My plan for reading the Bible in a year forces me to read chapters ofgenealogies. The longest list so far is 1 Chronicles 1-9. What are those chapters about?
I will briefly describe how the list is put together, then discuss its significance.
1.Content of the Genealogy: This genealogy begins with the pre-Israelite history from Adam or Creation (1 Chron. 1:1-3) to the Flood (verse 4), and from the post-Flood nations (verses 5-26) to Abraham (verse 27). From this point on, the list of names is restricted to the sons of Abraham through Hagar (verses 29-31), Keturah (verses 32, 33), and Sarah (verse 34). The genealogy narrows down even more by listing only the descendants of Isaac (Esau [verses 35-54] and Israel [1 Chron. 2:1, 2]). At this point we reach what seems to be one of the main genealogical interests of the biblical writer: Israel as the people of God. The tribes that came out of Jacob/Israel are listed beginning with Judah (1 Chron. 2:3-4:23). The intention of this section is to take the reader to David and his descendants (1 Chron. 3:1-24). Other descendants of Judah are also listed (1 Chron. 4:1-23).
Then the descendants of the other tribes are given. It has been suggested that the list of the tribes follow a general geographical pattern. Judah is at the center and the next one mentioned is Simeon (verses 24-43), one of its closest neighbors. The movement is from south to north, east of Jordan (Reuben [1 Chron. 5:1-10]; Gad [verses 5:11-22]; the half tribe of Manasseh [verses 23-26]; and Levi [1 Chron. 6:1-80]). This is followed by the northern tribes of Issachar (1 Chron. 7:1-5), Benjamin (verses 6-12), and Naphtali (verse 13), and concludes with a movement from the north to the south (Manasseh [verses 14-19]; Ephraim [verses 20-29]; Asher [verses 30-40]; and Benjamin/Saul [1 Chron. 8:1-40]). In chapter 9 we find a genealogical list of those who returned from exile, with a primary emphasis on the Levites (verses 1-34). We finally return to the genealogy of Saul, thus preparing the way for the reign of David (verses 35-44).
2. Significance of the Genealogy: First, it is obvious that this genealogy is a compressed history with a global dimension. It begins by affirming the historical facts of Creation and the Flood, and closes with the beginning of the reign of David. But it also includes the Exile and the return from the Exile, providing an element of hope. At a time when the people of God were discouraged as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and a return from the Exile that was depressing, God tells them that they are part of a history over which He is Lord. This history has not come to an end but remains open to His guiding hand, as it has been in the past.
Second, history is depicted as a result of the human capacity, given by God, to generate children. This begetting traces the human race to a common ancestor created by God in His image: Adam. This particular genealogy binds the people of God to the human race in a bond of existential solidarity that should exclude prejudices of any kind. The birth of Abraham in the list takes us back to his election to be used by God to bless all nations of the earth.
Third, this genealogy, based on the amount of space assigned to it, places the emphasis on David and the priesthood (Levites). Genealogies were sometimes instrumental in the divine assignment of specific religious and social responsibilities and privileges to some persons, but every individual had a role to play in the arena of history by the simple fact of being begotten.
In the Bible the offices of king and priest play an important role as instruments used by God to represent the saving work and ministry of Jesus in whom the kingly and priestly offices congeal. Jesus was not simply the son of Mary. He was the Son of God in a unique way, and to Him His Father assigned a unique responsibility that He willingly accepted: the redemption of the human race.
There is much to learn from biblical genealogies. Next time you have to read one, don’t just read it, but study it carefully and reflectively. You will find embedded in the list of names many, many blessings.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez has served the church as a pastor, professor, author, and theologian. He now lives in Texas, U.S.A.
Could you address the question of unity in the church? I am saddened by the many tensions I see in the church.
Iunderstand your concern. But keep in mind that both wheat and weeds are present in the church, and it’s important to seek unity in spite of the tensions. The unity of the church is rooted deeply in the unity of God Himself, whose creation is functionally and structurally one. As Creator, He was the center around which everything found its reason for being. Therefore, all of creation reflected to some extent God’s oneness. Sin damaged creation by decentralizing it. Left without a center, humans found one in their own selves with devastating results.
Let’s look at this phenomenon, and at Christ’s work of restoring wholeness to the human race and to the cosmos.
1. Human Solidarity in Sin: Humanity’s rejection of God constituted them into a massive expression of oneness in sin, one in rebellion against God (Rom. 1:18-3:18), in sin (Rom. 5:12), and in death (verses 17, 21). They share common experiences, attitudes, and a common destination. Obviously this is not true unity. In fact, alienated from each other, they exist in a frantic search for self-realization and self-preservation. Each person has become his or her own center, in tension and conflict with everyone else (Gal. 5:19-21). They come together for particular purposes expecting some personal gain; but open conflict develops when that expectation fails. This fragmentation is the natural condition of the human heart. The ego is not strong enough to hold us together. We look at ourselves and find tensions, unresolved issues, and a frustrating desire to do what is good (Gal. 5:16, 17; Rom. 8:6-8). The ego exists in conflict with itself, leaving us unable to unify our own existence.
2. Oneness in Christ: The oneness of God was manifested in the person of His Son: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30, NIV). Through the incarnation Jesus reunited humans to God, creating a center around which repentant sinners become one in Him, in the Father (John 17:21), in the Spirit (Eph. 4:4), and with each other (1 Peter 3:8, 9). Christ provided a unifying center in His own person and work. It is His plan to restore wholeness to the universe by reconciling everything to Himself (Col. 1:20). He is already uniting repentant sinners to Himself in the church, which is His body, one undivided organism (Eph. 2:12-16). They join, through baptism, a new humanity that is not fragmented but exists in oneness with Him, their true center. The church is the visible expression of the effectiveness of Christ’s work of reconciliation on earth. Its unity reveals that the Son reconciles us to the Father (John 17:21, 23). Without the unity of the church the reconciling work of Christ would lack credibility in the world. It is only in Him and through Him that we can be, and remain, one.
3. Visibility of the Oneness in Christ: The church’s oneness is, at the same time, a present reality and a task to be accomplished in the power of the Spirit. Our union in Christ expresses itself and is nurtured within the church through our common message, common mission, commonlifestyle, and our organized global community of believers. We have “one faith” that embodies the message of salvation in Christ at the close of the cosmic conflict, and it has to be protected (Eph. 4:5; Rev. 14:6-8; 2 Tim. 1:13, 14). This message is framed within the work of Christ in the cosmic conflict, providing us with a sound, biblical worldview (Rev. 12). We have a common mission that will prepare the world for the coming of our Lord (Rev. 10:11; 14:6-12). Our unity in Christ manifests itself in the way we live the Christian life (Eph. 4:1-3). Since Christ is the center of our lives we align ourselves with the heavenly lifestyle. Our unity is visible in the organized structure of the church, which facilitates the mission of the global church (1 Cor. 12:12-25).
These things not only make visible our unity in Christ, but directly contribute to holding us together as one people; the people of God.
After a career as a pastor, professor, and theologian, Angel Manuel Rodríguez lives in retirement in Texas.
The book of Proverbs often mentions “the fool.” Who is this person?
The writers of the Bible’s wisdom literature knew that not everybody is interested in acquiring wisdom. The sages believed that such an attitude damaged the quality of life. Therefore they invited all to search for wisdom. Those who didn’t seek wisdom were regarded as fools. Folly was basically a rejection of fullness of life. Two main Hebrew words are used in Proverbs to refer to fools: kesil (“insolent, fool”) and ’ewil (“foolish, fool”). Let’s examine them both.
1. The kesil Type of Fool: These fools are indifferent to and uninterested in wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:22; 17:16). They despise words of insight (23:9) and have no real objective in life (17:24). They make no plans for the future, and consume everything they have (21:20). The basic problem is that they lack understanding and have not developed the ability to analyze and evaluate (8:5).
Their way of life is characterized by wickedness (10:23), and they are not interested in the results of their actions and words. Fools bring grief and suffering to their parents by disregarding their instruction (verse 1; 15:20). This type of fool lacks self-control (14:16, 29:11) and, consequently, is a threat to others (17:12). They live in a destructive self-complacency (1:32).
The fools of the kesil type cannot control their mouths. It gets them into trouble (18:7), because it is perverse (19:1), lacks knowledge (14:7), and brings them strife and beatings (18:6). Since they lack wisdom, the only thing they can share with others is their own meaningless opinion (verse 2; 12:23; 15:7). The wise should ignore the statements of the fool (26:4), although, in some cases, it is wise to answer them, lest the fools think they are wise (verse 5).
What fools need is a rod for their backs, i.e., self-discipline (verse 3). They are not, however, necessarily beyond hope. At times, the Lord puts the fool to shame (3:35), and wisdom makes herself known to them (14:33; 8:5). They can change their behavior through strong discipline (17:10). There is hope for them because they are not necessarily wise in their own eyes (26:12), and do not necessarily speak in haste (29:20).
2. The ’ewil Type of Fool: This second Hebrew word is fundamentally a synonym of kesil, and designates those who lack understanding and wisdom. They reject wisdom as a way of life (1:7). In fact, wisdom is beyond their comprehension—it is too high for them (24:7). Part of the problem is that they rejected the instruction and discipline of their parents (15:5). The ’ewil types do not know how to relate to others. They lack self-control and are easily provoked (12:16; 29:9). They are, therefore, quick to provoke others (27:3; 20:3). Their foolishness is expressed not only by their actions, but also by their lips, which are full of folly (10:8). When the assembly meets at the gate to deliberate, fools have nothing to say because they lack wisdom (24:7). It’s better that they keep quiet, because “even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (17:28).
This type of fool (’ewil) has gone beyond the common fool (kesil). They seem to have reached the point of no return because they have no interest in the fear of the Lord (1:7; Ps. 14:1). Yet they believe that their way of life is right (Prov. 12:15). They even mock the idea of guilt, thus indicating the absence of remorse (14:9). It is impossible to remove folly from them (27:22). Wisdom has nothing to offer them because they rejected her. The fool ’ewil will die for lack of understanding.
3. Lessons to Learn: Fools damage the quality of their lives and that of others. By contrast, self-control and the proper use of our words create a harmonious environment that enriches the well-being of those around us. The wisdom and power we need have been modeled in the person of our Savior. By looking at Him, we can also acquire wisdom, the wisdom that will make our lives a source of joy for all.
What does it mean that Christ is called the “firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15)?
This verse is often used by those who deny the divinity of Christ, saying that He was the first being created by God. In searching for an answer I will summarize the use of the word “firstborn” in the Old Testament, its use in the New Testament, and its application to Jesus.
1. Firstborn in the Old Testament: The use that predominates in the Old Testament is that of firstborn animals and humans. They both belonged to the Lord because He preserved them alive during the death of Egypt’s firstborn (Ex. 13:15). The firstborn of clean animals were sacrificed to the Lord, while the unclean were to be redeemed (Ex. 13:13; Lev. 27:26, 27). Firstborn humans were also to be redeemed (Ex. 13:13, 15). Later the Levites were offered to the Lord to work in the sanctuary in place of the other firstborn of Israel, permanently redeeming them (Num. 8:16-18).
The firstborn of humans was “the beginning of my strength” (Gen. 49:3), meaning an expression of the procreative power of the father. From the perspective of the mother, the firstborn was “whatever opens the womb” first (Ex. 13:2). The significance of firstborn humans probably rested on the fact that the oldest son would provide leadership to the family after the father’s death. He received a double portion of the inheritance and the honor and respect of the family (Deut. 21:17).
The title “firstborn” emphasized the first as a symbol of the best; therefore it pointed to the uniqueness of the son and his preeminence over the rest of the family. This led to an understanding of the term apart from the idea of birth. Thus Israel was the “firstborn” son of the Lord (Ex. 4:22) in the sense that it would be God’s “special treasure,” “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5, 6). David is also called the firstborn in the sense that he is “the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27).
2. Firstborn in the New Testament: Jesus is called the “firstborn Son” of Mary (Luke 2:7), the one who opened her womb. Other passages in the New Testament use the title “firstborn” metaphorically. According to Hebrews 12:23, there is a “church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” This is another way of saying that the Israel of faith is the firstborn of the Lord. Concerning Christ, He is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29), thus pointing to Jesus’ preeminent position among those redeemed by His grace and constituted by Him as His brothers. Christ is also the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). The expression is used to indicate that He is the one and only one who overcame the power of death and made that victory available to others.
3. Firstborn of Creation: The context of Colossians 1:15 clearly indicates that the word “firstborn,” as applied to Jesus, points to His preeminence in creation and His power or sovereignty over it.
First, the passage is about the origin of creation, not about the origin of Jesus. He brought everything into existence, and He was before everything else (verses 16, 17).
Second, He is described as the beginning, that is, the one who created at the beginning (Gen. 1:1). Creation, not Jesus, had a beginning!
Third, Jesus is also “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18).
The contrast is between the beginning of creation free from death and the eschatological work of Christ that overcame the power of death. As the firstborn from the dead He has power over it.
Fourth, the divine purpose in all of this was “that in all things He [Christ] may have the preeminence” (verse 18). As Creator and Redeemer, Jesus occupies the first place in the cosmos. He is the supreme ruler who holds together everything (verse 17).
Finally, Christ is the very image of God because the fullness of God dwells in Him (verses 15, 19). Therefore, His supremacy is grounded not only on His work, but on His very nature as God.
This is a difficult apocalyptic prophecy. I can provide only one possible way of interpreting it. And in doing so I will make only two suggestions: First, most of the language and imagery used in the passage is similar to the narrative of the exodus from Egypt. Second, “the king of the North” in Daniel behaves in ways that are similar to what, in Revelation, is described as mystical Babylon.
1.Exodus and the King of the North: Here are some of the most important parallels between the exodus story and the king of the north. The phrase “land of Egypt” (Dan. 11:42) is used in Exodus more than in any other book of the Bible (see, for example, Ex. 5-12). The hand of God was against Egypt (Ex. 3:20); now the hand of the king is against Egypt (Dan. 11:42). During the exodus God went down to Egypt; now the king goes down to Egypt (Ex. 3:10-12; Dan. 11:42). Edom, Moab, and Ammon were nations that the Israelites were not to attack during the exodus (Ex. 15:15; Deut. 2:1-9); the king of the north will not conquer them (Dan. 11:41). Both the Lord and the king defeat Egypt (Ex. 14:29-31). While during the exodus the Israelites took gold and silver from the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35, 36), the king does it now (Dan. 11:43). The Israelites left Egypt and went to the holy mountain to serve the Lord (Ex. 3:12; 19:20-23). The king will leave Egypt and go to the holy mountain (Dan. 11:45). The Israelites went to Canaan in a war of extermination (Deut. 7:2); the king of the north will go to the holy mountain to exterminate many (Dan. 11:44). These parallels, and some others, suggest that the king of the north is attempting to take the place of God in human history. He imitates God’s acts of salvation and the work of God’s people, but in reality he fights against them. At the end no one comes to help him, and he is defeated by the Lord.
2.Revelation and the King of the North: The parallels between the activities of the king and Babylon are significant. I will mention only a few. We concluded that the king takes upon himself the role of God. In Revelation the unholy trinity formed by the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the land constitute Babylon and attempt to usurp the role of God on earth (Rev. 12-14). Babylon, like the king of the north, unifies the kings of the earth in order to try to exterminate God’s people (Rev. 16:13, 14; 17:13, 17). Some are not “conquered” by the king because they listen to the call to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4), and may be represented in Revelation by Edom, Moab, Ammon. In the war of extermination God’s people find refuge on Mount Zion, the holy mountain in the Old Testament (Rev. 14:1). Babylon goes against them (Rev. 16:16). The attack fails because God delivers His people. The Babylonian coalition is fragmented (verses 18-21), and, like the king of the north, no one can help it.
3. Symbolism of the King of the South: The geographical language of Daniel designates universal spiritual powers at work through human agencies. Daniel refers to the king of the south as Egypt, a predominantly negative biblical symbol. It is a land whose king has no respect for the Lord and openly challenges Him (Ex. 5:2). It stands for human pride. While the king of the north is interested in occupying the place of God, usurping His role, the king of the south simply does not care. It could easily represent people for whom the biblical God is unimportant. Today this symbolism could apply to non-Christian societies, and to places where secularism and atheism prevail. The king of the north will overcome them when the wound inflicted on the beast from the sea is healed (Rev. 13:3). But what appears to be good will turn out to be what it really is: an attempt to usurp God’s power on earth.
The prophecy of Daniel 11:40-45 is further developed in Revelation under the symbol of Babylon. This should encourage us, because in both cases God and His people are victorious.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez has served the church as a pastor, professor, and theologian. He is now retired, living in Texas.
What does the Bible say about unidentified flying objects (UFOs)?
Nothing! Of course, some have argued that they are mentioned in the Bible (e.g., 2 Kings 2:11), but there is nothing in it comparable to what some claim to have seen today. However, some Adventists—emotionally and spiritually balanced believers—have informed me that they have seen such objects and that they would like to know how to relate this to the Scriptures. It is commonly believed that flying objects come from other worlds/planets, and this assumes that there is intelligent life on other planets. Here are a few ideas.
1. Intelligent Life on Other Planets:The Bible affirms the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The ministry of God’s angels among humans (Matt. 18:10; Ps. 91:11) and the statement that the sons of God rejoiced when the Lord was creating indicate that intelligent beings exist, and existed even before the creation of humanity (Job 38:7). The Son of God—an extraterrestrial, if you please—descended to our world, became one of us, and ascended to heaven victorious over the forces of evil (John 1:1-3, 14; Acts 1:9; Col. 2:15). It is also important to keep in mind that the forces of evil are not earthlings; they came here from outer space to oppose God and deceive humans (Rev. 12:7-9).
2. What if They Are Real? What can we say to those who believe that unidentified flying objects are real and that they come from other planets? First, the Bible makes clear that communication between humans and extraterrestrial forms of life is possible only through the mediation of Christ, who sent the Holy Spirit and His angels to minister in our behalf (1 Tim. 2:5; John 14:16, 17, 26).
Second, God through Christ has revealed how the human predicament in all its diversity of expression is to be resolved. Any deviation from the divine plan is suspect.
Third, Christ has clearly established the manner of His return (Matt. 16:27; 24:30, 31; 1 Thess. 4:14-17). Therefore, we can affirm that He will not be using the unidentified flying objects that some people claim to have seen.
Fourth, evil powers are also involved in the cosmic conflict, and seek to deceive humans by offering an alternate plan for the solution of the human predicament. They will become particularly active through miracles and supernatural manifestations as we approach the close of the cosmic conflict (Rev. 13:13, 14). Scripture tells us that they will go to the kings of the earth to unite them against God and His people (Rev. 16:14). They will even attempt to imitate the return of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:8, 9). These fundamental biblical teachings should be used to evaluate any alleged manifestation of extraterrestrial life on our planet in unidentified flying objects, or in any other form.
3.Additional Evidence? Some Adventists have used a statement by Ellen G. White to argue that she anticipated the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects and identified them as being of demonic origin: “Fearful sights of a supernatural character will soon be revealed in the heavens, in token of the power of miracle-working demons. The spirits of devils will go forth to the kings of the earth and to the whole world, to fasten them in deception, and urge them on to unite with Satan in his last struggle against the government of Heaven” (The Great Controversy, p. 623). I will leave it to the reader to decide how to interpret this interesting statement. We can, based on the biblical evidence, unambiguously state that demonic manifestations will increase in intensity and nature.
Time will tell what, if anything, are the unidentified flying objects; and, if real, what their intentions would be. Our safety is to be grounded in Scripture. We should not be distracted by this phenomenon from that which is more important: the fulfillment of the mission God has entrusted to us. Adventists should not be obsessed by these things, even if we can affirm that we have seen them. The divine plan, and our involvement in it, are most important.
Why is a prophecy established on the basis of Daniel 8:14 and ending in 1844 important for all Christians?
This is a question we are occasionally asked by other Christians. In an age of rationalism and scientific methodologies, it is considered absurd to suggest that a biblical writer could predict events that would take place thousands of years after the prediction. But the Bible provides abundant examples of long- and short-term prophecies that were fulfilled within history.
1. A God of the Future:The 1844 date should remind Christians that the God of the Scriptures is still involved in their history. The historical critical approach to Bible interpretation excluded divine intervention from human affairs, leaving us in the hands of human and natural causality. Daniel 8:14 and its fulfillment in 1844 call Christians to return to the Bible and its apocalyptic prophecies to reaffirm that God is still active in fulfilling His prophetic word in human history. These prophecies provide a general outline of the experience of God’s people during the Christian Era to help them locate themselves within the flow of history and to call them to align themselves with His divine plan.
God’s speaking did not end at the close of the first century, and we can hear His voice to us in the fulfillment of His apocalyptic prophecies. The fulfillment of Daniel 8:14 in 1844 is a divine shout to the human race informing us that the work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary is directly related to His work within our history.
2. Christ’s Work of Mediation:The year 1844, as a year when prophecy was fulfilled, calls the Christian world to return to the biblical teaching of the work of mediation of Christ in the heavenly temple. This biblical truth has been neglected by Christians in general. In Roman Catholic tradition the church became the heavenly temple and a human priesthood was established to distribute the grace of Christ. Consequently the work of the only Mediator between God and humans was clouded (1 Tim. 2:5). Protestants emphasized the cross so much that they have had little to say about the mediation of Christ before the Father. Quite often His mediation is limited to His death on the cross. The typological significance of the Israelite sanctuary services has been partially ignored. But Christ’s mediation in heaven is as important for us as the cross; not in the sense that it complements the cross, but in that it unfolds its saving power.
3. Christ’s Work of Judgment: The fulfillment of prophecy in 1844 tells the Christian world that the typological meaning of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16)—His work of eschatological judgment—is being fulfilled in the mediation of Christ in the heavenly temple. This judgment—already in progress—will result in the vindication of God and His people and in the cleansing of the universe from the miasma of sin (Rev. 20:11-15). This judgment is not to inform God, but to reveal to all intelligent creatures that He dealt justly and lovingly with the cosmic problem of sin (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 16:5-7; 19:1, 2). While this judgment takes place in heaven the church is active on earth.
4. The Urgency of the Message: The fulfillment of prophecy in 1844 invites the Christian world to awake from its spiritual lethargy to proclaim a message that will prepare the world for Christ’s coming. This eternal gospel should be proclaimed in the context of the hour of God’s judgment and of a demonic deception that will significantly increase toward the end of the cosmic conflict (Rev. 14:6-12; 13:13, 14).
The Christian church should urgently proclaim the crucified and risen Savior who is in the heavenly sanctuary standing for us before the Father and directly involved on earth, through the Spirit, in opposing the last demonic attack against God and His kingdom. The year 1844 brought to light a system of biblical truth that fearlessly opposes the deceptions of the enemy, thus becoming a divine instrument in preparing the world for Jesus’ return.
Does the Bible teach that the Noah’s flood was universal?
An unbiased reading of Genesis 6-8 unquestionably demonstrates that Noah’s flood was universal. Reasons for its denial are located in sources from outside the Scriptures, such as scientific arguments and the mythology of the ancient Near East. Universal catastrophism can no longer be ignored. For instance, those who argue that the temperature on the planet is rising know very well that this phenomenon will result in catastrophes of a global nature. We may not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the flood was universal, but we can clearly argue that this is what the Bible teaches. We will summarize here some of the biblical data.
1. Universality of Sin: The first two chapters of Genesis are mainly interested in the creation of our planet and all forms of life within it. It has a clearly universal outlook. Although the fall into sin takes place in the Garden of Eden, sin itself soon became a universal phenomenon (Rom. 5:12). By the time of Noah the human heart was corrupt beyond repair and “every inclination of the thoughts” of the human heart “was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (verse 11). Humans had corrupted their ways and, in order to correct this situation, the Lord was ready “to destroy both them and the earth” (verse 13). This emphasis on the universality of the problem points to the universality of the means used by the Lord to deal with it.
2.All Humans: The language used to refer to humans is also universal and all-inclusive: “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal”; God was grieved “that he had made human beings on the earth” (verses 3, 6). It is obvious that the phrase “that he had made” is referring to the creation of humans in Genesis 1:26-28. In other words, God is bringing to an end the lives, not of certain ethnic groups, but of the humankind He had originally created. The Lord’s preservation of Noah and his family demonstrates that the rest of humanity perished in the Flood: “Only Noah was left” (Gen. 7:23).
3. All Living Things: The language used to refer to the animals is also universal. God is bringing to an end “all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it” (Gen. 6:17; cf. Gen. 7:22). The language used here goes back to the Creation account (Gen. 1:30). In other passages we read: “Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth” (Gen. 7:21). The Lord was to “wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made” (verse 4). Again, the language points back to Creation (Gen. 2:6; 1:25). This is “the end,” the eschatological end of that generation. During the Flood God judged humankind: He gave humans a probationary time (Gen. 6:3), investigated the evidence (verse 5—“the Lord saw”), concluded that the earth was filled with violence (verse 13), pronounced a sentence (verse 7), and executed judgment against His creation (Gen. 7:11-24).
4. All the Waters: The Hebrew word mabbul is used exclusively to refer to the flood of Noah and not to local floods. Its waters destroyed all living things, including humans (Gen. 6:17), and covered the highest mountains of the earth (Gen. 7:20). The torrential rain and the breaking of the fountains of water of the earth lasted 40 days (verse 17). Noah had to wait inside the ark one year and 10 days (verse 11; Gen. 8:13, 14).
The Flood was a divine act that perhaps we’ll never be able to explain through the study of the natural world. It was a divine act of de-creation—almost returning the earth to its original condition—followed by the divine act of re-creation through an eternal covenant with humans and nature. When sin had apparently conquered the world, God preserved for Himself a faithful remnant through whom He would fulfill His plan for the human race. This universal judgment against human sin became a type of the universal judgment at the return of Christ (Matt. 24:38, 39). At that moment He will preserve His end-time remnant people.
It doesn’t say much. In cultures around the world tattooing has been a common practice for ages. So your question is about an ancient practice that continues to be part of the human experience in many places. Tattoos are usually understood to refer to designs or symbols or art on the body by inserting, through the use of certain instruments, ink or colorants under the epidermis. Human skin is used as a natural canvas. There is also what some call scar tattooing, the result of intentionally searing or scratching the body to create some type of mark or pattern.
I will first discuss the role of tattooing in biblical times, then the biblical text, and finally make some comments on the issue.
1. Tattooing in Biblical Times and Today: In the world of the Bible tattoos indicated social status; e.g., a slave would be inscribed with the name of his owner or of the owner’s god. They could also have religious significance. The name or symbol of the god was tattooed on the person. They could be made for protection, e.g., to shield the person from the attacks of evil powers. These three uses are found almost everywhere in the ancient world, and in many places today. In the Western world tattoos have traditionally been associated with sailors, gangs, and bikers, but this has changed. In the case of gangs, tattoos are basically expressions of rebellion and solidarity among members of the gang. A growing number of evangelicals in North America are using tattoos to express their commitment to Christ. Tattooing is no longer restricted to certain marginalized social groups; it is estimated that at least 24 percent of Americans have a tattoo. It is now perceived to be an act of self-expression, often commemorating an important event in the life of the person, or to have some other symbolic meaning (e.g., talismanic power). The fact that celebrities in sports and movies have tattoos makes the practice popular. Nevertheless, about 25 percent of those who have tattoos will remove them from their bodies.
2. Tattoos in the Bible: The Bible says very little about tattoos. The main text is Leviticus 19:28, which is part of a collection of laws in which pagan practices related to the dead are forbidden. The meaning of the Hebrew word qa‘aqa (“tattoo”) is uncertain, but based on postbiblical Hebrew, it is traditionally rendered “tattoo.” This is confirmed by the second noun, ketobet(“mark”), which is based on the verb “to write.” This is about writing something on the body. The phrase is taken as an idiom meaning “a tattoo” (“Do not put a tattoo on yourselves”). Often the tattooing mentioned is interpreted as referring to a pagan expression of mourning. But this is not clearly indicated in the text. And as far as I can tell, ancient mourning rituals did not include tattooing. The prohibition may refer to religious tattooing.
3. Word of Advice:The passage discussed above does not support tattooing. No specific reason is given for the prohibition, except that Leviticus 19 is a call to holiness. Therefore, the law aims at instructing God’s people on the way of holiness. Holiness expresses itself not only in the spiritual realm but in and through our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19). We can also add that humans, created in the image of God, are to reveal that image through their bodies and the way they treat them. Mutilations and tattoos may fall into this category, and could be seen as damaging God’s creation. We should also keep in mind that the body is not something we own, but who we are. It is a gift from the Lord; it belongs to the Lord. Therefore it would be better for Christians to abstain from tattooing.
But let me end with a word of caution: We should not sit in judgment against those who, for some reason, have decided to have a tattoo. Our churches should be open, willing, and ready to welcome any person who wants to worship with us. What we need is Christian understanding, not condemnation.
How did legal courts function in the Old Testament?
The right of the state to establish, interpret, and enforce laws plays a significant role in any society. The legal system in the Old Testament is difficult to define in detail, although its basic contour is quite clear. Like any legal system, in Israel it sought to reestablish justice, social harmony, and the order upset through a civil or criminal offense. In principle, the court of law was interested in finding and revealing the truth in a context of legal debate.
1. Moses to the Judges: After the Exodus, Moses functioned as the judge of Israel (Ex. 18:13, 16). This was based on family or tribal law, where the father of the extended family was responsible for preserving or reestablishing justice. In the case of Moses, this became an unbearable responsibility, and a new system was set in place that seemed to have influenced the legal system throughout the Old Testament (verses 17-27). It comprised three elements. First, people were to learn the laws that would regulate this new society in order to act responsibly. Second, lower courts were located throughout the camp. The jurisdiction of these courts was restricted to minor legal issues. The appointed judges were carefully selected, committed to the Lord, and ethically and morally reliable (verse 21). Third, there was a higher court for which Moses was the judge. This was not a court of appeal, but one in which major legal matters were to be resolved (verse 22).
The legal system was slightly modified before the Israelites entered Canaan (Deut. 17:8-13). The lower courts were located in the towns or the gates of the city (verse 2; cf. Ruth 4:1-12). The judges probably were elders of the town. The higher court was then located where the sanctuary was and would deal with cases of “bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults” (Deut. 17:8, NIV).* A judge, together with the priest, would always make a final legal decision (verse 9). During the period of the judges there were judges throughout the land (Joshua 24:1), and at least some of charismatic judges exercised judicial roles (Judges 4:4, 5; 1 Sam. 8:1-3).
2. The King as Judge:When people requested a king who could judge them, a monarchy was instituted (1 Sam. 8:20; 1 Kings 3:9). He became the judge of the land (cf. 2 Sam. 15:4), but he could not act alone. David appointed judges (1 Chron. 26:29), probably to officiate in minor courts. The king’s court was for more difficult cases, and perhaps for appeals (2 Sam. 14:5-10). It is difficult to establish how the king’s court operated, but the legal reforms instituted by Jehoshaphat could be helpful to our understanding. He reappointed “judges in the land throughout all the fortified cities of Judah” (2 Chron. 19:5). A higher court in Jerusalem was composed of priests and Levites and some of the “chief fathers of Israel” (verse 8; the elders). It dealt with more difficult cases, perhaps referred to them by lower courts (verse 10), which may have included religious, civil, and criminal cases. The king appointed his representative to this higher court (verse 11). Obviously he had his own judicial authority, but we lack specific details.
3. Theological Significance:In Israel God was the supreme judge, not only of His people but of all the earth. He was the only one who could restore justice, harmony, and wholeness to society and the land. Judges were appointed not to “judge for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment” (verse 6).
In the New Testament, Jesus assumes the role of God as universal judge. He is the judge, the priest, and the king, who through His sacrifice revealed the evilness of evil and the love of God, and can then pronounce a final verdict in the supreme court of the universe, the heavenly temple, against His enemies and in favor of His people.