Leviticus 19:28 and Tattoos as an Illustration of the Law’s Application Under the New Covenant

The following is an excerpt from a paper written by Pastor Jason on tattoos and the New Covenant.

The tattoo industry in the United States brings in an estimated one billion dollars in annual revenue.[1] A recent Fox News poll reveals that 20 percent of those questioned have at least one tattoo. What is interesting about this poll is that the number does not change among white, evangelical Christians, 18 percent of whom have at least one tattoo.[2] Permanently marking the body with ink is no longer a practice reserved for the rebels of society. The practice has made its way into the pews on Sunday morning. How should the church respond to this in light of the prohibition against tattoos found in Leviticus 19:28?

Concerning the application of this law, is there a direct one to one correlation from the Mosaic Covenant to the New Covenant? Is there no direct correlation but maybe a principle that can be derived from the law and applied within the New Covenant, or has the law been completely abrogated with no application whatsoever in the New Covenant?

The historical three-part division of the Mosaic Law between moral, civil, and ceremonial may be of some use here. If it can be determined into which category the prohibition against tattoos falls and if it can be determined whether that category of law is still binding within the New Covenant, then it would be easy to determine how the law applies in a New Covenant context. However, as Poythress points out, this is not a failsafe method as it poses two serious problems. First, how can one know with a sufficient degree of certainty in which category this law belongs? Second, simply assigning the law a category that is either binding or non-binding may miss the entire point of the law.[3]

As for the first concern, how can one determine this law’s category? The law is probably not civil as it carries no sanctions and does not deal with any wrong done by one man against another. While some may be eager to cast it into the ceremonial category, distinguishing this law as ceremonial from moral cannot be done based exclusively on the biblical text. This law is surrounded by other laws in Leviticus 19 that certainly include both categories. Stealing and swearing falsely by the name of God are forbidden in verses 11–12. Sexual sins are referenced in verses 20 and 29. Clearly ceremonial laws related to peace offerings and guilt offerings are found in verses 5 and 22. The entire chapter is a collection of both moral and ceremonial laws with no apparent literary distinction between the two categories.

In addition, the prohibition against tattoos does not appear anywhere else in the Old Testament. The command to not cut the body or shave the head for the dead is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:1, but tattooing is not mentioned. The law is not repeated or quoted in the New Testament either. Since it is not specifically abrogated in the New Testament, some would argue that the law must be moral and still apply in the same manner as when it was given. Others would argue that the law must not apply today because it is not specifically continued in the New Testament. While one side may have a higher degree of certainty than the other, definitively assigning this law to one category or the other is a lofty goal that is ultimately unachievable.

Even if one could determine the category in which this law belongs, that may lead the interpreter to miss God’s primary purpose for giving the law. If not tattooing is a moral law, then the interpreter simply concludes that the law must still apply, but he does not learn why it is immoral to mark the body with ink. Similarly, if not tattooing is merely ceremonial, then the interpreter concludes that the law no longer applies and that Christians are free to tattoo themselves, but he never learns why Israel was forbidden from tattooing. While the traditional three-part division of the law may be helpful in some cases, it does not answer every question and falls short of uncovering the primary meaning of the law.

Poythress offers an alternative approach that solves both problems. He rebukes the dichotomy between continuity and discontinuity concerning the relationship of the covenants and instead argues that the interpreter must recognize that there are both continuity and discontinuity with every law.[4] If Jesus is right and the Old Testament testifies about him, then there is most certainly continuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament. On the other hand, if Israel received and applied the laws in a unique historical and cultural context, as is even true of the Ten Commandments,[5] then there is some level of discontinuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The job of the interpreter is to determine the degrees of continuity and discontinuity with each law.

Poythress’ alternative approach assumes that there is a general principle in each law that is continuous between the Old and New Testaments. In order find the line between continuity and discontinuity in a particular law, he says the interpreter must “start at the most general level”[6] and then work his way down to the particular context in which that general principle is applied in the text. As the interpreter descends from the general principle to the specific context in which that principle is applied, he will uncover the line between continuity and discontinuity and then be able to determine the way in which the law is to be applied in a New Covenant context.

So, what is the general principle of the law against tattooing? Israel would understand the principle of this law to be that they are not to participate in pagan religious practices. This general principle is applicable at Mt. Sinai and today. So, there is continuity. Just like Israel, the New Testament believer is to worship God alone. As one descends from this general principle to the precise application of the principle in Israel, tattooing is forbidden because it was part of the religious practice of the surrounding pagan nations. This is where the discontinuity is seen. Tattooing does not have the same meaning in a modern, New Covenant context as it does at Mt. Sinai.

With this information, the interpreter can see how tattooing in the Israelite context amounts to engaging in pagan religious practices, a violation of the general principle. At the same time, it can be seen how tattooing in the modern context does not necessarily amount to engaging in pagan religious practices and therefore does not inescapably violate the general principle. So, while tattooing is forbidden in Israel, it is not necessarily forbidden in the modern, New Covenant context.

However, the work of the interpreter is not yet done as the general principle must still be applied within the New Covenant. While it is not necessarily the case, the modern practice of tattooing could be associated with pagan religious practices. Tattoos that give praise or homage to the god of a modern false religion would certainly be banned under the general principle. In addition, tattoos that give homage to or identify the bearer with any idol, whether overtly religious in the modern sense or not, could also be banned under the general principle. This could include tattoos that identify the bearer with a gang, family, tribe, nation or other community or institution other than the church. Just because tattooing is not universally banned under the New Covenant does not mean that the Christian is free to bear any tattoo.

The general principle of Leviticus 19:28 is the same today as it was at Mt. Sinai. God’s people must worship him alone and not engage in pagan religious practices. The application of this principle in Israel prevented them from marking their bodies with tattoos. The same is not necessarily true today. While it is possible to bear a tattoo without engaging in pagan religious practice, the New Testament believer must remember that he is to identify with Christ and metaphorically wear his baptism and Christ-like behavior the way a pagan would wear a tattoo giving homage to his idol. If a Christian can bear a tattoo without hindering his identification with Christ in those two ways, then he may be free to bear that tattoo.

The Christian will do well, though, to keep in mind that Christ has purchased him. Christ has purchased all of him, body and soul, and everything the Christian does with his body and soul ought to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Therefore, the Christian is not free to do whatever he pleases with his body. He must constantly ask how his behavior glorifies God, and asking this question prior to tattooing himself would be good and wise. If a Christian who identifies with Christ through his baptism and moral behavior wants a tattoo, can bear it without engaging in pagan religious practice, and the bearing of that tattoo legitimately gives glory to God, then he is by all means free to mark his body with that tattoo. If, however, these standards are not met, then the ban in Leviticus 19:28 still applies.

 

[1] “Tattoo Artists in the US: Market Research Report,” IBISWorld.com, last modified September, 2016, https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-trends/specialized-market-research-reports/consumer-goods-services/personal/tattoo-artists.html.

[2] Dana Blanton, “Fox News Poll: Tattoos aren’t just for rebels anymore” last modified March 14, 2014. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/03/14/fox-news-poll-tattoos-arent-just-for-rebels-anymore.html.

[3] Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991).

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Ten Commandments begin with a reference to Israel being brought out of slavery in Egypt. The fifth commandment contains a promise of long life in the land. The tenth commandment refers to coveting a neighbor’s ox or donkey, items of property that were significant to Israel but not to modern Americans.

[6] Poythress, 338.

 

Marks of a False Teacher

Tim Challies has an article on the seven marks of a false teacher. While the only certain mark of a false teacher is that he teaches heresy, Challies’ insights are still quite useful. I encourage you to read his article for yourself, but I have compiled the list here as well along with my own commentary. Keep in mind, the concern is not about false teachers who are obviously false. Rather, the concern is with false teachers who pretend to be true teachers. Those are the ones for whom we must watch.

  1. False teachers are man pleasers. Unfortunately, this is also true of many true teachers, but the point is that false teachers are not interested in pleasing God. They are interested in pleasing men because they hope to get something from the men they please. Tertullus provides a perfect example when he addresses Felix at Paul’s hearing, “Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation,  we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing” (Acts 24:2–4; NASB). Tertullus is not interested in pleasing God in this scenario. He is only interested in pleasing Felix in order to achieve his desired outcome.
  2. False teachers bring their harshest criticism against God’s faithful servants. False teachers will often give you the names of the people to whom you should not listen, and the reason given is usually based in some kind of character attack. “Don’t listen to Jesus. He eats with sinners and tax collectors.” A modern equivalent would be, “Don’t listen to Rev. So-and-so. He went to XYZ Seminary.” When a false teacher attacks a true teacher, he attacks his character because the true teacher’s doctrine is above reproach. When a true teacher attacks a false teacher, he attacks his doctrine.
  3. False teachers expound their own wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. True teachers teach whatever is presented in scripture. False teachers teach whatever is presented in their own minds.
  4. False teachers ignore what is of greatest importance and instead focus on what is of less importance. They have a tendency to place greater emphasis on the passages with lower levels of exegetical certainty while overlooking the simple yet glorious message of the cross.
  5. False teachers mask their false doctrine with eloquent speech and impressive logic. Either by using complex arguments that go beyond the capacities of their audience or by veiling their weak arguments in vague language that presents as intellectually superior, false teachers depend on the strength of their own minds rather than the truths of God. False teachers have a tendency to take simple ideas and make them too complex for the average person to fully understand. In contrast, it is the job of true teachers to take complex ideas and communicate them in a way that can be understood by everyone.
  6. False teachers are far more concerned with winning others to their own opinions than they are in actually helping people understand the truths of God. Even if what they teach on a given day happens to be true, their goal is not to reveal truth but rather to accumulate people who prop them up by affirming their opinions.
  7. False teachers exploit their followers. They see their sheep as resources that are to be fleeced. False teachers want something from their audience. It could be money, approval, fame, praise, power, or just about anything else. The true teacher devotes himself to serving his flock. The false teacher devotes himself to manipulating his flock into serving him.

What is most frightening about this list is that true teachers often have these same traits. Challies’ point is that we should watch for these traits in others, with which I completely agree. However, I am compelled to apply the list to myself first. How many of these are true of me? I have to admit that I have been guilty of all seven at different times. Before I go pointing fingers at others (which I certainly can and should do at times), I should probably first hold myself to the standard by which I judge others.

As a teacher, once I have eradicated all of these traits from my life, then will I begin identifying them in others. Until then, I will embrace the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my life while remaining on the lookout for that one definitive mark of a false teacher and avoiding it like the plague.

My, How Far We Have Come . . .

When comparing our current economic prosperity with that of the pilgrims and other colonists who suffered so much (think Roanoke and Jamestown) in the early days of the American experiment, the contrast is stark. What we call the First Thanksgiving was really just a harvest festival that was commonly celebrated in many parts of the world. When crops were harvested in the fall, it meant no one would starve to death during the winter . . . something for which thanks should be given. Today, though, most of us don’t even know where our food originates, and we have so much of it in our kitchens that we could probably last the winter without restocking.

In this sense, we have come a long way. We don’t have harvest celebrations anymore because we don’t have to worry about starving in the winter. Our economic prosperity has dwarfed what any other nation has ever seen throughout human history. This is a very good thing. Economic prosperity is a wonderful blessing for which we ought to be grateful.

In another sense, though, we have fallen so far. Thanksgiving has been celebrated off and on since the colonial days, with presidents issuing proclamations most years that it should be celebrated until Congress made it law in 1941. To see just how far we have fallen, look at what President Washington says in his proclamation in 1789.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor . . . Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789).

Who today agrees with Washington, that it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of God and to obey his will? Far from this, we don’t even recognize that nations have the right to acknowledge God and obey his will. In fact, we actively promote the opposite. Our government now defends its people’s “right” to ignore God and disobey his will. My, how far we have fallen!

Thanksgiving is still a holiday during which people give thanks, but the focus has gone from giving thanks to God to giving thanks for blessings. It’s a subtle shift that ultimately flaunts our society’s rejection of the Almighty by focussing on what we have rather than the God who has given it to us. So, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to give thanks to God for the blessings he has bestowed and to take Washington’s advise and offer “prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”

Are We Dual Citizens?

But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?”

–Acts 22:25 (NASB)

When Paul is about to be flogged by the Roman centurion in Acts 22:25, he simply asks if it is lawful to treat an un-condemned citizen of Rome in such a manner. At first glance, I always wonder why Paul claims his Roman citizenship rather than his heavenly citizenship. Why doesn’t he say, “Is is lawful (or wise) for you to scourge an innocent apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ?” That question seems to carry a bit more eternal weight than what Paul actually says.

The problem with my thinking comes from the false presupposition that earthly citizenship and heavenly citizenship are in competition with each other . . . that ultimately the Christian has to decide which one he wants. Will he be a citizen of Rome or a citizen of heaven? Many countries today will allow a foreigner born within its borders to have dual citizenship (that of the country of his birth and that of his parents’ nationality) until he turns 18, at which point he must decide. Will he be a citizen of his parents’ country or of his birth country? The two are in competition with each other, and he must decide which one has more value to him.

However, we ought not think of our earthly and heavenly citizenship in the same way. Philippians 3:20 makes clear that the Christian has citizenship in heaven, but that does not negate his earthly citizenship and the rights and privileges that may come along with it. On the contrary, being a citizen of heaven enhances earthly citizenship in the same way that being a citizen of the United States enhances being a resident (citizen of a State) of Colorado. Being a resident carries certain rights and privileges; but residency is enhanced, or maybe I should say the experience of residency is enhanced, through the connection (citizenship) to the superior institution.

This is the way we ought to think of our earthly and heavenly citizenship. We have certain rights and privileges that are afforded us by our earthly citizenship; but our experience of those rights and privileges is enhanced when we recognize, through our heavenly citizenship, that all of the rights and privileges afforded us by the state are ultimately bestowed on us from God. The state is merely the conduit or instrument through which God grants those rights, whether the state acknowledges this fact or not. And just as a Colorado resident could appeal to his rights in the Colorado constitution without negating the superiority of the US constitution, so the Christian can appeal to his rights as an earthly citizen without negating the superiority of heaven over the state.

So, there is nothing odd about Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship because God is the one who has determined that it is unlawful for an un-condemned citizen of Rome to be scourged. In this sense, Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship is ultimately an appeal to God. The Christian’s two citizenships are designed to compliment one another, not to be in competition with one another.

Does Loving Those Who Are Like You Meet the Standard of “Love One Another”?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34–35 NASB

The commandment to love yourself doesn’t appear in scripture. That you love yourself is assumed in “love your neighbor as yourself,” but it doesn’t require a command because it comes naturally to every human being. What does not come naturally is loving others, hence the command to love one another. It must be commanded because it does not happen naturally.

What falls somewhere between those two is loving others who are like you. This is not as natural as loving yourself, but it is certainly easier than loving others who are different. Loving those who are like you is easy because you naturally see yourself as lovable; and if someone else is like you, he must be somewhat lovable too. This may not be your conscience thought process, but it is what happens.

A friend of a friend of mine recently moved from the Denver area to Casper, WY and was asked how he liked his new location. He answered, “It’s great. Everyone looks like me and thinks like me.” It is easy to love people who remind you of yourself.

It’s easy to love people who are like you, and it’s easy to not love people who are different. What follows from this is that it is easy to accept people who are like you and easy to not accept people who are different. What is dangerous about this, though, is that we make ourselves the standard by which we measure other people. If they are like us, we accept them. If they are different, we easily reject them.

This kind of behavior might be forgivable on an elementary school playground, but the church is called to a much higher caliber of virtue than that of schoolyard clicks. Jesus tells his disciples that all men will know that they are his disciples because of the love they have for one another. These words must have only been for the 11 men (Judas had just left) sitting before Jesus that night because no man can recognize Christians as Christ’s disciples today based upon the love they have for one another. The world of the Protestant church has devolved into a massive playground, divided up into hundreds of clicks that refuse to associate with one another and instead stand around pointing fingers at the faults they see in everyone else.

We divide and judge each other over the age of the earth, the use of various Bible translations, the details of the time leading up to Christ’s return, the ordination of women, the structure of a church service, preaching style, our understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, church polity, whether we use the same terminology when discussing doctrine, the way we pray, the use of this or that confession or no confession at all. The list continues, but I think you get my point. It’s easy to love and accept people who are like us, and it’s easy to not love and accept people who are different.

Unfortunately, this falls well short of the biblical expectation. Christians are to love (and accept) one another . . . regardless of their differences. Charles Spurgeon understood this. His words are a slap in the face and an encouraging exhortation for those of us who judge others based upon how similar they are to us.

“Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6).

If Spurgeon is right, then there is something desperately wrong with the church today. If Spurgeon cannot help himself but to love the man who loves Jesus Christ (regardless of their differences on non-essential doctrines), if he cannot cease loving all those who love Jesus anymore than he can cease loving Jesus himself, then to cease loving those who love Jesus is to cease loving Jesus himself.

Here is the slap in the face . . . if we have ceased to love those who love Jesus, then Spurgeon says we have ceased to love Jesus. If that stings a little, good. It’s supposed to sting.

Here is the encouragement . . . it is possible to love and accept people who are different and at the same time not accept their non-essential beliefs. Presbyterians and baptists can love an accept one another without accepting the other’s view of baptism. Those who speak in tongues and cessationists can love and accept one another without adopting the other’s view of the gifts. It’s not easy. It doesn’t come naturally, but we aren’t little kids in the schoolyard who make fun of each other because of our differences. Christ has redeemed us to be more than that.

It’s time we change the standard by which we measure others in the church. We must abandon the standard of self. If someone is like you, great. If someone is different, so what? The standard we must use when extending love and acceptance to another person is the standard of Christ. If Christ loves and accepts the person, then we must do the same . . . no exceptions.

The Simple Answer is Glorious

I came across an article this morning titled Texas Church Shooting: God, Evil and a Senseless Act. My interest was peaked. What would Fox News have to say about the problem of evil in the wake of the senseless killing of 26 people in a church on Sunday morning? The article raised some good questions and pointed out that good things can come from bad events.

At the end, though, the author simply says, “I struggle to explain the “why” behind the senseless evil acts that we witness as human beings. Simple answers to complex questions are bound to be wrong.” I have to disagree. Simple answers do not have to be wrong; and in this case, the simple answer is glorious.

There are all sorts of reasons why bad things happen to good people. Augustine argues that good people become better when bad things happen to them. There is, however, one ultimately chief reason why suffering exists in the world. There is one reason why this world forces suffering upon those who live in it, especially upon those who do not deserve such suffering.

The ultimately chief reason why suffering and death exist in this world is so that Jesus Christ could come to this world and suffer and die. In order to demonstrate the glorious wonders of his grace, God came to the earth as a man and suffered and died; and in order to insure that he would suffer and die, God created a world that would be full of suffering and death.

A world without events like what happened in Sutherland Springs is a world unfit to serve as the stage on which God has demonstrated the glory of his grace through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As horrible as those events are, a world without the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ is a world in which I would not want to live.

Why does evil exist? Evil exists so that Christ could suffer evil. So, every time we suffer evil, remember that we suffer momentarily because we live in a world that was designed to crucify the Son of God as a propitiation for the sins of man. Remember, also, that this world will pass and that all of these things will be put away in the world to come.

The Academic Definition of the Office of Missionary

The following is an Excerpt from chapter 3 of “The Great Enterprise from a Reformed Perspective: Bringing Modern Missions Back to the Bible” by J. N. Bolt.

One can go to ten different churches and ask a pastor or elder from each church to define the missionary role, and he will end up with ten different answers. At times, even elders from the same congregation will provide differing definitions. Assuming these are biblical churches, this is not the case when the question pertains to the role of the pastor. There may be some varied nuances, but there is widespread agreement within orthodox Christianity that the role of the pastor is to shepherd the flock through the teaching and prescribing of doctrine and to act judiciously in matters of disagreement and discipline. With the evangelist listed alongside the pastor in Ephesians 4:11, there should be a common understanding regarding both roles. The office of evangelist itself, however, is commonly neglected and/or rejected, thus leading to widespread confusion as to who the evangelist is and what he does.

The offices of the church are found in Ephesians 4:11–12, which says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” The focus of this chapter is the office of evangelist, but the other offices will be considered in order to understand the office of evangelist. Let it also be noted that there are differing views concerning the office of pastor/teacher and whether it is only one office or two. Tere are also those who include the deacon in the list of church offices. However, it is not the purpose herein to address these issues but rather to simply observe the offices listed in Ephesians 4:11 only insofar as they shed light on the office of evangelist.

Before continuing, some context is necessary. God’s visible covenant people have always been ruled by elders. The governmental framework of Presbyterianism, rule by elders, is not a New Testament idea. That God has used elders in the governance of his people throughout history is clear from the biblical record. It is no surprise, then, that this continues in the New Testament church. God has always governed his people through representative elders who act on behalf of the people in the prescribing of God’s ordinances as received from him and the execution of the means of grace, such as the ceremonial law of the Old Testament and the sacraments of the New Testament. Rule by elders was the accepted reality among the early church at the time Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

Therefore, it is my argument that all of the offices listed in Ephesians 4:11 fall into the general eldership category. The four positions mentioned were the four functions of the eldership at that time. In order to shed light on the third one, I will address the first two and then the last one and their roles within the church. First, though, it should be noted that all elders at the time fell into one or more of the four categories. All elders functioned in at least one of those four offices. However, not everyone exercising those gifts necessarily operated as an elder. In other words, all elders were apostles, prophets, evangelists, and/or pastors and teachers; but not everyone who exercised the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and/or pastor and teacher was automatically an elder. Meaning, it was possible for someone to prophesy without being a prophet (viz., John 11:51), do evangelism without being an evangelist, or teach without being a teacher. Paul is not referring to certain people who may, at times, exercise certain gifts. Rather, he is referring to the specific offices or functions of the ruling elders who were to govern God’s people. This is made clear beginning in Ephesians 4:7, where Paul references the grace that was given to each of the saints according to Christ’s gift . The context here is the visible church, the body of Christ, and Paul is talking about grace coming to every member of the body through Christ’s gift . In Ephesians 4:11, Paul outlines the gift of Christ through which grace is administered to his people. The gift of Christ is, namely, the various functions of the eldership. Paul then continues in Ephesians 4:12, saying that all this is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

So, Paul has in mind here something that is for all the saints and that serves to build up the whole of the body of Christ. This necessarily excludes certain people who, at times, exercise particular gifts for the benefit of particular people. While a gifted woman teaching her children and other women in the church is a God-given blessing, it is a blessing given for the building up of particular people, as opposed to the building up of the entire body of Christ. Paul has in mind here the ordained office of elder that has served and continues to serve the building up of the whole of God’s visible people; and in Ephesians 4:11, he mentions the four functioning operations of the eldership at that time. To this we now turn, keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of all four was the same—the building up of the body of Christ.

The Offices of Apostle, Prophet, and Pastor/Teacher

The elders who served as apostles for the building up of the body of Christ were those men who were commissioned by Christ to set the foundation of the church (viz., 1 Cor 3:10; Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14) and pass down once and for all the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord (viz., 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:3). This was done mostly through the writing of the New Testament canon as the apostles remembered the things that Christ spoke to them (viz., John 14:26) and wrote down that which Christ commanded them to write (viz., Rev 1:1–2) and also through verbal preaching and teaching (viz., Acts 2, 19:9–10). This function of the eldership necessarily ceased in the first century, because the apostles were, by definition, commissioned by Christ and given the job of building the foundation of the church. It should be noted, though, that not all churches had elders who were apostles. Proportionally, there were only a few apostles, while there were many churches.

The elders who served as prophets for the building up of the body of Christ were those men who, again, helped lay the foundation of the church (viz., Eph 2:20) through the proclamation, both verbal and written, of that which God had spoken directly to them. Prophecy functioned identically under the old covenant as it did at the time Paul wrote to the Ephesian church. Peter made this clear when he united the Old and New Testaments in Acts 2 by saying that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a fulfillment of the prophesy in Joel 2. Prophets were for the edification and exhortation of the church, speaking that which God revealed to them (viz., 1 Cor 14:6). All apostles served as prophets in that they relayed that which Christ had spoken to them, but not all prophets were apostles. As stated above, not all churches had access to the apostles in the first century and were, thus, left wanting of the will of God as it was progressively revealed. This is why, as Ephesians 2:20 states, the household of God was built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The apostles had the word of God as spoken to them by Christ himself, and the prophets had the word of God as spoken to them through direct revelation. The word of God as revealed through the apostles and prophets, then, was the foundation upon which the church was built. Like the function of the apostle, the function of the prophet also ceased once the revelation of God had been perfected or accomplished with the completion of the New Testament canon (viz., 1 Cor 13:8–10). The church is no longer dependent upon the partial prophesy of men, for the complete revelation of the will of God pertaining to all matters of faith and practice has been given to the church in the form of the Bible and can be approached objectively. Saints no longer have to go to the prophet to inquire of God’s opinion concerning something. They only have to open and read the pages of Scripture.

The elders who served as pastors and teachers for the building up of the body of Christ were those men appointed within every church (viz., Acts 13:23; Titus 1:5) to shepherd the flock by guarding against false doctrine (viz., 1 Tim 4:6) and holding fast the faithful word (viz., Titus 1:9). This is the one function of the eldership that must be present in every church. These are the men charged to preach the word—namely, in reproof, rebuke, and exhortation with much patience and instruction (viz., 2 Tim 4:2). They apply the word of God to their flock and watch over their spiritual well-being (viz., Heb 13:17). All elders necessarily fall into this category, for being able to teach is listed as a universal prerequisite for an elder (viz., 1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:24). This is the reason all churches must have the office of pastor/teacher and why the office has remained in the postapostolic age.

The Office of Missionary/Evangelist

We now turn to the third office listed in Ephesians 4:11, the office of missionary/evangelist. I call it the “office of missionary/evangelist” as opposed to just the “office of evangelist” because the missionary office is a subset of the office of evangelist; and our concern is with the office of missionary, which makes it necessary to deal with the office of evangelist in general before we deal with the office of missionary in particular. I call the office of missionary a “subset of the office of evangelist” because all missionaries are necessarily evangelists, but not all evangelists are necessarily missionaries. This distinction will be dealt with shortly, but we shall first deal with the general office of evangelist.

The elders who served as evangelists for the building up of the body of Christ were those men commissioned by Christ (viz., Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8) or the church (viz., Acts 13:3) to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ (viz., Acts 8:4). Like all elders, these were ordained men set apart for the purpose of bestowing grace upon the saints through the building up of the church. They too were required to be able to teach and handle the word of God accurately. Where the function differs is in its focus, which is, namely, on the proclamation of the gospel. All newly organized churches require the presence of an evangelist in order for the gospel to take root (viz., Col 1:6–7), but established churches can survive without an elder functioning as an evangelist. This is why passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:28 mention apostles, prophets, and teachers, while omitting evangelists. However, some established churches must have elders operating as evangelists, because evangelists necessarily come from established churches. The office of evangelist is, therefore, a nonessential office that continues in the postapostolic age. By “nonessential,” I do not mean that evangelists are not needed. I only mean that they are not needed for the functioning of an established church.

There are only two accounts in Scripture that actually refer to an individual as an evangelist. The first is in Acts 21:8, where Paul entered “the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven.” The reference to Philip being one of the seven is a reference to Acts 6, where seven men from among the brethren of the disciples were selected to serve tables. This makes the Philip of Acts 21 the same Philip as in Acts 8, who began proclaiming Christ in the city of Samaria (viz., Acts 8:4–5), preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch (viz., Acts 8:35), and continued preaching the gospel in all the cities until he came to Caesarea (viz., Acts 8:40). In fact, all of Acts 8 is a record of Philip’s evangelistic ministry. Philip went to Samaria, a place where the church had not yet spread, and preached the good news of the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ (viz., Acts 8:12). The Lord sent him “to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza” in order to preach to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26). The Spirit of the Lord then snatched Philip away and brought him to Azotus, and he preached the gospel in all the cities until he came to Caesarea (viz., Acts 8:39–40). As one can see, the ministry of Philip the evangelist was focused primarily on the preaching of the gospel. However, it should be noted that some twenty years passed between Philip’s arrival in Caesarea in Acts 8 and when Paul entered Philip’s house in Caesarea in Acts 21. Presumably, Philip remained in Caesarea that entire time. This indicates that the office of evangelist focuses on the proclamation of the gospel but does not work exclusively among unbelievers.

This reality is also clearly seen in the Bible’s second reference to an evangelist. In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul writes to Timothy, saying, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Doing the work of an evangelist is included in the fulfillment of Timothy’s ministry. Paul also exhorts him not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord but to join with Paul in suffering for the gospel (viz., 2 Tim 1:8) and to entrust to faithful men the things that he had heard from Paul (viz., 2 Tim 2:2). Under the umbrella of the work of an evangelist, then, is a passion for the testimony of Christ to the point of suffering on account of the gospel and a handing down to faithful men the teachings of the apostles. This can take place, first, among unbelievers with the initial preaching of the gospel, as seen in Acts 8, and, second, within an established church such as at Ephesus, as those who have responded to the message of the gospel are taught to obey all that Christ has commanded. Therefore, an elder holding the office of evangelist focuses his preaching on the proclamation of the gospel but is also ready to feed the saints with the whole counsel of God’s word.

The Evangelist As a Missionary

With the general function of the office of evangelist defined, we can now turn to the particular subset of the office of missionary. It should be noted that everything that is true and required of an evangelist is also true and required of a missionary. He must meet the qualifications of an elder and be ordained by the church and set apart for the purpose of preaching the gospel for the building up of the body of Christ. The difference between the office of missionary and the general office of evangelist has primarily to do with those among whom the missionary preaches.

While the term “missionary” or “missions” was popularized by the Jesuits in the late 1500s when they sent members abroad, it originates from the Latin word missio, which means “to send.” Variations of this word are found in the Latin Vulgate, referring to the disciples and/or apostles being sent. In Matthew 10:16, Christ said to the disciples, “Behold, I send (missio) you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Mark 6:7 states that Christ “summoned the twelve and began to send (missio) them in pairs, and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Jesus said to the disciples in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent (missio) Me, I also send (missio) you.” So, the core meaning of missio, or “missions,” is “to send” or “to be sent.” However, there is more to the biblical definition of “missions,” for the emphasis in the text is not simply that sending is taking place. Rather, the emphasis is on to whom the person is being sent and what it is that he is being sent to do. Paraphrasing Christ’s statement regarding him in Acts 9:15, Paul is quoted in Acts 22:21 as saying, “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Paul states explicitly in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel.” As a missionary, therefore, Paul was sent to the Gentiles in order to preach the gospel. The Greek word translated as “Gentiles” is ethnos, and it literally means “nations.” While the Latin missio is not found in Christ’s commissioning of his disciples just prior to his ascension in Matthew 28, Luke 24, or Acts 1, these passages have come to symbolize the missionary calling, as they do contain the commissioning of the disciples to go throughout all the nations preaching the gospel.

With this definition as the foundation, a missionary is an elder who is sent by Christ or his church to preach the gospel among the nations. Later chapters will address the manner in which he is sent, what it means to preach the gospel, and who the nations are, so not much detail will be presented here about role of the missionary. Suffice it to say that the particular function of the missionary is to preach the gospel among the nations. This is where the distinction between the missionary and the evangelist is found. Both are ordained elders with the particular focus of preaching the gospel. The evangelist may preach the gospel among un- believers, within an established church, or a combination of the two. The missionary may also, throughout the duration of his career, preach the gospel initially among unbelievers and then within an established church as God’s elect respond in faith to the initial preaching, but the missionary is sent to do this among the nations. He preaches the gospel among other peoples because Christ has purchased for God, with his blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The evangelist is to preach the gospel wherever he finds himself, but the missionary is to continually push his preaching to the ends of the earth so that “they who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand” (Rom 15:21; Isa 52:15).

We now have a brief yet biblical understanding of the role of the missionary. He is an ordained elder who is to preach the gospel among the nations. As stated at the beginning of the chapter, however, this understanding is often neglected or rejected outright within the modern church. This has led to a gross misunderstanding of the missionary office, leaving ambitious saints stunned by hardships and the nations wanting of the gospel.

The Word of the Lord Always Prevails

But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

–Acts 19:34 (NASB)

 Paul spent three years in Ephesus during his third missionary journey. These were fruitful years. So fruitful, in fact, that Luke tells us everyone in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10). As commonly happened, though, opposition arose. This time it was the Gentiles. They were concerned that the success of Paul’s ministry was leading to the downfall of their goddess Artemis and all the businesses associated with her temple.

Luke recounts one particular event in Acts 19 where the whole city is thrust into confusion and uproar. A crowd fills the amphitheater, hoping to have Paul brought before them. Paul isn’t there, so the Jews put forward someone else. The crowd then explodes in an uproar and chants, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” for two hours!

In one sense, the crowd was right. Artemis, or at least the temple and cult of worship surrounding her, was great. The famed Temple of Artemis is now known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. No one knows exactly what it looked like, but most representations look something like this.

One of the major themes of Acts is the expansion of the kingdom of God, often in spite of such opposition. Given that Paul was never able to confront the crowd, one might wonder what history has to tell us about the greatness of Artemis in the face of the advancing Christian church.

There is a reason the temple in Ephesus is a wonder of the ancient world and not the modern world. It was severely damaged on several occasions and met its final end around 400ad. In its place today is an open field with a few broken columns laying around, one of which has been pieced back together and propped up.

It is believed that several of the columns were transported to Constantinople to be used in the construction of the Hagia Sofia, the Roman Empire’s first Christian cathedral that stood at the center of the eastern church from the 6th century to the 15th century.

Maybe Artemis isn’t so great after all, and those Ephesians who chanted her name for two hours surely know it by now. Just before Luke tells the story of the riot in Ephesus, he observes that “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:20). Luke’s commentary was accurate in the first century, and it is accurate today.

Were I to stop here, though, this article would just be a cheesy Christian anecdote that sounds nice to those of us who agree with it but doesn’t really hold any water, for just over the hill from the rubble of Artemis is a church. It was built by the Byzantines, supposedly over John the Apostle’s tomb, and its proximity to the site of the pagan temple surely once demonstrated the church as superior to Artemis. The only problem is that the church today is in the same condition as the pagan temple.

One could easily take this evidence and make the same argument about the church that I have made about Artemis, but my conclusion is not that church buildings are superior to pagan temples. Rather, it is that the word of the Lord always prevails, and the rubble of St. John’s Basilica proves it.

Subsequent to Paul’s ministry in Acts, John made his way to Ephesus, which had become one of the more significant Christian communities in the known world. That, however, does not mean that all was well in the Ephesian church.

From John’s exile on Patmos, he wrote to them to give them a warning from the Lord Jesus himself, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Rev 2:4–5, NASB). No one knows exactly what became of the Ephesian church of the first century; but by the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks had conquered Anatolia, and the Christian church was virtually extinguished.

The lampstand of the Ephesian church was removed, just as Jesus said it would be, and the rubble of St. John’s Basilica lays on the ground as evidence that the word of the Lord always prevails.

This ought to be a stark warning to every Christian community today, no matter how great or small. If we lose our first love, if we turn from the God who saved us, if we lose our affection for the God-man who laid down his life for us, we will be reduced to rubble.

How Important is Baptism?

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

–Matthew 28:19 (NASB)

What level of importance should baptism hold in the Christian pantheon of doctrine? According to Jesus in Matthew 28, a pretty high level of importance. The fact that he chooses to include it in his final instructions to his disciples before his ascension is significant. To baptize the nations is one of the central commands that Jesus gives to his church.

So, how does this help us answer to question? Saying that baptism holds a high level of importance doesn’t actually tell us anything. What exactly is that level, and what is it about baptism specifically that clings to that level?

Well, that level is one of essentiality. Jesus says that the church is to baptize the nations. Therefore, the church must baptize the nations. There is no discussion to be had on whether the church should or should not. It must. Baptizing is essential; and if it is essential for the church to baptize, then it is also essential for the nations, more specifically the disciples who come from the nations, to receive baptism. And the fact that Jesus commands it is what holds baptism at that high level of importance.

However, one would do well to notice that Jesus says nothing of the mode, timing, or frequency of baptism. So, is there a logical link between the essentiality of baptism itself and the level of importance of the way it is done, when it is done, or how often it is done? In other words, is it also essential that baptism be done a certain way, either by pouring or dunking, or that it happen on a certain day of the week or at a particular moment in a disciple’s life, or that a person only receive it once?

Drinking water is essential. Man cannot live without it, but does that mean he must drink it a certain way or at a certain time or with a certain frequency? Of course not. Earning a living is essential, but does that mean that money must be earned in a certain way or at a certain time or with a certain frequency? Of course not. There is no logical connection between the necessity of an act and the necessity of that act being done in a certain way, at a certain time, or with a certain frequency.

While baptism itself is important, the mode, timing, and frequency aren’t. In fact, I would say that the mode, timing, and frequency have such a low level of importance that they really don’t even matter.

So, depending on which aspect is being discussed, baptism is either essential or irrelevant. It is essential in that it must be done; but it is irrelevant how it happens, when it happens, or how often it happens.

Now, think of all the arguments over baptism that have divided Christian brothers and sisters. How many have been about the essential aspect of baptism, and how many have been about the irrelevant aspects of baptism?

The answer is shameful.

Selective Precision

While seeking to rectify Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos in Acts 18:26 with Paul’s ban on women teaching or exercising authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12, I came across a very interesting website that explores the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism. As I read through several of the articles, a completely separate issue began to make its way to the forefront of my mind.

Marg Mowczko very rightly and accurately points out in her article Were There Women Elders in New Testament Churches? (Part 2) that the word used for “elders” in the New Testament is a third person plural adjective. Just like English, the Greek third person plural is gender neutral, which means that, in theory, “elders” could be a group of men, a group of women, or a mixed group. The precision with which Mowczko analyzes the word’s use in the New Testament and the instances in which it almost certainly includes women in the group is commendable.

She then says in her article 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 5) that “difficulties and uncertainties should preclude 1 Timothy 2:12 from being used as a definitive text or proof text on the issue of women in ministry.” In other words, Paul’s intended meaning is unclear, and one cannot claim to know with certainty how 1 Timothy 2:12 impacts the issue of women in ministry.

Then, only two sentences later, she says, “The language shows that it [1 Timothy 2:12] was not intended to be a universal, timeless ban on all women as teachers or leaders.” Wait a minute. I thought there were difficulties and uncertainties associated with 1 Timothy 2:12 that preclude anyone knowing whether Paul intended his ban to be universal or not.

As I contemplated what I had just read, it dawned on me that all Christians want the Bible to teach what they believe, but the real question is whether we want to believe what the Bible teaches.

It is very easy for us to come to the Bible looking for justification for our beliefs, applying exegetical and theological precision when it benefits us and then using more pliable methods when the text does not quite fit with what we already think. The real challenge is to recognize what we bring with us to the text and then analyze precisely how that presupposition influences our interpretation and then determine whether or not that presupposition has helped us arrive at the author’s intended meaning or whether it has prevented us from arriving at the author’s intended meaning.

No one comes to the Bible with a blank slate. We all look at the text through a particular lens. Our summons as those who desire to follow Christ is to ask whether our lens brings the meaning of the text into focus or whether it blurs the meaning. At different times, it will most certainly do both. When the lens clarifies the author’s meaning, we must by all means keep looking through that lens. When it obscures the author’s meaning, we must seek a new prescription or be in danger of following our own preconceived notions that were hatched somewhere in the recesses of our own psyche.