Tag Archive: Roman Catholicism & Christianity


New Revised Standard Version – History
The NRSV was translated by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical Christian group. It is called the New Revised Standard Version because it is a revision of, and meant to replace, the Revised Standard Version of 1952. Released in 1989, the NRSV has three versions: the NRSV, containing the Old and New Testaments, the NRSV Common Bible, which includes the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books, and the NRSV Catholic Edition containing the Old Testament books in the order of the Latin Vulgate. There are also anglicized editions of the NRSV, which modify the text slightly to be consistent with British spelling and grammar.

New Revised Standard Version – Translation Method
The NRSV was intended to take advantage of manuscript discoveries made since the printing of the Revised Standard Version and to reflect advances in scholarship since the RSV had been released. The NRSV translators chose to eliminate archaic language, especially the pronouns “thee” and “thou.”  However, they chose to keep them when the pronouns refer to the deity, a somewhat controversial decision. Also controversial was the decision to translate some gender-specific words using more gender-neutral wording in places where gender was not seen to be an issue, e.g., “people” in place of “mankind.” The goal of the translators was to be “sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender” (Preface to the NRSV from the National Council of Churches website). The NRSV also sought to expand gender-specific phrases such as “brothers” into “brothers and sisters.”

New Revised Standard Version – Pro’s and Con’s
Overall, the New Revised Standard Version is a good English Bible translation. The fact that the NRSV has a Catholic version (including the Apocrypha), and the fact that it is “gender-inclusive” in some of its renderings, prevented it from being adopted by most conservative and evangelical Christians. Also, many consider the NRSV to not be as free-flowing and natural-sounding English as it could be.

New Revised Standard Version – Sample Verses
John 1:1,14 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John 8:58 – “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’”

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Titus 2:13 – “while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

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Was Jesus a Jew?

One needs only to search the internet today to determine that there is great controversy and disagreement over the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was actually Jewish. Before we can answer this question adequately, we must first ask another question: who (or what) is a Jew? Even this question has its controversial elements, and the answer depends on who is answering. But one definition that each of the major sects of Judaism— Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform—would probably agree to is, “A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.”

Although the Hebrew Bible does not specifically state anywhere that matrilineal descent should be used, modern rabbinical Judaism believes that there are several passages in the Torah where this is understood or implied, such as Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Leviticus 24:10; and Ezra 10:2-3. Then there are several examples in Scripture of Gentiles converting to Judaism (i.e., Ruth, the Moabitess; see Ruth 1:16 where Ruth voices her desire to convert) and are considered every bit as Jewish as an ethnic Jew.

So, let’s consider these three questions: Was Jesus a Jew ethnically? Was Jesus an observant Jew religiously? And then finally, if Jesus was a Jew, why don’t Christians follow Judaism?

Was Jesus a Jew ethnically, or was his mother a Jew? Jesus clearly identified with the Jews of His day, His physical people and tribe, and their religion (although correcting its errors).. God purposely sent Him to Judah: “He came to His own [Judah], and His own [Judah] did not receive Him. But as many [Jews] as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name… (John 1:11-12 NKJV), and He clearly said, “You [Gentiles] worship what you do not know; we [Jews] know what we [Jews] worship, for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).

The very first verse of the New Testament clearly proclaims the Jewish ethnicity of Jesus. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). It is evident from passages like Hebrews 7:14, “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah,” that Jesus descended from the tribe of Judah, from which we get the name “Jew.” And what about Mary, the mother of Jesus? In the genealogy in Luke chapter 3, we see clearly that Mary was a direct descendant of King David which gave Jesus the legal right to ascend the Jewish throne as well as establishing without any doubt that Jesus was a Jew ethnically.

Was Jesus an observant Jew religiously? Both of Jesus’ parents had “done everything required by the Law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39). His aunt and uncle, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were also Torah-observant Jews (Luke 1:6), so we can see that probably the whole family took their Jewish faith very seriously.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), Jesus continually affirmed the authority of the Torah and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17) even in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:19-20). He regularly attended synagogue (Luke 4:16), and His teaching was respected by the other Jews of His day (Luke 4:15). He taught in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:37), and if He were not a Jew, His going into that part of the Temple would simply not have been allowed (Acts 21:28-30).

Jesus also displayed the outward signs of being an observant Jew. He wore tzitzit (tassles) on His clothing (Luke 8:43; Matthew 14:36) to serve as a reminder of the commandments (Numbers 15:37-39). He observed Passover (John 2:13) and went up to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16) on this very important Jewish pilgrimage feast day. He observed Succoth, or the feast of tabernacles (John 7:2, 10) and went up to Jerusalem (John 7:14) as required in the Torah. He also observed Hanukah, the festival of lights (John 10:22) and probably Rosh Hashanah, the feast of trumpets (John 5:1), going up to Jerusalem on both those occasions as well, even though it isn’t commanded in the Torah. Clearly, Jesus identified Himself as a Jew (John 4:22) and as King of the Jews (Mark 15:2). From His birth to His last Passover Seder (Luke 22:14-15), Jesus lived as an observant Jew.

So, if Jesus was a Jew, why is it that Christians don’t follow Judaism? The Laws of Judaism were given to Moses for the children of Israel in a very sacred and special covenant at Mount Sinai and recorded for us in the book of Exodus. In this covenant, God wrote His laws on tablets of stone, and Israel was commanded to be obedient to all that was revealed to them. But this wonderful covenant was only a picture of a New and better covenant that God would one day give to His people, both Jew and Gentile.

This new covenant is recorded for us in Jeremiah 31:31-34, “‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”

Christians don’t follow Judaism today because the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). And the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13).

As Christians we don’t need to follow the old covenant any longer because that old covenant has been replaced. We now have a better covenant, with a better sacrifice, administered by a better High Priest! “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Buddhism is one of the leading world religions in terms of adherents, geographical distribution, and socio-cultural influence. While largely an “Eastern” religion, it is becoming increasingly popular and influential in the Western world. It is a unique world religion in its own right, though it has much in common with Hinduism in that both teach Karma (cause-and-effect ethics), Maya (the illusory nature of the world), and Samsara (the cycle of reincarnation). Buddhists believe that the ultimate goal in life is to achieve “enlightenment” as they perceive it.

Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Guatama, was born into royalty in India around 600 B.C. As the story goes, he lived luxuriously, with little exposure to the outside world. His parents intended for him to be spared from the influence of religion and protected from pain and suffering. However, it was not long before his shelter was penetrated, and he had visions of an aged man, a sick man, and a corpse. His fourth vision was of a peaceful ascetic monk (one who denies luxury and comfort). Seeing the monk’s peacefulness, he decided to become an ascetic himself. He abandoned his life of wealth and affluence to pursue enlightenment through austerity. He was skilled at this sort of self-mortification and intense meditation. He was a leader among his peers. Eventually, his efforts culminated in one final gesture. He “indulged” himself with one bowl of rice and then sat beneath a fig tree (also called the Bodhi tree) to meditate till he either reached “enlightenment” or died trying. Despite his travails and temptations, by the next morning, he had achieved enlightenment. Thus, he became known as the ‘enlightened one’ or the ‘Buddha.’ He took his new realization and began to teach his fellow monks, with whom he had already gained great influence. Five of his peers became the first of his disciples.

What had Gautama discovered? Enlightenment lay in the “middle way,” not in luxurious indulgence or self-mortification. Moreover, he discovered what would become known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’—1) to live is to suffer (Dukha), 2) suffering is caused by desire (Tanha, or “attachment”), 3) one can eliminate suffering by eliminating all attachments, and 4) this is achieved by following the noble eightfold path. The “eightfold path” consists of having a right 1) view, 2) intention, 3) speech, 4) action, 5) livelihood (being a monk), 6) effort (properly direct energies), 7) mindfulness (meditation), and 8) concentration (focus). The Buddha’s teachings were collected into the Tripitaka or “three baskets.”

Behind these distinguishing teachings are teachings common to Hinduism, namely reincarnation, karma, Maya, and a tendency to understand reality as being pantheistic in its orientation. Buddhism also offers an elaborate theology of deities and exalted beings. However, like Hinduism, Buddhism can be hard to pin down as to its view of God. Some streams of Buddhism could legitimately be called atheistic, while others could be called pantheistic, and still others theistic, such as Pure Land Buddhism. Classical Buddhism, however, tends to be silent on the reality of an ultimate being and is therefore considered atheistic.

Buddhism today is quite diverse. It is roughly divisible into the two broad categories of Theravada (small vessel) and Mahayana (large vessel). Theravada is the monastic form which reserves ultimate enlightenment and nirvana for monks, while Mahayana Buddhism extends this goal of enlightenment to the laity as well, that is, to non-monks. Within these categories can be found numerous branches including Tendai, Vajrayana, Nichiren, Shingon, Pure Land, Zen, and Ryobu, among others. Therefore it is important for outsiders seeking to understand Buddhism not to presume to know all the details of a particular school of Buddhism when all they have studied is classical, historic Buddhism.

The Buddha never considered himself to be a god or any type of divine being. Rather, he considered himself to be a ‘way-shower’ for others. Only after his death was he exalted to god status by some of his followers, though not all of his followers viewed him that way. With Christianity however, it is stated quite clearly in the Bible that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 3:17: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’”) and that He and God are one (John 10:30). One cannot rightfully consider himself or herself a Christian without professing faith in Jesus as God.

Jesus taught that He is the way and not simply one who showed the way as John 14:6 confirms: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” By the time Guatama died, Buddhism had become a major influence in India; three hundred years later, Buddhism had encompassed most of Asia. The scriptures and sayings attributed to the Buddha were written about four hundred years after his death.

In Buddhism, sin is largely understood to be ignorance. And, while sin is understood as “moral error,” the context in which “evil” and “good” are understood is amoral. Karma is understood as nature’s balance and is not personally enforced. Nature is not moral; therefore, karma is not a moral code, and sin is not ultimately immoral. Thus, we can say, by Buddhist thought, that our error is not a moral issue since it is ultimately an impersonal mistake, not an interpersonal violation. The consequence of this understanding is devastating. For the Buddhist, sin is more akin to a misstep than a transgression against the nature of holy God. This understanding of sin does not accord with the innate moral consciousness that men stand condemned because of their sin before a holy God (Romans 1-2).

Since it holds that sin is an impersonal and fixable error, Buddhism does not agree with the doctrine of depravity, a basic doctrine of Christianity. The Bible tells us man’s sin is a problem of eternal and infinite consequence. In Buddhism, there is no need for a Savior to rescue people from their damning sins. For the Christian, Jesus is the only means of rescue from eternal damnation. For the Buddhist there is only ethical living and meditative appeals to exalted beings for the hope of perhaps achieving enlightenment and ultimate Nirvana. More than likely, one will have to go through a number of reincarnations to pay off his or her vast accumulation of karmic debt. For the true followers of Buddhism, the religion is a philosophy of morality and ethics, encapsulated within a life of renunciation of the ego-self. In Buddhism, reality is impersonal and non-relational; therefore, it is not loving. Not only is God seen as illusory, but, in dissolving sin into non-moral error and by rejecting all material reality as maya (“illusion”), even we ourselves lose our “selves.” Personality itself becomes an illusion.

When asked how the world started, who/what created the universe, the Buddha is said to have kept silent because in Buddhism there is no beginning and no end. Instead, there is an endless circle of birth and death. One would have to ask what kind of Being created us to live, endure so much pain and suffering, and then die over and over again? It may cause one to contemplate, what is the point, why bother? Christians know that God sent His Son to die for us, one time, so that we do not have to suffer for an eternity. He sent His Son to give us the knowledge that we are not alone and that we are loved. Christians know there is more to life than suffering, and dying, “… but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

Buddhism teaches that Nirvana is the highest state of being, a state of pure being, and it is achieved by means relative to the individual. Nirvana defies rational explanation and logical ordering and therefore cannot be taught, only realized. Jesus’ teaching on heaven, in contrast, was quite specific. He taught us that our physical bodies die but our souls ascend to be with Him in heaven (Mark 12:25). The Buddha taught that people do not have individual souls, for the individual self or ego is an illusion. For Buddhists there is no merciful Father in heaven who sent His Son to die for our souls, for our salvation, to provide the way for us to reach His glory. Ultimately, that is why Buddhism is to be rejected.

In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s desire for His children to show compassion to the poor and needy. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7). He also said that those who show mercy to the poor, the sick and the needy are in effect ministering to Him personally (Matthew 25:35-40) and will be rewarded accordingly.

There is no doubt that poverty’s reach is both widespread and devastating today. God’s people cannot be indifferent toward those in need, because His expectations for us in regard to taking care of His poor are woven throughout the entirety of Scripture. For example, look at the Lord’s words about the goodness of King Josiah in Jeremiah 22:16 “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me, declares the LORD?” And Moses instructed his people how to treat the poor and needy: “Give generously to [them] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (Deuteronomy 15:10).This sentiment is perfectly captured in Proverbs 14:31: “whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Conversely, there is another part to this verse: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.” Proverbs is in fact filled with Scripture clearly showing that God loves the poor and is offended when His children neglect them (Proverbs 11:4,17:5, 19:17, 22:2, 9, 16, 22-23, 28:8, 29:7, 31:8-9). The consequences for ignoring the plight of the poor are also made clear in Proverbs: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). And note the strong language in Proverbs 28:27 “he who closes his eyes to [the poor] receives many curses.” Among the many sins of Sodom described in Genesis 19, her people were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).

The New Testament is equally clear as to how we are to take care of the poor. One verse that nicely summarizes our expected altruism is found in the first epistle of John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). Equally important is Matthew 25:31-46. Now, this judgment precedes Christ’s millennial reign and is often referred to as the “judgment of nations,” in which those assembled before Christ will be divided into two groups—the sheep on His right side and the goats on His left. Those on the left will be sent to the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41), whereas those on the right will receive their eternal inheritance (v.34). Noteworthy, however, is the language Christ used in addressing these separated groups. The sheep were basically commended for taking care of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the vulnerable. The goats, on the other hand, were chastised for their lack of concern and action toward them. When the righteous asked Him when they did these things, Christ responded by saying “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Now, we are not to misconstrue this as meaning the good works of the sheep factored into their gaining salvation; rather, these good works were the “fruit” or evidence of their having been saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10), further evidencing that a commitment to Christ will indeed be accompanied with undeniable evidence of a transformed life. Remember, we were created to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do, and the “good works” Christ spoke of in Matthew 25 included taking care of the poor and suffering.

Now, with all of these scriptural truths in mind, we are to obey them and act on them, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). As James stated “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Similarly, John said “The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him…Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:4,6). And the words of Christ Himself: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).

Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34-35). And what better way to demonstrate the love and kindness and compassion of Jesus Christ than by reaching out to the “least of these” among us?

Firstfruits was a Jewish feast held in the early spring at the beginning of the grain harvest. It was observed on Nissan 16, which was the third day after Passover and the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Firstfruits was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision.

Leviticus 23:9-14 institutes the firstfruits offering. The people were to bring a sheaf of grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord. A burnt offering, a meal offering, and a drink offering were also required at that time. Deuteronomy 26:1-10 gives even more detail on the procedure of firstfruits.

No grain was to be harvested at all until the firstfruits offering was brought to the Lord (Leviticus 23:14). The offering was made in remembrance of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, the Lord’s deliverance from slavery, and their possession of “a land that floweth with milk and honey.” The day of the firstfruits offering was also used to calculate the proper time of the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-16).

In the New Testament, the firstfruits offering is mentioned seven times, always symbolically. Paul calls Epaenetus and the household of Stephanas “the firstfruits of Achaia” (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15). His meaning is that, just as the firstfruits offering was the first portion of a larger harvest, these individuals were the first of many converts in that region. James calls believers “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). Just like the sheaf of grain was set apart for the Lord, so are believers set apart for God’s glory.

The firstfruits offering found its fulfillment in Jesus. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus’ resurrection has paved the way for our resurrection. Significantly, if Jesus was killed at Passover, then His resurrection on the third day would have fallen on Nissan 16—the Feast of Firstfruits.

The firstfruits offering is never directly applied to Christian giving in the New Testament. However, Paul taught the Corinthian believers to set aside a collection “on the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16:2). And, just as the offering of firstfruits was an occasion of thanksgiving, so the Christian is to give with gladness.

In summary, firstfruits symbolizes God’s harvest of souls, it illustrates giving to God from a grateful heart, and it sets a pattern of giving back to Him the first (and the best) of what He has given us. Not being under the Old Testament Law, the Christian is under no further obligation than to give cheerfully and liberally (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

Our God is a giving God. He is a God of abundance (John 10:10; James 1:5; Psalm 103:8; Isaiah 55:1-7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Romans 5:20), and He loves to give. He sacrificed willingly on the cross and then invited us into fullness of life. As His children, we are called to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). Our generosity in giving is a demonstration of God’s character and a response to what He has done for us.

Christians are a light to the world (Matthew 5:14-16). As we become more and more who God has called us to be – more like Him – through the process of sanctification, we reflect God more and more. We become more loving, more gracious, and, yes, more giving. Because God is generous, we are also called to be generous. Generosity not only points others to God, it is an appropriate response to what God has done for us.

“To whom much has been given, much more will be expected.” This has become a common phrase in Western society. Its biblical roots are in Luke 12:48. Because we have been so freely loved, we now love others (John 13:34). Because we have been forgiven, we forgive others (Matthew 18:21-35). Our response to God’s abundance with us is to share that abundance with others. When we appropriately receive God’s generosity, it humbles us. We recognize that we are not worthy of His gift. Out of gratefulness, we become more gracious with others. We begin to learn the heart of God and want to be more like Him.

Generosity has positive effects in human relationships. When one person gives freely to another, the recipient often “passes forward” the gift. In the Christian life, the impetus is much greater. Jesus taught us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Not only does our giving demonstrate God’s character to the world, it results in increased faith for us. When we are willing to give, we declare that our faith does not depend on material possessions. Instead, we show that our faith is in God, who is always faithful to provide (1 Kings 17:7-16).

Christians are giving people, and, in giving, they lose nothing. As Bunyan wrote, “A man there was, tho’ some did count him mad, / The more he cast away the more he had.” When we give, we empty ourselves in order to be filled again by God. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

Second Timothy contains the poignant testimony of the apostle Paul, who says his life is “being poured out like a drink offering” and the time of his death had come (2 Timothy 4:6). In verse 5 he says, “But you [Timothy], keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” There was no better man than Paul to give advice about endurance under suffering for the Lord Jesus. Paul had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, cold, and destitute (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). In spite of all this and more, Paul managed to endure the suffering, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Hardships come in a variety of ways. Temptations, illnesses, lost jobs, broken relationships, and persecution for one’s faith are all forms of hardship. Christians should not be taken by surprise when hardships come: Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The good news is that Jesus followed up His warning with this word of encouragement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We can endure by His grace.

To endure is more than just continuing to exist; it is continuing to exist in the same manner as before the suffering began. If Paul had lived through his sufferings but at some point had thrown up his hands in defeat, stopped being obedient to God, or no longer worked for the cause of Christ, he would not have “endured.” If he had responded to his sufferings with an attitude of bitterness, anger, or retaliation, then Paul could not have said that he “endured.”

Paul’s response to suffering was not to buckle under the weight of circumstance but to realize Christ has called His church to endure hardship (John 16:33; Luke 14:27). Paul said that he rejoiced because in his flesh he was filling up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24). Every time Paul was beaten, chained, or hungry, he identified more with Christ in his flesh. Paul could rejoice because suffering in his flesh for the sake of the church is a privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10).

As Christians, we should turn to God with our suffering, and He will be faithful to help us undergo every trial and overcome every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can learn to have the same joy as Paul had during trials, knowing that suffering produces virtues such as endurance, godly character, and lively hope (Romans 5:3–5).

To “endure” does not mean simply to grin and bear it. Christians will feel sad, betrayed, or even angry at times. These emotions in and of themselves are not bad; they only become sin when we allow them to take root in our lives and produce bitterness, evil thoughts of revenge, or unforgiveness. Believers must remember that everything that comes into our lives is under the control of a sovereign God who has promised He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who endured hardship (Hebrews 12:2). The author of Hebrews reminds believers of Christ’s perseverance at the hands of sinners. Jesus, in spite of great suffering, never turned back, even from the cross (Hebrews 12:2–4). Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.” Although Christ knew the suffering the cross would provide, His anticipated joy enabled Him to keep going; He knew what the rewards would be—the redemption of mankind and a seat at the right hand of God. In the same way, Christians can find hope to endure when we consider the rewards God has promised us. “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’ And, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:35–39).

Prayer beads, sometimes called rosary beads, are used in the practice of meditation and prayer. Prayers are repeated a number of times corresponding with the number of beads. Prayer or rosary beads have traditionally been associated with Catholicism, but the use of prayer beads is widespread, with many religious traditions incorporating them.

The basic rosary is made up of 59 beads linked together in a shape that looks like a necklace. Each of the beads on the rosary is intended to have a prayer said while holding the individual bead. Of these beads, 53 are for “Hail Mary’s” to be said on them. The other six are intended for “Our Fathers.” These beads provide a physical method of keeping count of the prayers as the fingers are moved along the beads as the prayers are recited.

The history of the rosary in Christian circles has been traced back to the Crusades. It is thought by historians that the Crusaders had adopted this practice from the Arabs, who, in turn, copied the observance of using beads from India. Recent archeological findings reveal that the ancient Ephesians made use of such beads in their worship of Diana, also known as Artemis, whose temple was one of the seven wonders of the world (Acts 19:24-41).

Prayer beads are also used by Roman Catholics to help the practitioner keep track of some 180 prayers which make up the rosary. Examples of such prayers are Our Father, Hail Mary, and Gloria. The practice of the rosary is based on the assumption that repeating these prayers over and over enables the petitioner to secure merit or favor from God in order to escape from the punishment of the fires of purgatory.

The use of prayer beads is not scriptural. Jesus Himself chastised the religious leaders of His time for repeating their prayers over and over. In fact, He told His disciples not to emulate them by using “vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Prayers are not to be merely recited or repeated mindlessly as though they are automatic formulas. Many who use prayer beads today claim that the rosary helps them take the focus off themselves and onto Christ, but the question is really one of the efficacy of repeating the same phrases over and over in a mantra-like manner.

Prayer is an incredible privilege for the Christian, as we are invited by the Creator of the universe to come “boldly” into His presence (Hebrews 4:16) and communicate with Him. Prayer is the means by which we praise Him, adore Him, give thanks to Him, submit to Him, and bring before Him petitions for ourselves and intercessions for others. It’s hard to see how that intimate communion with Him is enhanced by repeating simple prayers over and over again via prayer beads.

The gospel of Thomas is a Coptic manuscript discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. This manuscript contains 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Some of these sayings resemble sayings found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Other sayings were unknown until their discovery or even run counter to what is written in the four Gospels.

One December day in 1945, far up the Nile Valley, two Egyptian peasants were looking for a local variety of crumbly nitrate rock used as fertilizer. They came across a large jar, about a meter tall, hidden by a boulder. Inside they found a collection of ancient leather-bound books or codices. The spot where the books were found is within a few miles of the site of an early monastery, established by the founder of Christian “cenobitic” monasticism in Egypt, Pachomius. Nag Hammadi, a nearby village, has given this remarkable collection its name.

The Nag Hammadi Library consists of fifty-two texts or “tractates” written in Coptic on papyrus and gathered in thirteen volumes, twelve of which have separate leather bindings. Forty of the texts had previously been unknown to modern scholars. Most of the writings are of a Gnostic character. Scraps of paper found in the binding of eight codices bear dates indicating that the books were made in the mid-fourth century, and at least one of these clearly appears to have come from a monastery. Efforts to date the books more precisely continue. In general, it can be said the collection dates from about the middle of the fourth century. The Coptic texts could be many years earlier, and the originals (probably written in Greek or Aramaic) from which the Coptic translations were made could have been still earlier.

To understand how we got the Bible as we know it, please see the following two articles:   What is the canon of Scripture? and  How was the Canon determined?

Should the gospel of Thomas be in the Canon?

The early church councils followed something similar to the following principles to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit: 1) Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle? 2) Was the book being accepted by the Body of Christ at large? 3) Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching? 4) Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit?

The gospel of Thomas fails all of these tests. The gospel of Thomas was not written by Jesus’ disciple Thomas. The early Christian leaders universally recognized the gospel of Thomas as a forgery. The gospel of Thomas was rejected by the vast majority of early Christians. The gospel of Thomas contains many teachings that are in contradiction to the biblical Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The gospel of Thomas does not bear the marks of a work of inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Are there any other arguments that preclude the gospel of Thomas from being included in the Bible? If we examine the 114 sayings in this writing, then we find some that are similar to existing sayings, some that are slightly different, but the majority cannot be found anywhere in the entirety of Scripture itself. Scripture must always confirm itself, and the majority of sayings in the gospel of Thomas cannot be confirmed anywhere else in Scripture.

One argument for precluding the gospel of Thomas from the Bible is found in the overt “secretness” attributed to these 114 sayings by the work itself. Nowhere in Scripture is God’s Word given “in secret” but is given for all to read and understand. The gospel of Thomas very clearly tries to maintain an air of secrecy in its words.

The gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic gospel, espousing a  Gnostic viewpoint of Christianity. The gospel of Thomas is simply a heretical forgery, much the same as the gospel of Judas, the gospel of Mary, and the gospel of Philip. Perhaps the disciple Thomas’ nickname of “doubting Thomas” is appropriate here. We should all be doubting the gospel of Thomas!

We should thank God for the example of “doubting Thomas”! The famous story of the disciple Thomas, whose name literally means “doubter,” is recorded in John 20:24-29. All Christians suffer doubt at one time or another, but the example of doubting Thomas provides both instruction and encouragement.

After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared alive and glorified to His disciples to comfort them and proclaim to them the good news of His victory over death (John 20:19-23). However, one of the original 12 disciples, Thomas, was not present for this visitation (John 20:24). After being told by the other disciples of Jesus’ resurrection and personal visit, Thomas “doubted” and wanted physical proof of the risen Lord in order to believe this good news. Jesus, knowing Thomas’s human frailty resulted in weakened faith, accommodated Thomas.

It is important to note that Jesus did not have to fulfill Thomas’s request. He was not obligated in the slightest bit. Thomas had spent three years intimately acquainted with Jesus witnessing all His miracles and hearing His prophecies about His coming death and resurrection. That, and the testimony Thomas received from the other 10 disciples about Jesus’ return, should have been enough, but still he doubted. Jesus knew Thomas’s weakness, just as he knows ours.

The doubt Thomas experienced in the face of the heartbreaking loss of the One he loved is not unlike our own when facing a massive loss: despair, heartbreak, and exceeding sorrow, all of which Christ sympathizes with (Hebrews 4:15). But, although Thomas did in fact doubt the Lord’s resurrection appearance, once he saw the risen Christ, he proclaimed in faith, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus commended him for his faith, although that faith was based on sight.

As an extra encouraging note to future Christians, Jesus goes on to say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, emphasis added). He meant that once He ascended to heaven, He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would live within believers from then on, enabling us to believe that which we do not see with our eyes. This same thought is echoed by Peter, who said of Christ, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Although we have the Spirit within us, we can still experience doubt. This, however, does not affect our eternal standing with God. True saving faith always perseveres to the end just as Thomas’s did, and just as Peter’s did after he had a monumental moment of weakness by denying the very Lord he loved and believed in (Matthew 26:69-75). This is because, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Faith is the gift of God to His children (Ephesians 2:8-9), and He will mature and perfect it until He returns.

So how do we keep from doubting as Thomas did? First, we must go to God in prayer when experiencing doubt. That may be the very reason God is allowing a Christian to doubt—so that we will depend on Him through prayer. Sanctification is the process of growing in Him, which includes times of doubt and times of great faith. Like the man who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus but was unsure whether Jesus could help him, we go to God because we believe in Him and ask Him for more and greater faith to overcome our doubts, crying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:17-27).

Second, we must recognize that Christians fight a spiritual battle daily. We have to gear up for the battle. The Christian needs to daily be armed with the Word of God to help fight these spiritual battles, which include fighting doubt, and we arm ourselves with the “full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-19). As Christians, we must take advantage of the lulls in spiritual warfare to polish our spiritual armor in order to be ready for the next battle. Times of doubt will become less frequent if we take advantage of the good times to feed our faith with the Word of God. Then when we raise the shield of faith and do battle with the enemy of our souls, his flaming darts of doubt will not hit their target.

Doubting Christians have two things doubting Thomas did not have—the indwelling Holy Spirit and the written New Testament. By the power of both the Spirit and the Word, we can overcome doubts and, like Thomas, be prepared to follow our Lord and Savior and give all for Him, even our lives (John 11:16).