Tag Archives: letters

God Forbid! May it not be! Paul’s advice not to misunderstand his words

Most of the divisions and denominations in Christianity stem from differences in understanding certain verses in the Bible. Paul’s words are no different. Peter gives his famous warning to his readers about taking Paul out of context, this way:

2Pe 3:15,16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

It is a fact that many had misunderstood him and his writings, and there were many rumours about his teachings:

Act 21:21-24 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.

Many question Paul’s writings, asking why he could not make things clearer in a way people would not misunderstand. But it is a fact, that Paul has gone to great lengths to make it clear for someone who could and would take him and his writings out of context. This is what we will focus on today:

God Forbid! Heaven Forbid! May it not be!
Such an expression is often used by a person to highlight the importance of something and clearly say that “this should not ever happen”! We see this expression used often in Scripture.

Gen 18:23-25 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far (Chalilah – חללה) from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Gen 44:7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid (Chalilah – חללה) that thy servants should do according to this thing:
Gen 44:17 And he said, God forbid (Chalilah – חללה) that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.
Jos 22:29 God forbid (Chalilah – חללה) that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.
Job 34:10 Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it (Chalilah – חללה) from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.

The expression “Chalilah” is used throughout the Bible to show that the statement made with it, should not be, not come to mind, should not happen. It is the strongest negative statement which can be made in Scripture and is often translated as “God Forbid” or “Far be it”. The same statement also appears in the New Testament.

Luk 20:16 He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

In the above verse, Christ speaks of a Parable against the Keepers of the Vineyard – the Jewish leadership and authority of the day, and how it would be destroyed… to which the response of the horrified leaders was “God forbid – May it not be!”.

God Forbid! Heaven Forbid! May it not be! in Paul’s writings
Paul uses this phrase the most in the New Testament Writings, 10 times in the letter to Romans, twice in the letter to the Galatians and once to the Corinthians. But why does he use this expression so often? 13 times in all? It is to make a point in saying “DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME”, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I MEAN!”. Let’s look at all of these instances and what Paul was trying to or rather not trying to say to his readers.

Rom 3:3,4 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
The faith of God does not become futile, just because some of His creation had no faith in him.

Rom 3:5,6 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
God is not unrighteous because His own unrighteous creation shows forth His ultimate Righteousness.

Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
We are made righteous (justified/saved) because of Faith which is “counted as” righteousness, and not by any commands that we keep. But we do not regard the Law as not needed and void for us. We confirm that the Law is required after we are justified, to live a holy life.

Rom 6:1,2 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Because of the greatness of sin, we have seen greater Grace. Just because we have seen greater grace because of sin, does not mean we should continue in sin, and misuse the grace shown towards us.

Rom 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
We cannot go on Sinning (Breaking God’s Law – 1Jn3:4, Rom 7:7) just because we are not under the Law(not made righteous/justified through the Law) but are under Grace(Justified through faith which is counted as righteousness through Grace).

Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
We have been released from sin and the judgement which comes through the Law for the sins we have done. This does not mean that Sin is equated to the Law. There is no way to know what sin is, if we do not know the Law – as it is the knowledge of Sin.

Rom 7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Sin which is the breaking of God’s Law brought about judgement and death. This does not mean that the Law is death. Sin brings about death. The Law which is Holy, Just and Good shows what sin is, and how sinful our actions against God are.

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
Just because God shows mercy to whomever He wishes to show mercy, does not mean that He is unrighteous.

Rom 11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
God has not abandoned His chosen people that descend from Abraham.

Rom 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Israel has stumbled by not receiving the Messiah, but they have not stumbled in a way that they will wholly fall away, but as a means that the Gentiles will also have an opportunity to receive Messiah, and through it the descendants of Abraham may also find Messiah.

1Co 6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.
We cannot even think of engaging in licentious behaviour after we have become part of the body of Christ.

Gal 2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
We who are justified(declared righteous) through Faith and Grace which we have received because of the payment made by Christ, still sin unintentionally. This does not make Christ and “aider and abettor” of Sin.

Gal 3:21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
God’s Law cannot give us eternal life and make us Righteous(justify) in front of God. But this does not mean that the Law is not against the promises of God.

Study all of the above instances carefully, and you will see the lenghts that Paul went to, to make himself clear even to audiences that knew him. He did not want anyone to misunderstand his letters and think that he was against the Law of God and teaching something against God’s Law/Word. Nonetheless, there were many false rumours of such teachings about Paul (as testified by James in Acts 21) and many misunderstandings about deep things he had written (as testified by Peter in 2Pet3).

I believe it is high-time that we broke away from these misunderstandings and false ideas about Paul’s teachings & turned back to God and His Word which has no contradiction or variance. Shalom!

What did Christ, His Disciples & Paul consider as “Scripture”?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? What was considered as Scripture in the 1st century AD? One would say “Obviously the Bible”. But hang on! Did anyone inclusive of Paul, carry our Bible? Did they carry a Bible at all? Did Paul consider his own writings as Scripture? Did he read or ever hold his letters which were written to specific assemblies in different cities, as Scripture? Let’s check what our Bibles say about the matter.

The Bible – A Brief History
Our current Bibles are composed of 2 sections divided as The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament in our English Translation consist of 39 books, while the new contains 27.

The New Testament containing 27 books/letters which were first put together in 367, by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, and is said to have been accepted by the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa in 393AD and again accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. The oldest Manuscripts of the New Testament are preserved in Greek – the main language of the 1st Century, while the original works such as Matthew’s Gospel is said to have been written in Hebrew according to Papias.

While there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Old Testament Canon was fixed, some scholars argue that it was done in the time of the Hasmonean dynasty (140BC – 116BC). The Old Testament” as we call it, was completely written in Hebrew and consisted of three divisions – The Torah (5 Books of Moses i.e. Genesis to Deuteronomy), The Nevi’im (Prophets) & The Ketuvim (Writings/Psalms).

The Old Testament divisions can be seen mentioned in the verses below

Luk 24:27  And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luk 24:44  And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
Joh 1:45  Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Act 26:22,23  Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
Act 28:23  And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.

yeshua_scrollThe phrases “Moses”, “Law” or “Law of Moses” in the New Testament, denotes the first 5 Books of the Old Testament which were written by Moses. “Prophets” denotes all the books written by the Prophets such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Obadiah, Daniel, etc. The Psalms and the rest of the writings together with “Moses” and “Prophets” put together, made up the Old Testament in the 1st Century AD.

1) Law (also known as Moses, Law of Moses or Law) wherever you see these terms referred in the New Testament writing, it means the first 5 Books of the Bible which were written by Moses – Mat 5:17, 7:12, 22:40, Mar 12:26, Luk 2:22, Luk 16:29,31, 24:27,44, Joh 1:45, 5:45, 7:23, Act 6:11, 13:15,39, 15:5, 21:21, 24:14, 26:22, 28:23, 1Cor 9:9, 2Cor 3:15, Heb 10:28, Rom 3:21
2) Prophets which contains all the Major and Minor Prophets – Mat 5:17, 7:12, 22:40, Luk 16:29,31, 24:27,44, Joh 1:45, Act 7:42, 13:15,40, 24:14, 26:22, 28:23, Rom 3:21
3) Psalms (also known as the Writings) which contains the Book of Psalms and the rest of the writings – Luk 20:42, 24:44, Act 1:20

The Format of the Scriptures that were read by Christ, the Disciples & Paul
In our minds whenever we read the New Testament writings, we see everyone opening books and reading from bound books that we are familiar with. But the truth is that there were no bound books at the time. Printing would be introduced 1500 years later. So what was the format of the Scriptures they had? All of the writings were copied on Scrolls made of parchment/Animal skin and rolled and kept. We can see an instance of this in Luke 4:17.

Luk 4:17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened(g380) the book(g975), he found the place where it was written,

scribe1In the above verse “opened” should be translated as “unrolled” according to the Greek word used there (G380 – ἀναπτύσσω – anaptussō – Thayer’s Greek Definition: to unroll). Furthermore, the word used for “book” can mean a scroll as the same word (G975 – βιβλίον – biblion)  is seen again in Rev 6:14 translated as Scroll. These scrolls were copied by hand, with the utmost care and it is said that it would take a scribe a whole year and the skins of a whole herd of sheep to create one copy of the 5 books of Moses.

The Availability of the Scriptures that were read by Christ, the Disciples & Paul
Just as most of us imagine Christ, the disciples and even Paul reading a bound Bible, when in fact they were reading rolled up Scrolls – some imagine that the early Christians carried their own copy of the Scriptures. It is very unlikely that the early believers even owned a copy of the Scriptures, as it was quite costly. Only the Synagogues in each of the cities would have a copy that could be read on the Sabbath day when the people assembled together.  

Christ considered what we call the Old Testament as Scripture
Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) speaks of no other writing other than the books of Moses, Prophets & Writings/Psalms as “Scripture” (Mat 21:42, Mat 22:29, Mat 26:54,56,  Mar 12:10,24, Mar 14:49, Luk 4:21, Joh 5:39, Joh 7:38, Joh 10:35, Joh 13:18, Joh 17:12)

The Gospel writers and the disciples considered what we call the Old Testament as Scripture
Gospel writers Mark, Luke, John, other disciples, James and even Peter refers to the Old Testament as “Scripture” (Mar 15:28, Luk 24:27, Luk 24:32, Luk 24:45, Joh 2:22, Joh 19:24, Joh 19:28, Joh 19:36,37, Joh 20:9, Act 1:16, Act 8:32,35, Act 17:2,11, Act 18:24,28, Jas 2:8, Jas 2:23, Jas 4:5, 1Pet 2:6, 2Pet 1:20, 2Pet 3:16)

Paul considered what we call the Old Testament as Scripture
In so many instances Paul refers to the Old Testament calling it “The Scriptures”. (Rom 1:2, Rom 4:3, Rom 9:17, Rom 10:11, Rom 11:2, Rom 16:26, 1Cor 15:3,4, Gal 3:8,22, Gal 4:30, 1Tim 5:18, 2Tim 3:16). Out of this list, of special concern is a beloved verse which almost every Christian knows by heart.

2Ti 3:15-17 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Paul tells his beloved son Timothy that he has known the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a child. The Holy Scripture mentioned here could only be what we refer as the Old Testament. Paul adds to his words explaining that all of the Scriptures are given by the inspiration of God for teaching, as proof, to correct and to train in righteousness. While most of us read 2Tim 3:16 believing it is speaking of our Bibles when it says “Scripture”, it is clear that Paul is referring to the Scriptures that they had. The Scripture which Timothy was familiar with from the time he was a child. What we refer to as the Old Testament.

Today’s view of the Old Testament and the New Testament
OT NTMany Christians see the Old Testament to have been given only for the Jews/Israel while the New Testament to be given to the Gentile/Christian. While there was no New Testament in the hands of Christ, His disciples or Paul – they would have never imagined of a congregation that believes in Messiah while giving the least bit of attention to the Old Testament – the “Holy Scriptures” in their eyes. The man-made division of “Old Testament” & “New Testament”, has brought only division to the Christian body as a whole. Many denominations have made the True Scripture, an enemy of the Christian. They have turned its oulook into a curse. Something which is “Old” and done away. Only if more Christians would pay attention to what the writers of the New Testament say, in their original context. Today’s Christian is not being built on the foundation of the True Scripture – as most new believers are told to even skip the Old Testament and start with the New. We forget that the Bereans who were called noble, turned to Scripture when it came to checking Paul’s words. If only all of us Christians today, turned to the Scriptures to check whether all of the doctrines taught to us by our pastors, teachers and denominations agreed with Scripture!

Conclusion
While all the proof in the New Testament writings point towards the “Old Testament” being referred to exclusively as Scripture, many Christians today give the “Scriptures” of our Messiah, His Disciples and even Paul, step-motherly treatment. Some are engrossed so much in the New Testament, that they see no reason to read the “Holy Scriptures” as Paul mentioned them. The New Testament is looked upon to provide teaching, proof, correction and training, while the Old Testament is seen as an abolished book today. Paul could not have been referring to His own writings as “Scripture”, as these letters were written to specific individuals and congregations, tackling specific issues distinct to those individuals/congregations. For example, Paul’s letter to the Roman Congregation, was sent to Rome and not Corinth, Colosse, Ephesus, Thessalonica, etc. His letter to Timothy was written specifically to Timothy and no one else.

Furthermore, these individual letters that constitute the New Testament were put together and agreed upon as canonical only in the late 4th Century. The New Testament writings are a necessary part of a Christians life, as it reveals to us about Christ, His disciples and their teachings. But we should not forget that what they considered as “Scripture” was nothing else other than what we call the Old Testament books of Moses, the Prophets & the Psalms. It is time that Christians wake up and give the proper place that “God’s Word” the “Holy Scriptures” deserve!