How can I find out more about the people in the Bible?

The Bible leaves out a lot of personal details. Peter was married but did he have any kids? The Bible doesn’t tell us. Were any of the other apostles married? Did they have families? God’s Word is mostly silent on these things. How can we find out more about the lives of the people in the Bible?

The Bible is silent on many personal details because it’s purpose is not historical or biographical but theological. Any details provided are incidental to the truth being communicated. Biographical details always serve the purpose of teaching greater theological truths. God is not interested in satisfying our curiosity about the home life of the Biblical characters. He is communicating that which is necessary for people to come to salvation and for Christian’s to live lives pleasing to Him.

Unfortunately historical details about the people of the Bible are almost impossible to find. Some particulars can be found in the writings of the early church Fathers. Some of these men lived in the first hundred years after the apostles and a couple were personally acquainted with the apostles themselves.

Ancient church historians, like Eusebius, provide additional details about the lives of the apostles. The Works of Josephus provide a generally reliable historical perspective of events in Israel around the time of the beginning of the church. Some church traditions probably give truthful accounts of what happened to the apostles. The best resource is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs which tells of the death of the apostles and other ancient Christians.

Care needs to be taken when looking for more information about the people in the Bible. The things passed down through history and tradition are not necessarily accurate. Because a book talks about the apostles or Biblical people does not mean the book is accurate. Hold loosely to any extra-Biblical facts about Biblical characters.

Be especially suspicious of the books known as the gnostic gospels. Some of them claim to be first hand accounts of the early life of Jesus but they are, at best, questionable sources of information. They were written several generations after Jesus and have the definite agenda of promoting the false teaching of gnosticism.

Be careful of modern “scholarly” books offering to give new information about Jesus or the disciples. Many modern books that talk about Bible history are written by people who have already decided the Bible is not true. The goal of many of these books is not to search out the truth, but to convince the reader of the author’s opinion. Whether they be written by popular fiction authors or by degreed professors, be careful to not confuse propaganda with truth.

In the end, we only have one source that is certain and accurate about Jesus and His followers. That source is the Bible. The biographical details of the people in the Bible are interesting but not vital to rightly understanding the truth of God’s word. Learn more of the history, traditions and culture of Bible times and people that you may better understand the great truths taught in Scriptures.

Why is Jesus called the only begotten Son of God?

This article is a follow up to the recent article regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses. A reader submitted a comment defending the Jehovah’s Witnesses as Christians. I did not approve the comment but want to respond to an objection raised in the comment. Before doing so I want to interject some comments about commenting on this blog.

I filter every comment. I will only approve comments which further legitimate discussion about the topic at hand. Comments which ignore the substance of the article, which raise questions already addressed in other posts or which regurgitate the long standing assertions with little regard to the Bible are going to be rejected. Comments which ask vaild questions or raise pertinent points that are profitable for discussion will be approved. This is not a debate blog. This is not a forum for everyone to spout their opinions- Mark Zuckerberg invented a place for that. This blog is an intentional teaching and evangelizing tool that answers questions about the Bible and Biblical Christianity. I am unapologetically the supreme dictator of the comment section and will only approve comments which in my sole discretion I consider as furthering worthwhile conversation.

I did not approve the comment about Jehovah’s Witnesses but do want to respond to one statement. The commenter said, “Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . do not deny the words of God Who does not tell lies and declares Jesus to be His only begotten son.” If Jesus is eternally God and equal with the Father in essence, nature and power then why does the Bible call him the Son of God? Why is Jesus presented as begotten of God if He has always existed as God?

The title of Son of God is used of Jesus in reference to His incarnation. In other words, Jesus was the Son of God in His birth as a human by the working of God. Jesus is the begotten of God because the supernatural power of God worked through miraculous means for His birth. Mary gave birth to a baby boy by the working of God without the usual biological means of becoming pregnant. Jesus is the only begotten because He is the only One born of woman without a human father.

The gospel of Luke calls Adam the son of God. Jesus is far greater than Adam but this comparison is helpful in understanding why Jesus is called the Son of God. Adam was the son of God in the sense that he came into existence without parents because God created him. Similarly, Jesus became a man because of the direct working of God. Jesus was born fully human, while remaining fully Divine, because of the supernatural working of God in Mary’s body.

Jesus is not the Son of God because at some point in eternity past God the Father brought the Son into existence. Jesus is the Son of God becaus He came into the world, becoming human through the miraculous working of the Father and the Spirit.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16

Were the Old Testament Israelites saved by keeping the Law?

A recent answer stated that the people who lived before Jesus was born were saved by looking ahead to the promised Savior and trusting Him for their salvation. Some may wonder about the law of Moses. If people before Jesus were saved by trusting God’s promises to save, why did God give the law to the Israelites?

Historically, many Israelites believed they could be saved by obeying the Mosaic law. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day believed they were righteous because they were the children of Abraham who kept the law of Moses and the traditions of their fathers. All throughout the Old Testament the Israelites seemed frequently to misunderstand the role of the law. Even today many people look at the Old Testament and think the Israelites gained eternal life by being devout keepers of all the commands, rituals and sacrifices given through Moses. Is this true? Were the Israelites saved by obeying the law of Moses?

No Israelite was ever saved by his obedience to the law. The major theme of Romans and Galatians is the inability of the law to save. Galatians 2:16 says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” No one was ever justified- made righteous before God- by keeping the law. Old Testament Israelites were saved by trusting God for forgiveness of sin. Habakkuk 2:4 says, “the just shall live by his faith.” In Psalm 32 David rejoices in the blessings of being forgiven. He does not associate forgiveness with his keeping of the law but with the grace and mercy of God. David acknowledged his sin to God. He cried out in confession of his guilt and God gave forgiveness. Throughout the Psalms David declares that God is his salvation. The salvation that David describes is always based upon the compassion of God, not the obedience of the individual. He that could be righteous enough to earn salvation would have no need of forgiveness. In the Old Testament God never forgave because men earned His salvation. God forgave because of His great compassion. God poured out mercy on those who sought it from him.

The book of Isaiah is full of promises about the coming Jewish King and Savior. The Messiah and His kingdom are described at length. Isaiah ends with a great confession of sin and a plea for God to pardon the Israelites. Isaiah 64 recognizes the righteousness of men is no righteousness at all. The only answer, the only hope for Old Testament Israel, was to be pardoned by God. Isaiah 53 describes the work of the Messiah to gain that pardon and the eleventh verse says, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” Old Testament Israelites were saved by Jesus’ bearing their sin on the cross. God’s judgment was satisfied by the suffering of His Son. Jesus makes men righteous, whether those men live now or 3,000 years ago, by carrying on His shoulders the consequences of their sin. Salvation is always, and only, by Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

How were people saved before Jesus?

Since Christian’s believe that only those who trust Jesus for salvation will have eternal life how were people saved who lived before Jesus? Since the earth is between 6,000-10,000 years old most of history happened before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This includes quite a few of the great saints in the Bible. Abraham, Moses and David, to name a few, lived before Jesus. Alexander the Great, Guatama Buddha, Confucius, Julius Caesar, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and many other greats of history lived before Jesus. Billions of people lived before Jesus’ time. The question of their salvation is an urgent one.

The answer to this question is, in one sense, very simple. The people who lived before Jesus were saved the same way as the people living after Jesus. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved by trusting Him for salvation. Understanding the the answer is a little more complicated. Those who were saved before Jesus were saved by believing God’s promise to send a Savior and by trusting that promised Savior for salvation. As soon as man sinned, God began to tell humanity about the Savior. He promised Adam and Eve to give one who would crush Satan and defeat the curse of sin. Though the Bible doesn’t record the specific promises given in the time between Adam and Abraham we know that those living during that time knew of God and some believed Him. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel was declared righteous (he was saved) because of his faith. Enoch and Noah believed God and were saved.

Through the story of Abraham more is recorded of God’s promise to save men. God promised Abraham that through his Seed all the earth would be blessed. That promised Seed is Jesus (Galatians 3:16). Abraham believed God and was made righteous. (Genesis 15:6) The same promise was made to Abraham’s son, grandson and great-grandson. Through Moses God announced the promises of salvation to all of Israel. Through Israel God made the whole world know that He is God. Through Israel God repeatedly showed pictures of salvation. God placed Israel at the crossroads of the ancient world so all the world would know He is God.

God did not just make Himself known through mighty deeds of deliverance and judgment. God spoke to the world through His faithful servants. In the years before Jesus was born God spoke to men of His promise to save. Though we do not have many examples recorded in the Bible, the testimony of men like Abel and Enoch let us know that God spoke to men in the earliest years of human history. Hebrews 11:6 declares that only by faith is anyone made pleasing to God. Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Throughout all human history the truth of God’s promised salvation has been available. Men knew the commands of God and knew the promise of God to give a Savior. In the days of Abraham God gave the first written Scripture. Through Moses and many others the Old Testament came into existence. Though the name Jesus was not known before the angel spoke to Mary salvation has always been through faith in Him. He is the Savior of the world promised to mankind since the day man first sinned. He is the only means of salvation. God spoke of salvation to humanity thousands of years before Jesus and those who believed God’s promises were saved.

What is the Battle of Armageddon?

Despite the fascination Armageddon holds for many people it is only mentioned by this name once in the Bible, Revelation 16:16. “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” The book of Joel calls this same pace “the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14) because it is where God begins His final judgment on living humanity for their continual rebellion against Him.

The Battle of Armageddon is the great final battle between rebellious humanity and Jesus. The stage is set for the Battle of Armageddon by the rebellion of rulers in the antichrists empire who gather together in war against the him. The armies of the antchrist and the armies of the rebel kings end up Palestine. The Bible specifically says God orchestrated world events to draw all these forces together in the valley of Megiddo as the place where He would execute His judgment upon them. As these two great armies (probably the majority of the fighting forces in the world) face off, Jesus descends from Heaven to the Mt. of Olives. The armies of the world turn against Jesus, allying themselves together in their great hatred for Jesus. The armies of mankind meet the armies of God in battle at the valley of Megiddo.

The Battle of Armageddon does not appear to be a protracted war. It is the end a brief war between the antichrist and other nations of the world. The slaughter during the battle will be great but all one sided. The armies of rebellious mankind will be completely destroyed. Jesus will send a flesh eating plague on the armies attacking him. Those not killed by the plague will be confused by the Lord and will begin to fight and kill their own comrades. The antichrist and the false prophet will be captured and thrown into the Lake of Fire. The remaining enemy combatants will be killed by the word of Jesus ending the battle of Armageddon and establishing Jesus’ worldwide kingdom.

Though it comes at the end of a world war, the Battle of Armageddon is a not a great world war in which the armies of men gather together against one another and wreak havoc upon the earth. This battle of Armageddon is the final act of rebellion by men who have completely reject Jesus as God and Savior. The men in this battle will be given over to their rebellion against God and even the sight of Jesus returning to earth in His glory accompanied by a massive army of saints will not sway their hearts to believe.

Who were the Pharisees

A reader of the gospels soon encounters a group of men who have become almost synonymous with religious frauds. Jesus tangled with the Pharisees more often than any other group. The Bible does not explain who the Pharisees were. The gospels were originally written to people that knew exactly who and what the Pharisees were. Modern readers are far removed from the culture of the New Testament and may wonder who and what the Pharisees were.

The Pharisees were religious leaders who exercised great authority over the Jews. The Jewish historian Josephus records that there were 6,000 Pharisees in Israel during Jesus’ day. They were members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel. The beginning of the Pharisees can be dates to the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, over 450 years before the birth of Jesus. They trace their lineage to a group of Jews who separated themselves from those who had remained in the land of Palestine after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. (Ezra 6:21) This group gained influence within the nation over the years. By the time of Jesus’ day the Pharisees were a major part of the ruling body of Israel.

The Pharisees were Old Testament scholars. They studied and debated it endlessly. They knew it minutely. They were actively involved in teaching the application of the law of Moses to the daily life of the average person. This application was made primarily through an extensive series of traditions. The Pharisees blanketed the Old Testament laws with a huge system of precise regulations addressing every area of life.

The Pharisees themselves were scrupulous to observe all the traditions. Jesus called them hypocrites because they obeyed the law and kept the traditions to impress others not because they taught a way of life they did not themselves practice. The Pharisees were extremely careful to observe all their traditions and they held in disdain all those who did not share their scrupulousness for outward religion. Jesus referred to them as ones “which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” (Luke 18:9) Even though the Pharisees were active in teaching the common people how to live they would have very little interaction with non-Pharisees. The traditions of the Pharisees placed great restrictions on all interactions with those not a part of the brotherhood of the Pharisees.

Jesus strongly denounced the Pharisees. The harshest words of Jesus were directed at the Pharisees. Matthew 23 contains a series of curses upon the Pharisees for their self-righteousness, heartlessness and elevation of their traditions over the Word of God. The Pharisees were a group of influential religious leaders in Israel who had come to believe that they were righteous because they kept an extensive series of outward laws. They gave no thought to the true condition of their sinful heart. They hated Jesus for His powerful repudiation of their false religion. They hated Jesus because he pointed out to them the wickedness of their own hearts that could never be made clean by the outward keeping of rules and regulations.

What happens to those who die without ever hearing about Jesus?

Possibly one of the most difficult questions for a caring Christian to consider and answer is the fate of those who have never had the chance to hear the gospel. To many it seems an unthinkable unfairness that God would send people to hell who never had the chance to be saved. Walking carefully through the Bible’s teaching is not always easy. Despite the great emotional tensions associated with this question it can only be answered by a thorough consideration of what God has said about man, sin and salvation.

The Bible’s answer can be summed up in a very straightforward fashion. Those who die without turning to Jesus for forgiveness of sin are not forgiven and remain under the judgment of God. Only when one starts with a Biblical perspective can this answer begin to make sense. Many imagine that condemnation happens after death based upon one’s sin or refusal to believe Jesus.

Condemnation does not happen after death. Men are not sentenced to hell for rejecting Jesus or for committing an excessive number of bad deeds. Men are sentenced to hell because they are born sinners who are already condemned by God. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” (John 3:18) “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) The first chapter of Colossians describes all men as separated from God and enemies against Him. The third chapter of Romans describes all men as wicked, refusing to seek after God, having no good in them and filled with all manner of wickedness. The Bible consistently teaches that all people are currently guilty before God. Romans 3:19 says all the world is guilty before God. Everyone is already condemned for sin. Men are not waiting for judgment to find out if they are guilty or not. The conviction has been handed down. Sentencing is delayed to give opportunity for salvation.

The fate of those who die in their guilt is eternal separation from God in hell. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9 says Jesus will exact vengeance on those that do not know God and have not obeyed the gospel. Jesus’ vengeance will be unending destruction apart from the presence of God and His glory. In other places in the Bible this everlasting destruction is described as a place of fire and intense suffering. Those who do not know God will be sentenced to eternal hell.

Wrong ideas about Divine judgment are abundant. Most seem to believe that if they are better people than a lot of others then they will make it to heaven. Some believe there is no hell. A growing number believe that God will not send anyone to hell (or maybe only send the really, really bad people to hell). The Biblical truth is that hell is real and only those who have turned to Jesus for forgiveness will escape hell. Those who do not do so, whether it be because of stubbornness, rebellion, ignorance or some other reason will be punished with everlasting destruction. Into this bleak assessment shines the good news of the gospel. Salvation from hell has been purchased by Jesus and is freely given to those who will turn to Him for forgiveness.

Why do the gospels have different accounts of Jesus’ life?

Some skeptical about the truth of the Bible claim the four gospels are filled with contradictions. These apparent contradictions are offered as proof the Bible is unreliable. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each present an account of the life of Jesus. If all four gospels are true accounts why do they offer differing versions of the same events in Jesus life. Examples of these differences can be found in the number of demoniacs healed in Gederah- Mark and Luke say there was 1 but Matthew says there were 2; the order of events at the crucifixion; the people Jesus stood before in His trial- John says Annas and Caiaphas, the other gospels just say Caiaphas. The gospels offer a wide selection of these kinds of differences. Why do the gospels at times present events in different ways?

To answer this question several things need to be remembered. The gospels are not biographies. This does not mean the gospels are fictional accounts, but the purpose of the writing of the gospels was not tell the life story of Jesus. The gospels are presentations of doctrinal truths about Jesus. The events contained in the gospels are not given for biographical but theological purposes. The gospel are not laid out in a precise chronological fashion. Though all four gospels move from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to His death, none of them attempt to present an exact timeline of the events in Jesus’ ministry. This is why the gospels present the events in different orders. The miracles, teachings and significant events are arranged in thematic fashion which seeks to drive home a particular doctrinal point without entirely disregarding the broad chronology of Jesus’ life.

The gospels are not histories. The authors are not interested in detailing a precise historical formulation of Jesus. Generally a historian would seek to arrange things in a very orderly and sequential fashion and to include as many details as possible. The gospel writers are presenting the message of salvation to their readers. Historical details are the means of communicating rich gospel truths. The records of Jesus’ travels from place to place are not a description of the way of life of first century Palestinians, but the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God who came to bring salvation. Critiquing the gospels for their failure to be biographies or histories is to misunderstand the goals of the authors.

All other considerations aside, the reality is none of the supposed contradictions are actually contradictory. Some portions of the gospel may require more effort to correlate together, but in all cases no account excludes the information contained in another account. They offer additional details to the record. When Mark says there was a demon possessed man living in the tombs, he does not exclude the existence of another. The purposes of the narrower account is served with the discussion of the deliverance of the one man. The details of the gospels simply do not contradict one another. The gospels are complementary accounts that present the wonderful truth that Jesus God made flesh, the promised Messiah, who died and was raised to life for the salvation of men.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

The political turmoil in the world has brought to the forefront many questions about Islam. Some of these questions stem from curiosity about the beliefs of Muslims. Some of these questions stem from declarations made on the news or other pundits. One particular declaration demands careful consideration. A few weeks ago Pope Francis weighed in and repeated the common assertion that Allah is really the same as Jehovah. Is this claim true? Is the God of Quran the same as the God of the Bible?

Certainly Allah and Jehovah have much in common. They are both creator gods who rule supreme over all creation. They are both almighty, compassionate and just. They both offer eternal bliss to those who worship them. Neither shares worship with other gods, but declares himself to be the only true God. Even their common names seem to hint that these gods may be one and the same. In the Old Testament, God is identified as El and Elohim. Both words are generic Hebrew names for deities. The name Allah is rooted in the generic Arabic word for a deity. The similarity between the two terms even carries across in their English transliterations. Many have used these linguistic similarities to argue that El and Allah are just different names for the same God.

On the surface, these sound like reasonable arguments. With a little bit deeper digging it soon becomes evident that, despite some similiarities, the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are nothing alike. Consider three major differences. Allah is a single God, no deities are equal with him and his person is single. Jehovah is a triune God. No deities are equal with him and His person is triune. The Quran distinctly teaches that Allah has no parts, nor persons. The Bible distinctly teaches that Jehovah is one God who consists of three persons. Allah is not a Triune God, Jehovah is. Closely related to the first difference is the difference in their relationship to Jesus. Allah has no Son and none are equal with him. Jesus is not the Son of Allah. Jesus is not Allah made flesh. Jehovah has a Son who is fully God. Jesus is God made flesh, the second person of the Trinity. Jehovah is Jesus. Jesus is not Allah, Jesus is Jehovah. A third example is that of the grace of god. Allah saves according to his grace. His salvation is given to those who earned his grace by their submission to him. Allah’s grace is granted to those who deserve it. Jehovah saves according to His grace. His grace is given to those who do not try to earn it. The Bible presents God’s grace as something that cannot be merited. As Paul says in Romans 11:6, if grace is earned it is not grace. Though many similarities exist between Allah and Jehovah, even a brief comparison reveals the differences make it impossible for the two gods to be the same.

Consider someone who claims to have met your wife. As he talks about her he has some basic details correct. She is female, lives in your house, cooks meals for the family and likes to watch TV with you. As the conversation continues it becomes apparent that the other also believes your wife to be an 8 foot tall, green skinned ogress who rips the heads off small dogs. If you were protest that your wife is not actually a violent, green monster it would be ludicrous for the speaker to insist you are both talking about the same person. The similarities between the character being spoken of and the actual spouse in question do not outweigh the monumental differences. Though there are many similarities between Jehovah and Allah, the monumental differences render it impossible for them to be the same. Only one conclusion is possible, Christians and Muslims worship very different Gods.

In what way is Jesus begotten of God?

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus. Jesus’ birth is of universal importance because Jesus is God who set aside His Divine prerogatives, clothed Himself in humanity and suffered the punishment of man’s sin so men can be saved. John 3:16 famously describes Jesus as the “only begotten Son.” That Jesus is begotten of God may seem to be at odds with the Biblical doctrine that Jesus is the eternal God. If Jesus is the eternally existent God, in what way is He begotten of God?

Psalm 2:7 presents a powerful promise of the coming Messiah. God comforts His servant David with the promises He will establish His own Son as King of Jerusalem who will reign over all the earth. The Messianic promise of God is certified by the Divine decree, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” In the New Testament Paul declares that Jesus is the Son decreed by God in Psalm 2. The begottenness of Jesus is the eternal decree of God to establish God the Son as the Messiah of Israel who would reign as King over the entire earth.

John 1:14 connects the incarnation- God the Son’s taking to Himself humanity- with His being begotten. Jesus is begotten of God in His birth into the world. Jesus was not conceived by natural means but by the power of God uniquely working to generate a child. Jesus’ begottenness is the working of God to miraculously create a body for the Son within Mary’s womb. His begottenness is in the working of God to send the Son of God, the seed of woman, into humanity to become the Savior of man.

God the Son is the eternally existent God who created all things. He is fully God and equal with the Father in existence, eternality, infinity, majesty, power and glory. The begottenness of Jesus does not imply the least inferiority. The begottenness of Jesus does not imply a point in eternity in which the Father existed alone without the Son or the Spirit. Jesus is described as begotten because of the Divine decree that the Son would take upon Himself humanity. Through His humanity Jesus would become the Savior of those who trust Him and He would be the conquering King that would rule all the earth. Jesus is begotten in His human personage and in His Messianic work. God the Son did not spring into existence on Christmas day (or nine months before His birth). God the Son has no source nor origination. The Son of God is fully God, the second person of the Trinity, who shares entirely in the identical, eternal essence and existence of the Triune Godhead.