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Home > Ask DrWinn > New Testament > Previously Asked Questions

Previously Asked New Testament Questions

How does Hebrews 6 apply to us today?
How does John 15.7 apply to the reader of Scripture today?
Can a deacon be a woman as well as a man?
How did Jesus become sin for us? Did God the Spirit leave the body of Jesus at that moment, separating body and soul? How was it that God forsook Jesus?


How does Hebrews 6 apply to us today?

In the midst of the author's exposition about the high priesthood of Jesus, he interrupts one exhortation to begin another exhortation (5.11-6.8). This section begins with a rebuke, which is rather severe. The author wants to say more about the priesthood of Jesus (5.11-12) but needs to prepare his audience to be able to understand and appreciate what he has to say to them. These Jewish believers were content with what they had learned and were ready to settle for the status quo. To progress further would be to place a greater distance between them and their Jewish roots for which they were already suffering. For the writer, spiritual stagnation is dangerous. We grow and we are fed solid food as we are taught and we are protected by spiritual and ethical discernment.

For these Jewish believers the process of digestion was going to be painful. Each of the elementary teachings (the ABCs 6.1-2) had a place in Judaism but had been invested with new significance in Christian teaching. The author was not going to go over these truths again. Rather, what he had in mind was the error that sought to lure them away from the faith and back to their Jewish roots. One cannot discard the basics even though they may not be all sufficient. It is important to understand that believers need to cultivate their spiritual life by being continually fed. Knowledge often leads to deeper faith. He was ready to take them into a deeper understanding in their Christian experience.

There is a solution to their problem. He urged his audience to go beyond the elementary teaching about Jesus and go on to maturity. To continually review the fundamentals is to remain where one is, kinda like being a perpetual child.

All the matters listed in 6.1-2 were in fact the elementary truths on which the believers were wavering. Verse 3 tells his readers that pressing forward toward maturity is his intended goal as God permitted.

There is an alternative to progress. It is tragic. Choosing not to advance was in fact a retreat that held a gloomy result.

There are four ways this passage has been handled by interpreters. 1) A believer can be in danger of losing his salvation. This is often refuted because of other biblical assurances that salvation is a work of God that cannot be reversed; 2) The warning is against only a profession of faith which fell short of "real salvation", tasting but not partaking of salvation. (This view is seen in the New Scofield Reference Bible) 3) A warning that a believer could lose his salvation in which case there is no provision for further repentance (This view is seen in the Ryrie Study Bible); 4) This is a warning given of the danger of a Christian moving from a position of true faith and life to the extent of becoming disqualified for further service in the church.

We must remember that the background of Hebrews was persecution of those Jewish people who had chosen to follow Jesus over against Judaism. In any such time apostasy is the supreme sin. When a man can save himself by denying Jesus, it is a hard blow to the church because this person has counted his life and person more valuable than the life of Jesus and his church. This is the condemnation of a person who loves his own comfort of life more than he loves Jesus. It was not the author's intent to erect a doctrine that there is no forgiveness of post-baptismal sin. What is meant to be understood by those first hearers was the terrible seriousness of choosing personal existence instead of loyalty to Jesus.

In that light this produces a timeless truth about those who in our culture often choose the pleasantness of their comfortable lifestyle over the claims of Jesus on their lifestyle. What we might ask ourselves is what are we doing in our lifestyle that suggests to those looking on and wondering about Christianity about who we are really loyal to? Finally, in a similar time and space of persecution in which you could be called to forfeit your own life, which would you choose? To know, one should continue reading the rest of Hebrews to see what one needs to know and give him or herself to in order to make the correct choice if that proposition should ever arise in our culture. On a lesser note, it can arise in our relationship with our employers, family, politics, etc. Will we have the integrity to stand unwaveringly against the things we know are wrong and harmful, to do that we may be called to do in our jobs, etc? Or, will we turn the other direction, choosing to keep the comforts of life and denounce our loyalty to Jesus?

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How does John 15.7 apply to the reader of Scripture today?

The following is a commentary (Romans) by William Barclay and should be read to set the context for the comments below the article.

The Vine and the Branches: John 15:1-10
"I am the real vine and my Father is the vine-dresser. He destroys every branch in me which does not bear fruit; and he cleanses every branch which does bear fruit, so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean through the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me even as I abide in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit in its own strength, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The man who abides in me, and in whom I abide, bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he will be cast out like a withered branch. And they gather such branches and throw them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask what you will, and it will be given to you. It is by the fact that you bear such fruit, and that you show yourselves to be my disciples, that my Father is glorified. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. As I have kept my Father's commandments, so I abide in his love."

Jesus, as so often, is working in this passage with pictures and ideas which were part of the religious heritage of the Jewish nation. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. "The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel" (Isaiah 5:1-7). "Yet I planted you a choice vine" is God's message to Israel through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel 15 likens Israel to the vine, as does Ezekiel 19:10. "Israel is a luxuriant vine," said Hosea (Hosea 10:1). "Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt," sang the Psalmist, thinking of God's deliverance of his people from bondage (Psalm 80:8). The vine had actually become the symbol of the nation of Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Many a great man had counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a new grape on to that vine. The vine was part and parcel of Jewish imagery, and the very symbol of Israel.

Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine, is this. It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah's picture is that the vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into "degenerate and become a wild vine." It is as if Jesus said: "You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as all your prophets saw. It is I who am the true vine. The fact that you are a Jew will not save you. The only thing that can save you is to have an intimate living fellowship with me, for I am the vine of God and you must be branches joined to me." Jesus was laying it down that not Jewish blood but faith in him was the way to God's salvation. No external qualification can set a man right with God; only the friendship of Jesus Christ can do that.

When Jesus drew his picture of the vine he knew what he was talking about. The vine was grown all over Palestine as it still is. It is a plant which needs a great deal of attention if the best fruit is to be got out of it. It is grown commonly on terraces. The ground has to be perfectly clean. It is sometimes trained on trellisses; it is sometimes allowed to creep over the ground upheld by low forked sticks; it sometimes even grows round the doors of the cottages; but wherever it grows careful preparation of the soil is essential. It grows luxuriantly and drastic pruning is necessary. So luxuriant is it that the slips are set in the ground at least twelve feet apart, for it will creep over the ground at speed. A young vine is not allowed to fruit for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop and conserve its life and energy. When mature, it is pruned in December and January. It bears two kinds of branches, one that bears fruit and one that does not; and the branches that do not bear fruit are drastically pruned back, so that they will drain away none of the plant's strength. The vine can not produce the crop of which it is capable without drastic pruning-and Jesus knew that.

Further, the wood of the vine has the curious characteristic that it is good for nothing. It is too soft for any purpose. At certain times of the year, because the law laid it down, the people must bring offerings of wood to the Temple for the altar fires. But the wood of the vine must not be brought. The only thing that could be done with the wood pruned out of a vine was to make a bonfire of it and destroy it. This adds to the picture Jesus draws.

He says that his followers are like that. Some of them are lovely fruit-bearing branches of himself; others are useless because they bear no fruit. Who was Jesus thinking of when he spoke of the fruitless branches? There are two answers. First, he was thinking of the Jews. They were branches of God's vine. Was not that the picture that prophet after prophet had drawn? But they refused to listen to him; they refused to accept him; therefore they were withered and useless branches. Second, he was thinking of something more general. He was thinking of Christians whose Christianity consisted of profession without practice, words without deeds; he was thinking of Christians who were useless branches, all leaves and no fruit. And he was thinking of Christians who became apostates, who heard the message and accepted it and then fell away, becoming traitors to the Master they had once pledged themselves to serve.

So then there are three ways in which we can be useless branches. We can refuse to listen to Jesus Christ at all. We can listen to him, and then render him a lip service unsupported by any deeds. We can accept him as Master, and then, in face of the difficulties of the way or the desire to do as we like, abandon him. One thing we must remember. It is a first principle of the New Testament that uselessness invites disaster. The fruitless branch is on the way to destruction.

In this passage there is much about abiding in Christ. What is meant by that? It is true that there is a mystical sense in which the Christian is in Christ and Christ is in the Christian. But there are many-maybe they are in the majority-who never have this mystical experience. If we are like that, we must not blame ourselves. There is a much simpler way of looking at this and of experiencing it, a way open to anyone.

Let us take a human analogy. All analogies are imperfect but we must work with the ideas which we possess. Suppose a person is weak. He has fallen to temptation; he has made a mess of things; he is on the way down to degeneracy of mind and heart and mental fibre. Now suppose that he has a friend of a strong and lovely and loving nature, who rescues him from his degraded situation. There is only one way in which he can retain his reformation and keep himself on the right way. He must keep contact with his friend. If he loses that contact; all the chances are that his weakness will overcome him; the old temptations will rear their heads again; and he will fall. His salvation lies in continual contact with the strength of his friend.

Many a time a down-and-out has been taken to live with someone fine. So long as he continued in that fine home and that fine presence he was safe. But when he kicked over the traces and went off on his own, he fell. We must keep contact with the fine thing in order to defeat the evil thing. Robertson of Brighton was one of the great preachers. There was a tradesman who had a little shop; in the back room he kept a photograph of Robertson, for he was his hero and his inspiration. Whenever he was tempted to carry out a bit of sharp practice, he would rush into the back room and look at the photograph and the temptation was defeated. When Kingsley was asked the secret of his life, referring to F. D. Maurice he said: "I had a friend." The contact with loveliness made him lovely.

Abiding in Christ means something like that. The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it. To take but one example-to pray in the morning, if it be for only a few moments, is to have an antiseptic for the whole day; for we cannot come out of the presence of Christ to touch the evil things. For some few of us, abiding in Christ will be a mystical experience that is beyond words to express. For most of us, it will mean a constant contact with him. It will mean arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.

Finally, we must note that here there are two things laid down about the good disciple. First, he enriches his own life; his contact makes him a fruitful branch. Second, he brings glory to God; the sight of his life turns men's thoughts to the God who made him like that. God is glorified, when we bear much fruit and show ourselves to be disciples of Jesus. The greatest glory of the Christian life is that by our life and conduct we can bring glory to God.

Comments by Dr. Winn

The above commentary (Romans) is by William Barclay and gives the context for which understanding any group of words within John 15 should be understood. The John 15.7 passage is in the context of abiding. Prayer that is effective is based on the prayer abiding in Jesus so that the words and works of Jesus control our minds in such a way that we pray in conformity to the will of God. We can ask for anything that is in the will of God for us and he is faithful to answer. The Contemporary English Version gives us this translation of 15.7: Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered. The emphasis of the passage is on staying joined with Jesus, not on asking and receiving. The asking and receiving are conditioned by staying joined with Jesus. What we think may be his will may not. What God wants is not always in line with what we want. The story of the blind man that Jesus healed is an example that things happen in life so that God gets the glory that he determines will best suit his overall plan for the redemption of the world. To heal or not to heal is his prerogative and not our ability to muster enough faith or belief to control his choices. We must remember that Christianity is about our worshiping God and not about what we can get from him to make our life easier. It is all about him, not all about us.

As long as we live in this Present Evil Age, it is our job to continue to bring the Rule (Kingdom) of God into it. The war over healing has already been won in the event of the life of Jesus (birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension). However, as we remain here between the ages (the Kingdom come and coming) we will suffer losses and even lose battles. But sitting in heaven, (Rev. 4) is God on his throne, victor over all circumstances. What often appears to us as defeat is so that God can work good for his eternal purposes and calls us to our knees to sing with the angels in heaven:

"Holy, holy, holy
  is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come…."
  "You are worthy, our Lord and God,
  to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
  and by your will they were created
  and have their being."

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I agree with what you wrote in Liberating Women for Ministry and Leadership. But I have one question. You said that Phoebe was a Deacon, which I agree with. But how do you deal with 1 Tim 3:12 which reads, "Let the deacon be the husband of one wife...." This will lead some to believe and teach that Paul is saying that a deacon has to be a man, and cannot be a woman

A short answer would be that the problem Paul was trying to get Tim to solve in the Ephesian church centered around men who were deacons having more than one wife, not women who were deacons having more than one husband.

The local context, the author's intent, and the listener's ability to understand, all control the meaning of the text. The text can only mean what it first meant. As you know, verses are useless for anything but finding some bit of content and quoted as proof text they are downright dangerous.

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As Jesus our Savior and God hung on the cross, and was about to experience the sin of the world, He said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Knowing that God cannot look upon sin, 1.) How is it that He became sin for us? 2.) Did God the Spirit leave the body of Jesus at that moment, separating body and soul? 3.) How was it that God forsook Jesus?

Knowing that God cannot look upon sin,
1.How is it that He became sin for us?

The beginning of an answer to this question is found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology in the article Death of Christ.

2.Did God the Spirit leave the body of Jesus at that moment, separating body and soul?

This question is answered in the attached PDF file called "Got Soul (32K)." You will need the FREE Acrobat Reader to view this file.

This is an old form of belief that the church repudiated in the second century called Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a form of belief that was most dangerous at the close of the second century. It most likely began much earlier than this date. There had been a tremendous influx of Gentiles into the early church. This influx brought with it several elements of the Greek philosophical mindset. The basic presupposition of this philosophy was dualism. This dualism says that spirit is good and material is evil. Salvation was an escape from the realm of matter to spirit via knowledge. This conflict became most acute in the understanding of the person of Jesus. The gnostic asked the question, "How could infinite pure spirit have anything to do with an evil material body?" There were two solutions to this dilemma.

  1. Jesus was not really human - he only appeared to be. This was called Docetism that came from the Greek word dekeo which is defined as "to seem." This made Jesus a ghost, an illusion; he seemed to be a man but had no real existence.
  2. Jesus' spirit did not inhabit his body until his baptism and his spirit left before his death. This was called Cerinthianism, from its leader, Cerinthus. This made Jesus a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde; one did not know when Jesus was human or when he was divine.

The dualism of good and evil may be the background for what Jude says in v. 4a, i.e., ...who changed the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. © 1999, Dr. Winn Griffin, All Rights Reserved

3.How was it that God forsook Jesus?

It may well be that Jesus was simply quoting the first verse of Psalm 22 which is a Psalm of victory to his mother, John, and others who were watching this awesome gift occur right in front of their eyes.

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