In Matthew 16:19 Jesus made an interesting, and somewhat confusing, promise to one of his disciples, Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be [or have been] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be [or have been] loosed in heaven.” What did Jesus mean by binding and loosing?

The Roman Catholic tradition attaches it to the spiritual power of the papacy to issue edicts, which may be closer to the original meaning than what is common in evangelicalism. The contemporary Church tends to apply binding and loosing to spiritual warfare. While spiritual warfare is vitally important, there is no biblical basis for taking Jesus’ words to Peter to refer to the binding and loosing of evil spirits.

Binding and loosing refer to the action of permitting or not permitting various activities/behaviours for followers of Jesus.

First, let’s see how this worked in Old Testament times. For example; in Israel’s attack on the city of Jericho, some commandments were suspended. The Levites (priests) who were usually exempt from military duties, led the procession. In other words, the Levites, who were generally bound by a law that prohibited their involvement in battle, were now loosed. Likewise, the people of Israel who were to do no work on the Sabbath marched around Jericho once a day for six days, and then seven times on the Sabbath day. They were loosed from the Sabbath law that usually bound them for the higher purpose of being spared from an enemy that wanted to destroy them.

We see this same principle at work with the midwives in Exodus chapter one where Pharaoh gave them this instruction: “When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver. If the child is a son, kill him.” The midwives were bound by law to obey Pharaoh, but they were loosed from that law. They also lied to cover up their disobedience, and God blessed them for it. They were loosed from the requirement, “you shall not lie,” for the higher purpose of saving human life.

Rahab, the prostitute, also lied to protect the Hebrew spies (Joshua 2). She told the soldiers the men had already left even though they were still hiding in her house. James 2:25 says she was justified by her good works and Hebrews 11:31 says her faith saved her life.

In the incredible book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of how her family hid Jewish people whose lives were threatened during World War II. The Ten Boom family lied to the Nazi’s about having Jewish people in the house. The Ten Boom’s, along with the midwives and Rahab, were loosed from the law against lying for the higher purpose of saving human life.

Another example in the Hebrew Scriptures is King David and his men eating in the Temple (see 1 Sam 21:6). Jesus referred to this story when the Pharisees condemned Jesus and his followers for picking and eating grains of wheat on the Sabbath Day (Mark 2:23-28). Jesus reminded them that the Sabbath day of rest was made for the good of people and not the other way around and that people were not bound from feeding themselves when they were hungry on the Sabbath.

The religious legalists of Jesus’ day are just the same as their counterparts in our time. They are unbending and inflexible and love the law more than they love people.

Jesus put it this way, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

A Rabbi’s Yoke was his interpretation of the Scriptures that he taught to others. A Rabbi would determine from the Scriptures what was permissible and what was not (binding and loosing), and how to best apply the Scriptures in his particular time and culture.

If a Rabbi wanted to preach a new “yoke,” (a different interpretation of the Scriptures) he had to be approved by two other rabbis who had smicha (authority). If he received approval, he was deemed to have smicha in his own right. He would then begin teaching his new “yoke” by saying, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

In Matthew 16, Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, thus imbuing him with smicha to lock/unlock (authorise/forbid; bind/loose) in the Church.

No evidence in Scripture shows these “keys” were given to anyone else but those in church leadership. We may infer, therefore, that binding and loosing is done by authoritative figures in church roles of leadership who are called to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These leaders make spiritual decisions in applying God’s truth to daily life for the benefit and good of all God’s people.

Not surprisingly, the first significant conflict faced by the first-century Church was a confrontation with legalistic Christians (see Acts 15:1-35). According to them, simply trusting in Jesus’ work of death and resurrection was not enough for salvation. Even non-Jews were expected to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. To face this challenge, the apostles and other disciples met in Jerusalem. After much discussion, Peter used the keys Jesus gave him and loosed (unlocked) the Gentile followers of Jesus from circumcision saying, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Then James, the head of the Jerusalem Church, issued a decree to bind believing Gentiles to abstain from four pagan practices (Acts 15:13-20). Refraining from these practices were also the initial requirements of the Sanhedrin for admitting Gentiles into Judaism. The result of these decisions was freedom, rejoicing, and encouragement – things that always accompany the teaching of the gospel.

We see this same principle of binding and loosing in our society today. We are usually bound from going through a red light, but an ambulance, fire truck or police car is loosed from this law when a higher law (saving human life, property or catching a lawbreaker) comes into play. In the same way, a judge has the power to lock up (bind) or release (loose) a person in jail.

We find this same binding and loosing principle operating in Paul’s letters. For example, in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul temporarily restricted (bound) women from speaking or teaching in the Church. 1 Timothy was written to prevent the spread of heresy in the Church. It appears that women were the main culprits of spreading the false teaching and so Paul temporarily prohibited them from teaching until they had been instructed in the Word, thus correcting the error that was being taught. This was never meant to be binding on women in ministry for all time and, if it were, it would contradict other parts of the New Testament that endorse the teaching ministry of women.

The principle of binding and loosing is still to be operated in church life by church leaders today for the welfare of God’s people. An excellent example of this is when people who are in de-facto (common law) relationships come into the Church. This has happened many times over the years at Bayside Church. Invariably these people have been together for many years and have children. They are a family unit and, even though we uphold the standard of marriage, a higher law comes into play – that is, the maintaining of a family unit. This level of grace should be given to all people who genuinely desire to follow Jesus, and space should be given to the Holy Spirit to achieve what he wants to in his time and his way!

I love the wisdom of James in Acts 15:19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” What if every Christian had this Bible verse engraved on their heart? If we lived this truth, we wouldn’t build walls to keep people out, we would build bridges that let people come in.

We should not make it difficult for people who are turning to God!


It’s an awful thought that God would actually create some people for the very purpose of tormenting and torturing them for all eternity, but that’s what some Christians and churches believe, even today!

The belief that God predestines some people for hell comes from what I believe to be a misinterpretation of Romans chapter 9, which has been the subject of some controversy over the centuries. John Calvin and his followers used Romans 9 as proof of God’s predestining some people for heaven and some for hell (before they’re even born!).[i] This is not what Paul is teaching in the three illustrations he uses in this chapter:

  1. God loves Jacob and hates Esau
  2. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and
  3. Clay in the Hands of God

(Please note, it would be helpful for you to read Romans 9 before reading the rest of this blog).

God Loves Jacob and Hates Esau

The word translated as “hate” can also mean, “to love less” or “put in second place”. “Love” infers a positive relationship whereas “hate,” indicates a lack of relationship. It’s important to note that God’s choice of Jacob had nothing to do with salvation, but rather with who would be the Father of the Nation of Israel. This honour first belonged to Esau, but he chose short-term satisfaction over long-term blessing. “Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:29-34).

The author of Hebrews describes Esau as a godless person “who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done” (Hebrews 12:16-17).  

Romans 9 is not teaching about salvation but rather is speaking about the nations that resulted from Jacob and Esau. God has chosen people for greater or lesser degrees of service often based on their willingness, choices, and behaviour. Paul is addressing service rather than salvation.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

The apostle’s second illustration is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Hardening is a symbolic word which means “to twist” in the same way as you would ring out a dishcloth. When you ring out a cloth, you find out what’s in it. Through the ten plagues, God twisted Pharaoh’s heart to squeeze out what was inside, simply revealing what was already there!

Clay in the Hands of God

The final illustration is “Clay in the Hands of God” quoting from Isaiah chapters 29 and 45 as well as Jeremiah 18. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

Once again, the apostle is speaking about serving God rather than salvation. God does not create some people so that He can damn them to an eternal hell. If that were true, he’d be contradicting his nature as well as the entire intent of the Gospel that is very clearly for ALL people. Why would Jesus die for everyone if everyone could not access salvation?

The Apostle finishes this chapter by quoting from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, “As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Zion was the hill in Jerusalem that lay opposite Mount Moriah on which the temple stood. On Zion was built the palace of David and the seat of justice. Sometimes Zion was applied to the whole city of Jerusalem as well as the Jewish people. Paul uses the symbolic language of a foundation stone that God would lay from and for the Jews.  A rock of salvation for all, but to many of the Jews, it became a stumbling block because they wanted to be right with God by obeying the Law rather than by trusting in Jesus as their Messiah.

Paul continues this same theme in chapter 10 of how Israel came to miss salvation while the Gentiles found it. The Jews are zealous for righteousness, but their zeal is misguided. They’re trying to be right with God by obeying the entire law, but that’s impossible. Paul says, “It’s not that hard” because “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Being right with God is not impossible like trying to get up to heaven to bring Jesus down or to bring Jesus back from the dead. God has already done this for us by his power. Salvation is simple, accessible and available just like the words you speak. Being right with God is achieved by declaring Jesus to be Lord – words that flow out of a heart that believes God has done the impossible by raising Jesus from the dead. Paul uses the word “everyone” twice in this chapter to declare that the gospel is not just limited to some people.

God doesn’t make some people be objects of wrath to be eternally tortured, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Now that’s Good News![ii]


[i] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia Calvin taught, “God for His own glorification, and without any regard to original sin, has created some as “vessels of mercy,” others as “vessels of wrath.” Those created for hell He has also predestined for sin, and whatever faith and righteousness they may exhibit are at most only apparent, since all graces and means of salvation are efficacious only in those predestined for heaven.” Others credit Augustine as the author of this heresy. In Christianity, the doctrine that God unilaterally predestines some persons to heaven and some to hell originated with Augustine during the Pelagian controversy in 412 CE.

[ii] Consider also 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” That is the desire of God.



Over my years in pastoral ministry, I have spoken to many people who have been unsettled by a verse or two from the Bible.  I mean, there are some pretty blunt warnings and, in some cases, quite frightening predictions.  Such is the case with Jesus’ statement in Matthew’s gospel:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers!’” [1]

Who are these evildoers to whom Jesus refers?  In answer, it’s always essential considering context.  “Take the text out of context, and you’re left with a con!” [2] In Matthew 7, Jesus is teaching on the importance of hearing and acting on, HIS message rather than a message taught by false prophets. Jesus says this is what it means to “enter through the narrow gate” (13-14).  False prophets are easy to pick, says Jesus, by observing the fruit of their lives and teachings – whether it’s good or bad (15-19). He concludes this section by telling The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, which refers to two groups of people who all hear Jesus’ words and teachings.

Group one “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice,” while group two “hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice.”  Group one is “like a wise man who built his house on the rock” while group two “is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”  Both houses (groups) experience the same trials and storms in life, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house.”  Group one’s house “did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”  So is everyone who hears Jesus’ teachings and puts them into practice.  Group two’s house “fell with a great crash.”  So is everyone who hears Jesus’ teachings but does not act on them.

The Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke & John – record Jesus’ teachings; and the other New Testament writers expound on them to more fully explain how His teachings apply in everyday life.  One of the things these authors stress is this:

You don’t enter the kingdom of heaven by doing good works; you enter the kingdom of heaven by doing God’s will. 

That’s where the “Many” referred to by Jesus have made a grave mistake.  Their defense of why they should have access to the Kingdom of Heaven is the good works they have done.  They’ve prophesied, driven out demons and performed miracles, but these are displays of God’s power working through a person and not necessarily proof of true faith in Christ.  It is of them that the apostle Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” [3]

Entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven is, according to Jesus, for the person “who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  What is God’s will? Jesus taught, my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” [4] It is by faith in Jesus that we enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  It is by faith in Jesus that we hear his teachings and put them into practice.  Good deeds flow out of true faith, but good deeds do not guarantee access to the Kingdom.  The late Billy Graham put it this way, “There were a few times when I thought I was dying, and I saw my whole life come before me.  I didn’t say to the Lord, ‘I’m a preacher, and I’ve preached to many people.’ I said, ‘Oh Lord, I’m a sinner, and I still need Your forgiveness. I still need the cross.’ And I asked the Lord to give me peace in my heart, and He did – a wonderful peace that hasn’t left me.” [5]

A man died and went to heaven. Of course, St. Peter met him at the pearly gates and explained, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I’ll give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you’ll get in.”

“Okay,” said the man, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”  “That’s wonderful,” said St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”  “Terrific!” said St. Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point? Gosh. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”  “Fantastic, that’s good for two more points.”  “TWO POINTS!!” the man cried, “At this rate, the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in!” Said Peter 🙂


[1] Matthew 7:21-23

[2] Anonymous

[3] 1 Cor. 13:1-3

[4] John 6:40

[5] Billy Graham, Cincinnati Crusade, June 24th, 2002

Last week I watched a segment on ABC’s 7.30 Report about domestic abuse in the church. [1]

While the reporting of some statistics by the ABC was not entirely accurate,[2] it seems there is still a level of domestic abuse in churches – including traditional, evangelical and Pentecostal ones  – and any abuse is inexcusable.

It was a sobering report and one that left me feeling sad and frustrated that abuse continues in some churches (and at the hands of some “Christians”) – often supported by an understanding of Scripture that contradicts the whole tenor of the Bible.  After all, “If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” [3]  Real love doesn’t abuse others, including one’s wife (or husband or partner or anyone else for that matter) in any way.

Using isolated Bible verses to justify verbal, physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse is unchristian.

One of the Bible verses used to rationalise domestic abuse is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”  If you read these verses on their own, it seems pretty clear that wives are to submit to their husbands IN EVERYTHING.  It’s also clear how an abusive man could use this part of the Bible to justify his ill treatment.  However, if you read the verse before (Ephesians 5:21) it instructs husbands and wives to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, mutual submission is appropriate in Christian relationships.  The Apostle makes this general statement about submission and then proceeds to show how wives and husbands are to work this out by submitting to one another in their marriage.  Husbands are to love their wives deeply, give their lives for them and care for them.  Ephesians 5 does not authorise violence of any kind.

The other chapter of the Bible that is used as an excuse for abuse is 1 Corinthians 11.  The Apostle Paul begins this chapter by once again speaking about headship, but a few verses in he makes a statement that would have been considered very controversial in the patriarchal society of the first century: “woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” [4]  Some people accuse Paul of being patriarchal and considering women as inferior to men, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Thomas Cahill writes, “Equality … is Paul’s subject: what he is doing here is taking the Genesis account of the Creation, which was the aboriginal Jewish locus classicus on the inequality of women, and turning it on its head by subtly reminding his readers that even the Messiah needed a mother.” [5]  1 Corinthians 11:11-12 is one of the first Biblical references affirming sexual equality, as well as one of the first in any literature up to Jesus’ time.

The bottom line is this: if you ever encounter someone who uses the Bible to justify abuse of any sort against another human being, rest assured that person is not understanding or using the Bible correctly.

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, or counsellors recommending that women in particular are to stay with husbands or partners who physically, verbally or emotionally abuse them.  As we’ve already seen, the Bible teaches that submission is to be mutual.  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in any relationship, in any church or justified by any Scripture.

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship separation is advisable (at least a temporary one).  Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counselling) but divorce may be unavoidable. [6] Whatever you do, don’t stay in a relationship where you are being abused in any way, and don’t allow others to suggest that you do!




[3] James 2:8; Cf. Romans 13:10

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

[5] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Anchor Books, New York, 1999, p. 141


One of the things I love about the Bible is its honesty.  It doesn’t shy away from people’s faults and failures – or successes.  It reports the good, the bad and the ugly.  I can imagine many of the Bible’s characters, if they were alive today, cringing at what God allowed to be written about them.  I mean we only want people to know the good stuff right?  There’s Noah saying, “Really God, did we have to mention the drunk and naked in the tent incident?”  Abraham would be concerned about reports of him lying – twice!  David would be mortified over the adultery with Bathsheba.  And I could go on about Moses the murderer, Paul the persecutor and Thomas the cynic but I’m sure you get the picture.

In its honesty, the Bible never shies away from the conflicts that happen between people – even good people, Christian people.  In fact, most of the New Testament letters were written to help people work through conflict situations in local churches.   One of the most helpful stories is the reported conflict between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41) because it helps us address the question: “Who’s right, who’s wrong?”  Whenever there’s a conflict the temptation is for people to take sides (and sometimes one person is totally in the right and the other completely wrong).  But more often than not we need to sift through details, personalities, points of view, previous experiences and a host of other variables in order to get clarity on the truth.

These two great men – Paul and Barnabas – had been on a missionary trip together, teaching the Gospel and starting local churches.  They’d taken Barnabas’ cousin Mark with them but things had got too tough for the young man and “he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work” (Acts 15:38).

Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).  Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul didn’t think it wise to take him, because of his fickleness on the previous trip.  The result?  “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:39-41).

On the surface, it looks like the Bible sides with Paul, and Barnabas seems to fade from the picture.  But is that the case?  Who’s right, who’s wrong?  Paul was right in that Mark was young and inexperienced and had left them in the lurch on the first trip.  I understand his reticence to take him again so soon.  But Paul was also wrong because – as we will see – he failed to recognise the potential in this young man.  Barnabas was right because he did see the potential in Mark, but he was also wrong in that he most likely allowed the family relationship to cloud his judgment.  Remember that “Barnabas” is just a nickname.  His real name was Joseph but the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”  That’s the sort of guy he was.  You’d love to be around him because he always looked for the good in others – their potential rather than their problems.

The Bible eventually shows that both men were wrong and both were right.  God blessed Paul and Silas’ work of strengthening and planting local churches, while He also blessed the work of Barnabas who is recognised in Scripture as an apostle, a good man, a prophet and teacher and one through whom God worked miracles.  He faced persecution and risked his life for Jesus.  He was the one who saw Paul’s potential and sought him out to help at the Antioch Church.  And his ability to spot potential paid off when it came to Mark.

Later in the New Testament, we find out that Mark eventually became part of Paul’s apostolic team whom he sent to help the Colossian church writing to them to “welcome him.”  Sometime later Mark helped the apostle Peter who refers to Mark as “my son.”  It’s likely that Mark was with Peter working as a scribe for the Gospel that bears his name.  Mark’s Gospel is widely believed to be Peter’s recollection of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

At the end of Paul’s life, he wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Why was he helpful? Because Barnabas saw and developed Mark’s potential.  So who’s right, who’s wrong?  The answer is simple – both of them were.  The wise person will learn this lesson.

Every time there’s a natural disaster we’ll always find at least one preacher who’ll attribute it to a minority group or a company of sinners who are considered to be worse than others.  This was the case with the Victorian Bush fires in 2009, the Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and most recently, the earthquake in New Zealand, where the pastor in question was giving a “biblical perspective” as he referred to natural disasters being linked to the “degradation of sexual sin” and “iniquities of mankind destroying our earth.”  To defend his view he quoted from the Book of Leviticus.

I am so fed up with this sort of pronouncement as it repels people from the Christian faith and doesn’t reflect a Christian attitude.  During and after natural disasters people lose their lives and loved ones, people are injured, property damaged and lives are ruined.  The message people need to hear from the church at times like this is one of compassion and empathy, not just in words but also in actions – the church rolling up its sleeves to help.

And so I posted this status on my Facebook page: “Dear Christian Preachers. Unless you are personally going to live by the entire Levitical Law, please stop cherry-picking odd verses from that book and using them to condemn certain minority groups.”  It prompted a lot of discussion as well as this blog.

The favourite verse for some Christians to quote is Leviticus 18:22 – one of the verses used to condemn gay people.  I’ve never heard a sermon on Leviticus 18:19 though, “Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.”  Maybe that one’s a bit too close to home for heterosexual preachers.  Although, based on this verse, should I not be standing at the door of Bayside Church each weekend making sure we’re not letting any unclean couples in?  Church has changed, chuck them out. 🙂

The same goes for women who have just given birth to a baby. According to Leviticus they are unclean and not allowed to gather with God’s people.  Thank God for livestream!  If it’s a boy the penalty is one week followed by 33 days.  In the case of a girl it’s two weeks plus 66 days.  Obviously boys are twice as good as girls right?  Mixing fabrics in clothes is wrong, so are tattoos (although we see a lot of those on famous preachers and worship leaders), cutting your hair at the sides and trimming beards – both wrong!

The New Zealand pastor, Brian Tamaki from Destiny Church, was preaching on Sunday 13 November, the day before the latest earthquake.  He quoted from Leviticus 18 that lists all sorts of sexual sins.  God then says to His people, Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants…for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you” (Lev 18:24-28). Pastor Tamaki linked these verses to earthquakes and other natural disasters surmising that the verb “to vomit” must refer to earthquakes.

Now it needs to be said that prophesying an earthquake in New Zealand is on par with saying the sun will rise this morning and set tonight.  New Zealand was formed by volcanoes (the last eruption was about 600 years ago) and is built right on the edge of two tectonic plates.  Earthquakes are caused when underground rock breaks away from the edge of a tectonic plate causing the plate to move.  They are not caused by people’s sin.

I refer you to a blog I posted a few months ago called, Should the Bible be taken literally?. In this blog I suggest, “When you’re reading and studying the Bible one of the first things you need to ask yourself is, what type of literature am I reading?”  So what type of literature is being used in the verses quoted above from Leviticus 18?  It’s a metaphor, that is, a figure of speech that is not to be taken literally.  The earth doesn’t vomit!  This metaphor isn’t talking about earthquakes and other natural disasters; it’s talking about what will happen to the people if they don’t live holy lives.  Living in the land was a privilege that carried certain responsibilities.  If they didn’t live up to the responsibilities they would lose the privilege.

So how can Leviticus best be understood?  The name means, “relating to the Levites” who had religious and political responsibilities amongst the people of Israel.  The book can be divided into two parts: The way to the Holy One (1-10) and the way of holiness (11-27).  The first part outlines sacrifices and offerings that were to be used in approaching God.  This was revolutionary 3,500 years ago as it was the first time a deity had clearly communicated to people (and had it written down) how He was to be approached and worshipped.  Until then the nations used a lot of guesswork to deduce what a deity did and did not want.  This led to a lot of superstition and bizarre practices like temple prostitution and child sacrifice that are both condemned in Leviticus, and rightly so.

The second part deals with sanitation (purity of body) – an essential for thousands of people living in a desert region – and sanctification (purity of soul).  Again, this was radical teaching in its day.  Leviticus gives detail on cleanliness, health, diet, social interaction, worship and conversation.  God also recognised that people would fail in these areas on a regular basis and so Leviticus concludes with three provisions of grace including the Year of Jubilee, the year that Jesus came to proclaim for all people of all time (Leviticus 25:10; Luke 4:19).

Much of Leviticus does not apply to people today.  For example, Jesus declared all foods to be clean essentially freeing people from all the Levitical food rules (Mark 7:19).  Jesus corrects other statements from Leviticus in His Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, but I tell you …”  (Matt 5:21; 27; 33; 38, 43).  The New Testament quotes Leviticus a number of times and two statements are repeatedly quoted: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Sadly Leviticus seems to be most-often used today in an unloving way towards our neighbour.

The most important thing we can learn from Leviticus is that the book points towards the Messiah.  The New Testament teaches that all the types and symbols, the sacrificial system and priestly mediation, are all fulfilled in Jesus (read Hebrews chapter 8).  Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law He came to fulfill it.  This He did through His life, death and resurrection and declaring a New Covenant with all people not just one nation: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13).  The Old Covenant, with all its sacrifice and ritual, disappeared in 70AD with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

And so let’s stop cherry-picking from Leviticus to bring guilt and condemnation on others.  Let’s embrace its themes of holy living and loving, and enjoy and share the wonderful salvation Jesus makes available to all.

A few weeks ago I posted a blog presenting the three main Christian views on hell.  One of the things I found interesting in the responses to the blog was the repeated theme of taking the Bible literally.  Comments were made such as:

Jesus makes it pretty clear in Luke 16:27–30 that we all have sufficient warning about the reality of hell.”

“Is it possible that the traditional view is correct even when we don’t like or understand it fully, or do we put our personal views ahead of the literal words of the Bible?”

Do you really believe that the Bible is the literal and authoritative word of God and that He is trustworthy outside of our understanding?”

“The end result of constantly watered down and a less literal view of scripture is a church that looks very different to the early church in Acts.”

“I implore leaders to keep the Bible literal and simplistic.”

And the all-time doozy, “The Bible clearly teaches that …”

Now I want to state upfront that I believe the entire Bible to be the inspired Word of God.  But that does not mean everything in the Bible is to be taken literally and it certainly doesn’t mean that everything in it is clearly taught (2 Peter 3:16).  If the entire Bible was clear there wouldn’t be lots of different views on lots of different topics, and there wouldn’t have been heated discussions, debates and councils over the centuries in order to work through doctrinal issues.

So, should the Bible be taken literally?  Well yes, some of it clearly should be (love the Lord your God, love your neighbour as yourself, love your enemies – they are literal statements) but other parts of the Bible do not favour a literal understanding.

When you’re reading and studying the Bible one of the first things you need to ask yourself is, “what type of literature am I reading?”  The Bible is full of various kinds of language.  There’s poetry, history, promises, commands, stories, songs, rhetoric, logic, proverbs, history, hyperbole, wisdom, irony, parables, figures of speech, apocalyptic and metaphorical language.  So, when you’re reading Scripture ask yourself, how should this be understood – literally, figuratively or in some other way?

For example, poetry affirms truth in a different way to history.  When you’re reading Psalms you’re reading Hebrew poetry that was at one time set to music and sung as songs.  Even today songs and poems use a literary device called poetic license and it defined as “The liberty taken by an artist or a writer in deviating from conventional form or fact to achieve a desired effect” (Free Dictionary).  The Psalms are full of this kind of non-literal writing.  Consider Psalm 139 in which David sings of how God “created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  Two verses later he sings, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”  It’s obvious that a literal reading is not warranted.  God doesn’t knit babies in wombs or weave them together underground.  If this is taken literally then these verses contradict each other.  Where exactly does God do His knitting or weaving?

Also in the poetry books are Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes.  Proverbs are not promises; they are wise sayings that are generally true.  Consider Proverbs 12:11 as an example: “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”  This proverb is contrasting a good work ethic with people who pursue fanciful hopes.  The general truth is that hard work reaps good rewards, and so the proverb is generally true, but there are plenty of people – including farmers – who have worked hard but also been hit hard by adverse circumstances beyond their control – famine, drought, financial downturns and so on.  For them, at times, the proverb is not true.

The story of Job (that Lord Tennyson called, “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times”) is Hebrew poetry that is set out as a play.  It may be a story about real peoples, but it could just as easily be a drama with fictitious characters that communicate powerful truths – our attitude towards unavoidable suffering; the question of human tragedy, why the righteous suffer and, ultimately, the true success that comes by fleeing evil and trusting God.  There are many statements in Job that are not true and shouldn’t be taken literally.  God Himself does a lot of correcting at the end of the drama.

Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon in his old age and gives an account of the part of his life when he tried to find meaning in life separate from God.  There are statements in this book of poetry that are just plain wrong and should not be quoted as truth.  Consider Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?  Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?”  The wise reader of the Bible will realise why Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes and understand it as a result – that all of life is absurd without a relationship with God, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”  The wise reader will also not isolate verses in Ecclesiastes and take them literally.

The length of a blog doesn’t allow me to fully explore this subject but consider the following obviously non-literal statements from Jesus: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away … If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.”  The apostle Paul confessed to robbing churches (2 Corinthians 11:8), there’s a seven-headed, ten-horned beast coming out of the sea (Revelation 13:1) – this is the same beast that is cast into a lake of fire (Revelation 19:20), and Jesus rides a white horse through heaven to destroy his enemies while wearing many crowns on His head (Revelation 19:11-16).  Joshua commands the sun to stand still – even though the sun doesn’t move and, if the earth stopped rotating the planet would be destroyed (Joshua 10).

It appears to me that literalists want to take the Bible literally when it literally suits them!  Consider Jesus’ command in John 13:14-15, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”   And how about Luke 14:33, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”  There’s not much wiggle room there but I don’t find literalists taking either of these commands from Jesus literally.  Why not?

In conclusion, when reading the Bible ask yourself what sort of language you’re reading and prayerfully consider what truth is being conveyed.  What did the author want to communicate to the original recipients? What principles applied to them? How do those principles apply to us today?  How does what I’m reading apply to the here and now – to me personally, to the community of faith I belong to and, through us to the world at large?  How does this truth bring about “Your kingdom come”?

We need a literate view rather than a literal view of the Bible except where the literal sense makes the most sense.

Recommended resources

Counterpoint: Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan)

New Testament Chronological Devotions

Old Testament 101 series



All this year at Bayside Church we’re reading a Harmony of the Gospels. This method of Bible reading helps to see the chronology of events in the life of Jesus and better understand how the accounts relate to each other. Each week I highlight the relevant readings on my social media pages. When I did that last week I got this response from one of my Facebook friends:

“Thanks Rob, good reading. The title ‘Harmony of the Gospels’ caught my eye. In seminary we’re learning out about theologians who are on the quest for the historical Jesus because they think that there are discrepancies within the gospels and due to the length of time (70 to 80 years) in between when they were written and when the events took place, they feel we don’t have a full picture of who Jesus really was. What are you thoughts on the internal variances between the gospels? I’m not sure what to make of the whole idea. The title ‘Harmony of the Gospels’ caught my eye.”

It’s a good question and here’s my response:

“The reason I’ve used the word “Harmony” is because we’ve attempted to put the Gospels in chronological order of events and then included the various accounts from the four Gospels together. There are certainly discrepancies between the four Gospels and, in my opinion, some people go too far in trying to reconcile them [for example, John has Jesus dying on a completely different day to Matthew, Mark & Luke]. I think it takes a lot of pressure off to read the Gospels for what they are – eyewitness accounts from four different people, written at different times to different audiences. It’s good to study who the authors are, whom they each wrote to and why they wrote. This will help understand the differences between the Gospels.”

I have found the same challenges over the years with various Bible teachers who seem to jump through hoops to try and prove that the Bible has no discrepancies or inconsistencies. It’s as if the very presence of a discrepancy would threaten the inspiration and validity of God’s Word and thus we must ultimately prove the Bible has no flaws. Personally I don’t see any problem with discrepancies in the Bible. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, I believe it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit, and I also believe that God used people to write His Word down and make it available to humanity. It’s at this last point that discrepancies can creep in – God’s method has always been to work through flawed, fallible, inconsistent people (the Bible is full of them) so why would we think the finished result of His revelation would ever be perfect? It’s just like the Church – a group of flawed, fallible, inconsistent people gathering together as a community of believers. It really is a recipe for imperfection.

It’s important that a reader of the Bible understands that its 66 books were written by at least 39 different authors over a period of 1,500 years. They were written in three major languages – Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – to different audiences in diverse cultures for various reasons. While there is consistency of the major truths of the Bible – particularly concerning God’s plan of salvation for all people – each book or letter should be read as complete in itself with an understanding of the culture, history, language, personality of the author, His reason for writing and so on. We should also consider that the Bible is an Eastern book that can be easily misunderstood by those who read and study it from a modern Western perspective.

It’s also vitally important that we understand the progressive and changing nature of God’s revelation through Scripture. For example, reading through the book of Leviticus from a 2016 western perspective can be quite daunting. There are instructions on how much to pay for slaves and how to treat women as well as various rules on what not to eat. Some of these commands boggle our minds and we can easily wonder at the injustice of what we read. But when you understand that these things were written 3,500 years ago to a Middle Eastern culture, that had very few if any written rules, we get a different perspective. In some instances this was the first time regulations were written down that actually gave slaves and women some sense of fair treatment. Until then they were considered a man’s goods and chattel.

Leviticus, and other Books in the Hebrew Scriptures, was quite revolutionary in its day. It upheld human rights for disabled people (19:14), refugees (19:33-34) and the elderly (19:32). Leviticus defended good morals and behaviour that would cause a community to function well.

Jesus’ teaching continued the revolutionary revelation in His time. The gospels record Jesus’ teaching that abolished the Leviticus food rules so we know that they no longer apply to us today (Mark 7:19) – thank goodness J. He reached out to people that others would have nothing to do with such as lepers, the unclean, the sexually immoral and the mentally ill. The New Testament Scriptures continue to break down walls that divide people and communities – racial, gender and economic barriers are non-existent in Christ says Paul (Galatians 3:28).

People tend to see God through the lens of their own time and culture – this is just as true for us today! For the war-like people of early Bible days God was a warrior who would help His people to destroy their enemies. When God came to earth in human form in the person of Jesus He was able to set the record straight. On one occasion Jesus is

Sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” James and John were stuck with an old revelation of God and saw themselves like Elijah the prophet. Jesus turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Jesus gives us the ultimate insight into the true nature of God, “For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

For more on this topic watch or listen to these two messages:

Through the Looking Glass

Jesus at the Centre

In asking this question I’m not referring to the denomination or style of the church you’re part of (or not part of).  Over my 30 years as a pastor, I’ve observed many “kinds” of people who refer to themselves as “Christian.” I’ve noticed some particular trends in the past few years, some of which seem to be especially unhealthy and not accurately reflecting the church Jesus said He would build.  So, what kind of Christian are YOU?

1. The Convenience Christian treats the church, and their spirituality, like the local convenience store. They know it’s there whenever they need something. They’ll just pop in from time to time when it’s, umm, convenient.  This is the lifestyle Christian who fits God and faith around the more important things of life like sport, time for themselves and catching up with friends.

2. The Consumer Christian attends a church for what they can get out of it, and they will continue to attend (when it’s convenient) for as long as you are able to meet their needs.  They want everything to be just right – the right music, the right songs – at the right volume, the right teaching (as long as it’s entertaining) and the right programs for their kids.  Don’t ask the consumer Christian to do anything; they’re not at church for that. Other people do the things!  You have the consumer Christian’s loyalty as long as you continue to do the right thing and as long as a church doesn’t start up nearby who can do things more right than you.  The consumer Christian is also willing to travel some distance to get what they want.  They are very committed to their needs being met.

3. The Crisis Christian is often a convenience Christian too.  They’re the ones you only see when they have an emergency.  They’re quite happy when all is well. God is kind of “there” and they know the church will always be there too, but it’s only when something goes wrong that God and church seem important.  Their prayer life will spring to life and God is entreated to get them out of the problem and to end the pain.  They come back to church as a bargaining chip with God.  They believe in the doctrine of Quid pro quo – offering prayers to God as a trade: “God, if you get me out of this then I will … (fill in the blank here).”  This is not Christianity at all.  In fact, this kind of thinking can be traced back to the idolatry and religious festivals of ancient Rome (Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning “something for something”).

4. The Crowd Christian just loves to be amongst the multitude.  The bigger the church the better! They often want to be anonymous (which is okay for a while but not long-term).  The crowd is often made up of convenience, consumer and crisis Christians.  This is leading to a modern phenomenon of large churches having more people who attend less often.  It’s easy to build a crowd as long as you have the best of everything.  The crowd will come for an event like a guest speaker, or a band or food.  Just ask Jesus who had a crowd of 5000 men plus women and children when there were miracles and food flowing but only had 120 people at a 9am prayer meeting.

The Conspiracy Christian. knows that there’s lots of dark stuff happening in the world and feels called of God to make sure we all know about it.  Some of the conspiracy theories perpetrated by conspiracy Christians over the years include:

  • Obama is the Antichrist and plans to rule America by sharia law
  • Charles Darwin took it all back the day he died
  • The Birth control pill turns your uterus into a grave littered with teeny-weeny corpses of fully formed babies
  • The Bible is really an ancient computer program
  • Jesus invented the Internet
  • Noah came from Mars
  • The Garden of Eden is hidden under Kansas City
  • The government is setting up concentration camps throughout the U.S. to intern Christians
  • Each year, 1 million children are kidnapped and murdered by satanic cults
  • Gay men wear special rings for the sole purpose of giving innocent straight people HIV.
  • The abortion-mad Chinese eat human foetuses.

Now, I don’t doubt for one minute that there are things happening in this world that we don’t know about. There is a dark side to this, but Christians need to stop fixating on the Illuminati and start focusing on Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

6. The Condemning Christian is much like the conspiracy Christian but his “ministry” is to guard the truth and expose and criticise anyone who deviates in the slightest way.  These people seem to have a massive amount of discretionary time to read and respond to blogs and Facebook posts. They like to disagree and argue and it doesn’t matter what you say they will always come back with why you’re wrong. They are cowards behind keyboards – usually faceless, often nameless.  There are whole ministries set up for the express purpose of keeping pastors, churches & other ministries “accountable.”  They are self-appointed guardians of the truth and they are unrelenting and brutal.  Theirs is the ministry of condemnation. Condemning Christians are like the schoolyard bullies of the Internet and, just like the bullies, they crave attention.  They also exist in our churches. They’re the people for whom nothing is ever right and who have to pick the one statement in your sermon they disagree with and focus on that to the detriment of everything else you said. They strain out gnats and swallow camels.

7. The Community Christian is the person that reflects what Jesus came to build – His Church.  The English word “church” is translated from the Greek word Ekklesia that originally referred to a group of people who were called out from their homes (usually by a trumpet) and summoned to a public political meeting.  Jesus, Luke, Paul, James and John use this word 114 times to describe the community that would result from Jesus’ life, death & resurrection.  The church is not a building, not something you simply “attend,” not an event or a consumable commodity, not a convenience or a crowd to hide in.  The church is a community of believers in Jesus who gather on a regular basis in large and small groups to worship, pray, be instructed in God’s Word, eat together, help one another in practical and spiritual ways, build friendships and grow in grace, give and receive and reach out to a world that God loves and for whom Jesus died (see Acts 2:42-47). The New Testament speaks many times of believers gathering or meeting together as a community.  The writer to the Hebrew Christians was particularly strong on the importance of this gathering: let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Real community is life changing as reflected in this email I received from a guy in Bayside Church last week:

“Hi Rob.  Thanks for last Sunday it was absolutely amazing.  When you showed the video interview with the guy from Open Doors, and he spoke about the 12yr old girl who was persecuted by her father, I found it very difficult to comprehend.  What came next was even more powerful. You asked us to get into groups and pray for the persecuted church. I was in a group of 4 and I felt like I needed to start off but I burst into tears, overwhelmed by Gods presence and how that 12-year-old girl had been treated. I prayed, then the lady next to me started crying when she prayed and so did her husband, and the guy next to me was also in tears.  Then we worshipped God some more and that was amazing. And then we had a pray line so I headed straight out, still crying by the way.  I went down for the count and God was all over me. Awesome!  You know I woke up that morning and straight away I heard the Holy Spirit say ‘honour me.’  You see that day we had no kids so we were going to skip church and do something together. I went instead.”

So which one(s) of the above seven kinds of Christians best describes you?  Be honest and, if you’re not reflecting the qualities of the Community Christian then it’s time to make some changes: “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  



Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving faith community located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne.  Welcoming people from all walks of life, Bayside Church invites all people to experience the Christian faith and God.  For more information about Bayside Church:

What to Expect


Bayside Kids

Bayside Youth


More Blogs From Rob Buckingham

On 11 July 2015, musician Erica Campbell shared a post on Facebook inferring a conspiracy by Harper Collins regarding the New International Version of the Bible.  She claimed that 45 verses and 64,575 words had been removed from the New International Version Bible (NIV).

Harper Collins bought the NIV Bible’s original publishing house, Zondervan, in 1988.  They then bought Thomas Nelson Publishing in 2011 and combined it with Zondervan to form the Christian arm of its publishing empire.  Harper Collins publishes an enormous variety of books but their three main categories are Kids & Teens, Christian and Romance.

The Facebook post mentions that Harper Collins also publishes the Satanic Bible and The Joy of Gay Sex – and that’s completely true.  It’s the world’s largest publisher and distributes books of every kind of genre, even genres that people of faith may find offensive.

The other part of this Facebook post mentions, “The NIV has now removed 64,575 words from the Bible including Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost and omnipotent to name a few …”  This is not true.  For example, the word Calvary in the King James Version (KJV) is translated “the place called the Skull” in the NIV.  Calvary means “the place called the Skull” so all the NIV does here is make the reading of this verse more understandable.  One of the names of God, Jehovah, is mentioned seven times in the KJV but is translated as ‘The Lord’ by the NIV.  It’s important to remember that the name Jehovah is a Latin version of YHWH – the unpronounceable name by which God revealed Himself to Moses – “I am who I am!”  It’s believed that in the 11th century a hybrid form of YHWH was made by combining the Latin letters JHVH with the vowels of Adonai (another of God’s names).  William Tyndale popularised “Jehovah” in the English-speaking world in the 14th Century, hence it was used in the original KJV. Today most modern translations interpret this word as ‘The Lord’ – which is quite appropriate.

“Holy Ghost” is found 89 times in the KJV New Testament, while the NIV translates this as Holy Spirit.  As for the word omnipotent (meaning all-powerful) found once in the KJV in Revelation 19:6, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”  The NIV correctly translates this as, “Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”  Almighty is a synonym for omnipotent and is more easily understood in 21st century English.  So the suggestion that 64,575 words had been removed from the New International Version Bible is simply incorrect.

It’s vital to understand that the Bible has been translated and updated over the years as language has changed.  It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  Any translation task is difficult – and even more so when it is from ancient texts. Sometimes there are words that have no accurate equivalent in English, so several English words may be required to reproduce the precise meaning.  The same challenge occurs with other languages.  For example, in Aleut (the language spoken by Eskimos) there is no word for “joy.”  Consider the countries where sheep are considered an unclean animal.  Describing Jesus as “The Lamb of God” would be detrimental to the teaching of the gospel.

Over the centuries the Bible was first translated into Latin (the Latin Vulgate was used by the Western church through the early and middle ages) and eventually into English and many other languages.  John Wycliffe produced the first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts in the 1380’s.  Wycliffe and his contemporaries believed “that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language.”

In the 1450s Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press and the first book to ever be printed was a Latin language Bible.  From that time on Bibles and other books were printed quickly and in large quantities.  Bible scholars started learning and studying Greek and soon realized the Latin version of the Bible had moved a long way from the original language.  The new English Bibles being translated and printed created an enormous hunger for the Word of God, the true Gospel and ultimately led to the Reformation.

In 1604 the Protestant clergy approached King James I to ask for a new translation of the Bible.  The King authorised this to be done and commissioned about 50 scholars for the task.  In 1611 the first King James Bible came off the printing press.

Over the centuries the KJV has been updated several times as the English language has changed.  For example, in the 1611 KJV John 3:16 read, “For God so loued þe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.”  Try reading the whole Bible like that!

Over the centuries Bible translators have done their best to keep up with changes in language.  When I first became a Christian I read the KJV exclusively as I was told that it was the best translation.  I now know that’s not completely true.  Back in 1611 the scholars did their best with the manuscripts that were available to them, but since that time many older manuscripts of the Scriptures have been discovered.  As they are older they are deemed to be more reliable than the later copies that were used for the KJV.  (These old manuscripts are housed in several museums and other places all over the world).  And so the newer translations such as the NIV are based on older, more reliable manuscripts.  For that reason 45 verses have been removed from the NIV that are not found in these documents. They are, however, found in the NIV footnotes or margins.

The verses in question are of minor significance and none of the key Christian doctrines are affected by these changes. For this reason I believe the NIV Bible is accurate, trustworthy and reliable.

“Speaking in tongues” is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is literally “speaking in an unknown language” – that is to say, it is unknown to the speaker but is not unknown to God.

Even though to many people “speaking in tongues” is a new phenomenon, it dates back to AD 31 when, on the Day of Pentecost, 120 disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:1-4).  The rest of the book of Acts also relates occurrences of speaking in tongues and the Epistles of Paul (especially 1 Corinthians) give instructions for the proper use of this gift.

Speaking in tongues has also been reported throughout Church history.  In 150 AD, Irenaeus, a Greek father of the early church, wrote “… we hear many of the brethren in the church … who speak in tongues through the Spirit, and who also bring to light the secret things of men for their benefit.”  Tertullian (ca. 155-220), a Latin father for the early church, also spoke favourably of this gift.

Montanism was a prophetic movement that broke out in Phrygia in Roman Asia Minor (Turkey) around 172AD.  It made tongues-speaking a central part of the worship experience.  In the middle of the fourth century, Francis Xavier described his miraculous ability to communicate with various groups as speaking in tongues.  In addition, many believe that in the Eastern Church tongues speaking continued to be practised in Greek Orthodox monasteries throughout the Middle Ages.

At the end of seventeenth century, widespread tongues speaking occurred in southern France among a group of persecuted Huguenots.  Similarly, in the 1730s an occurrence of tongues-speaking happened among a group of Catholic pietists, called the Jansenists.

Then in the 1830s until the end of the century, a revival of tongues-speaking occurred in England during the ministry of Edward Irving.  After reports that tongues-speaking had occurred in the west of Scotland in the spring of 1830, Irving himself shortly after reported such expressions in his Regent Square Church.  Until the end of the century, his followers (Irvingites) made tongues speaking central to their church life.

The example of the Huguenots and Irvingites then led to similar occurrences in Mother Anne Lee’s Shaker movement in England and America.  Not long after, in the 1850s, a tongues-speaking movement began in Russia that continued throughout the century.  Similarly, beginning around 1860 on the Southern tip of India, through the influence of Plymouth Brethren theology a revival of tongues-speaking and prophecy was reported.  In addition to the occurrences of tongues speaking in 1901 in Topeka and in Los Angeles in 1906-9, it also arose in the Welsh revival in 1904-5.

Today, “speaking in tongues” is the most talked about phenomena in Christianity.  Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement have brought speaking in tongues to the forefront over the past 100+ years, and these branches of Christianity are without doubt the fastest growing segments of the faith.  These movements are impacting the world even more than the reformation did.

Now, in a first of its kind study, scientists are shining the light on this mysterious practice, attempting to explain what actually happens physiologically to the brain of someone while speaking in tongues.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have discovered decreased activity in the frontal lobes, an area of the brain associated with being in control of one’s self.  This pioneering study, involving functional imaging of the brain while subjects were speaking in tongues, is in the November issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, the official publication of the International Society for Neuroimaging in Psychiatry.

Radiology investigators observed increased or decreased brain activity by measuring regional cerebral blood flow while the subjects were speaking in tongues.  They then compared the imaging to what happened to the brain while the subjects sang gospel music.

“We noticed a number of changes that occurred functionally in the brain,” comments Principal Investigator Andrew Newberg, MD.  “Our finding of decreased activity in the frontal lobes during the practice of speaking in tongues is fascinating because these subjects truly believe that the spirit of God is moving through them and controlling them to speak.  Our brain imaging research shows us that these subjects are not in control of the usual language centres during this activity, which is consistent with their description of a lack of intentional control while speaking in tongues.”

Newberg went on to explain, “These findings could be interpreted as the subject’s sense of self-being taken over by something else.  We, scientifically, assume it’s being taken over by another part of the brain, but we couldn’t see, in this imaging study, where this took place.  This study also showed a number of other changes in the brain, including those areas involved in emotions and establishing our sense of self.”

This fascinating research supports what the Bible teaches about speaking in tongues, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful” (1 Corinthians 14:14).  What a wonderful God-given gift this is.  No wonder the Bible encourages us to seek this gift and to use it regularly.



I love history! It fascinates me – not just because it’s a study of past events but rather because of its insights into human nature. As German author Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel put it back in the 1800s, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” I get his point, but one of the things that I’ve learned from history is that you can only oppress a people group for so long. Eventually a champion will arise to be a voice that says, “Enough is enough.” And so the struggle begins. History is littered with examples:

Think of the abolitionist movement in Britain educating the public and rallying against slavery. Champions like William Wilberforce MP, an evangelical Christian with a passion for social reform, and Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who campaigned for abolition and settled in England. Plus the many slave revolts on the plantations themselves.

Jesus was the ultimate champion who spoke up for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcasts who are often referred to in the Bible as “tax collectors and sinners.” And He got into a lot of trouble for it. He spoke up for lepers, for Samaritans, for prostitutes, for the poor and for women. But it would be many centuries later when women would gradually begin to be emancipated from patriarchal oppression.

Enter Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK to push for the right to vote, run for public office and work for equal civil rights for women. Britain’s Daily Mail called them the “Suffragettes” – a derogatory term but one the women adopted and wore with pride (much like the word “Christian”). From these humble beginnings in 1903 the Suffrage (or feminist) movement spread all around the world. This was not an issue in Australia which was the first country to give women the right to vote and run for public office in 1895. Women are still not allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia or Vatican City.

The feminist movement has largely been a reaction to male chauvinism – the belittling of women and discriminating against them based on the belief that men are superior. Women then are deserving of less than equal treatment, value or advantage. History gives us many examples of this:

 Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, regarded females as “imperfect males”

 Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian, believed “the woman is inferior to the man in every way.”

 A Jewish male in morning prayer would thank God that he was not made “a gentile, a slave or a woman”.

 The Islamic Koran states (Quran 4:34): “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.”

 According to Gandhi, “A Hindu husband regards himself as Lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon him.”

 John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement, wrote this in a letter to his wife on July 15, 1774: “Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me … of what importance is your character to mankind, if you were buried just now or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?” I bet it was a quiet night in the Wesley Household after that .

 As far as Christians go, Martin Luther would have to be the greatest chauvinist of all time: “Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” 
(Works 20.84). “God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.” He goes on to say “We may well lie with what seems to be a woman of flesh and blood, and yet all the time it is only a devil in the shape of a woman.”

History shows us that an extreme is usually corrected by an extreme. There’s no doubt that this is the case with the feminist movement, but it’s an understandable reaction to male chauvinism in an attempt to bring equality between the sexes. There’s obviously still a long way to go, even in Australia, where women are often paid less than men for doing the same job, under represented in politics, business and on boards – and in church leadership.

The Bible teaches that God created men and women equal. Theologian Matthew Henry put it this way, “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.” This is neither chauvinism nor feminism but rather a mutual love and respect for one another that leads to the emancipation of both to be all that we were created to be.