Wednesday, December 28, 2022


I recently read the final chapters of the book of Jeremiah. I find his prophetic scope amazing. Jeremiah gives a detailed prophecy for each of the major nations of the world during the time when he lived. He obviously understood the workings and history of each of these nations and had listened to God and gained his perspective on their future. He then wrote a detailed prophecy for each one. That is an amazing achievement.

The modern-day equivalent would be for a prophet to give detailed prophecies for each of the following; United States, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Russia, China, Brazil, India and Nigeria. I cannot think of any of the modern so-called prophets who have come close to doing this.

When I read the prophetic bulletin boards, like the Elijah List, it seems that all the prophecies are about the United States, as if Americans are the only people whom God cares about, when the reality is that the US church is in decline, and the American culture is tearing itself apart. This suggests, contrary to the prophetic focus, that God has abandoned the United States.

No one on the Elijah List has the international scope that Jeremiah had. A few of the Australian prophets give positive prophecies about America, but I presume that this is a good way to build up their ministries and sell their books. A few Americans on the Elijah list say bad things about China and Russia, but they don't know much of these nations' history, and seem to be rooted in fear and xenophobia, rather than the heart of God.

Although the Holy Spirit has been poured out since Pentecost, and the prophetic gift has been restored over the last century, I cannot think of any modern prophet who has achieved the depth and breadth of scope that Jeremiah achieved (as did Isaiah and Ezekiel). This is an indictment on the prophetic movement.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Failed Tactics

Given the dramatic decline in the proportion of Christians and the religious plurality emerging in Western culture, Church leaders should be thinking seriously about how the church will need to change to turn the tide. But there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

Continuing in a Christendom-style mode of operating as if Christianity is still dominant in our culture leaves us looking foolish and arrogant.

  • In the past, Christians lived in a culture that respected their beliefs and supported their values (even if they didn’t always live according to them). Their daily lives did not contradict their Christian life. Now the entire culture is hostile, so even if the Sunday service is really good, young Christians spend most of their lives in a culture at work or school that is not conducive to faith. Their interaction with the world during their daily lives will constantly undermine their faith. Many have already succumbed to the pressure. As the pressure gets more intense, many more will give up because their faith is not strong enough to sustain them in an antagonistic environment.

    Modern culture places a high value on members of oppressed groups (female, racial, religious, sexual and transgender minorities). In this context, Christians are seen as part of the dominant culture that oppressed these groups in the past. Consequently, we will see greater hostility to the church, and in some situations, persecution of Christian leaders. So life as a minority will be more unpleasant for Christians will be far more unpleasant than they expect. We will not just be ignored. Those who stand against favoured cultural changes will be harassed.

  • For most people who do not know Jesus, church is a scary place. A few will go with a friend, but most won’t. This means that the Sunday service is no longer a suitable place for seriously sharing the gospel. As a method for sharing the gospel, the Come-to-Church-Model is no longer effective. The declining number of Christians confirms this in Western countries. The modern church has not even been able to replace the Christians who die. Our preferred method for sharing the gospel no longer works.

    Most of what the church does is done in programs run in a church building. Most non-Christians never see the love of Jesus being lived out by people who love one another as Jesus commanded, even if it does happen.

The Come-to-Church-Model is not effective in a culture when Christians are in the minority. It does not work for followers of Jesus, and it does not work for people who need to know Jesus. Persisting with a method that is failing is foolish. Christian leaders who understand how the world is changing should be looking at alternative ways of operating that are better suited to our task.

The New Testament church operated in a very hostile environment. They were often persecuted, first by the Jewish establishment and then by the Romans. People who chose to follow Jesus often had a very tough life. However, Jesus had left his disciples with a way of operating that proved to be very effective. The early church grew rapidly despite the hostility of the environment it operated in. Modern church leaders should be having a serious look at how they did it.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christian Decline

The UK Office of National Statistics has just announced results for religious affiliation from their latest Population Census. For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percent decrease from 59.3% in 2011. This is amazing. In a nation that was once perceived as the heartland of Christianity, Christians are now a minority. In parts of London, the percentage of Christians is now less than thirty percent.

A similar change has occurred in New Zealand. According to the 2018 population census, only 37.3 percent of the population describe themselves as “Christian”, whereas nearly half (48.6 percent) claim to have “No Religion”. If the various ethnic churches are excluded (they are probably unlikely to reach the existing population with the gospel), the percentages would be significantly worse than in the UK.

The United States is a decade behind, but secularisation of the culture is proceeding faster there, so the decline will be faster too. Unless something changes significantly, the United States will soon be in a similar state to the UK. Pretending that this decline is not happening, or vainly hoping that revival will come and turn the situation around is foolish.

The decline in Christian faith recorded by these statistics represents a massive cultural change in our society. A reasonable person would expect the church to recognize the problem and begin adapting so that it can be effective in the new culture that is emerging. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that this is happening.

A military general who lost half of his troops, while his enemy's forces were increasing would be freaking out. He would probably be wondering about surrendering or suing for peace before his army was totally decimated. At the very least, he would be changing the way that he fought. He would stop all major engagements against large concentrations of enemy forces, and would disperse his remaining forces to engage in guerilla-style insurgent tactics, harassing the enemy in hit-and-run attacks.

Despite facing similar losses, the church seems to be content to go on doing what it has always done without any consideration of radical change. The “Come to Church for an Hour on Sunday” is still the norm. The worship songs have become more upbeat, and the music production is more professional. The presentation of the message uses more sophisticated visual aids, but the method is still one man preaching. The song-prayer-sermon-altar-call club-sandwich is as popular as ever.

Given the dramatic secular shift and the religious plurality emerging in our culture, Christian leaders should be thinking seriously about how the church will need to change to turn the tide. But there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Isaiah (2)

The second half of the book of Isaiah has some amazing prophecies about the promised Messiah. Isaiah 53 records a detailed prophecy of how his death would occur. The various Servant Prophecies are an amazing description of what Jesus would be like and what he would do. As I read these prophecies, I was amazed at how accurate Isaiah was in hearing God’s voice and prophesying events that were way beyond what anyone living at the time expected. More amazing, this was way before the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Given the difficulties a person like Isaiah would face in receiving God’s word, I am amazed that he could prophesy so clearly about events that were so far in the future. I assume that he did not have this capacity when he was first called to be a prophet. I presume that it gradually developed over many years, as he received and declared God’s word, as he dealt with pushback and hostility, and as he suffered for his loyalty to God. I presume that it was God working in his life by the moving of the Spirit and suffering for the truth that produced the ability to hear God clearly.

I assume that when Isaiah was an old man, he was far more skilled in hearing God speak than he was when he was first called (this is a challenge for everyone with a prophetic calling). It was only toward the end of his life, following intensive work by the Holy Spirit, that he was able to receive word about what the Messiah would do when he came. It was only when he was old that he was able to receive a revelation about the Messiah that was totally different from what everyone else expected.

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry reached great heights as he grew older. Therefore, I am not surprised that he began speaking in a different style and used different words. This would be a natural response to the major work that God had to do in his life. So a change in writing style is not evidence that a different person wrote the latter chapters of the book.

Isaiah is a massive challenge for anyone with a prophetic calling. I cannot think of many modern prophetic voices who have the insight and accuracy that Isaiah demonstrated. Yet, in the confusion of the modern life in our troubled world, a clear direction like Isaiah brought is urgently needed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Isaiah (1)

I have been re-reading the book of Isaiah. Many commentators suggest that only the first half of the book (chapter 1-39) was written by Isaiah, and that the second half (chapters 40-66) were written by a different author, a century later, when Israel was in exile in Babylon and looking forward to their return to the Promised Land. They suggest that the second half is written in a different style from the second half.

I see several problems with this view.

1. A change in style does not mean much. Isaiah prophesied over more than forty years. He began prophesying as a young man during the final years of the reign of King Uzziah (Is 6:1). He was probably still prophesying when King Hezekiah’s son called Manasseh became king. Isaiah was just a young man in his early twenties when he was called to his ministry. Towards the end of his life, he would have been prophesying for more than forty years, and perhaps nearly fifty.

During this ministry, his understanding of God’s purposes would have increased. Because he was open to listening, he would have developed a clearer insight into God’s will. As he grew in his gifting, he would speak in a different way and use better words to describe what God was showing him.

None of us remains static. When I look back on what I wrote thirty years ago, the tone is different, the message is not as clear, and I use a different set of words. I used to refer to Jesus as “Christ” all the time, whereas now I rarely use the word, because I think it gives a false understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done.

In the same way, Isaiah’s way of speaking would have changed and developed throughout his ministry. So it is not surprising that his later prophecies have a different style, tone and message from his earlier ones.

2. Prophecies about the end of the exile are relatively rare, even in the last half of the book of Isaiah. As I read through the book, I was surprised at how few they were. Isaiah 44:21-28 is one example. That does not make sense if the second half of the book was written at the time when Israel was about to return from exile. There would have been a much greater focus on that event.

Saturday, December 17, 2022


Many Christians have strong hope for revival. Despite the decline of faith in Jesus throughout the Western world, they believe that God will send a revival that will turn the situation around and restore the church to the place of strength that it once held.

The problem with this hope is that revival is not a New Testament concept. The word “revival” is not used in the Testament

The closest to a reference to revival is in Acts 3:19, but it refers to “refreshing” not revival. It was addressed to people who were not believers in Jesus, so Peter was not challenging a dull church. He was doing evangelism in a hostile world, which is very different.

The other problem with the revival hope is that it puts the blame for the decline of the church on God. If the Holy Spirit moves in power in some seasons then remains hidden for other seasons, then a period of decline is most likely the consequence of the Holy Spirit is having withdrawn for a season. If that is the case, the solution is to persuade God to send the Holy Spirit back again to bring revival. There is nothing that God’s people can do until the Holy Spirit returns again.

Unfortunately, the underlying premise of this hope is flawed. The Holy Spirit does come and go. He is not in a good mood at some times and in a bad mood at others. He is not unavailable to the church for long seasons. The biblical message is that Jesus has poured the Holy Spirit into the world. He is always working and he never goes away. He is always available to people who seek him honestly and sincerely.

The biblical message to a church in decline is to change your thinking (repent). Change your ways. Do things differently. The Bible promises that if we will humble ourselves and fully commit to doing his will, he will move in power amongst us.

The decline of the church is never God’s fault. It is never because the Holy Spirit has stopped moving for a season. It is always because the church has failed to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey his voice. The reason he cannot move in the way that he wants to is that the church is unwilling to obey him.

In this season, I see no sign that the church wants to change what it is doing and do what the Holy Spirit is desperately begging it to do. The church seems to want to carry on doing things the same way as it has always done, even though it is not working.

The church seems intent on doing what it is already doing. That means that revival is unlikely to come soon. Relying on revival teaching is a false hope.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Reading and Writing

I read articles written by other people critically, not in the sense of looking for faults, but testing all new ideas to ensure that they make sense in terms of what I already know to be true, such as the truth that God exists and is love.

So when people read what I write, I expect them to do the same. I often push the boundaries of conventional wisdom, so I don’t mind if people disagree with what I write. They are entitled to do that. All I ask is that readers don’t reject my ideas, just because they are different from the majority view. They should remember that majority in Israel wanted to make a golden calf to worship. The majority in Jerusalem wanted to crucify Jesus, so the majority is not always right.

I have studied the scriptures for many years, and I think extensively about what I write, but I also know that not everything that I have written is true. The problem is, as a wise person once said, I don’t know which bits are wrong. If I did know, I would not have written them. So everyone who reads my writing should test my ideas and ensure that they align with the truth that they know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (10) Pseudepigrapha

Some modern scholars claim the pastoral epistles written by Paul are pseudepigrapha. The word refers to letters and other texts that are falsely attributed to an important religious leader who is not the true author. They say that these letters were written by a later leader, who tried to gain authority for his letters by claiming they were written by Paul to leaders from the first generation of Christians.

They suggest that the letters referred to leaders mentioned in Paul’s genuine letters to give them credibility. They say that the author of the letter used Paul’s name to give their writings standing in the church.

I think that this is a stupid idea. Even if the letters were written at a date as late as AD 120, there would be people around who knew about Timothy and Titus and how and where they lived and what they did.

My great-grandfather moved to the area where my family farmed in 1878. That is about 140 years ago. My father knew his grandfather, and he told me about his struggles on a small uneconomic farm, and his making ends meet by working as a shearer. If someone was to come along now and say that my great-grandfather was a doctor or a lawyer, I would not believe them. Their story would not be credible to someone familiar with my family history.

If Timothy and Titus were active in about AD 50, a letter written in AD 120 would have only a gap of seventy years. That is the equivalent of me looking back to 1952. I was a child at that time. My parents talked to me about the things that happened at that time. I remember some of the big events, like the coronation of the Queen Elizabeth and Hillary climbing Mount Everest. If someone wrote a book about my great uncle climbing Mount Everest, I would know it was not true.

Even if the Pastoral Epistles were not written until AD150, the gap back to Timothy’s actual life is like me looking back to the 1920s. I was not alive then, but my father was. He talked to me about the things that happened in his family and the nation back then. A false narrative about what happened during the great depression of the late 1920s would not gain traction because too many people still alive know what really happened.

So the idea that someone could pretend to write a letter from Paul to Timothy or Titus and gain credibility for their account is not credible. It assumes a level of stupidity for the Christians of that time that is arrogant and unfair.

This full series is at Pastoral Epistles.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (9) Not Deserted

Commentators usually suggest that Paul was depressed when he wrote his second letter to Timothy because all his fellow-workers had deserted him. Again, I think that this is misleading. A more realistic picture is that Paul was constantly organising his fellow-workers to advance the gospel and protect the fledgling churches.

The reason that Paul wanted Timothy and Mark to come was so that they could work with him. A careful reading of the final chapter if Second Timothy shows that Paul was busy organising the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church. He sent his fellows to various places where the church might need help.

  • Demas Thessalonica (he is midunderstood).
  • Crescens — Galatia
  • Tychicus — Ephesus
  • Erastus — Corinth
  • Trophimus — Miletus
These leaders covered most regions of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece where Paul and his co-workers had already taken the gospel. Clearly, Paul was still thinking strategically about how to advance the gospel.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (8) Depressed Paul

Many commentators assume that his second letter to Timothy was written just before Paul died. They suggest that he was shut up in prison in Rome and depressed because he was alone, and his ministry was coming to an end. I reject this view, because I believe that it is based on a misunderstanding of the letter.

The passage that is commonly misunderstood is 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Commentators mostly assume that Paul knew that his death was near and was ready to die. But that is only one possible meaning of these verses.

Paul says that his is being poured out as a drink offering. That was not new. He said the same thing in his letter to the Philippians.

I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you (Phil 2:17).
He rejoiced with the Philippians because his sacrifice of service was helping increase their faith. He was not talking about his death, so it does not follow that he was thinking about his death when he spoke the same way to Timothy.

Paul says that he has a crown of righteousness and reward awaiting him on the day of judgment. However, this is something that he said frequently, not just when he thought he was dying. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul speaks of the crown that he and the disciples wear, just as he writes to Timothy. Speaking of a crown that would be given by Jesus to his followers when he appears is not a sign that he was thinking about his death.

Paul says that he has completed the race, but he was a person who was always racing, and striving. He always worked hard at his ministry, so he always saw himself as having completed the race that he had been called to run. Paul was always in a position where he had no regrets about what he could have done. His role make his life precarious, so he was always ready to die, because he was always doing what Jesus wanted him to do.

Paul says that the time for his “departure” is near. He was not necessarily speaking of his death (v.8). The Greek word that Paul uses is “analusis”. It means “unloosing” or “departure”. It can refer to the unmooring of a ship ready for departure.

I suspect that Paul realised that his release from prison was getting close, and his letter was planning for what he would do when he got out. He wanted Timothy and Mark to come and join him, so he could engage in further missionary work (2 Tim 4:9). There would be no point in their coming to him if he was about to die. Paul confirms this by saying that Mark is useful for his ministry (2 Tim 4:11).

Paul asks Timothy to come before the winter (2 Tim 4:9,21). He asked Timothy to bring a cloak for the winter, and some books that he used. He would not be asking for these things if his death was imminent. Paul’s practice was to find a good place and stay there for the winter months (1 Cor 16:6; Tit 3:12). It seems that he was planning to do this again.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (7) Many Imprisonments

Paul says that he was in prison (2 Tim 1:8). There is no reason to assume that this was his last time in prison. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul records that he was imprisoned numerous times. Many of these are not recorded in the book of Acts. It seems that part of his life and ministry was missed by Luke.

Several of the bad experiences Paul records in his letter must have happened on another journey for which we have no details.

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits... in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea... I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Cor 11:23-27).
Acts does not record three ship wrecks, or the five times Paul received forty lashes. It does not seem to record all the times he was in prison. So some of his imprisonments probably occurred in his journey to the western Balkans. I think that is more likely that Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written while Paul was in prison at some point on his unrecorded missionary journey, possibly after he had returned from to Greece from Illyricum.

Paul records that he has sent Titus to Dalmatia (which is down the coast from Illyricum (2 Tim 4:10). This suggests that he was writing after he had returned from planting churches there. He often sent one of his co-workers to visit the churches he had established to ensure that elders were functioning correctly. Titus had probably gone to Dalmatia after his time in Crete (Tit 1:5). He had probably gone there with Paul and remained for a while after Paul left (or perhaps was forced to leave).

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (6) Aquila and Priscilla

A clue to the date of the second letter to Timothy comes from the travels of Aquila and Priscilla. They were Jews who had been expelled from Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). Paul met them in Corinth and took them to Ephesus when he made a brief visit there, prior to travelling to Jerusalem.

They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:19).
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla were still in Ephesus, because they sent a greeting to Corinth (1 Cor 16:9). By the time Paul wrote to the Romans, Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome, because Paul sent a greeting to them there (Rom 16:3).

This confirms an early date for Second Timothy, because in this letter, Paul sends a greeting to Aquila and Priscilla and the church in the house of Onesiphorus (2 Tim 4:19, which was in Ephesus or its environs. It is unlikely that Aquila and Priscilla would have gone all the way back to Rome and then returned to Ephesus again, so Paul must have written to Timothy before he wrote to the Romans.

This connection with Aquila and Priscilla explains where Timothy was when Paul wrote his second letter to him. He must have been in the area around Ephesus, where Aquila and Priscilla had been based. It also explains why Paul asked Timothy to pick up his cloak and books from Troas when he came to join him. If he was travelling west from Ephesus, he would need to pass through the Port of Troas.

This also confirms that Paul was based even further west when he wrote to Timothy, probably somewhere in Macedonia or Greece. One possibility is Nicopolis in the West of Greece (see Titus 3:12).

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (5) Onesiphorus

The usual assumption is that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy while he was in prison in Rome, not long before he died. I believe that this is wrong. The only hint that the letter was written when Paul was in Rome is a verse about a church leader called Onesiphorus. Paul sends greetings to the church that meets in his house (2 Tim 4:19).

Paul says that Onesiphorus blessed him when he was in prison in Rome.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me (2 Tim 1:16-17).
Two things should be noted about this text. Onesiphorus had not been worried about Paul’s chains, but the letter does not say where. It could be referring to the time when he first met Paul in Colossae where Onesiphorus led a church and Paul was in prison before visiting that city.

The text says that Onesiphorus looked out for Paul when he visited Rome, but does not say when that occurred. It does not say that Paul was in prison when Onesiphorus looked him out.

Most commentators believe that Paul did not get to Rome until after he was arrested in Jerusalem and appealed to Rome. I don’t agree with that. At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul sends greetings to a large number of church leaders and churches in Rome (far more than any of his other letters). This indicates to me that Paul has already visited Rome. He would not have known so many people living there if he had not visited.

It was probably during this early visit to Rome that Onesiphorus had met up with him. There is no reason to assume that he was in Rome when he wrote the second letter of Timothy.

Luke seems to have missed part of Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts while he was not with him. When writing to the Romans, Paul declares that he has travelled as far as Illyricum, which is in modern-day Croatia, with the gospel (Rom 15:19). Acts does not record this journey. If Paul had travelled as far as Croatia he would probably have gone to Rome at the same time. This would explain why he knew so many people when he was writing to the church in Rome.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (4) Young Timothy

If the Pastoral Letters have a late date, Timothy would have been getting older when Paul wrote to him. However, Paul writes as if he is a young man. He explains how Timothy should conduct himself in the church (1 Tim 4:15). He warns him not to let anyone despise his youth (1 Tim 4:12). Paul urges Timothy to stir up the gift that had been released in him through the laying of hands (2 Tim 1:6). He encouraged him do the work of an evangelist and to fulfil his ministry (2 Tim 4:5).

Paul’s exhortations to Timothy do not make sense if he was writing at a late date. By then Timothy would have been twenty years into his ministry, so it would be ridiculous to be treating him as someone who did not know what he was doing and could easily fail. The nature of Paul’s message confirms an earlier date for the letters.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (3) Last Days

Paul explains to Timothy what will happen in the Last Days/Latter Times. A common misconception amongst Christians is that the “Last Days” are a tumultuous season prior to the Second Coming of Jesus. That is incorrect. I have explained in an article called Last Days that this expression is the name of the season between the Ascension of Jesus and the Destruction of Jerusalem. This short season marked the end of the nation of Israel in its existing form, before the Jews were sent into exile.

Timothy was a Jew, so it was natural that Paul would describe what things would be like in the Last Days (1 Tim 4:1-3). In his second letter to Timothy, he gives his fullest description of what things would be like in Israel during the season between the Ascension and the Destruction of Jerusalem (2 Tim 3:1-6). All the things described in this passage occurred during the siege of Jerusalem.

Christians love to look for the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 3:1-6 in their own situation, but this prophecy was fulfilled prior to the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It does not have a future fulfilment (except as a general description of what always happens in societies that desert God).

If Paul was warning of the situation that would occur during the lead up to the Destruction of Jerusalem, his words would only make sense if they were written before that terrible event occurred. This suggests that the two letters to Timothy must have been written well before AD 70, which confirms an early date for the letters.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (2) Selecting Elders

Once we understand that the letters to Timothy and Titus are instructions about the type of people that should become elders, an earlier date for these letters makes more sense. Elders were recognised in the church right from the beginning. Deacons were appointed early on in the history of the church (Acts 6:1-7).

Sending a letter about selecting elders and deacons to the church at the end of the first century does not make sense. By that time the church had considerable experience with elders. They were everywhere. All churches had elders (Acts 13:1-3). Most would have deacons to care for their poor. They did not need basic teaching about appointing elders and deacons, because they had been doing that for a long time.

However, in the early days of the church, the situation was different. Paul had gone back to the churches he had established and recognised the more mature Christians as elders (Acts 14:23), but they could not keep on depending on Paul to do this. Therefore, it makes sense that Paul would give instructions about identifying elders to the people who worked with him and were going to visit new churches that had been established.

Paul had had more experience than anyone in identifying good elders, so it would be natural for the church to preserve his instructions about selecting them. Timothy and Titus were returning to places where new groups of Christians had formed, so it would be natural that Paul would write to them giving instructions about how to appoint elders (Tit 1:5-9; 1 Tim 3:1-7). Getting this task wrong would create serious problems, so Paul would want ensure that they did it well.

Paul always supported himself in ministry by working part-time as a tentmaker, but he did not expect other elders who worked hard at caring for new believers to do the same. He recognised that some elders would need financial support if large numbers were coming to faith in Jesus. Ensuring that they all grew in faith could be a full-time task during some seasons. The early church was growing fast, so it was natural that Paul would write instructions about financial support for very active elders (1 Tim 5:17-18).

Deacons were established to care for the poor in the early days of the church at Jerusalem. These deacons were not deputy bishops, but people who cared for the poor (Acts 6:1-7). Read my article called Ministry of the Deacon for more on this topic. This role was important for the demonstration of the gospel, so other churches would have copied the Jerusalem example. However, appointing the right people to be deacons (caring for the poor) would be important (1 Tim 3:8-13). So it would be natural for Paul to write instructions about how to appoint deacons who would be able to carry out their role effectively (1 Tim 5:3-16).

When read with an understanding of the role of overseers and deacons, the letters to Timothy and Titus would not make sense if they belonged at the end of the first century. However, if Paul wrote them to two of his key followers in the early days of the church, they really do make sense. So I support an early date and Paul’s authorship.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (1) Not Bishops

I have been reading the scriptural letters to Timothy and Titus again. They are often referred to as the Pastoral Epistles, as they deal with pastoral issues. In the following post, I record some of the things that struck me as I read.

Many modern commentators claim that the pastoral epistles were not written by Paul. They give them a late date, assuming they were written towards the end of the first century, much later than Paul’s other letters.

I disagree with this view.

The main reason that the commentators give a late date is that the letters to Timothy and Titus seem to give instructions about appointing “bishops” (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). They assume that these letters could not be written by Paul, because bishops did not come into existence until later in the history of the church when his ministry was complete.

Unfortunately, this common understanding of the letters is wrong. The pastoral epistles are not instructions about appointing “bishops”. The greek word translated as bishop is “episkopos”. The English word “bishop” is a transliteration of the word episkopos, but this practice is misleading, as it makes it sound like an administrative or management position. The actual meaning of “episkopos” is “overseer”. "Skopos" means "watcher" and "epi" means "around", so "episkopos" describes “watching over or around”. Overseeing is not managing, directing and controlling, but watching over believers to ensure that they remain safe.

Episkopos is just another name for an elder. All elders "watch over" or "oversee" the disciples that God has placed under them. An elder/overseer is a person in a church who has oversight over less mature Christians. Even mature followers of Jesus need to be in a relationship with an elder. The word "oversight" describes the nature of this relationship well, because the elder watches over them, but does not control them.

In the New Testament, overseer is not a different role, but just another word that explains the nature of eldership. In Titus 1:6,7, the words "elder" and "overseer" are used interchangeably in teaching about the task of elders. The letter does not describe two different ministries.

Paul made this clear in his teaching to the church in Ephesus.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church... Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:17,28).
Paul explains to the elders that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (episkopos) of a flock. Paul challenged them to guard their flock. They do this by watching over them to see that they continue to grow and do not come to harm. Mature Christians do not need to be closely discipled; they just need someone to watch over them, who will only act if they come under severe attack or things go wrong. Jesus bought us with his blood, so no one should be allowed to slip away.

Peter also challenged elders to exercise "oversight" (verb) in their role as elders by shepherding God’s flock. They do this by serving and setting an example, not by ruling and bossing.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers (episkopos) — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Pet 1:1-3).
The use of the word overseer tells about the nature of the elder’s role. They mostly just watch over their people without doing anything.

Our enemy is prowling around, looking for someone to snare, so all Christians need an elder watching over them. Every Christian will be submitted to an elder, but it must not be "heavy-handed" control. Submission is really just willingness by a believer to allow a more mature Christian to speak into their life, by being teachable and willing to accept correction.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Passive Resistance

Passive resistance to evil government is a good idea, more consistent with Paul’s teaching to the Romans than the compulsory submission which is so popular with Christians. However, individualistic passive resistance will likely fail, because individuals will be quickly picked off by the state and their families punished. The cost will be huge. People should not take it up unless they are prepared to pay the cost.

Passive resistance by a strong community that lives tight together and supports each other spiritually and physically, like Paul described in Romans 12 (not just meeting once a week) can be an effective vehicle for passive resistance. It can replace the government support that is lost for people living in its vicinity who are being ground down by state power.

See Defence and War.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022


One of the most unfairly-treated characters in the New Testament is a companion of Paul called Demas. Preachers use him as an example of a person in a blessed situation who fell away from the gospel because they loved the things of the world too much. However, that is only one possible interpretation of the one verse where he is mentioned.

When Paul was alone and under pressure, he wrote to Timothy and asked him to come to him, along with Mark. Here is what he wrote about Demas.

Demas forsook me, having loved the present age, and went on to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke only is with me (1 Tim 4:10-11).
It is plausible that Demas fell from grace because he loved the world and escaped to Thessalonica for a sinful life. But it is just as plausible that Demas loved the people of Thessalonica who were trapped in the worldly Roman culture and went to them to preach the gospel. This is the sort of thing that a person who had hung out with Paul would do. If there was an opportunity for the gospel in Thessalonica, Paul would have encouraged Demas to go.

Paul lumps Demas together with Crescens and Titus in one sentence, without any explanation, as those who have gone out to share the gospel. I doubt that he would not have done that if Demas had deserted the faith.

The Greek word translated “forsake” is egkataleipo. It can mean deserted, but it can simply means departed. I think that we should give Demas the benefit of the doubt, and not be too quick to condemn him.

Paul would have supported Demas, because was always looking for opportunities for the advance of the gospel. Paul wanted Timothy and Mark to come, not because he wanted them to care for him, but because there were opportunities for sharing the gospel that they could take up (2 Tim 4:11).

Monday, November 14, 2022


Many Christians are stirred up about globalism, but I am not always sure what they mean by the term. Globalisation is mostly an economic phenomenon, brought about by container shipping and advanced communications, such as the internet and cellphones. These technologies allow goods to be shipped cheaply all over the world. Countries and people no longer need to be self-sufficient, but can buy what they need from the cheapest producer.

Globalisation has made most people in the world better off through access to cheap consumer goods. Workers in Asia benefited. Blue-collar workers in the west lost out, because they lost the protections that kept them in a privileged place. Most people in the world like this freedom and the material benefits that it brings, so the only thing that will break this down would be wars on a really big scale.

Many Christians see globalisation as a political phenomenon. They fear the emergence of a world government that controls the entire world. Fortunately, the time for this idea seems to have been and gone. Fifty years ago, there was a groundswell of national governments surrendering some of their authority to international organisations. That trend peaked with the establishment of the European Union. Most other attempts in the same direction never got off the ground. That trend towards globalisation of political power is now well past, as national politicians have refused to give up their power and people decided they did not want their lives controlled by distant, faceless bureaucrats.

In the coming years, we are more likely to see a collapse of international organisations. Britain has already left the EU, and others like Greece and Italy will most likely follow. Most other groups of nations are also fracturing. We are not going to see one-world government in the foreseeable future, so Christians make themselves look foolish if they keep talking about it.

Ironically, the one grouping of nations/states that has held together is the United States of America, but even it is feeling the pressure of intensifying division, which might fracture it apart.

President Joe Biden does not believe in one-world government. He believes in American power. He will only support international organisations, like NATO, IMF, World Bank and the UN, if they can be used as vehicles to push American power on the world. These attempts will probably fail, because Europe and China are too strong to be dominated by American power.

What Joe Biden is doing is undermining economic globalism by imposing sanctions to enforce US power. This is dividing the world into two trading blocs, which will make most people worse off.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Righteousness in Romans

I have completed my analysis of righteousness in Romans.
The full series can be read here.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (12) Righteousness (diakaiosune)

Paul uses the noun "dikaiosune", which means "righteousness", in three main ways in his letter to the Romans. In the first part of the letter (1-3), he refers to the "righteousness of God". In chapter 4, he explains how God considered Abraham's faith to be "righteousness". In chapter 6, he explains that we are now "servants of righteousness".

1. Righteousness of God
Only God is righteous. Paul explains that the gospel is revealing his righteousness to the world (Rom 1:17; 3:21). He proved his righteousness by passing over sins that had been previously committed (Rom 3:26). God is the only being who has righteousness at the heart of his character.

2. Abraham and Righteousness
Paul makes his greatest use of the word "righteousness" when writing about Abraham, so we need to understand what he meant. His core message was, Faith was assessed to Abraham into righteousness (Rom 4:9). Most English translations say "for righteousness," whereas the Greek text uses the preposition "eis", which means "into" (also Rom 4:3,5 22).

The preposition "for" makes it seem like faith is swapped "for righteousness", but it was not a swap of one for another. Rather it was a change in God's assessment of Abraham. The different preposition was used to indicate that God had re-classified him from 'unrighteousness "into righteousness".

3. Serving Righteousness In Romans 6, Paul explains the changed position of those who trust in Jesus. Prior to the coming of Jesus, powerful cosmos controllers called Sin and Death ruled the world. Prior to trusting in Jesus, the Christians were slaves to Sin (unrighteousness) and Death. Paul explained that people are the servants/slaves of anyone they commit to obeying, whether Sin or Righteousness

You are slaves of the one you obey (Rom 6:16).
This was Adam's problem. He chose to submit to the tempter in the Garden of Eden. When he obeyed Satan, he became a slave of Satan. The spiritual powers of evil gained dominion over everything that had been given to Adam and Eve. A child of a slave is born as a slave, so all the descendants of Adam and Eve are born into the same slavery to the spiritual powers of evil. In Romans 6, Paul spells the problem out clearly, along with the solution.


  • We were enslaved to Sin (Rom 6:6).
  • Death had dominion over us (Rom 6:9).
  • Sin reigned in your mortal body (Rom 6:12).
  • You obeyed Sin's lusts (Rom 6:12).
  • You were weapons of unrighteousness to Sin (Rom 6:13).
  • Sin had dominion over you (Rom 6:14).
  • You were slaves to Sin (Rom 6:17).
  • You were slaves to impurity (Rom 6:19).
  • You were slaves of sin (Rom 6:20).
  • The wages of Sin is Death (Rom 6:23).


  • You have been freed from sin (Rom 6:7).
  • Reckon ourselves dead to Sin (Rom 6:11).
  • You were liberated from Sin (Rom 6:18).
  • You became slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:18)
  • You have been liberated from Sin (Rom 6:22).
The problem is that we are dominated and controlled by the spiritual powers of evil. Jesus' death on the cross destroyed their power and set us free. Paul says that we have been liberated to be slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:18). Of course, we do not become slaves of a concept like righteousness. In this context, righteousness is just a name of God. Paul uses the word "righteousness" to refer to God. We choose to be slaves/servants of God.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (11) Abraham

Abraham was not a righteous man. He never became righteous. Throughout his life, he lied about his wife to avoid the threats of powerful kings. This got him into trouble on a couple of occasions. Most Jewish teachers believed that God had called Abraham because he was a righteous man. Paul explained that was not true. Abraham was not righteous. He could not be righteous because only God is truly righteous. However, election does not require righteousness.

Abraham did not need to be righteous for God to choose him to be the father of his chosen nation. Calling does not require righteousness because election does not depend on character (Rom 9:11) but on the will of God. God promised that Abraham and his descendants would be the heir of the world (Rom 4:13). Abraham responded to God's calling by faithfully obeying his leading.

We first hear of Abraham when God came to him and told him to leave Haran and move to a country that God would show him. God told him that he would become a great nation and that he would bring blessing to the nations of the world.

So Abram went, as Yahweh had spoken to him (Rom 12:4).
Abraham trusted God and moved to Canaan, a massively risky journey into the unknown. God responded to Abraham's trust and faithfulness by declaring him to be right with him. Abraham was put right by trusting in God. Once Abram was in Canaan, God spoke to him again and promised that he would father a great nation. When Abram pointed out that he was childless, God told him to look at the stars in the sky and attempt to count them. He said his offspring would be as many as the stars. Genesis records that Abram trusted God.
Abram believed Yahweh, and he classified him as righteous (Gen 15:6).
God responded by solemnising a formal covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18). The main risk to Abraham's destiny came from the spiritual powers of evil. It seems that when he was in Haran, they deemed him to be insignificant, so they ignored him. Even when he first arrived in Canaan, they did not understand his role, so they left him to his own devices. However, once his household and wealth grew, they realised something was up and tried to attack him.

God had declared Abraham to be right with him, so it was difficult for them to get at him. They attacked Lot as a means to get at Abraham. They deceived him into having a son with his wife's servant Hagar. They got him into trouble with Abimelech and sent a famine to destroy him, but God protected them from all these troubles. The birth of Isaac was proof that his situation had been rectified, as it allowed Abraham to fulfil his calling.

God thought about Abraham as if he was righteous. The spiritual powers of evil were unable to destroy him because God was able to rescue him and his family from their power.

Faithfulness was all that God required of Abraham. He did not need anything more. He didn't need a sacrifice. God did not need Abraham to fully obey him. Hid did not need Jesus' death. All that he needed was faith. That was enough to put him right with God.

Abraham probably did not care that much about righteousness. He just wanted to survive his adventure into a new land. He wanted to keep his family safe from his dangerous neighbours. However, without Abraham knowing it, God’s decision to consider him righteous was hugely important, because it prevented the spiritual powers of evil from attacking him. Once God declared that he was righteous, they could no longer use his sins to hold power over him. The declaration that Abraham was righteous in God’s eyes was a huge defeat for the spiritual powers of evil, because they lost their authority over him, as it was based on his being a sinner. God's decision destroyed their power over Abraham.

The same is true for us. God did not declare us righteous so we would feel good. He did it so that the spiritual powers of evil would lose their rights over us. Because God has declared that those who are called by Jesus are righteous, they have lost their right to attack us.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (10) Put Right by Faith

The basic meaning of 'dikaio" is to be "put right" or to be "rectified." Paul's message to the Romans is that those who trust in Jesus are "put right" by faith.

All are freely put right by His grace through the ransom that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24).
By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the ransom that set us free from the domination of the spiritual powers of evil. That put us right. It rectified our situation.
We consider (logizomai) that a person is put right by faith apart from the works of the Torah (Rom 3:28).
Jesus did for people who trust in him what the Torah was not intended to do. It was never intended to be a complete solution to the problem of sin.
Since we have been put right through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).
Because Jesus' death rectified our situation, our guilt and shame no longer force us to draw away from God.
Having been declared right now in his blood, we shall be rescued through him from the spirit of Wrath (Rom 5:9).
By shedding his blood on the cross, Jesus rescued us from the control of the spirit called Wrath and his mates.
Those whom He called, he also put right (Rom 8:30).
Jesus called us, so he put our situation right in every way.

Paul wrote a similar message to the Galatian Christians because Jews were trying to get them to comply with the ethnic markers of the law by eating separately.

We have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be put right by faith in the Messiah and not by the works of the law because, by the works of the law, no one will be put right (Gal 2:16).
This was God's plan all along.
Scripture foresaw that God would put right the Gentiles by faith and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you" (Gal 3:8).
The purpose of the law was to provide protection until the Messiah came.
The law was our guardian/escort until Christ came that we might be put right by trusting (Gal 3:24).

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (9) Just or Right

Paul explains that Abraham's righteousness came through faith. He explains that people who trust in Jesus are put right through faith. The Greek verb is "dikaio". This is a tricky word to translate into English because the equivalent adjective (dikaios) can be translated with two disconnected words: "just" or "right". The related English nouns are "justice" and "righteousness".

"Justify" is the English verb related to the English adjective "just". The problem is that there is no English verb equivalent to the adjective "right". The consequence is that the Greek verb "dikaio" is often translated as "justify" because it is the only English word available. This gives a judicial flavour to Romans that probably should not be there.

The forensic/judicial model of righteousness does not work because it functions the wrong way around. I am accused of committing sin. I do not need to be acquitted. I do not need God to declare that I am "Not guilty". That would only work if I was innocent, but I am not. Other people know that I am not. Even the spiritual powers of evil know that I am not innocent. What I need is for God to say that it does not matter. I need things to be put right so the spiritual powers of evil cannot attack me.

My acquittal would not be justice. On the other hand, if a person is accused of things that they did not do, they need an honest judge who will investigate fairly to prove their innocence and acquit them. If a judge says, "not guilty" to an innocent person, that would be true. Unfortunately, this is not the case for any human except Jesus. Our problem is the opposite. We are guilty. If we were acquitted, it would be dishonest. We need a solution that deals with our guilt, not one that proves our innocence.

The court theme only occurs in Romans 2 when Paul disagrees with the Jewish Judger. He declares that he is storing up wrath for himself on the day of the final, "just" judgment of God (Rom 2:5,16). The sins of those who sin under the law will be judged by the law (Rom 2:12). Paul used justice words when challenging him because he is talking about the final judgment. In this context, "dikaio" does mean justify (Rom 2:13). Elsewhere, it usually means to "be put right".

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (8) Credit/Impute

When discussing Abraham and righteousness, Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 several times.

Abraham trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom 4:3 NIV).
The word translated as "credited" in the NIV and many other English translations is "logizomai. It word is the verb equivalent to the noun "logos", which means "word" or "thought". John's gospel refers to Jesus as the "Logos". According to my dictionary, "logizomai" has a broad range of meanings. In a banking/accounting context, it can mean "credit, account, calculate" but there is no reason to assume a banking context in Romans. The more standard meaning is "think, evaluate, look upon as, consider, class, classify,". It refers to how we think about things. In Paul's love chapter, he uses this word when he says, "love thinks no evil" (1 Cor 13:5).

In Romans 4, Paul uses "logizomai" to refer to how God thought about Abraham. Because he trusted him, God thought of Abraham as righteous. This does not mean he suddenly became righteous, because he was not, and he continued to be unrighteous. God was the one who changed. He changed from seeing Abraham as fickle to perceiving him to be righteous.

In Genesis, Yahweh is the subject of the verb.

Yahweh classified him as righteous (Gen 15:6).
The Hebrew equivalent word means "weave" or "plait", so metaphorically it refers to "thinking about" or "classifying". God is the one who takes the action. He thinks of Abraham as righteous. He classifies him as belonging to the group of people who are righteous. Abraham did not change. It was God's perception and evaluation of him that had changed. The English word "credit" used in many English translations is confusing, as it makes it seem like something was taken from someone else's bank account and put into Abraham's account. It sounds like Abraham now has some credit, but that was not true. Abraham was still a sinner, and his account was still empty.

Likewise, the word "count" used in many English translations is confusing. This word makes it sound like faith and righteousness are mathematical equivalents, ie faith = righteousness. This is not true. The person of faith is not given some righteousness equivalent to their faith. Rather God looks upon the person of faith and changes his assessment of them. He shifts them into the "righteous" category. This is not a bringing forward of the final judgment as some commentators suggest. Rather it describes God's assessment of the person now.

Older translations used the word "impute". Apart from statistics, where the record of a representative respondent to a survey is assigned to a non-respondent to avoid non-response bias, this word has become obsolete in modern usage. The problem with using it in a New Testament context is that it makes righteousness seem to be something that is taken from someone else (possibly Jesus) and given to Abraham, or the person of faith. This is misleading, although it was used in this way by several of the Reformers to describe how salvation worked. The word "logizomai" is never used in the New Testament to describe something being taken from someone and given to another.

The righteousness that Abraham gets is not passed to him from someone else. Rather, it describes how God assesses him. Righteousness is not a banner or substance that can be transferred from one person to another. It is a status that a suitable assessor can give to a person. God is the only person in the universe who is truly righteous, so he is the only one who can assess a human to be righteous. He is the only one who understands every person's true character, so he is the only one who knows enough to judge that a person is righteous.

In my dictionary, the basic meaning of "logizomai" is "think, consider, look upon, classify, class". When God looked at Abraham or thought about him, he considered him to be righteous. He classed him with other righteous people. Paul said that Abraham was classified as righteous. This did not change his character. It did not mean that he had not sinned. Rather, God changed the way that he thought about Abraham.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (7) Our Big Problem

What I really wanted and needed most is for the spiritual powers of evil to be unable to take my sins into account to justify attacking me. I wanted God to deliver me from the control of the spiritual powers of evil so that they cannot use my sins to hold me down. That is the big problem that I needed rectified (it is my bear trap). I needed things to be put right so that the spiritual powers of evil cannot use my sins against me.

Jesus resolved this big problem for us.

All are put right (dikaio) freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24).
Jesus gave redemption to us as a gift. When Adam and Eve obeyed Satan's words and submitted to him, they placed themselves under his authority. He made them slaves so all their descendants would be born under his control. Before a slave can be freed, a redemption fee has to be paid to the slave owner.

Jesus paid that redemption fee to the spiritual powers of evil when he died on the cross. Once this fee was paid, they lost their control over us. We are set free to serve Jesus, so the spiritual powers of evil cannot use our sins against us in an attempt to hold us against our will. That is the big rectification that we all needed.

Slaves need to be redeemed, not justified.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (6) Justified

Those who translate "dikaio" as "justify" assume that the problem that needs to be put right is our guilt toward God. They assume that our sin has offended God, so he needs to be appeased before he can relate to us. This makes justification a legal issue. They claim that when we put our trust in Jesus, we are justified from sin because God is satisfied with Jesus' death in our place. We are made "not guilty".

The problem with this view is a distorted view of God. It assumes that God is angry with our sin and needs to be appeased. If this were true, being justified would be a benefit. The truth is that God loves us and has forgiven us. We don't need to appease him, and we do not need to be justified or declared "Not guilty" before we can be his friend.

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them (Rom 4:7-8).
This is the blessing that those who have chosen to love and serve Jesus live under.

I have no desire to be justified because I know that most of my sinning was not justified; it was just bad. I don't want to be declared "not guilty" by God because I know I am guilty. I am not interested in God making a false declaration to make me feel better about my life.

I don't want to be declared "not guilty" because that would make me over-confident and blasé going forward. I wonder if the reason that many big-name preachers fall into the same sins that they committed in the past is that they have come to believe that they were not guilty and have let their guard down against temptation.

Some commentators claim that being justified means "just as if I'd never sinned". However, I do not want to be treated like that. I do not want God to forget my sins. I want him to remember my weakness and lead me accordingly. I pray to God: "Do not lead me into temptation". He can only do that if he knows my sins and understands how I could be tempted. I want God to remember my failings and consider them as he leads me.

Some teachers claim that God totally forgets all our sins when we put our trust in Jesus. I do not think that is true. I want him to remember my sins and my frailty and lead me gently as he leads me through life.

I was going to say that I do not want my sins to be taken into account, but that is not quite right. I do want God to take my sins into account so that he can lead me into an area of service where I will not fall into the same sin, or at least provide support that will enable me to overcome it.

Guilt and Shame
One of the problems that I do need rectified is my guilt and shame, as they make it hard for me to relate to God. What I really need is for God to declare that he has forgiven me and that I can make a fresh start without my sins being an unnecessary drag on my future.

Shame and guilt have disrupted my relationship with God. I know he loves me and has forgiven my human failings. They don't surprise him. By sending the Holy Spirit to fill me when I sought forgiveness and decided to live according to his will, he confirmed that I am OK. The presence of his Spirit (The Comforter) deals with the problem of my guilt and shame.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (5) Dikaio

The Greek word "dikaio" is usually translated as "justify" or "make righteous" in English versions of the New Testament. The way that we translate this word has a significant impact on our understanding of the good news. According to one lectionary, the word can mean "rectify", "set right", "correct", "indicate", or "justify". The core meaning is "to rectify" or "put right".

An important issue for understanding Paul's message is that how things are "rectified" or "put right" depends on what was not right.

  • If a child is lost after wandering into a forest, being rectified means being found and taken home to their family.

  • If my foot is caught in a bear trap while out tramping, my leg would need to be freed and healed for my situation to be rectified.

  • If I have lost my wallet while out walking, someone can rectify the solution by finding it and returning it unharmed to me.

The meaning of "rectify" or "put right" depends on what is actually wrong. We cannot just assume that we know what "dikaio" means in a particular context. We must not presume it means "justify" or "make righteous" because that would only be correct if that meaning reflected the nature of what is wrong with us. To understand the solution, we need to know what the original problem was. To understand the meaning of "dikaio", we must get a clear understanding of our core problem.

Translating "dikaio" as "make righteous" implies that our problem is unrighteousness. However, lack of righteousness is not our problem. Righteousness is a characteristic of God, like perfection, that is not attainable by finite humans. I do not understand why anyone would want to be declared righteous, as it would not be true. None of us is righteous. I know that I have done things wrong that I am ashamed of. Anyone wanting to be righteous is seeking to be like God, or perhaps to be their own God.

It is good that I know that I have failed to be perfect, and that I feel ashamed of the really bad things I have done. That is honest humility, which equips me to serve God better and love his people without pretending that I am something that I am not.

  • My sharing of the gospel will be more real if I am still aware of my sins. Paul's testimony had real integrity because he was open about the evil he had done before he encountered Jesus. The gospel of people who believe they are righteous will often fall flat.

  • I will be more effective in shepherding new Christians if I am honest about my own sins and my own weakness. I do not need to be righteous to care for others.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (4) Human Need

Paul talks about righteousness a great deal in his letter to the Romans. He begins the letter by declaring that the righteousness of God has been revealed through Jesus (Rom 1:17). His is the only true righteousness.

Paul explains that the only righteousness that humans can have is "righteousness" that has been credited to them through faith. We cannot get this righteousness by doing what is right. It is given to us as a free gift if we trust in Jesus.

I presume that some of the Roman Christians to whom Paul was writing had been pursuing their own righteousness, as he had done, and needed correction. The Jewish Judger seems to have been very self-righteous because he looked down on the people of the world (Rom 1:18-32). Paul's response in Romans 2:3 pokes a hole in that self-righteousness. He blows the Judger's self-righteousness apart by pointing out that the Judger had committed many of the same sins that he condemned in others (Rom 2:21-24).

Paul goes on to explain that no human is righteous, not one (Rom 3:10). Given that we cannot be righteous, it is pointless for humans to set righteousness as their goal. A better goal would be a good relationship with God. We should aim to do the things that he has created us to do.

Most commentators on Romans still assume that the human problem is our need to attain righteousness. They assume Paul is teaching the Romans how to achieve true righteousness. I believe this assumption gives us a false understanding of Paul's message. It feels like they have not escaped the tangle of the Pharisees.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (3) Failed Righteousness

Paul believed that he was personally righteous according to the standards of the Torah. When talking about his confidence in the flesh, he claimed,

Circumcised on the eighth day...
in regard to the law, a Pharisee...
as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Phil 3:5-6).
Paul thought that he had attained his goal, but this was a mistake because Jesus had specifically warned his followers that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not up to scratch.
I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20).
Compliance with the best standards of the Pharisees could never be sufficient to make a person righteous. This was a serious warning to people who want to be righteous.

Paul came to understand this problem after his encounter with Jesus. He explains that what he had achieved was,

my own righteousness which is from the law" (Phil 3:9).
He had assumed that he was seeking God's righteousness because he was studying the Torah, but he had actually only found his own standard of righteousness, which is actually self-righteousness, and of no value to God or man.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that this was a problem for the Jews too. They thought they were following after righteousness, but,

Being ignorant of God's righteousness
and seeking their own righteousness (Rom 10:3).
They were seeking their own righteousness, rather than trusting in God's righteousness. This was a futile exercise because when you seek your own righteousness, it turns into self-righteousness. They should have been seeking God's righteousness, which is the only true and real righteousness.
In contrast with the Jews, The Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith (Rom 9:30).
The Gentiles had not pursued righteousness. That was wise because Paul explains righteousness cannot be achieved by pursuing personal righteousness; it must be received as a gift from God through faith. This was true in the Old Testament, as it was true in the New Testament. The Old Testament sacrifices did not make people righteous. This was never their purpose because that will always be impossible. Instead, the sacrifices provided spiritual protection for those who had trusted in God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (2) Wrong Use

The Pharisees focussed on personal righteousness. They studied the Torah intently to identify its standards for personal righteousness. They strived to adhere to these standards as much as they could in their personal lives. Unfortunately, this limited their focus, as much of the Torah is guidance for community life, whereas they had to concentrate on the standards that an individual could apply to their own situation.

Using a manual for the wrong purpose is a risky practice. If I look in a limousine manual for instructions about how to operate my kitchen refrigerator, I might get a few hints about how it works, but I will miss most of what I need to know about the operation of my refrigerator. The manual explains how the limousine should be operated. It might have a little bit of information about the limousine's drinks refrigerator, but it will not be a good source of information about household refrigerators.

The problem is not with that manual, but with using the manual in a way that it was not developed for. This was the mistake that Paul and the Pharisees made when they tried to use the Torah as a manual for personal righteousness.

The problem with seeking personal righteousness through the law is that the Torah provides guidance to people in a community/society that allows them to live together in peace without needing to be perfect. The Torah does not define personal righteousness; it is specifically designed to allow unrighteous people to live together in relative harmony.

The Torah does not provide a standard for personal righteousness. If you look for it seriously, you will not find it. I explain this in an article called works righteousness. Most of the virtues taught in the New Testament are not even mentioned in the law. Providing a standard for personal righteousness was not the purpose of the Torah. Until the Holy Spirit was poured out, it would be pointless because it would be setting people up to fail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (1)

God is righteous. The scriptures are clear that this is true. But what does it mean?

  • God's character is good.
  • His motives are always good.
  • His actions are always right.
God is fully and completely righteous.

No human is fully righteous (although we were created good).

  • We have all done things that are not right.
  • Sometimes our motive for doing things has been wrong, even when our actions are good.
There is no point in humans trying to be righteous. It is an impossible goal.

Accordingly, when I studied the gospels, I was not surprised to find that Jesus did not talk much about righteousness. He promised that the Holy Spirit would convict the world about righteousness (John 16:8). He promised that those who were desperate for things to be right would be satisfied (Matt 5:6). But that was about it.

In contrast, before he met Jesus, Paul seemed to have been obsessed with righteousness. To understand his letters, we have to think about the reason for this fixation.

Paul's obsession with righteousness seems to be something that he picked up as a young man while training as a Pharisee. They were concerned about the restoration of Israel. Although the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon to their land, they were still controlled by the Roman Empire, one of the ugly beasts of Daniel's vision. They yearned for the time when a messiah would come to overthrow the Romans and set Israel free.

The Pharisees believed that the obstacle holding the Messiah back was the unrighteousness of the people. To remove this hindrance, they tried to live as righteously as possible and trained as many people as possible to do the same. (They hated Christians because they perceived them to be unrighteous and therefore holding back the restoration of Israel).

Saturday, October 22, 2022


Debt is always the problem.

  • Rich people use debt to further enrich themselves.
  • Poor people are impoverished by debt.
The rich claim to believe in free enterprise, but they always expect the state to enforce debt contracts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

No Chattel Slavery

The Old Testament does not support the widespread practice of chattel slavery, where slaves are treated as the property of the slave owner. This practice is anathema to God, who created all people free.

Exodus 21:21 was often used in the past by Christians who owned slaves to argue that the Old Testament did support chattel slavery. A literal translation of the Hebrew is,

He is his silver (Ex 21:21b).
Some translations say,
He is his owner’s property.
But this goes beyond the meaning of the Hebrew text.

Reading this half-verse in isolation makes it seem like the law supports slavery, but that takes it out of context.

The context is that in Moses’ time, there were no state-funded social welfare benefits or unemployment insurance. So, if a person got into financial difficulties, lost their land, or took on debts they could not repay, they had to rely on members of their wider family to rescue them.

If no one in their family could afford a rescue, the only alternative was to bond themselves to a wealthy person, who would pay their debts in return for their commitment to work for them for a number of years. The bondservant was paid in advance for work they would do in the future. The bondholder was required to provide them with free food and shelter until the agreed term was complete. The bondholder gained the income produced by the bondservant in excess of the cost of food, clothing and shelter for him and his family.

The bondservant lost their freedom, but the practice was not always a good deal for the bondholder because most of what the bondservant produced would go to his food, closing and shelter. However, the law required wealthy people to undertake this role as part of being a good neighbour.

The law of Moses put tight restrictions on the practice. The poor person had to be released after seven years, no matter how much they owed. The bondholder was expected to send them out with sufficient goods to live on until they got back on their feet. If they were mistreated, the bondservant was free to leave immediately. This practice is the background to the text under consideration here.

Exodus 21:18-21 deals with situations where a person gets agitated during an argument and strikes the person that they were arguing with. The previous passage (Ex 21:12-14) had dealt with situations where one person deliberately assaulted another. In the case where an angry argument turns into a fight, the law says that if the person struck recovers quickly, the violent person is not guilty. The reason is that the person they struck is partly culpable because they helped stir up an angry argument. However, the person who was violent must compensate the other for any income lost while they were in bed. If the assault causes permanent damage, the law specifies that sufficient compensation must be paid to compensate for the harm.

The case of the person who has bound himself as a bondservant is different. If the wealthy person strikes the servant and does physical harm, they are to be set free, and their debt is to be cancelled (Exodus 21:26-27). If the servant dies from the assault, the wealthy person is guilty of murder (Exodus 21:20).

The situation is tricky if the assaulted servant recovers after two or three days. If they were a free person, they would be entitled to financial compensation for the income they lost while they were laid up. This is not necessary for the bondservant because the wealthy person has already paid them for their labour when they settled their debt (Exodus 21:21). They are already committed to providing food and shelter for the bondservant, so they have to continue providing it while their servant is unwell.

The wealthy person is the one who loses income while his bondservant is in bed recovering, because servant produces nothing for him, but still needs to be fed. That is why Exodus 21:21 says that it is “his own silver (money)”. It is not saying that the bondservant was his property, because God does not allow people to be bought and sold. Rather, if he did provide financial compensation to the injured bondservant, it would come back to him because he was already entitled to what the bondservant produced. The person who harmed his bondservant is doing economic harm to himself.

Exodus 21:21 does not justify chattel slavery.

Thursday, October 13, 2022


A clever trick of the spiritual powers of evil is persuading Christians to assume that their enemy is Satan or the Devil, because one spiritual being does not seem that dangerous. One enemy up against the entire human race would seem to be well out-numbered.

I usually refer to the spiritual powers of evil (as Paul did in Eph 6:12) as a reminder that we are up against a vast host of evil beings, who often work together in various ways. We need to be alert to all their activities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Flesh (6) Conclusion

The word flesh (sarx) is used in a variety of different ways in the New Testament.

  • All humans/people on earth.
  • Physical presence
  • Physical life
  • Physical body
  • Sexual connection
  • Circumcision
  • Immature
  • Ethnic origin/inheritance
  • Bad Spiritual Inheritance
Many of these uses are different expressions of the physical aspects of life.

Paul used the word flesh (en sarx) frequently when describing his family line and his ethnicity. He had believed that his birth gave him special privileges. After his revelation of Jesus, he realised that his ethnic inheritance (flesh) was a huge problem, because it empowered the spiritual powers of evil to intervene in his life. Paul had struggled to please God because the spiritual powers of evil had influence in his life through his spiritual inheritance to prevent him from doing what is good.

Some modern translators use the expression “sinful nature” to translate the word “flesh”, eg New Living Translation. However, this is misleading because it reads meaning into the Greek word “sarx” that is not are not there. Translating this way makes it seem that humans have a sinful nature that dominates their behaviour. It implies that we have a corrupted nature that prevents us from doing good. This is not true.

The reality is that humans were made in the image of God. We are not born with a corrupt nature. The New Testament uses the word flesh to describe our spiritual inheritance from our parents. We are born under the authority of the spiritual powers of evil, so they attack us from an early age to pervert our lives. The struggles of our early lives leave our souls wounded and weak, meaning that we often choose to do the wrong thing. We have been beaten around spiritually, but the scriptures do not teach that we are born with a sinful nature that controls us.

Just like Paul, we inherit this weakness from our parents. Our parents were partly enslaved by the spiritual powers of evil, so we were enslaved in the same way when we were born under their authority. This problem with our birth (called the flesh) makes us slaves of Sin and Death. Paul had used the term “flesh” in this sense of being born under the control of the spiritual powers of evil and opposed to the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to be set free from their power by being born again of the Spirit.

Jesus’ death on the cross destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil over those who have put their trust in him. The power that these spiritual powers gained through our birth into slavery to sin was destroyed by the cross. Once we are born again by the Holy Spirit, our situation at birth (the flesh) no longer controls us.

This full series can be read at The Flesh.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

The Flesh (5) Galatians

Paul uses similar language in Galatians 5, where he writes about the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. He begins by warning that believers who give a higher place to their ethnic status will fail Jesus’ command to love one another if there are Jews and Gentiles in their church.

Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love (Gal 5:13).
Loving one another, no matter who belongs to the body of Jesus, is more important than ethnic heritage, even Jewish heritage. Paul challenged the Galatians to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. The life of the Spirit is opposite to the life of the flesh.
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposing each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want (Gal 5:16-17).
The flesh opposes the Spirit. If we do what is contrary to the Spirit’s leading, we are doing what we want, which is the same as gratifying the flesh. Paul gives some examples of the works of the flesh.
The works of the flesh are obvious: adultery, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Gal 5:19-21).
A few of these examples are sexual, but most of them are attitudinal, like jealousy, ambition, envy, factions, etc. The works of the flesh are the natural outworking in people of what they choose, without regard to the Holy Spirit. The antidote to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

Paul concludes his discussion about this topic by declaring that the flesh is dead (our situation at birth no logner applies).

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).
If we have died with Jesus, we have put our flesh to death. The state in which we were born has no hold over us. Our old spiritual legacy is dead, so it has lost its hold over us. If we have died and risen with Jesus, the power of the spiritual powers of evil over lives is broken. We are no longer in their captivity, so they cannot manipulate and control us. Our spiritual legacy of slavery to sin has been cancelled. We are children of God, inheriting the life that he has chosen for us.

This full series can be read at The Flesh.

Friday, October 07, 2022

The Flesh (4) Romans 7,8

In the second half of chapter seven and the first half of chapter eight of his letter to the Romans, Paul pushes his use of “the flesh” in the sense of the spiritual legacy that he inherited through his ethnic legacy a step further. He uses the word sixteen times in twenty-five verses. Paul explains how sin took us into captivity.

I am fleshly, sold into bondage under sin (Rom 7:14).
Our forefathers were trapped in bondage to sin, so we were born into the same captivity. Paul explains that in his mind, he wants to serve God’s law, but “in the flesh”, he is a “slave to the law of sin” (Rom 7:25). A slave can make some choices, but they have very little freedom. Paul finds that his fleshly status prevents him from doing good (Rom 7:18).

Jesus sent his son “in the flesh” to set us free from Sin and Death (Rom 8:3).

He condemned sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3).
His death on the cross destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil over those who have put their trust in him. The power that these spiritual powers gained through our birth into slavery to sin was destroyed by the cross. The presence of the Holy Spirit is proof that they are set free.
You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you (Rom 8:9).
Once we are born again by the Holy Spirit, our situation at birth (the flesh) no longer controls us. Paul describes the difference to his Roman readers. Many English versions use the word “mind” several times when translating Romans 8. However, Paul uses the Greek verb “phroneo”, which means “to have understanding”. It can also mean “to think in a certain way”. So referring to the mind is a bit strong. Paul is not saying that sin comes from the mind. I have used the word “inclination/inclined” to better reflect the meaning of phroneo in the table below.
Romans Before After
8:4 Live according to the flesh Live according to the Spirit.
8:5 Those who are in accord with the flesh
are inclined to the things of the flesh.
Those who are in accord with the Spirit
seek the things of the Spirit
8:6 The inclination of the flesh is death, The inclination of the Spirit is life and peace.
8:7 The inclination of the flesh is hostile to God.  
8:8 Those who are in the flesh are not able to please God.  
8;9 In the flesh In the Spirit.
8:12 Debtors to the flesh,
living according to the flesh.
8:13 Living according to the flesh,
about to die
Putting to the death the deeds of the body
by the Spirit, you will live.
8:14   Those led by the Spirit
are children of God
The contrast is stark Those controlled by the flesh (their spiritual inheritance) struggle to serve the Holy Spirit. They are hostile to God and are not able to please him because the spiritual powers of evil still have access to their lives to manipulate them into sinning. Those who are born again of the spirit are reborn as children of God, not as slaves to sin. They seek the things of the spirit because they are led by the Spirit.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

The Flesh (3) Bad Spiritual Inheritance

After his encounter with Jesus, Paul’s view of his ethnic inheritance changed. He realised that he had been born into a human family that had been enslaved by the spiritual powers of evil. Although he knew the requirements of the law because he was a Jew, he found he did not have the ability to do the good he wanted to do, because he was born as a slave of sin (Rom 6:7,17).

According to the flesh, Paul was also a descendant of Adam and Eve. When they rejected God and submitted to the tempter, they placed themselves under his authority. They unwittingly enslaved themselves to Sin and Death. The children of slaves are born as slaves. So, Paul was not just a descendant of Abraham with the privilege of being part of the chosen people, in the flesh, he was also a descendant of Adam born in slavery to Sin and Death. Fortunately, he had been born again and was set free from slavery to sin.

“The flesh” describes our situation at birth. Like Paul, we are born into slavery to Sin and Death. Like Paul, we struggle to please God because the spiritual powers of evil who have influence in our lives prevent us from doing what is good.

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh... you were slaves of sin (Rom 6:19-20).
We are slaves to sin because of the weakness in our flesh. Just like Paul, we inherit this weakness from our parents. Our parents were partly enslaved by the spiritual powers of evil, so we were enslaved in the same way when we were born under their authority. This problem with our birth (called the flesh) makes us slaves of sin and death.

John explained,

That which has been born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:6).
He confirms that the life that we are born into through our parents is "the flesh".

Pauls declares that we need to be set free from the power of flesh and death.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom 6:22).
Paul had used the term “flesh” in this sense of being born under the control of the spiritual powers of evil and opposed to the working of the Holy Spirit.
  • Spiritual Inheritance
    walking in the flesh 1 Cor 10:2-3
    in the flesh Gal 3:3; 6:8
    in the flesh = the spiritual situation we were born into Rom 7:5
    opportunity for the flesh = resisting love one another Gal 5:13
    works of the flesh Gal 5:19
    lust of the flesh – opposing the Spirit Gal 3:16-17; Eph 2:3
    mind of the flesh Col 2:18
    indulging the flesh – not seeking things above Col 2:23

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The Flesh (2) Inherited Ethnic Status

Paul increases his use of the word “flesh” in his letter to the Romans. He clarified an important aspect of his meaning at the beginning of the letter, where he writes about Jesus,

who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3).
The expression “according to the flesh (kata sarx) refers to Jesus’ family line. He was a descendant of David. Paul says something similar about himself in his letter to the Philippians when he has reasons for confidence in the flesh.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil 3:3-5).
When he said that he had confidence in the flesh (en sarx), he was referring to his family line and his ethnicity. He was born as a Hebrew in the tribe of Benjamin. His confidence in the flesh was confidence in the family situation into which he had been born.

Paul had believed that he was part of God’s chosen people because he was born as an Israelite into the tribe of Benjamin. He had believed that his birth gave him special privileges. The flesh that he was born into was what gave him special privilege. He saw his flesh, his birth into the right family and tribe, as the source of his privilege.

The word flesh is used in this sense in several places in the New Testament.

  • Ethnic origin/inheritance
    Jesus was David’s seed - according to flesh – descendent Rom 1:3
    Abraham was Paul’s forefather - according to flesh Rom 4:1
    Jews are Paul’s relatives - according told flesh Rom 9:3
    Jesus was Jewish - according to the flesh Rom 9:5
    Ishmael is Abraham’s child – of the flesh Rom 9:8
    my flesh = all of the Jews Rom 11:14
    Israel according to the flesh = ethnic Israel 1 Cor 10:18
    boasting according to flesh = ethnic pride 2 Cor 11:18; Gal 6:12
    confidence in the flesh ethnic/religious confidence Phil 3:3-4
    Ishmael was begotten with Hagar according to flesh Gal 4:23
    Brother in the flesh – relative Phmn 1:16

The flesh refers to physical relatives and ancestors. Paul realised after his conversion that he had misunderstood the value of his ethnic inheritance. It did not gain him as much as he had believed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Flesh (1) Various Meanings

In his various letters, Paul often uses the word flesh, but he does not really define what he means by it. He sees the flesh as an obstacle to the Christian life. Paul writes about the problems of the flesh, so people who have chosen to follow Jesus need to understand what it is.

We should avoid the Greek view that the soul is good and the body is bad. Paul was not going down that path. The reality is that most sin begins with a thought in our minds and happens when we make a choice with our will to do the thing that we are tempted to do. The spiritual powers of evil mostly work on our minds to persuade or deceive us into sinning.

Given that “the flesh” is not the body, we need a clear understanding of what Paul meant when he used that expression. The Greek word is “sarx”. A detailed analysis of some New Testament examples shows that Paul uses the word in a variety of different ways, but they are all related.

  • All humans/people on earth
    all flesh = all people 1 Cor 1:28, 15:39; Gal 2:16
    lords according to flesh = human masters Eph 6:3; Col 3:22
    according to flesh = human standards 1 Cor 1:26; 2 Cor 1:17.

  • Physical presence
    “in the flesh” = present in person Col 2:1; Col 2:5 Philemon 1:16.

  • Physical life
    flesh and blood 1 Cor 15:30; Eph 6:12; Gal 1:7
    our mortal flesh 2 Cor 4:11
    Jesus came in the flesh 2 Cor 5:16; Eph 2:15; Col 1:22,24; Heb 5:7; 10:20; 1 Tim 3:16
    staying in the flesh = continue living Phil 1:22, 24
    living in the flesh = alive Gal 2:20
    sickness of flesh = physically ill Gal 4:13,14
    flesh had no rest = physically tired 2 Cor 7:5
    flesh and spirit = whole person 1 Cor 7:1
    Flesh can refer to all aspects of physical life.

  • Physical body
    nurture his flesh = care for his body Eph 5:29
    flesh of animals, birds, fish 1 Cor 15:39
    thorn in the flesh – metaphor for harassment 2 Cor 12:7

  • Physical connection
    Two becomes one flesh Eph 5:31; 1 Cor 6:16
    lust of the flesh Rom 13:14: Eph 2:3
    lust of flesh = adultery, liaison with prostitutes Gal 5:17,19
    destruction of flesh for a man committing incest 1 Cor 5:5
    those not marrying will have affliction in the flesh (1 Cor 7:28)

  • Circumcision
    Cutting the flesh Col 2:11,13; Gal 6:12-13; Eph 2:11; Rom 2:28

  • Immature
    Fleshly 1 Cor 3:3-4; 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12

The various meaning of the expression “the flesh” outlined above are all linked. They are different expressions of the physical aspects of life. Some, like circumcision, are specifically physical. Others are more loosely linked. From these examples, we can see that the flesh is not a segment of the human soul. It is not another word for our physical bodies because although we can sin with our bodies. It is not our physical body that causes us to sin.