Female Leaders, Apostles, Disciples, Prophets and Other Women of Influence in the Bible and Early Church History

The more I spend time in the Scripture and study the Greek and Hebrew lexicons, the more I believe many of our disagreements over the roles of women in church leadership are frequently based on misunderstandings of the original languages and a loss of cultural context.  The intended audiences would have easily understood the depth and breadth of the meanings of the words used.  However, our English translations often fail to sufficiently explain the authors’ intended messages and grammatical nuances.

This is not to say the Word of God contains errors.  For example, in the English language we use the word “love” to describe a wide range of feelings or actions.  It may be used to describe a deep affection for a spouse, child or close friend.  The emotions may be complex and shift in meaning depending on what, whom, how or why I love.  However, the word “love” may also be used to describe a favorite food or song on the radio, which are obviously shallow expressions of the same word.  These examples may be oversimplified, but they were my starting point for researching and understanding this topic.  After all, God’s Word never changes but my understanding should as I read the Scripture, spend time in study and commune with Him.

I humbly pray the summaries of the influential Old Testament and New Testament women below will inspire you to perform your own research. After all, our most powerful tool as Christians is knowledge. Our most destructive weapon is ignorance.

“God never violates His Word. But He’s quite comfortable violating our understanding of His Word.” – Bill Johnson

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Ancient inscriptions upon the walls of early church tombs and catacombs indicate many women were leaders within Gentile churches between the first and sixth centuries. Women were recorded as apostles, synagogue leaders (archisynagōgos or archisynagōgissa), elders (presbytera), deacons (diákonos), church mothers, bishops and other prominent roles.  Many of these inscriptions were found in Tripolitania (former province of Libya), throughout Italy, Malta (European island country in the Mediterranean Sea), Turkey and Kissamos (Greece).

Examples of a few historically recorded female deacons include Sophia he diakonoshe deutera Phoibe (the second Phoebe) and Maria of he deacons whose name and title is etched into a stele of grey marble inside a Byzantine church.  More evidence of female leaders can be found in the historical records of the reign of Trajan (98-117 C.E.).

Although some early church leadership titles were honorary or given by inheritance or marriage, many titles of these women differ from their fathers and husbands, if they were married at all. This indicates these leaders were likely given these roles for their level of importance, influence and dedication at their local churches.  Based on the root of Greek words like arch (meaning “ruler”) used to describe many of these leaders, a person with these roles would have overseen the organization of the church or synagogue, taught, preached, collected money from congregants and performed other administrative duties (Brooten, Bernadette).

PRISCILLA – AN EARLY CHURCH MISSIONARY, CO-PASTOR AND THEOLOGIAN

Acts 18:24-27 – Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately. Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed.

Romans 16:3-4 – Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers (“collaborators” or “fellow-workers”) in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.

I love the picture Paul paints of the powerhouse couple named Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila. They were pastors, traveling missionaries through Asia Minor (Acts 18), church planters and theology teachers. According to Romans 16, they were well known in the Gentile churches and preached the Gospel courageously, risking their own lives for Paul’s ministry.  Together, Priscilla and Aquila taught and encouraged Apollos who was already a passionate man of God with a gift for preaching and teaching. As spiritual parents to Apollos, they, along with the encouragement of other believers, launched Apollos’s pastoral ministry in Achaia (Acts 18:24-26).

PHOEBE THE DEACONESS AND LEADER OF THE CHURCH AT CENCHREAE

Romans 16:1-2 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe (Phebe), who is a deacon (diákonos) in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been especially helpful (prostatis) to many, and especially to me.

As the first recorded deacon in the history of Christianity and someone who was given the titles “deacon” and “prostatis”, Phoebe was a notable woman within her church. Many scholars believe the church met in her home, she was Paul’s courier for the Book of Romans and a wealthy financier for Paul and others (McKnight, Scot).

The Importance of a Courier: The role of courier was not usually given to women because the roads used to deliver letters were dangerous and full of bandits. Paul must have trusted Phoebe greatly to give her such a responsibility.  As a courier, coworker and emissary of Paul’s ministry, Phoebe likely would have read the Book of Romans aloud to congregations as a normal duty of a courier for that time period.

It’s All Greek to Me: Paul used the masculine Greek work diákonos (meaning “minister” or “servant” depending on the English translation) to describe the ministries of Phoebe, Paul, Stephen and Philip (compare Romans 16:1-21 Corinthians 3:52 Corinthians 3:6,6:411:23Ephesians 3:76:21Colossians 1:723251 Timothy 34:6 and the Greek Lexicon). The term “deacon” has various meanings to different denominations today; therefore, when looking at an New Testament character like Phoebe in relation to her role in early church leadership, it is important to understand the original Greek terms and context compared to similar Scripture passages.

The Greek word prostatis means “female guardian”, “protector/protectress”, “patroness” and “caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources” (see “Strong’s Greek: 4368”, Bible Hub). When reviewing the meaning of this word, it may be helpful to review its context through the lens of epigraphical evidence to understand the complete Biblical implications of this statement (McCabe, Elizabeth).

MARY MAGDALENE THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES

Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47, 16:9; Luke 23:49, 55; John 19:25; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1-5

St. Thomas Aquinas famously said, “Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life.” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Mary of Magdala (The Magdalene) is famously known as the severely afflicted and demon possessed woman that Jesus miraculously healed. After He removed the demons, she became a devoted disciple, traveled with Him and the Twelve, and she became one of Jesus’s closest friends.

Mary is well known for her devotion to Jesus. The depth of her commitment to Him is best exemplified through her presence during His crucifixion and burial. Unlike most of the other disciples who fled or denied their association with Jesus during crucifixion for fear of being arrested or killed, she never abandoned or denied Him.

True to Jesus’s cultural taboo-crushing nature, He bestowed the high honor of heralding His resurrection to a woman — Mary Magdalene — earning her the title “Apostle to the Apostles” in early church history (Biblical Archaeology Society). This may not seem like an extraordinary event to us in our modern times; but in those days, a woman’s word was often discredited.  Women were typically not well-educated; and it was not considered socially appropriate for women to learn or debate spiritual truth with men.

According to scholars and based on Luke’s references to the women in his Gospel account, Mary was also likely present with the Twelve and the other female disciples in the upper room as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit’s pouring upon all flesh (Elliot, Paul).

MARY OF BETHANY SITS AT A PLACE OF HONOR

Luke 8:35, Luke 10:38-32; John 11:1-44; John 12:1-8

Jesus exalted women as worthy friends and disciples in a society that considered such behavior inappropriate. Like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany was one of Jesus’s closest friends, a disciple, a financial supporter of Jesus’s ministry and present at Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb.  She is famously known as the sister of Martha and Lazarus and the woman who anointed Jesus with extravagant nard perfume.

Jesus exalted women as worthy disciples and broke several cultural norms when He and the Twelve went to Martha’s home for fellowship and discipleship. The act of visiting the house of a woman was not considered culturally appropriate. In addition, although Martha was fulfilling the female cultural expectation of preparing dinner for a guest’s visit, Jesus commended Mary for sitting at His feet to learn.

To Sit at the Feet of a Rabbi: The idiom to “sit at someone’s feet” is used to describe a student being formally trained as a disciple by a respected rabbi. This story illustrates Jesus’s respect for Mary because He gave her permission to sit at His feet. Women were considered to be a lower class of citizen than men and her primary role was to work in the home. As a student, Mary would have likely been actively engaged in learning and asking questions along with the male disciples (Attenberry, Shawna).

MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS

Luke 1-8; John 2:5; Acts 1:13

Mary is one of the most intriguing women in the Bible because we know so much about her.  In fact, we know more about her than any other disciple. Her name mean’s “wise woman”, and the Biblical accounts of her certainly appear to justify her name.  Through the New Testament, we are taught her life story.  God chose and entrusted Mary to bring salvation to the world. She was familiar with the Scripture and had prophetic gifting for what it meant. We are also told Mary was at Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection; and she was present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. She is sometimes referred to as Jesus’s first disciple. Through the development of Christian traditions over the centuries, she is regarded as a saint and an intercessor within the Catholic Church.  (Women in the Bible).

TABITHA THE RESURRECTED DISCIPLE

Acts 9:36 – There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (original Greek: Dorcus, meaning “gazelle”). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

Tabitha is one of only two people recorded in the Book of Acts as being resurrected. She is the only woman in the New Testament identified with the female version of the word “disciple” (mathetria).

PROPHETESS ANNA

Luke 2:36-38 – Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Anna, the only named prophetess of the New Testament, was present at the Temple for the purification ceremony for the baby Jesus. Anna recognized Jesus and prophesied about His significance to everyone who was “waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem” (v. 38).

LYDIA FROM THYATIRA

Acts 16:13-15 – On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged until we agreed.

Paul met Lydia, a merchant of expensive indigo cloth, from Thyatira (modern day Turkey) on his second missionary journey through Philippi. She holds the distinction as the first person to convert to Christianity in Europe.

An Indication of Her Wealth: The Scripture specifically states that she bought and sold expensive materials which would mean she had the money necessary to purchase expensive wares.

An Indication She was the Sole/Primary Leader of Her Household: She is never mentioned as being married, but she has a household is responsible for making decisions on their behalf. She decided to follow Christ and had her family baptized along with her. She invited Paul and others into her home.

EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE CHURCH LEADERS IN PHILIPPI

Philippians 4:2-3 – Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner (“companion” or “yokefellow”), to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers (sunergoi), whose names are written in the Book of Life.

Paul’s public letter to Euodia (her name means “prosperous journey” or “fragrant”) and Syntyche (her name means “fortunate”) serves as reminder to the Church about how to resolve disagreements and build unity within the body of Christ. Some scholars believe these two women were deacons or held some other significant leadership role in their church. They are mainly remembered for their dispute; however, Paul’s interest in their quarrel speaks to their role in the church’s leadership according to antiquity scholars (New Life).

Early church bishop John Chrysostom, who was in no way a champion of women, made this statement about Euodia and Syntyche: “These women seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and he commendeth them to some notable man whom he calls his ‘yokefellow,’ to whom perchance he was wont to commend them, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he doth in the Epistle to the Romans, when he saith, ‘I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church that is at Cenchrea.’ (Romans 16:1)” You can read Bishop Chrysostom’s homilies at Bible Hub.

THE “OTHER” FEMALE DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Matthew 12:48-50; 20:20-28; 27:56; Mark 10:35-40 15:40-41; 16:1-2; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Jesus referred to His disciples as his mother, brother and sister. Jesus chose twelve men as disciples, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Scripture also references an unspecified number of women who followed Jesus as disciples in addition to Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Martha who were close friends of Jesus. The other named female disciples are Susanna, Joanna, Mary Salome, and Mary of Clopas known as “the other Mary.” Some scholars also include the “sinful woman”, the “bleeding woman” who traveled 30 miles to receive healing and the mother of the demon possessed child; however, the Bible does not directly call them disciples or specifically talk about them following His ministry. Many of the women became Jesus’s followers after they were healed from demons and infirmities. Some of these women were wealthy and supported Jesus’s ministry financially out of their own private means and were frequent traveling companions (Bible Gateway).

JUNIA THE APOSTLE

Romans 16:7 – Greet Andronicus and Junia (Iounian), my fellow Jews (“compatriots”, “kinsmen” or “relatives”) who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles (episemoi en tois apostolis meaning “regarded as apostles” or “outstanding among the apostles”) and became followers of Christ before I did.

Bishop John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.) famously stated this about Junia: “To be an apostle is something great! But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

Junia/Junias Lost in Translation: Some translations of Scripture call Junia (Julia) the uncommon masculine name “Junias.” As a result, the enigmatic Junia is fiercely debated among modern theologians because if she was indeed a she, it would mean a woman was directly acknowledged by Paul as an apostle. The oldest ancient manuscripts use the common feminine name “Junia” while newer manuscripts (the masculine form of Iounian first appeared during the Medieval period) use the less common “Junias.” In fact, there are no known ancient manuscripts or literature that mention the name “Junias” in Latin or Greek (Preato, Dennis).

NYMPHA OF LAODICEA

Colossians 4:15 – Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha (Nymphas) and the church that meets in her house.

Nympha led the church in Laodicea that met in her house. The passage indicates Nympha was likely a female pastor of a church that met at her home. Like Junia, the gender of Nympha is greatly debated and was altered to a masculine name and pronoun in the Middle Ages. This was likely not done intentionally to purposefully corrupt the Scripture, but instead was corrected because it was thought to be a mistake. By the Middle Ages (several hundreds of years after Christ walked the earth), the traditions of men leading the church had become well established, and it was assumed women were not allowed in church leadership roles (New Life).

Was Nympha accidentally written into the original Greek as a woman, therefore, justifying the correction by the scribes in the Middle Ages centuries later? At this point, the gender identities of Junia and Nympha are impossible to know with all certainty and will likely be debated by theologians until Christ returns, yet another reason why we as Christian brothers and sisters should be careful not judge each other’s opposing convictions.

TRYPHENA, TRYPHOSA, PERSIS, MARY, JULIA, NEREUS’S SISTER, AND PHILIP’S PROPHESYING DAUGHTERS

Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:13a, 14; 2:17-18; Romans 16:6, 12, 15

Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s will and truth (Acts 21:7-9). They have been added to this list of influencial women because God appeared to use these women to fulfill the prophecies in Joel and Acts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon men and women after the resurrection of the Messiah.

Some scholars think Typhena and Tryphosa (Greek pagan names meaning “delicate” or “dainty”) were likely twin sisters or close relatives who were likely missionaries or deaconesses. Paul asks the congregation in Rome to greet them as two of many friends or co-laborers in the Lord. Bible Gateway has an interesting commentary about their names and their prominence and influence in the early church.

Persis, Julia and Nereus’s sister are also listed as women “who worked hard in the Lord” or supported home churches. I have included these women on this list because, when compared to early church history outside of the Scriptures, it seems evident these ladies, along with others mentioned on this list, were the first of many women who led or co-led home churches or at the very least were prominent figures within their churches.

SAMARITAN WOMAN FROM SYCHAR

John 4:1-30

It would be easy to pass over the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who speaks with Jesus. For those of us in the West, our society see the verbal exchange between the woman and Jesus as trivial because we don’t tend to see how violating the woman’s behavior would have been of social norms of that day. I find it intriguing that she was at the well by herself as it was uncommon for woman to go out in public alone. Also, she openly held a discussion with a controversial Jewish rabbi named Jesus. After her encounter with Jesus, she shared her testimony with her community. Women in the Bible has a great article on the Samaritan woman.

 

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

DEBORAH A “MOTHER OF ISRAEL”, JUDGE AND PROPHETESS

Judges 4:4-5 – Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.

Judges 5:7, 31 – (v. 7) There were few people left in the villages of Israel — until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel. (v. 31) “Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” Then there was peace in the land for forty years.

Deborah, who was considered a major judge in the Old Testament, acted as a commander-in-chief for ancient Israel. In addition to her powerful leadership role over the ancient nation, she was a gifted prophet. She prophesied the ruthless and oppressive Canaanite King Jabin would fall at the hands of the Israelites. When her commander, Barak, failed to have faith in God’s provision, Deborah foretold King Jabin’s armies would fall at the hands of a woman instead of him. In his fear and disbelief, Barak refused to go into battle without Deborah. As a result, she went with him and oversaw the battles against King Jabin’s commander Sisera and his armies, and led the Israelites into forty years of peace.

What’s a Judge: Judges were used by God to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of foreign oppressors. Judges served as reminders of God’s promise of mercy and grace to deliver and restore Israel from their enemies.

JAEL THE BRAVE

Judges 4:9 – “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.”

Judges 4:21 – But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.

Jael bravely used her husband’s friendship with King Jabin’s family to lure his commander Sisera into her tent to rest.  As he slept, she drove a tent peg through the commander’s skull. As Deborah had prophesied, Jael, a woman, is credited with delivering Israel’s victory over King Jabin’s armies.

ESTHER THE HEROINE OF THE JEWS IN PERSIA

Esther 1-8

After King Xerxes (Hebrew name: “Ahasuerus”) of Persia banished Queen Vashti for disobeying him, he gathered beautiful women from his kingdom in search of the “most beautiful woman.” He formed a haram from his selections and eventually chose Esther to be his new bride.

Some theologians don’t consider Esther a leader because Xerxes held the position of authority; however, God placed her in a strategic position of influence, and she interceded on the behalf of Israel and saved them from certain genocide. Plus, she gets extra bravery points in my mind because she spoke to King Xerxes without being summoned which was a crime punishable by death (Womeninthebible.net: Clever Queen, Foolish King).

MIRIAM THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETESS AND LEADER

Exodus 15:20 – Then Miriam the Prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced.

Micah 6:4 – For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to help you.

Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. She bravely saved Moses by sending him down the Nile in a basket to spare his life from certain slaughter. She was also considered a prophetess, worship leader and considered part of the core leadership tetrad that led Israel out of Egypt. She was specifically acknowledged for leading the Hebrew women from Egypt (Women in the Bible, “Mariam: Her Story”).

HULDAH THE EXCEPTIONAL PROPHETESS

2 Kings 22:8 – Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

2 Kings 22:14 – She [Huldah] said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true.'”

After the Book of the Law (Torah) was found during the restoration of the Temple, Huldah interpreted and confirmed the Book of the Law’s (Torah) authenticity. She must have had an exceptional reputation for her gift as a prophet since she was consulted instead of the famous Prophet Jeremiah.

Huldah’s prophetic words of impending judgment over Israel’s evil and unrepentant acts and the discovery of the Torah assisted King Josiah with leading the nation into revival.

THE SHUNAMMITE WOMAN

1 Kings 1:3; 2 Kings 4:8-37; 1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 19:33

Although the Shunammite woman’s name is shrouded in mystery, the Scriptures refer to her as someone in her community who was of high rank and wealth within her community. She is known for her hospitality and care for God’s people who were travelers through the Jazreel plain. There is lots more about the Great Woman of Shunem at Bible Gateway.

RESOURCES:

Heart Matters and the Idolatry of Religion

Here’s a provocative statement that may offend some fellow believers: love and our relationships with God and other people are more important than obeying rules and laws. If this statement is true, howBible then do we reconcile Jesus’s statement, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15)? First, we must love, then we can demonstrate that love through obeying His laws.

The Shema (Jewish prayer) from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 emphasizes love/faith over law through this statement, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema is a filter to be applied to the laws that follow it. Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain in his article Why is the Shema so significant? explains this sentiment beautifully: “The Shema stands out as a cry of belief, something that cannot be simply carried out or avoided but has to be personally taken to heart.”

Religion without Relationship is Idolatry

If idolatry is the act of worshipping something other than God, than it seems fair to state religion without a personal relationship/love of God is essentially idolatry (Colossians 2:23, Acts 17:22). James A. Fowler in his article God Hates Religion puts it this way, “The English word “religion” is etymologically derived from the Latin word religo, meaning to ‘bind up.’ Religion binds people up in rules and regulations or in ritualistic patterns of devotion.” The religious spirit controls its followers through fear and guilt by demanding perfection through works to better one’s stance with God and man (Matthew 6:1-8, Philippians 2:3, and 2 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 John 4:18). In this scenario, God is viewed as a demanding boss; and His followers are underperforming employees with whom He’s frequently angry and dissatisfied.

A sacrifice given out of pride or apathy is another religious idol. It is performed out of self-exalting piety, without thought or thankfulness to God. Prideful giving is often haughty and flaunts how well one is able to meet such requirements compared to others. However, it’s the not quantity of what we give or the awe of others that makes us right with God but the quality of our motivations and the thankfulness of our hearts for all that God has given us. Isaiah 1:10-15 and Amos 5:21-24 illustrate this idea through God’s repeated rejection of “meaningless offerings.”

Cain’s Offering – An Example of Religion, Wrong Motives and Why it Matters

In Genesis 4, we see religion and love’s stark contrast. Abel was a shepherd who offered God the best of his flock which God accepted. Cain was a farmer who offered God some of his crops, but his offering was not accepted. Why? The words “best” and “some” provide clues. Abel gave God his best; Cain only gave God some of his crops, indicating he kept the best for himself. When Cain was angered by his offering’s rejection, God told him that he must first “do what is right.” Instead, jealousy over his brother’s offering lead him to kill Abel. Cain’s jealous was birthed from wrong motivations, giving from an ungrateful heart, instead of thanks. Even if Cain had given the best of his crops to God, the offering would have still been rejected due to the state of his heart.

Other Scriptures Confirming the Importance of Love/Heart over Law

  • Desiring mercy not sacrifice – “But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.’ Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-14).
  • Food restrictions – In Romans 14, Paul instructed early church believers not to judge each other over what food should or shouldn’t be eaten. Christians in the early church were Messianic Jews (Jewish converts to Christianity) and gentiles. Jewish laws prohibited the Jewish people from eating certain foods; gentiles were not required to follow the same laws. Therefore, some believers felt convicted to not eat certain foods while others did not. Interestingly, the Bible says a believer who feels convicted that he should not eat the food in question but does it anyway has sinned; the person who did not feel the same conviction did not sin by eating the same food.
  • Giving, prayer and fasting with the wrong motives – “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.” (Matthew 6:5-7).
  • Condition of the heart when approaching God with prayer – Before we approach the throne for prayer, God requires that we come to Him with faith and trust that He will do what we ask of Him and that we will pray with the right motives. See Why Won’t God Answer My Prayers? for a deeper study of this topic.
  • The wicked hearts of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – these towns were destroyed for their willful disregard for others who were suffering and their depth of depravity (Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 23, and Isaiah 1). See the Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings Series Part 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah for an in-depth study of the people who lived there.
  • Worshipping God with modesty not out of showy materialism (1 Timothy 2:9-10) – See Relevant Magazine‘s article Yoga Pants and What the Bible Really Says about Modesty about this topic.
  • Measuring gluttony  How much of something is too much? Who determines the measurement? Could it be the answer lies in the conviction of the heart about what is just enough and what is too much? (Proverbs 23:20-21)

Jesus is Our Perfection

Doesn’t God demand perfection from us? Yes, He does, and we should do the best we can to live righteously because we love the God who gave His Son for us (Matthew 5:20, Matthew 5:48). However, it’s important to remember, our measuring stick is not how well we’re able to keep the laws because we all have fallen short of the glory of God (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23). Perfection is something we can never attain. Instead of focusing on our lack of perfection, we should fix our eyes on Jesus’s grace (Galatians 2:20). His blood sufficiently covers what we’ll never attain on our own (Romans 3:21-24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Why Won’t God Answer My Prayers?

I’ve spent countless hours praying for God to answer my requests. I remember the tearsorrow-bw stains on my pillow over the figurative “closed doors” and the heartbreak over not receiving the answer I wanted or expected. And although I have seen God miraculously heal the sick in a moment of prayer, I’ve watched others die of cancer, suffer from pain or experience immense hardship. Why does it seem like God is occasionally silent to our prayers?

As I think about how our Father receives and answers our prayers, I am reminded about four key absolutes: 1. God is good all the time (Psalm 100:5). 2. God works all things for the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 3. The Father loves to give His children good gifts (Matthew 7:11). 4. When we ask Him for a desire that aligns with His desires, His answers are always “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). You may be thinking if you’re a fellow believer, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard all of that before. So what?” Let’s paraphrase to find applicable meaning within these absolutes — we have a loving, all-knowing Father (Matthew 6:27-30) who adores us (Isaiah 43:5) and wants the best things for us, and He promises to give us whatever good and righteous thing we ask of Him because He’s a good daddy.

He’s a good daddy.

“But what about all those closed doors? What about my heartbreak? What about the failure to come to my rescue? Where was God?” you may ask. If we think about what a good parent might do since God is our Father, the answers to these questions become a bit easier to understand. Good parents don’t say “yes” to every request just to make the child happy. Good parents look at the situation and determine if responding “yes” to a request would be hurtful, helpful or if waiting for a better solution is actually the best option. Many times, God answers our prayers and sets things in motion behind the scenes, but we don’t understand it or see the answer right away, if at all (Proverbs 3:5-6). Dependency deepens trust. Hardships aren’t meant to crush us; they are meant to make us stronger (Romans 8:35-39). We learn to rely on God for answers instead of ourselves, especially if we have little or no control over the situation; and our victories glorify Him. If we instantly received what we want all the time, we would become ungrateful and settle for less than the abundance God has planned for our lives. Essentially, we’d miss out on the better blessing.

Dependency deepens trust.

As we lift requests up to God, He expects obedience and partnership as part of our relationship and communications with Him. Just as our natural parents often set boundaries and expectations with our requests through them, so does our Heavenly Father. When we pray, we must believe He will provide (Matthew 21:22, James 1:6-8). We must confess and remove anything that separates us from God: sins, idols, wrong motives, ignoring the plight of others around us, or a heart that is not Christ-centered (Isaiah 59:1-2John 15:7). If you’re like me, I look at the list of God’s expectations and feel somewhat overwhelmed at times; but God knows the intentions of our hearts. He knows our needs, and many times in spite of our failures, He mercifully answers prayer requests anyway!

I remember when I got out of high school. I was planning to become a graphic designer in Japan. I studied the language and immersed myself in the culture. I practiced designing, writing and drawing almost every day. Becoming a graphic designer was everything to me at the time. Then life took several unexpected twists, and circumstances occurred that kept me from fulfilling that dream. Many years later, I can see the journey that brought me to where I am today. I would not have the same blessings today if I had gone to Japan. Would I have settled for less? Maybe whatever waited for me in Japan was the lesser blessing, or it could have just ended up as an alternate route. Either way, it was obvious at the time that the doorway to Japan slammed shut, and a different life awaited me. I could be bitter or angry at the death of that dream, but it’s hard to regret something that never occurred. After all, I would have missed out on my husband, valuable time with my grandfathers who have since passed away, the friends I’ve made along the way and my personal and spiritual growth. I can honestly say that my spiritual walk and personal growth as a person have grown exponentially out of the dependence and deepening trust in God through many hardships, changes and miracles over the last several years. Also, I’ve had the amazing privilege of watching God transform lives through close friendships. If I could do it all again, I think I’d want to do it the same way.

Silence doesn’t mean there’s no answer.

My short answer to the complex questions above is this — if you’re praying to God for an answer, keep praying. He loves you and has your best interest in mind. He will never forsake you. Sometimes, “no” or “wait” are the wiser alternatives to “yes.” Silence doesn’t mean there’s no answer. Hardship may occur, but our sovereign God goes before us, walks with us and carries us through to the other side (Psalm 139:5, Jeremiah 29:11).

In the words of Paulo Coelho, “Don’t give up. Normally it is the last key on the ring which opens the door.”

We are the Kingdom: Bringing Heaven to Earth

The question “what is the Kingdom?” colors my view of everythingkingdom as I walk around on this physical earth with a resurrected mindset. It describes the future and the present. It is simultaneously a place and a description of God and His people. If you’ve never really thought about the “Kingdom”, God says some amazing things about it.

Examining the Words of Jesus and Personal Analysis

The “Kingdom” is talked about several times in the Bible. According to Luke 17:20-21, a religious leader asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. Jesus answered by stating the Kingdom “can’t be detected by visible signs…for the Kingdom of God is already among you (‘among you’ in the original translation also means ‘within you/within grasp’).” Some Christians believe this section of verses depicts Jesus talking about His second coming which is detailed in the Book of Revelation. But is seems possible that He was also talking about His resurrection. Both views seem perfectly accurate. It’s my personal belief God intentionally provides us Scriptures that hold multifaceted levels of understanding.

Revelation 5:10 says we are “a Kingdom of priests for our God”

Revelation 5:10 says we are “a Kingdom of priests for our God” who will (“are” is used in some manuscripts) “reign on the earth.” If we compare His pre-resurrection statements to this post-resurrection Scripture, it appears God is calling us the Kingdom.

Heaven on Earth

If we are the Kingdom as the Scriptures state we are, then it opens up a whole new level of revelation when we read the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” It appears Jesus taught us to pray for a revelation of our identity — that we bring heaven to earth in His name as priests for our God (and model after Jesus who is our High Priest). Also, it is a reminder of the powerful Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and excitedly waits to spill out upon others around us.

If we are to follow the Great Commission, we should preach the gospels, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead as Jesus did. it makes sense to me that we are the hands and feet of Jesus that will bring Heaven to earth now. I can personally testify as a witness and a recipient that God has used a “Kingdom is now mindset” as a vessel for healing several times.

May this post encourage you and inspire you, priests of the Kingdom. Let’s bring Heaven to earth!

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series: Joseph as a Type of Christ

The story of Joseph has always been one of my favorites, butegypt I had no idea before I began researching that his life can be directly paralleled with Jesus. In fact, I found over 60 parallels on the web. For the sake of brevity, I’ve included some of the highlights, but you can review the whole list in the “Sources and Resources” links at the bottom of this blog post if you are looking for more information. Here are the highlights…

Beloved Son:

  • Jesus and Joseph are both referred to as the first-born and “beloved son” (or a closely related synonym from the root Hebrew words “ahebh” and “agapao”) (Genesis 37:3, Matthew 3:17). Joseph was the first-born for his wife Rachel. Jesus was the first-born of Mary.
  • According to Bible Hub, “beloved” is used in the Old Testament 42 times. The word is used in both testaments and are derived from primarily two main Hebrew words and their derivatives. “Ahebh” is primarily found in the Old Testament and means “to breathe” or “long for.” “Agapao” can be found in the New Testament and means “to prefer.”

Shepherds:

  • Joseph frequently tended to his father’s sheep when he was a teenager.
  • Jesus is called the “Good Shepherd” (Genesis 37:2; John 10:11).
  • A shepherd cares for the sheep and fiercely protects them from dangers like wolves and other animals threatening the flock(s).

Miraculous Birth:

  • Rachel was unable to have children and Jacob was an old man. However, God heard Rachel’s prayers for children and intervened (Genesis 30:22-24; 37:3).
  • Jesus was born to Mary who was a virgin (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:31-33).

Foretold Sovereignty and the Promise:

Hated and Rejected by His Own:

  • Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons because he and Benjamin were the only sons born to his favorite wife Rachel. Joseph’s half brothers knew he was the favorite, became jealous and consipered to murder him (Genesis 37:4,18).
  • Jesus’s brothers were jealous and did not believe He was the Son of God (John 7:3-5).
  • Jesus was despised by the religious leaders and by His own people, eventually leading to His death on the cross (Mark 15:10; Luke 23:21 and John 15:25).

Stripped His Clothing:

  • Joseph’s brothers stripped him of the coat of many colors (Genesis 37:23).
  • The roman soldiers removed Jesus’s clothes prior to his crucifiction (Matthew 27:28).

Forsaken:

  • Instead of murdering Joseph, the eldest brother Reuben convinced the brothers to throw him into a cistern (Genesis 37:21-24).
  • After Jesus died on the cross, He remained rejected and alone in the ground for three days (Matthew 12:40).

Sold for the Price of a Slave:

  • Joseph’s brother Judah suggested selling Joseph into slavery. They sold him to the Ishmaelites as a slave for twenty pieces of silver (Genesis 37:28). Interestingly, Judah’s name translates to “Judas” in Hellenized Greek.
  • Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (the price of a slave) (Matthew 26:15; 27:24).

Raised to Life:

The Servant:

  • Joseph became a servant to an Egyptian official named Potiphar (Genesis 39:1-2).
  • Jesus “gave up His divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born a human being (Philippians 2:7a).”

Resisted Temptation:

  • Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph to sleep with her, but he never acted upon the temptation (Genesis 39:7-9).
  • Satan tempted Jesus to do wrong, but He did not sin (Matthew 4:1-11).

Falsely Accused:

  • Joseph was falsely accused of trying to take advantage of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-9).
  • Two false witnesses accused Jesus of wrongdoing, but he remained silent (Matthew 26:60, 62-63).

Became a Prisoner Among Sinners:

  • Joseph was thrown into prison with other prisoners after being falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit (Genesis 39:20).
  • Jesus was crucified beside two thieves for a crime He didn’t commit (Luke 23:33).

Promise to the Condemned:

  • Two other men, who were imprisoned with Joseph, were condemned to die. Joseph promised one of the prisoners his life would be restored to his position (Genesis 40:13).
  • Jesus promised one of the thieves who was crucified with Him that he would go to paradise (Luke 23:43).

Honor and Glory:

  • Joseph eventually became Pharaoh’s highest advisor. This position of authority gave him the second highest level of power in Egypt. Every knee bowed to Joseph (Genesis 41:41-45).
  • God exalted Jesus and gave Him a name above every name. Every knee will bow to Jesus (Philippians 2:9-10).

The Provider:

  • Joseph was responsible for ensuring all Egyptians and people in the surrounding lands had food during several years of famine. If Joseph decided not to allow someone to buy grain, they would likely starve to death. During that time period, he was the source of life (Genesis 41:57).
  • Jesus is the “bread of life.” Those who go to Him will never thirst or hunger (John 6:35).

They didn’t Recognize Him:

  • Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him when they approached him for grain. By this point in the Genesis account, many years had passed and Joseph was likely dressed in Egyptian style clothing and makeup that signified his level of authority, making it difficult for his brothers to identify him (Genesis 42:8).
  • Jesus was not recognized as the Messiah by His own nation (John 1:10).
  • When Jesus resurrected from the grave, He went to His disciples; but they were afraid and didn’t recognize Him (Luke 24:13-35).

Reconciliation and Family Restored:

  • When Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, they feared he would have them killed or seek revenge for the terrible wrong they had done to him. However, Joseph wept when he saw his brothers, and he chose to show them mercy even though the didn’t deserve it (Genesis 45).
  • Jesus chose mercy over judgment and restored us when He died on the cross and resurrected from the grave. Through His wonderful gift of redemption, He restored the nation of Israel and adopted the gentiles although none of us deserve it.

Sources and Resources:

Spiritual Warfare: Finding Victory in the Midst of Battle

If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re trying to live out the Great Commission,savior prayng you’ve probably experienced spiritual warfare at some point or another. That’s not to say everything that happens to us is spiritual warfare. In a fallen world, bad things sometimes just happen, or we experience hardship or pain because of our own sin or the sin of someone else. In contrast, sometimes as Christians we are not prepared for true spiritual attacks because we don’t expect them to happen or don’t believe they happen. Jesus faced temptation; therefore, I believe the battles in the spirit realm are real. Scripture reminds us in 1 Peter 5:8 to always be vigilant of Satan who is always looking for ways to destroy us. Since spiritual attacks are real, how do we learn to recognize and overcome them?

In my own life, I have experienced hardship, difficulty when trying to pray, threatening dreams and other unexplained events that seem to happen without reason. Do I believe these issues were caused by spiritual warfare? It is possible and likely that not everything I just described came from the Devil, but some of it certainly seemed to be. Why would I assume the cause was spiritual warfare instead of something else?

The Bible says the spiritual realm is always active around us, fighting for us or against us. At the time, I was purposely attempting to spend quality time with the Lord because I wanted to grow closer to Him, and I wanted the friends around me to know Him. I also wanted to encourage and assist those friends with restoring hope in their lives during difficult situations they were walking through. Within a couple days, the craziest things began to happen. Everything in my life that was a stability point for me (my basic needs, financial needs and my health) was turned upside down. I also experienced trouble in my prayer life. I couldn’t focus. I went from feeling closer to God than I ever had felt to feeling like I was unable to hear His heart at all. I felt alone and completely separated from Him. If you’ve ever lost your connection to your Father then you know it feels like your whole world has ended. Then the dreams started, and they were awful. I would dream things that were not normal nightmares for me. In one of my dreams, I found myself standing alone in my house. Suddenly, I heard a disembodied voice laughing sardonically and taunting me by saying, “You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’m going to destroy you. Give up.”  This dream repeatedly occurred over several weeks. At the time, I didn’t make the connection that I might be battling spiritual warfare, but before all of those strange events were over, they intensified and got much worse and much more troubling.

What should we do when we think we’re being attacked spiritually? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18 to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

In addition to following Paul’s instructions, I generally try to analyze the situation before anything else. Was I going after the things of God when the bad things started to occur? Did I cause my own grief? Did someone else hurt me? Did the issue seem to happen randomly? If my sin appeared to be the root of the problem(s), I should ask God for forgiveness. If the problem involved harming another person, I should ask the offended person for forgiveness and reconcile the relationship. What if someone else harmed me? Christ says I must forgive and pray for the person. Basically, forgiveness leads to healing and restoration. Both of these scenarios could include elements of spiritual warfare, but they are likely caused by my actions or someone else. If the issue appears random, sometimes it’s harder to figure out what to do. In any of these situations, I try to keep my eyes on Christ. I ask for protection, wisdom and help. Through God, we find our victories. As Mark Batterson puts it, “I have an unshakable sense of destiny that as long as I pursue God’s calling on my life, then God is ultimately responsible for getting me where He wants me to go.”

The verses below have helped remind me who is in control in the midst of strife. They are written on paper and affixed to my computer to remind me every day of His goodness, provision and protection:

  • Isaiah 41:10: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
  • Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
  • Isaiah 58:9a: “Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 121:1-2: “I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

If you’re looking for a visual reminder, you are welcome to pin, download or print these Pinterest quotes:

Who God is to Me

How do you know God is real? Various people in my life havebutterfly-lens-flare asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.

Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.

The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”

A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.

A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.

The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.

For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!

During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?

I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.

At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.

An Enlightening Debate with an Anti-Theist

Yesterday, I was conducting research on the writers of the Gospels. Did Bibleyou know that the writers were very likely not the apostles attached to their book names? That is to say, Matthew didn’t write the Book of Matthew and Mark likely didn’t write the Book of Mark and so on. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog topic.

While researching, I came across a blog written by a well-educated, intelligent astrophysicist with a passionate hobby for using the Bible and his scientific background to attempt to discredit the Scripture. As much as I disagree with many of the points he argued, I appreciated the fact that he was well-versed in his arguments, had the educational and research background to stand firmly on his views of the topics he covered and laid out a clinical, mostly unbiased view of why he did not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

As I finished reading the astrophysicist’s blog entry, I noticed several comments by others who had read the post followed. Some of the commenters were complimentary of his research, style and point of view. Others commenters were Christians who argued defensively as to why the post was fundamentally wrong. In response to the Christian comments, many of whom were unnecessarily obnoxious in the their own right, the writer was extremely condescending and hateful. As a result, the comment thread went from cordial to ugly very quickly — an unfortunately common theme if you’ve read any other open forums on the web (and I don’t just mean open forums related to religion or faith). Obviously, in this case, no one was going to change anyone else’s opinion through a comment thread.

There are a few fly-on-the-wall observations of the astrophysicist’s blog that I’d like to share. First, the writer is clearly an anti-theist with an agenda, but he did his homework. He knows why he believes what he believes. In contrast, the Christian commenters argued their points of view; but, in this case, they did not seem well-versed or prepared for the writer’s in-depth, well-researched critiques on their comments. Shouldn’t we as Christians become intimately knowledgeable of the doctrine upon which we stand? I argue we should be. If I was to use a successful example, I would point to Paul. Detailed knowledge of the Torah was a critical part of his ministry. He was well-educated and knew the opposing point of view of his intellectual, religious peers better than most scholars of the day. Second, the Christian commenters on astrophysicist’s blog mainly used Scripture to prove their statements. I’m not sure arguing scripture with a non believer is productive. After all, the author dedicated his whole blog site to discrediting the Bible; therefore, any “proof” was already invalid in his mind. I would submit if we only use the Bible to argue against someone else’s belief, we’ve already failed the debate.

Scripture is a great thing. I’m not trying to dismiss its importance; however, the core of our beliefs should be based on our relationship with God instead of doctrine. If I had spoken to the writer, I might have provided a personal testimony about my relationship with Jesus and how that has radically transformed my life. I would have told him about the debilitating anxiety disorder that controlled me and generations of my family; but Jesus freed me from that lifelong struggle in a moment of prayer. It is likely the writer would have dismissed such testimony because he didn’t experience my personal transformation for himself, but at least the discussion might have disarmed his defensive stance and the scientifically-based, intellectual argument which he is clearly better equipped to make than I. At this point, after such a vile, out-of-control thread on his blog, I don’t plan to leave a comment. Any well-meaning thought would probably not be well received at this point anyway.

I realized before leaving the blog site, I found myself frustrated with the overall discussion. We as Christians should be prepared for discussions with other people we encounter. People who don’t believe what we believe are going to have different views and values about things we hold as core truths. We shouldn’t be shocked by this fact, and we should be careful not to feed and validate a negative stereotype they may already have about Christianity. Once we validate a negative stereotype, the doorway to discussion with the other person shuts — sometimes permanently. We impact people we interact with whether we think we do or not.

We should also remember not everyone feels what we feel. If you’ve never experienced a relationship with God, you don’t know you’re missing anything. There’s nothing to which the feeling can be compared. Trying to argue with someone who doesn’t know God about faith is a bit like encountering someone who speaks a different language and speaking more loudly in a futile attempt to make the other person understand. This is a silly example that I borrowed from a friend, but he’s right. It just doesn’t work that way.

All that said, it is important to remember it is not our job to change someone’s heart. Only God can do that (Matthew 13). We are simply called to bear witness to the truth of change in our own lives and represent Him well. Be gracious, quick to forgive and always willing to listen before attempting to argue a point of view. The way I see it, God is certainly more capable than I when it comes to defending Him. He doesn’t need my help.

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series Part 5 – Jacob as a Type of Christ

Why do I write about the parallels between Jesus and Old Testament characters? I believe it isjacob important to understand the strong links between the Old and New Testaments. Repeated themes of Jesus’s attitudes, life, death and resurrection are deeply embedded on every page of the Old Testament. By discovering these links, it will increase your faith and encourage you to believe the Bible is truly God’s Word. As you follow the series Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings, I encourage you to consider the age of these ancient texts, the span of years between the Old and New Testament writers, the number of repeated prophecies of the coming Messiah and the accurate foretelling of the life of Christ in the Old Testament.

As I researched this topic across the web, I began to realize there are many parallels between Jacob and Jesus, and it would be an extremely long blog entry if I attempted to cover all of them. Below are some of the most interesting parallels from the story of Jacob:

Parallel 1: The Highly Favored and Beloved Son:

  • If you know the story of Jacob, you may be wondering how he could be called a “type” of Christ. After all, he stole his brother’s birthright by tricking his father. He was stubborn and prone to strife. However, God loved and poured His favor upon Jacob before He was born (Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 41:8; Romans 9:10-13). Throughout the Old Testament, ancient Israel’s relationship with God consisted of love, struggle, waywardness and reconciliation. God’s people weren’t perfect, yet He called them His “chosen” people anyway. I love this parallel because it gives me, who is very imperfect at times, hope. How great is the grace and mercy of God on us!
  • God favored and loved His Son Jesus before the world was formed (John 17:24).

Parallel 2: Stranger in a Strange Land

  • After Jacob stole his Esau’s birthright, his brother wanted to kill him. As a result, Jacob fled his home to live among strangers in a far away land, called Paddan-aram, for twenty years. Before returning to his homeland, he built his family, his wealth and riches (Genesis 28:2-4).
  • Christ left His heavenly Father’s side to become a man upon this earth. As a result, he lived among a world that didn’t understand. His own people wanted to kill Him (Philippians 2:7). Jesus came from heavenly places to share His wealth and glory of the Kingdom with us.

Symbolism: Jacob’s Ladder

  • Jacob has a dream in which he saw many angels going up and down a ladder that stretched between the heavens and the earth. Theologians believe the ladder represents Jesus who bridges the gap between heaven and this world through his death and resurrection for our sins. Revelation states the ladder will be complete when Jesus returns to His Bride (the Church) (John 1:51; Revelation 21 and 22).

Parallel 3: The Bride

  • Jacob worked for many years for his uncle to make Rachel his bride (Genesis 29:18).
  • Christ is the bridegroom of the Church. He came to this earth to die for the love of His bride, the Church. God and His angels are constantly working on our behalf until Christ returns (John 5:17).

Parallel 4: The Elder and The Younger Sisters

  • Jacob married two wives. Leah was the elder sister and Rachel, the younger. Jacob’s family line continued through both wives and were united together in marriage. Their families eventual journeyed to Canaan, the promised land.
  • Christ (represents Jacob) is the link between the Old Testament (Leah: Israel/Hebrew people) and the New Testament (Rachel: Jews united with gentiles/also known as the “Bride of Christ”). Jesus was a descendent of Leah because He came from the Tribe of Judah. The gentiles, through Christ, are adopted into the family of God’s chosen people. As God’s children, we are on a journey to the heavenly Canaan (Ephesians 2:14).

Parallel 5: Israel Prevails

  • God gave Jacob the name “Israel” after they wrestled outside of Jacob’s camp. The Lord gave him this name after saying he “wrestled with God and man, and prevailed” (Genesis 32:24-28).
  • During the Second Coming, Jesus will return to earth to build the New Jerusalem to signify Israel ultimately prevailing upon the earth (Revelation 21:2).

Parallel 6: The Patriarchs

  • Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes (descendants from his 12 children) of the Hebrew people.
  • In contrast, Christ’s disciples became the spiritual fathers.

Parallel 7: The House of Levi and Priesthood

  • The Tribe of Levi (a tribe of priests) came from Jacob’s family line. The Levites were a class of priests, including high priests. Those who were not priests carried out other religious or political responsibilities. The High Priest was responsible for offering a sacrifice to atone for the sin of the Hebrew people (Leviticus 16).
  • Jesus was the High Priest. He offered himself as a sacrifice to permanently atone for the sins of humanity (Hebrews 10:21-22; Revelation 1:6).

Resources and Other Interesting Sites

Below is a list of sites I came across during my research. If you are interested in discovering more parallels to Jesus (there are many), here are great sites to help you start:

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series Part 4 – Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham’s (almost) The crosssacrifice of his son Isaac is one of those awe inspiring faith builders that initially inspired me to write the blog series “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings.” If you’ve questioned whether or not the Bible is truly the Word of God or wondered about the relevance of the Old Testament to your own life, I hope this story will show some links between the two testaments.

Parallel 1:

  • Abraham and Isaac: God promised Abraham’s family line would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:4-5 and 21:12). This promise was fulfilled through Isaac many years later after almost a lifetime of anticipation.
  • Jesus: The long awaited promise of the coming of Isaac can be paralleled with Old Testament prophecies of the anticipated coming of the Messiah.  For example: the prophecies in Isaiah were written more than 500 years before Christ’s birth (Isaiah 43 and many other references).

Parallel 2:

  • Abraham and Isaac: The Bible says Sarah laughed when she realized she was pregnant at the age of 90. Abraham was 100 years old. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children naturally; therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude the birth of Isaac was miraculous. Amazingly, Abraham and Sarah had several more children after Isaac’s birth!
  • Jesus: Mary, who was a virgin, became pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:34-38).

Parallel 3:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, his only son whom he loved.
    • Isaac was a direct ancestor to Jesus.
    • Abraham also had a son named “Ishmael”, but out of impatience with God, he was born to the servant named Hagar. Therefore, Ishmael was not part of the line of Jesus; however, God blessed Ishmael’s family line because he was also Abraham’s son (Genesis 21:14; 22:2).
  • Jesus: Father God called Jesus His only beloved Son (Matthew 17:5).

Parallel 4:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac was offered as a burnt sacrifice (Genesis 22:2).
  • Jesus: Jesus was offered as the sacrifice to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Parallel 5:

Parallel 6:

  • Abraham and Isaac: In addition to Isaac, Abraham took two men with him to Moriah (Genesis 22:3).
  • Jesus: Jesus was sacrificed beside two thieves (John 19:18).

Parallel 7:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac carried the wood to be used for the burn offering (Genesis 22:6).
  • Jesus: Jesus carried a wooden cross.

Parallel 8:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Abraham bound Isaac and laid him upon the wood (Genesis 22:9).
  • Jesus: Jesus was nailed to the wooden cross (John 19:17).

Parallel 9:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac knew his father was going to offer him as a sacrifice, but he willingly went to the place of his death (Genesis 22:7-8).
  • Jesus: Jesus could have freed Himself or called down the angels to rescue Him. He was God after all! Instead, He willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins (John 12:23-24).
    • “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Parallel 10:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac was offered as a sacrifice at the end of a three day journey to the mountain in Moriah. He was essentially dead to Abraham the moment God commanded him to sacrifice his son. But because of God’s promise to make Isaac’s family line more numerous than the stars, Abraham trusted God would raise his son from the dead if he was sacrificed (Hebrews 11:17-19).
    • Instead of allowing Abraham to sacrifice his son, God provided a ram as a sacrificial substitute. The ram redeemed Isaac, essentially bringing him back from death (resurrection from physical death).
    • Although Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the lamb, a ram is given by God as a sacrifice. Did Abraham have it wrong? No. The use of the word “lamb” foretold the story of Christ who would become the “Lamb” according to John 8:56 which states: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
  • Jesus: Jesus was dead for three days and on the third day He resurrected, eventually returning back to His Father. Jesus was the Lamb who was sacrificed as the substitute for our sins and redeemed us from spiritual death (Matthew 12:40, Matthew 17:23, and Acts 10:40).

The comparison above was first mentioned to me by a good friend of mine who is an amazing teacher of Biblical truths. She taught me how to look for parallels between the Old and New Testament.  As a result, this type of research has greatly strengthened and reinforced my faith and ignited a passion for studying the Word. Thank goodness for wonderful friends who help us grow!

I hope this comparison and the “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings” series will ignite the same passion for you!