle as dove” (Matthew 10:16). May the Lord lead him to use the best Bible available to reach the hearts of those to whom he will be sent!

Blessed Are the Poor

A common term for persons lacking money is to call them “poor.” Being financially poor generally refers to lacking the essential elements of life: food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus opened His “Sermon on the Mount” using the metaphor of this condition:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)*
*NKJ is used throughout unless otherwise stated.

Understanding the analogy of Jesus is contingent upon being acquainted with economic destitution. Yet Jesus mined deeper ore than mere financial poverty. Jesus added the qualifier “in spirit.” In so doing, Jesus dove from the physical meaning into a spiritual meaning. It is this spiritual meaning that we will consider in this post.

Jesus, the “Son of David,” found the concept of the “poor” used often from the pen of his namesake, King David in the Psalms. King David likewise mined the rich metaphorical meaning in this term. For example, in Psalm 22, he used term “poor” in synonymous parallelism with those who fear the Lord and those who seek Him:

“My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!”
(Psalm 22:25-26)

In Psalm 34, David wrote:

“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.”
(Psalm 34:6-7)

Again, the Psalmist used “those who fear Him” in parallel with “poor man.” This same pattern is often found in the Psalms. In fact, David affirmed his own spiritual destitution:

“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 40:17)
“But I am poor and sorrowful.” (Psalm 69:29)
“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 70:5)
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 86:1)
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 109:22)

It is likely that it would be a mistake to interpret these uses of “poor” as referring only or primarily to physical poverty, since the context clearly denotes a spiritual need—much as Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount.

So when Jesus spoke of “poor in spirit” in the Sermon on the Mount, he had the antecedent of King David speaking of another kind of lack, that being spiritual destitution. Jesus appears to be saying that those who understand their spiritual poverty are blessed, because they willingly submit to the rule of heaven. Or to put it another way, the key to living with a heavenly focus is to understand our spiritual bankruptcy and to be willing to submit to the rule of heaven in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Clearly, the blessing of Jesus was spoken a particular group of people. His blessing was not generalized to all of mankind, but rather to a subgroup of humanity—that is, “the blessed ones.”

The Apostle Paul picked up on the same theme of poverty, but from a different angle. When Paul was explaining the gospel in Romans he underscored that all people are spiritually destitute:

“For there is absolutely no difference: seeing that all have sinned, and are entirely destitute of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:[22]23, 1605 French Geneva, translation mine)

Paul stated that all people are spiritually and morally bankrupt. They all lack anything and everything that they need to achieve the glory of God. They are totally destitute, or to put it another way, totally depraved. Their spiritual bank account before God stands completely empty.

As Paul argued for the spiritual depravity of all mankind in Romans, so Jesus affirmed that the spiritually bankrupt comprised of a certain group of blessed people. So then, was total depravity a spiritual condition of all mankind (as in Paul) or was it only the spiritual condition of a particular group of people (as in Jesus)?

I argue that Jesus and Paul were communicating the same truth from two different perspectives.

Paul used the concept of a spiritually impoverished humanity to show that everyone on earth is a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus blessed those who recognize that they are impoverished, which was and remains the sign of a receptive heart. For Jesus, it was only those who understood their spiritual destitution that were deemed acceptable for the rule of heaven. Likewise for Paul, although all people were indeed helpless and hopeless, only a special group of people understands and acknowledges their spiritual condition.

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6)

So, according to Paul, Christ died for those that had no spiritual strength. And while all men are “without strength,” only a particular group of men actually acknowledge their spiritual poverty. These few cry out to God for mercy:

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25)

Following this example, it is only those who cry out to God for deliverance from their spiritual poverty who are heard from heaven. Indeed, these are the ones whose spiritual bank account is filled with the righteousness of Christ. These are the ones who follow the example of Abraham, who believed the Word of God:

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Rom 4:3)

This gift of righteousness is then placed in the account of everyone who believes:

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Rom 4:4-5)

As men and women acknowledge that they are spiritually destitute and look to heaven, they find the only answer for their spiritual debt. Christ shed His blood for those few who would acknowledge their spiritual poverty, look to heaven for help, and cry out to God for mercy through Jesus Christ.

So Christ Himself became the blessing of the blessed ones—the “poor in spirit”—gifting them entrance into the kingdom of heaven!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)

Top 10 Reasons the Bible is Relevant for Spiritual-Historical Study

crespin inside cover

The Bible provides Evangelical historians a full pallet of colors by which they can divinely interpret the complexities of God’s work on the canvas of history. However, in the late 19th Century secularism descended like a pastel fog hiding biblical insights in the study of history in general and church history in particular. While 19th Century German scholars forged a path of secularism in biblical studies, historical study was not immune from that same secularization. In the field of history, dialectics* provided the secularizing tool by which divine authority was logically excised from historical study.

*Dialectics is described as: “development through stages of thesis, antithesis and synthesis in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism… [also] the theoretical application of this process esp. in the social sciences.” (Webster’s)

In this blurred and hazy environment, biblical input was shunned as the “thesis” or “basis” from which society evolved away. When applied to the ebb and flow of people and movements in the history of the churches, biblical insights were mummified and entombed as an obsolete forms of interpretation. Younger generations of students were taught to shun the biblical approaches of their Protestant forebears. The fallacy of composition grouped any living historian who wrote from a biblical a priori with his buried ancestors. Meanwhile the light of the Word of God in historical study dimmed.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” (Psa 119:105)

While the agnostic, the atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, liberal Protestant, etc., may view history as they chose, for the Evangelical historian the Bible contains rich insights to assist him to properly analyze the dark recesses of history.

Let me offer 10 areas that demonstrate the relevance of the Bible in historical study.

  1. The Bible is the only inerrant and untainted intellectual authority given to humanity

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

The Bible provides the only book in world history by which mankind can and ought to judge all other sources of knowledge, whether they are primary sources or secondary sources. For the Evangelical Christian, only the Bible holds this position of absolute prominence.

  1. The Bible speaks with clear and adequate sufficiency to every issue that was, is, or will be considered in church history

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

As with the Bible’s authority, so God’s words speak with sufficiency, providing the student of church history the framework to properly understand its complexities.

  1. The Bible uniquely addresses us both the beginning and end of history

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Pet 3:10)

Biblical revelation spans the entire scope of world history. It addresses events prior to the creation of humans to the end of the world. As such, the Bible exceeds the scope of earthly human history, providing a supra-earthly point of view by which to understand the history of humanity.

  1. The Bible offers us a worldview lens to interpret life (& history)

“You shall bind them [these words] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:8)

The Bible offers its readers and those who submit to its tenets the worldview lens by which they can properly interpret all of life and history.

  1. The Bible explains God’s sovereign work in history

“The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”(1 Sam 2:6-10)

Hannah’s amazing song affirms the sovereign work of God in all of history. He raises up and He brings low. He is literally in control of everything. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign hand.

  1. The Bible explains God’s particular saving work in history

“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, … that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:4-5, 12)

As God is in control of all of human history, so within this history He is calling out His people unto Himself. From the standpoint of the Apostle Paul this calling becomes efficacious when persons hear the gospel with a hearing of faith, and repent and believe.

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13)

  1. In the Bible, Christ gave His church its mission, purpose, and charter for all of history; then celebrating the fulfillment of the same

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Christ left one final command to His people. This injunction was passed down to His disciples in all forthcoming generations, languages groups, and places. So, it only follows that in any retelling of the history of God’s people, the Great Commission and its fulfillment will be found front and center.

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)

So important is the Great Commission in God’s view of human history, that He has determined that its fulfillment with mark the end of the age!

  1. The Bible reveals four supreme world monarchies in history

We read of visions wherein are explained and interpreted world empires in Daniel 2 and 7. The German Protestant historian Johannes Sleidan considered these empires the “key of history”—as noted in his book titled, “The Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History” (Geneva: Jean Crespin, 1556, 1557, 1558, 1559, 1561, 1563, 1566). These four chief monarchies were: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.

  1. The Bible exemplifies social-denominational cycles of obedience and disobedience

The Bible provides information about the spiritual cycles of the people of Israel in the Books of Numbers, Judges and 2 Chronicles. There were seasons of obedience and disobedience to God, submission and disregard of His word. Within these extremes were found many variations, providing powerful types and antitypes for the benefit of future generations.

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor 10:11)

  1. The Bible prophesies the fact of the good, the bad, and the ugly in church life

The letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were oracles to the churches in existence during the time of John. Yet, just as all these churches existed at the same time, so also each type of church exists throughout all of church history. These letters encourage and warn all churches throughout all of history—maybe even providing an interpretive grid for church historical study.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)

The Company of the Beheaded

Last night as I was applying the teachings of Rev 6:9-11 at our prayer meeting, I did not consider a third point of application that came to me in the middle of the night.

This passage in Revelation describes when Christ, the Lamb of God, opened the fifth seal. When He did so, the Apostle John was apparently ushered into the Holy of Holies, and he saw under the altar the souls of the martyrs for the word of God and the testimony of Christ:

Rev 6:9-11, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

Consider that the same verb was used for their death as was used for the death of Jesus in Rev 5:6, 9, and 12. These “slain” Christians were gathered under the altar of God, there, close to the most precious things in the Temple—the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod, and tablets of the covenant. These three items were contained in the Ark of the Covenant (Heb 9:4).

But here under the altar were the souls of the slain, who, while affirming that God was holy and true, were waiting for their blood to be avenged. Even in the presence of God they were still mindful of their unjust treatment on earth, and they cried out “How long?” Their plea echoed the cry of the brokenhearted from the days of Cain and Abel even to the Songs of Asaph. This cry “How long” is sprinkled throughout the Book of Psalms, most notably found four times in Psa 13:1-2.

So God quieted these souls with the gift of white robes. He reminded them of the cleansing work of Christ on the cross, by which their sins that were once red as crimson were made white as snow:

Isa 1:18, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’”

My first application to those listening was that they should be sure that they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They need to be washed in and by His blood and clothed in the whited garments that only He can and does freely give.

But as for the “How long?” my second point of application related to holding in anger, frustration, or bitterness toward others for having been wronged. These emotions amount to exasperation with God for forbearing His judgment on wrongdoers. Even in the Holy of Holies, these souls, who affirmed that God was faithful and true, were still waiting for their blood to be avenged!

So also, we must remember that the “How long?” is not answered on earth. God comforted them with a white garment, and an admonition to refresh themselves and rest a little while longer. Even while the “How long?” was resonating in their souls, God reminded them to find rest in the “streams of living water” that give health both to the body and the soul. Yes, God gives His followers “green pastures” and “still waters” even in the midst of strife.

I ended with this last admonition.

Then in the middle of the night the question came to me, “Are you among the company of the beheaded?” It dawned on me that I had left out perhaps the strongest point of application from this text: living in such a way so as to be able to join the company of the slain under the altar.

Not living in an arbitrarily way, by purposefully putting oneself in harms way. For the Bible says, “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.” (Prov 22:3)

But being committed to the proclamation of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ unto death—if predestined to be the case: first of all, to be dead to self and sin; secondly, to be dead to the opinion of others; and thirdly, to be dead to their threats and persecution.

These are the company of the beheaded!

John wrote of this company in Revelation 12:

Rev 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Are you willing to be among the company of the beheaded?

Ideas for Effective Church Evangelism

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It is one thing to know how to share your faith and it is another thing to lead an entire church evangelism program. Let me recommend several ideas for church evangelism as we enter a new Fall of church ministry:

Never Badger Your People

Pastor, as a husband to a wife, you should never badger your church family to lead them into evangelism. You need to encourage them and build them up. Focus on the good that they are already doing, and lead them forward.

Set the Example

Be the evangelist that you want others to be. Or in the words of Paul, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). Don’t expect them to do what you yourself are not doing already.

Provide Many Levels of Opportunities

Not everyone is ready or able to be involved in door-knocking or in other ways of meeting new people. So you will need to have a wide variety of opportunities available for your church family to be involved in evangelism.

Some Examples of Opportunities at Different Levels

Here are some examples of types of involvement that people can have in outreach on the local church level:

  • Baking pies or cookies to be delivered to first time guests
  • Forming a prayer group to pray specifically during outreach events for those being reached
  • Visiting those who have just visited the church for the first time
  • Visiting those who are M.I.A. (Missing In Action)—those who have missed church meetings from 3-5 weeks
  • Visiting those in the community through door-to-door.

These are just a few examples to prime the pump.

Always Be Open to New Opportunities

As your church members begin to be involved in outreach, other ideas and opportunities will develop that are church-specific and community-specific. Make sure that your leadership style is open to new ideas, so that people will feel valued and encouraged in their gifts and abilities.

Make Use of Week-by-Week Schedules

I have found that church families can become burned out on some evangelism programs that are rigid and leave them feeling guilty if they do not participate weekly. For this reason it is important as a shepherd to the flock to give them seasons of feeding and rest.

Here are some ideas for monthly scheduling of evangelism events that I learned from doing evangelism with inner-city churches:

  • First Saturday of the month: visit a nursing home
  • Second Saturday of the month: visit a local prison
  • Third Saturday of the month: door-to-door visitation
  • Fourth Saturday of the month: visit a homeless shelter
  • Fifth Saturday of the month: enjoy a breakfast together, fellowship and a prayer time 🙂

Consider a Month-by-Month Outreach Schedule

Some inner-city churches have very effective evangelism programs that do not burn out their members, and also take into account the patterns of life in the annual calendar:

  • June-July-Aug: Designated as evangelism months
  • Sept-Oct-Nov: Designated for new member assimilation
  • Nov-Dec: Christmas and holiday activities
  • Jan: Designated for the annual Bible Conference
  • Feb-Mar: Evangelism training with planned outreach
  • Apr-May: Revival preparation and implementation

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

As important as is being personally intentional in evangelism, it is also important to be intentional in administering evangelism. Make a workable plan. Do not burn out your people. Rearrange the plan if it does not work. But remember if you plan nothing, then you will reach that plan. So using these and other ideas, consider planning for evangelism.

Acts 18:9-10, “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’”

God has many people in your city that need to hear about Jesus. So let’s pray for one another that we will be intentional and gentle as we plan our evangelism schedules for the Bride of Christ.

 

For more information on this topic see: “Toward a Local Church Evangelism Strategy” at: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/evangelizology/evangelizology-2014-chapter-29.pdf

13 Top Verses Using “Evangelize” in 7 Languages

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The following lists the top New Testament verses where the translators have determined to use the word “evangelize.” The totals are derived from the following 28 versions in five modern and two ancient languages that use “evangelize” at least once (for a combined total of 312/1540 fifty-five NT uses, or about 20%).

  • 10 French Versions: LeFebvre, Olivétan, Louvain, Genève, Martin, Ostervald, Darby, Segond, Nouvelle Segond Revisée, and La Colombe;
  • 7 English Versions: Wycliffe 1st and 2nd editions, Etheridge, Darby, Douai-Rheims, Holman Christian Standard, and MacDonald Idiomatic;
  • 5 Portuguese Versions: J Ferreira (1969 and 1993), Sagrada, Corrigida Fiel, Modern;
  • 3 Italian Versions: Buona Novella, Geneva Nuova Riveduta, San Paolo;
  • 1 Spanish Version: Castelian;
  • + 2 Ancient Versions: Latin Vulgate and Occitan (13th Century).

[I have used an existing English translation below when available]

15 total combined uses:

Acts 8:40 (Holman), “Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

14 total combined uses:

1 Cor 1:17 (Holman), “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

13 combined total uses:

Luke 4:18 (Etheridge), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he hath anointed me to evangelize to the poor, And hath sent me to heal the contrite in heart, To proclaim to the captives release, And to the blind, vision, And to assure the contrite by remission.”

12 combined total uses:

Acts 8:25 (Holman), “Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans.”

11 combined total uses:

Acts 14:21 (Holman), “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.”

Acts 16:10 (Holman), “After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”

2 Cor 10:16 (Etheridge), “and be progressive also beyond you to evangelize. Not as within the measure of others in the things that are prepared will we glory.”

10 combined uses:

Luke 9:6 (Wycliffe 1st), “Sothli thei gon out, cumpassiden bi castels, euangelisinge and heelinge euerewhere.”

Luke 20:1 (Etheridge), “And it was on one of the days, while he taught the people in the temple and evangelized, the chief priests and scribes with the elders rose up against him.”

1 Cor 9:16 (Wycliffe 1st, second use), “Forwhi if I schal preche the gospel, glorie is not to me, forsoth nede lith to me; forsoth wo to me, if I schal not euangelise.”

Gal 4:13 (McDonald), “You know that in the beginning of our relationship when I evangelized you, I did so while being physically debilitated.”

Eph 2:17 (Johnston), “And He came and evangelized peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near”

1 Pet 4:6 (Etheridge), “For on this account the dead also have been evangelized; that they might be judged as men in the flesh, and live with Aloha in the Spirit.”

The reader will note the impact of the Geneva presses of Estienne and Crespin during the Protestant Reformation. Geneva published and still publishes Bibles in a variety of Southern European languages impacting Bible translation in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as in French.

This author was not able to find any German Bibles that used the verb evangelize.

*Data gleaned from a revision of two available charts: “A Translation History of Translating Evangelize as Evangelize” and “A Study of the Translation of Evangelize in Other Modern Romance Lanugages”; available at: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/evangelizology/evangelizology-2014-chapter-07.pdf; pages 354-362.