QUESTION: Is it possible for people who never hear about Jesus to be saved?
By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
Christians have offered different answers to this question. I will offer some thoughts that have helped me reach my own conclusions, examine some biblical evidence, and make some remarks of a theological nature.
1.Salvation Through Christ and Mission: Some Christians deny that there can be salvation apart from a knowledge of Christ. This could be called the exclusivist answer. Some biblical passages appear to support this view. For instance, Jesus said: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV). Peter reaffirmed this conviction: “Salva-tion is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12, NIV). In fact, the gospel comm-ission requires that the knowledge of salvation through Christ be pro-claimed to every person (Matt. 28:18-20; cf. Rev. 14:6-12). Salvation req-uires faith in Jesus (Rom. 1:16; 10:9; Acts 16:30-34). The saving death of Jesus and the exclusive claim that salvation is only through Him is the very foundation of the mission of the church. This is what the Lord commanded us to do, and we, in humble submission to Him, go and fulfill the mission.
2. The Mission Remains God’s Mission: Another aspect of this question is this: Mission did not originate with the church, but with God; and it remains His. He initiated it by sending His Son as our Savior (John 3:16). Every aspect of the earthly ministry of Jesus was a fulfillment of God’s saving mission for the human race. At the close of His ministry, Jesus said to the Father He had completed “the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4, NIV).
The Spirit is personally involved in the divine mission. Jesus was filled by the Spirit in the fulfillment of His mission (e.g., Isa. 11:1-5; Matt. 3:16, 17). The church itself was empowered by the Spirit to fulfill its mission (Acts 1:8). The deep connection between the church and the Spirit indicates that, although the church was brought into existence for mission, the mission is God’s mission. It is being fulfilled by the Spirit through the church. In the presence of believers the Spirit, in agreement with divine design, uses them to accomplish God’s mission.
3. Mission and the Spirit: But what would God do in the absence of Christian believers? I propose that the Spirit continues to be responsible for the realization of the mission. When the visible expression of the people of God is not accessible in a region of the world, be it for political, religious, or any other reason, God’s saving mission to the world is not deactivated. God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4, NIV). A good example of this is found in the experience of Cornelius, a gentile who feared God but who did not have a Christian to teach him. In that situation the Lord directly spoke to him in a vision and guided him to Peter (Acts 10:1-10). God has not left Himself without witnesses among nations living in spiritual darkness. At times He raised prophets among them and divine light reached them (cf. Num. 24:2). Jesus, through the Spirit, continues to be “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9, NIV). This suggests that non-Christians who live out of contact with the people of God, when touched by the Spirit, sincerely yearn for something better (cf. James 1:17). They then experience the saving power of God on the mind and character. Their knowledge may be extremely limited, but they have been transformed by His grace and unknowingly became children of God through Jesus. The Spirit implanted the grace of Christ in their hearts and without knowing about Jesus they have been blessed by His saving grace.
This work of the Spirit does not legitimize non-Christian religions or allow for religious pluralism. Of course, in His work the Spirit could use fragments of truth that may be present in any religion, but He is not bound by such elements. Grace is directly mediated to people by Christ through the Spirit. Neither does the work of the Spirit make witnessing irrelevant. On the contrary, the work of the Holy Spirit prepares the way for the church to fulfill its mission more effectively.
QUESTION: Are the time periods mentioned in Daniel 12:11, 12 (1290 days and 1335 days) to be understood literally or symbolically?
Adventists follow the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, by which the prophecies received by Daniel span the time from the days of the prophet to the establishment of God’s kingdom. According to this approach the year-day principle (Eze. 4:6) is used to interpret prophetic periods. The historicist approach claims that those periods were years, and that they found their fulfillment during the late Middle Ages.
Some Adventists now argue that the year-day principle does not apply to these two prophecies, and that these prophetic periods should be understood as literal days of events to be fulfilled before Jesus’ return. They are forced to speculate about which events will mark the completion of those periods. Let’s examine the context of the passage for guidance.
1.Immediate Context and the Time of the End. Not everything described in Daniel 12:5-13 is related to the time of the end. For instance, the sealing of the book and the increase in knowledge begin before that time (verses 4, 9); it is before the time of the end that the heavenly being swears “by him who lives forever” (verse 7), the breaking of the power of the holy people occurs, and the “wonders” come to an end (verse 8). The refinement of God’s people takes place throughout history, not simply at the time of the end (verse 10). Therefore, it is incorrect to say that because the immediate context mentions the time of the end, the prophetic periods belong to that same time.
2. Prophetic Periods in Daniel: Even if we were to recognize that prophetic time periods are in a context in which there are no visions and that the language is predominantly literal, that would not mean the days themselves are literal. In Daniel prophetic periods are never given in a visual form. The prophet hears or is told them by a heavenly being. In Daniel 7:25 the 3H times is introduced not during the vision, but during the angel’s explanation of the vision. In Daniel 8:14 the 2300 days are given in the context of a revelation in which the language is predominantly literal. Finally, in Daniel 9 we find the prophecy of the 70 weeks given to Daniel through an oral explanation. In all those cases the language used in the interpretation of the vision is basically literal, but the prophetic periods are not. They are introduced after the vision as additional information, but their symbolic content is not fully explained. This is exactly what we find in Daniel 12:11, 12. During the oral presentation prophetic periods are given without a detailed interpretation. Daniel is unable to understand them, but he is led to believe that God’s people will understand them in the future.
3.Connection Between the Time Periods: The 1290 days are an extension of the 1260 days mentioned in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 as a “time, times, and half a time.” The difference in Daniel 12:11 is 30 days, suggesting that an additional month has been added to extend the period (a common practice in lunar calendars). Because the period of 1290 days is based on the 1260 days, and because it is acknowledged by historicist interpreters that the 1260 days are years, we have to conclude that the year-day principle also applies to the 1290 days.
The reference to the 1260 days in Daniel 7:25 emphasized the time during which God’s people would suffer persecution. Daniel 12:7 emphasizes the moment when the activities of God’s enemies would come to an end. The 1290 days in Daniel 12:11 emphasize the moment when prophetic time begins. In order to synchronize the beginning of the prophecy with a specific event, the period is extended by adding an extra month—instead of 42 months (1260 days) we now have 43 (1290 days). This intercalation allows the angel interpreter to be more precise concerning the event that initiates the period, as well as to its full length. The prophetic period of 1290 days is then extended by 45 extra days, making it total 1335 prophetic years, based on the year-day principle.
In conclusion, these two time periods are extensions of a well-established prophetic period, and they should be interpreted symbolically, consistent with the rest of the prophecy.
Question: Is there any biblical support for the increasingly common practice of raising and waving hands during congregational singing?
This question may not appear important, but it reveals that we are very much interested in a worship that is biblically based and does not violate biblical instruction. It also implies that waving hands while singing is creating some tensions. I will deal with the use of the hands during acts of adoration. It will become clear that in the Bible the ritual use of hands took place mainly during prayer.
1. Nonverbal acts:Body gestures play an important role in the expression of ideas and emotions. Studies on the role of nonverbal acts of worship in the Bible help us understand their significance a little better. In the Bible we have only the language of postures, gestures, movements, and facial expressions. Ancient Near Eastern art illustrates many of the gestures. The hand gestures we find mentioned in the Bible were also common in the setting of worship and prayer in the ancient Near East.
2. Lifting up hands: The expressions “to lift up the hands [yādîm]” or “to lift up the palms [kappayim]” are practically synonymous. They are used in different contexts and express different meanings in some cases. “To lift up the hands” is a gesture that expresses adoration in the context of worship. Those who ministered in the Temple were exhorted to “lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord” (Ps. 134:2, NIV). The gesture indicated that the object of praises was the Lord and that the whole person was involved in the act. It was also used to present to the Lord a prayer of supplication (Ps. 28:2), as if the prayer were placed in the palm of the hand and lifted up to the Lord asking Him to accept it (Ps. 141:2). In other cases the gesture appears to express the willingness of the person to receive from the Lord what was requested (Ps. 63:4, 5; Lam. 2:19). But the lifting up of the hands seems to express something deeper, something related to the human heart: “Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven” (Lam. 3:41, NIV). The lifting of the hands corresponded to the lifting of the inner being of the worshipper to God in communion with Him.
3. Spreading out the hands: In this case the verb is pārash (“to spread out”), expressing the idea that the hands were spread out in front of the person, not necessarily lifted up. At times it appears that the worshipper spread hands toward the Temple, the heavens (1 Kings 8:38, 39, 54; Ps. 44:20), or the Lord (Ex. 9:33). Spreading out the hands was particularly done during prayers of supplication (1 Kings 8:54; Isa. 1:15; Ex. 9:29; Lam. 1:17) or when there was a deep need for the presence of God (Ps. 143:6). Psalm 88:9 reads: “I call to you, O Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you.” The need of the psalmist was so intense that he begs the Lord for help. Although in deep need, the worshipper goes to the Lord and extends the hands to Him for help. This more intense gesture was an expression of the individual’s dependence on God (Ps. 44:20) and devotion of the heart to the Lord (Job 11:13).
4. So what? As far as I can ascertain, there is no waving of hands during worship in the Bible. The lifting of hands was common (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). The Bible does not prescribe hand gestures for worship, but it describes accepted common practices. Ancient Christian art indicates that Christians used to pray with arms and hands stretched out to the sides depicting with their bodies the crucifixion. Today we typically put our hands together either in back or in front of our bodies, or simply let them hang to the side. Occasionally we may put our palms together and interlock our fingers—a practice common among ancient Romans and Sumerians. At other times the palms are brought together with the fingers pointing upward—common in Buddhist and Hindu religiosity. The introduction of novelties in our churches, influenced by charismatic systems of worship, can disrupt a worship that should be centered in our Creator and Redeemer and in His Word. It may be better to follow the common practice of the congregation where we collectively worship the Lord.
Question: Is Mary, the sister of Martha, the same as Mary Magdalene?
Ihave been asked this question many times, suggesting that it interests many people. It has often been a topic of discussion in the history of the Christian church. Let’s examine the biblical evidence.
1. Mary of Bethany:We know little about this Mary, unless she is identified with Mary Magdalene.
This is what we know: She was the sister of Martha and Lazarus and lived in Bethany, in the region of Judea (Luke 10:38, 39; John 11:1, 2). She used to sit at Jesus’ feet to learn from Him. Since this was the posture assumed by a disciple, we can conclude that she was a disciple of Jesus. She anointed Jesus shortly before His crucifixion, revealing her devotion and love for Him (John 11:2; 12:1-8). This act was her expression of gratitude for the forgiving love of the Savior she experienced (Luke 7:47, 48). Luke implies that she had been forgiven much. After the anointing, no other mention is made of Mary of Bethany.
2. Mary Magdalene: The full name of this woman has traditionally been taken to imply that she was from the city of Magdala, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first time she is mentioned in the Gospels she is specifically included among women who had been healed by Jesus from their sickness or from demonic possession; specifically that she had been freed from seven demons, most probably by Jesus (Luke 8:2). These women were Jesus’ disciples—they accompanied Him during His second Galilean tour—and they provided financial support for His ministry (verses 2, 3). In other words, Mary Magdalene was relatively wealthy.
3. Same Person? Based on the biblical evidence I can only say, “Perhaps” or “Probably so.” Most interpreters believe these are two different persons, because no historical evidence exists to support the position that they are the same person.
Besides, there is the problem of the place of origin. Bethany is in Judea, while Magdala is in Galilee. One could speculate that perhaps early in her life Mary left her home in Bethany, went to live in Magdala, and after she met Jesus she returned to Bethany. This does not contradict any of the biblical evidence, but simply goes beyond it.
Another detail to suggest we are dealing with the same person is that the anointing of Jesus recorded in Luke describes Mary as “a woman who had lived a sinful life” (7:37, NIV). In this case it would be difficult to deny that this refers to Mary of Bethany. Besides, they were both disciples of Jesus, and they appear to have had some financial resources that were placed at the service of the Lord. Based on the Bible I cannot provide a final answer to your question. Please, do not get frustrated; we don’t know everything.
4. What Really Matters: Perhaps what is significant for us in the discussion of the identity of Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany is that, whether or not they were the same person, Jesus trained women to proclaim the good news of salvation. He called men and women to the service of the gospel.
Mary Magdalene came to play a significant role in the gospel narrative. She almost became the disciple par excellence. She witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross (Matt. 27:55, 56; John 19:25) and accompanied His body to the tomb (Matt. 27:60, 61). On Sunday morning she was the first to get to Jesus’ tomb, and, seeing that it was empty, went and informed the disciples that someone had taken away Jesus’ body (John 20:1, 2). The other disciples came and found it to be true and went away, but Mary stayed behind and was the first to see the risen Lord (verse 15). He commissioned her to tell the disciples He had been resurrected (verse 17). In obedience, she and the other women went to the disciples and announced that the Lord had risen (John 20:18; Matt. 28:7; Luke 24:9).
If the resurrected Savior used women to proclaim to the male disciples that He was alive, we should also make full room for women in the proclamation of the eternal gospel.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.
Dictionaries define “monotheism” as the belief that there is only one God; from the Greek, mono (“single”) and theos (“God”). Scholars from all Christian traditions have discussed the extent to which this term embodies the biblical view of God. The question they raise is whether the Bible recognizes the existence of other gods. I will describe some of the issues of this question and make some general comments on the biblical materials.
1. Monotheism and the Bible: Bible scholars used to believe that all religions were originally monotheistic, but that slowly the idea of the existence of many gods crept into their system of beliefs. Other scholars argued that monotheism is the end- product of a long process that began with the con-viction that there were many gods or many spiritual forces. But this evolutionary approach to monotheism is alien to the Bible. Recently scholars have recognized that biblical materials on that topic are more complex than previously believed. But they are still asking themselves whether a narrow understanding of monotheism properly des-cribes the biblical view of God. That depends on how we define monotheism.
2.One, Yet Many: The Bible clearly affirms the existence of one supreme God. This is the God introduced in the first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1. It was the Lord alone who created everything in an effortless manner, i.e., without having to face opposing forces. At the moment of Creation, He was the only and unique God, the Lord. We find passages stating that “besides him there is no other [God]” (Deut. 4:35, NIV), that “the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other” (Deut. 4:39, NIV; see also Isa. 44:6-8). Many other passages support the use of the term “monotheism” for the biblical understanding of God.
But we cannot ignore other evidence that complicates the issue; particularly passages such as Psalm 82, where God is described as sitting among the “gods” in judgment and pronouncing a final verdict against them: “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High. But you will die like mere men” (verse 6, NIV). This has been called “monarchic monotheism,” that is to say, the other gods are under the headship of God (cf. Ps. 95:3); but this is too close to polytheism (a belief in the existence of and the worship of many gods). The New Testament acknowledges the existence of at least another “god:” “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4, NIV).
Even the first commandment could be read as implying the existence of other “gods:” “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3, NIV). What is surprising about the first commandment is that—as far as I can tell—such a prohibition is unknown in ancient Near Eastern religions. Such religions did not know anything about a jealous God who demanded the exclusive service and adoration of His people. In such religions, honoring all the gods was a virtue and useful to their practitioners.
3. Uniqueness of the Lord: When examining this question we have to emphasize one thing: that the Bible depicts God as absolutely holy, unique, and without equal (cf. Deut. 6:4; Isa. 6:3). He is the Uncreated One, the Eternal (cf. Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8). His very nature places Him outside the realm of His creation—even though He chose to dwell with His creatures. Those who are called “gods” are in reality creatures and therefore essentially different from the Lord. They were created by Him through Christ (cf. Col. 1:16), but they chose rebellion (cf. Jude 6) and sought to occupy the Lord’s place in the life of humans (Isa. 14:13, 14; Eph. 2:1, 2). They proclaimed themselves “gods” but they are still accountable to the Lord and cannot fully function independent of Him (cf. Job 1:6-12; Col. 2:10). This biblical understanding of God and the nature of the “gods” may not fully fit a traditional and narrow definition of monotheism, but it is monotheistic in that it does not recognize the existence of any other being that is in any way similar to the Lord God or that participates of His distinctive nature. The uniqueness of God does not deny the plurality of persons in the Godhead, but they should never be considered to be a plurality of “gods.” The mystery of the Godhead resides in the mystery of His uniqueness.
QUESTION: Hebrews 8:10 talks about the new covenant and its law. What is the content of that law?
The text you quoted does not explicitly state the content of the “law,” but the terminology used in the immediate context, as well as the view of the law in the rest of the letter to the Hebrews, provides a clear answer to your question. Let’s examine both of them.
1. The Law in Hebrews 8:10: The verse quotes Jeremiah 31:33, the only place in the Old Testament where the “new covenant” is mentioned. According to the new covenant the Lord promises to “put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (Heb. 8:10).* We should notice several things.
First, there is no reference to a new law. It is simply “my laws,” suggesting that its meaning was clear to the intended readers. What is new is that under the new covenant the law will be placed in the human mind/heart.
Second, it explicitly states that God will write His laws in the human heart. It is impossible to miss the reference to the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai: “And he [God] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments” (Ex. 34:28). They were “inscribed by the finger of God” (31:18). These tablets are called “the tablets of the covenant” (Deut. 9:9, 15), that is to say the covenant law, and were placed inside the “ark of the covenant” (Deut. 10:8). In the new covenant, the Lord will inscribe this same covenant law on the human heart. It will be internalized, becoming part of the life of the believer.
Third, the plural, “laws,” used only in Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16, does not refer to a diversity of laws different from those in the Old Testament, but to the content of the Decalogue. In the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 31:33 the term “law” is singular, but the Greek translation of the Old Testament, used by the apostle, translated it as a plural. The plural was employed because the law inscribed on the tablets consisted of a list of specific laws—the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex. 34:28).
Based on that evidence we can conclude that the biblical writer had in mind the Decalogue as the covenant law of the new covenant.
2. Hebrews Sets Aside the Law: It could be argued that we should not take the verb “I will write” too narrowly by limiting it to the Decalogue; that perhaps it is being used in a loose way. But the only thing we have to interpret the passage is what the passage says, and the connections it makes with other parts of the Bible. But let’s examine the use of the term “law” in the rest of Hebrews.
There is a law the apostle believes has been “set aside” (Heb. 7:18), not because it was bad but because it was “only a shadow of the good things that are coming” (Heb. 10:1). This is the priestly law dealing with the restriction of the priesthood to the descendents of Levi (chap. 7:5, 16, 18), with the sacrificial system (chap. 8:4; 10:8), with ritual ablutions (chap. 9:10), and with the blood of animals (chap. 9:22). Since these laws were “set aside” through the sacrifice and the priestly work of Jesus, they cannot be part of the laws inscribed in the heart of those who accept the new covenant.
3. Hebrews Affirms the Law: Hebrews reaffirms the law, particularly the commandments found in the Ten Commandments, and indicates that it is still valid in the life of the new covenant community. The author states “God will judge the adulterer” (chap. 13:4), that we need to worship God (chap. 12:28), and calls his readers to be obedient to the will of God for them (chap. 10:36). There is even a reference to the seventh-day Sabbath (chap. 4:4), and to the fact that God rested and that “there remains … a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (chap. 4:9). This shows us that Hebrews establishes a difference between the Ten Commandments as the law of the new covenant and the commandments of the old covenant related to the priestly laws.
Perhaps the most important thing in this discussion is that the law should be internalized, shaping our character and actions. It is not a burden but a joyful expression of our covenant relationship with God; a covenant instituted through the gracious blood of Jesus.
*All Scriptures quoted in this article are from the New International Version.
QUESTION: Why did James say “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24)?
James 2:14-26 has often been understood as a corrective to Paul’s one-sided emphasis on justification by faith alone. Fortunately most scholars today disagree with that assessment, as do I. In seeking to understand James’ argument we need to keep in mind the general context and purpose of his letter. Second, we must realize that different biblical writers may at times use the same terminology in a different sense or particular emphasis. This is also determined by the context. You may want to read James 2:14-26 before we continue.
1. James’ Main Concern:James’ message is very practical in nature, addressing the suffering and trials of the community of believers and the potential and real oppressive-ness of social stratification. His interest is in the social impact of the Christian faith. He rejects preferential treatment based on wealth or social status (chap. 2:1-7) and condemns social exploitation and abuse of the poor (chap. 5:1-6). For James, Christian faith cannot be socially disengaged while claiming at the same time to be relevant. His theological message is embedded in this concern for a religion that should be part of the very fabric of society. This means that whatever James says in chapter 2:14-26, it must be related to his major concern.
2. Faith and Works: The passage under consideration has to be read in its own terms. We have to determine how James uses the noun “faith.” Contextually, this is not difficult. He doesn’t use it in the traditional salvific way, but as inner knowledge and conviction. In other words, this is not primarily the faith that we place in Jesus, but religious convictions that are not determining conduct. This becomes clear when he writes, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even demons believe that—and shudder” (verse 19). Faith is being persuaded that our convictions are right; demons can have that type of knowledge. This kind of faith is useless in the Christian life if it leads to an attitude of indifference toward the needs of others (verses 14-16, 20). James argues that faith divorced from works is dead (verse 17).
In fact, to claim that faith exists in the absence of works is tantamount to claiming that the body could exist independent of the spirit. One cannot exist without the other. Faith and works are an indivisible unity in the Christian life (verse 26); works make visible our faith (verse 18). They are the evidence of the reality of the presence of faith in the believer.
3.Faith and Justification: Under Paul’s influence justification is usually understood as the acquittal of repentant sinners before the divine tribunal at the beginning of the Christian life, independent of works.
James is not denying that belief, but neither is he addressing that particular issue. He writes to church members, individuals who had already been justified by faith in Christ. Their problem is that their faith is not affecting the way they should live the Christian life. To them James says, “A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
The most important element in this verse is the verb “to be justified.” Since in the context the presence of faith is seen or demonstrated through its works, the verb “to be justified” probably means “to show, demonstrate what it means to be righteous.” The verb carries a demonstrative meaning, that is to say believers show/demonstrate that they have been justified not simply by claiming they have faith, but more particularly by what they do. This was the experience of Abraham and Rahab, who demonstrated their righteousness through their works (verses 21, 25). These are not the works of the law through which some, according to Paul, were seeking to be justified. James is talking about what Paul calls “good works.” They would both agree that, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).
James’s message is echoed in Revelation 3:15-18, and challenges us to allow our faith, through the power of the Spirit, to express itself in true Christian demeanor and in deep concern for the poor and the oppressed. After all, “what good is it, my brothers, if a man [or a woman] claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (James 2:14).
*Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.
QUESTION: According to Exodus 34:7, God punishes children for the sins of their parents. Does not this bring into question God’s justice?
We find in the Old Testament what has been called collective, or transgenerational, retribution. This is a complex subject about which I can say only a few things that I hope will be helpful. Some of the biblical evidence may provide an interpretational grid with which you are welcome to disagree.
1. Limited Evidence for Collective Retribution: According to Exodus 34:7 (NIV), God “punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” This prin-ciple is found in only two other passages (Num. 14:18 and Jer. 32:17-19). The em-phasis in those verses is on the goodness and mercy of God, not on the punitive aspect. This suggests that the negative element functions as a deterrent by calling attention to the impact of one’s actions on the group. The context of those passages also indicates that there is such a thing as transgenerational benefit, or blessing. This was the case with Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3).
Surprisingly, transgenerational retribution is not the prevailing view of God’s distributive justice. The constant emphasis is on individual responsibility, that is to say, God punishes those who sin (e.g., Joel 2:12, 13; Ps. 86:15; 103:8, 9, 17; 145:8, 9). Moses wrote: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him” (Deut. 7:9, 10, NIV). Collective and individual responsibility appears to have coexisted in the Israelites’ understanding of God’s justice.
2.Not Allowed in the Israelite Legal System: The Lord made it clear to the Israelites that “fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16; cf. Eze. 18:20). This legal restriction points to the limits of human knowledge and justice. Transgenerational retribution could and would be abused in any human legal system. The Lord is the only one who can enforce it because He has perfect knowledge. This clearly suggests that when collective retribution is enforced by God, it is based on knowledge that justifies its enforcement and may not be apparent to the outside observer.
3. Collective Retribution Based on Individual Retribution:According to some passages, collective retribution is the result of children identifying themselves with the sins of their parents, thus participating in the punishment of their parents. This has been called by some “compound punishment.” The principle is well enunciated in a description of the results of the breaking of the covenant: “Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers’ sins they will waste away” (Lev. 26:39, NIV; also Isa. 65:6, 7; Jer. 14:20). This is also addressed in the second commandment in Exodus 20:5, through the use of the phrase “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (NIV; cf. Deut. 5:10).
It would appear that transgenerational retribution operates on the basis of the perpetuation of the sins of the parents in the conduct of the children. This explains the opposition to collective retribution found in some places in the Old Testament. Before the exile some Israelites protested, “Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment” (Lam. 5:7, NIV), or “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Eze. 18:2, NIV). To which God answered that He will judge them according to their works, and that would be more than enough to condemn them (verses 29, 30, NIV).
Transgenerational retribution is based on a strong sense of social solidarity, in which the actions of individuals have an impact on others, either positive or negative. This is part of the social order God established to be a constant blessing. It is good for us—parents, children, spouses, church members, etc.—to act in such a way that our transgenerational impact will not bring pain to others, but be a perpetual flow of blessings to many.
QUESTION: I’ve been told that the biblical Sabbath was a lunar Sabbath fixed by the moon, rather than a specific day of the week independent of the moon or the sun. What do you think?
Any biblical evidence to support this proposal is lacking. Therefore, I feel uncomfortable honoring the issue by addressing it here. But apparently I should say something about it.
If the time for the Sabbath was determined by the moon, then the Sabbath will have to be observed at different days during the month and not on the sev-enth day of the week. The Sabbath could be any day of the week, based on the time of the new moon. Let me say a few things about this matter.
1. The Israelite Calendar: The Israelite calendar was lunisolar, that is to say time was measured on the basis of the new moon (the rotation of the moon around the earth) and also the sun (the rotation of the earth around the sun). A lunar calendar of 12 months is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, which is approximately 365 days. In the ancient world this was solved by adding an extra month seven times in 19 years. In the Bible the moon calendar was used to fix the time for the festivals—for instance, 14 days after the new moon came Passover (Num. 28:16). Apparently some people are arguing that the Sabbath itself was to be observed seven days after the first day of the month.
2. The Sabbath and the Moon: At the beginning of the twentieth century the connection between the Sabbath and the moon was proposed and defended by a number of critical scholars. They rejected the biblical origin of the Sabbath and suggested that its origin was related to several “evil days” in the Babylonian calendar, including the day of the full moon, during which people rested. Those days occurred in a sequence of about seven days. Further study indicated that the so-called “evil days” were not a sequence of seven days; they were the first, seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of the month. That theory has since been abandoned.
3.Genesis 1 and the Sabbath: The origin of the biblical Sabbath is definitely connected with the creation week. It was instituted by God three days after the creation of the moon (Gen. 1:14; 2:2), not the seventh day after the first day of the month. It was to function independent of the month on a specific sequence of days unconnected from the moon and the sun, but uniquely grounded in God’s power to rule over time. The seventhness of the Sabbath is related to the passing of time, from the beginning of God’s creating activity on Planet Earth to its close. This is indeed a unique divine act, a fragmentation of time in a sequence of seven days exclusively fixed and governed by God Himself.
4. Sabbath and Festivals: A lunar Sabbath would imply that the Sabbath is part of the Israelite festivals, but that is not the case. The seventh-day Sabbath was instituted long before the festivals were given to the Israelites. The Hebrew term translated “feasts, festivals,” is môcadîm, and it means “fixed/appointed time, meetings.” It refers to different activities that were not necessarily dated by the lunar calendar (e.g., Jer. 8:17; Hosea 2:9). Even if one were to argue that the term applies to the Sabbath, it does not follow that the time for the Sabbath was fixed by the moon (cf. Lev. 23:2). Besides, the Bible makes clear that the Sabbath is to be differentiated from the festivals (Lev. 23:37, 38).
Finally, the Sabbath rest was different from the rest required during the ceremonial Sabbaths. Leviticus 23:3 states that during the Sabbath the Israelites were “not to do any work.” But during the time of the sacred assembly the people were commanded to “do no regular work” (23:8, 21, 25, 35, 36, NIV). This indicates that there was a type of work they were allowed to do during the festivals that was forbidden during the Sabbath.
Although the intentions of those promoting the lunar Sabbath may be good, they have to be aware of the fact that they are unintentionally introducing and promoting a sabbath rest that is different from the biblical seventh-day Sabbath rest.
QUESTION: I hear different opinions concerning the final destruction of the wicked. Is it true that God will not destroy them, but that they will self-destruct?
I tend to avoid answering this question because any answer tends to lead to debates, and I am not interested in debating. But since the question seems to be raised more often, let me begin by saying that only one Person
experienced the second death—Jesus Christ. I will approach the topic through His experience, keeping in mind that although His experience was that of the wicked, it was also significantly different.
1.The Problem: Some people believe that sin destroys itself, meaning that sin brings with itself specific results and consequences that destroy the sinner. That is often the case. But the final extinction of sin, sinners, and evil powers is something different. In that case God is described as being directly and personally involved. For some this is a problem because God is described as inflicting death on human beings, some of whom will apparently suffer more than others. For them, it would be better to suggest that sinners destroy themselves. I accept the biblical statement: “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Rev. 20:9, NIV). I recognize that I do not comprehend the details of that most strange, divine action.
2.Jesus Died the Death of the Wicked: It would be difficult to deny that God the Father was directly involved in the death of Jesus. The Bible assigns the death of Jesus to the Father, the Son Himself, and to Roman and Jewish authorities.
The fact that the Father could have saved Jesus from dying but did not means that the death of Jesus was willed by the Father, that is to say it corresponded to His divine intention for His Son (John 12:27, 28). Jesus drank from the cup of God’s judgment (Matt. 26:39). The Father did not spare Him (Rom. 8:32), but handed Him over to death (chap. 4:25).
Jesus said He would lay down His own life, and that no one had power to take it from Him (John 10:17, 18). Jesus voluntarily gave up His life (Mark 10:45; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25).
Humans were also involved in the death of the Son of God (Luke 18:32; 22:3; Mark 15:15). The Father, the Son, and humans were directly involved in the death of the Son of God. The experience of Jesus was slightly different from what will happen to the wicked. But in both cases the individual and God will be involved.
3.Jesus Suffered: No one questions that Jesus Christ suffered intensely on the cross. The suffering was physical, but above all it was spiritual: He experienced divine abandonment such as no other human will ever experience (Matt. 27:46). He bore the sins of the world. The wicked will receive their reward according to their personal works (Rev. 20:13). This is not self-inflicted pain or pain inflicted on them by Satan. God will personally give them what they chose as their final destiny in life—eternal death.
4.Jesus Gave up His Life: It was necessary for Jesus to die as the Sin-bearer. He accepted the righteous and just will of the Father for Him. On the cross, He suffered up to the moment He voluntarily gave up His life to the Father. Since His death was part of the saving plan, He endured suffering for a particular period of time and at the appropriate moment gave up His life while shouting, “It is finished!”
In the case of the wicked, their destruction is preceded by their own recognition that they deserve to die. They will bow down and proclaim that indeed Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11). Yet, the wicked will struggle to voluntarily give up their lives to the Creator. Let me suggest that the intensity of their suffering may be directly related to their unwillingness to give up their lives, which is in turn related to their selfishness. That attitude may lengthen their suffering and allow each one to experience judgment according to their works. Once they give up their lives, God’s justice is vindicated and their existence is erased forever. Then the conflict between good and evil will be over.