I’m famous (not at all) for pointing out that the Bible teaches that people don’t have immortal souls. That, when we die, our souls don’t just live on and go to heaven. It helps if we first understand the simple formulas for life and death that the Bible provides:

life = body + spirit

death = body – spirit

The formula for life first appears in Genesis 2:7, which says that “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” The breath of life is spirit. A living being is a soul. You can see this in the original language and the ways those words are used elsewhere. Body + Spirit = Soul (a living being).

The formula for death is easy to see in Ecclesiastes 12:7, which says that “the dust returns to the earth where it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Body – Spirit = Nothing. The death process is the reverse of the life process.

According to the Bible, “spirit” does not equal “soul”; Genesis 2:7 makes a clear distinction between them. The soul does not return to God upon death; the spirit does (because it’s God’s breath, the life force). The soul (living being) ceases to exist until the resurrection—when the spirit (life force) reenters a body.

I posted something about this on my Facebook page recently. Someone asked a really good question in response: “What do we do with the imagery in Revelation 6 that depicts a bowl of souls, which are crying out for God’s justice?”

The referenced passage is Revelation 6:9-10. “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had held. They cried out with a loud voice … .”

Here’s my answer.

3 Possible Interpretations

When the meaning of a passage isn’t immediately and obviously understood, we must first identify the possible interpretations. I can think of three for this passage:

  1. This is literal language referring to disembodied souls of dead martyrs.
  2. This is literal language referring to martyrs who died and were resurrected.
  3. This is symbolic language.

Next, we must consider each possibile interpretation.

Possibility #1

Possibility #1 is that this is literal language referring to disembodied souls of dead martyrs.

This isn’t consistent with what the Bible teaches about life (a soul is a living person that is a combination of body and spirit) or death (death is like sleep, the dead know nothing, and the dead are silent).

This possibility doesn’t make sense considering that the souls were given robes (verse 11). What would a disembodied soul do with a robe?

Similarly, it doesn’t make sense that disembodied souls would be in a certain location. There’s no matter to occupy space. Even if they were embodied, being under an altar—literally rather than symbolically—is mighty strange. But, then, the rest of the passage is mighty strange if it’s literal.

That leads to the last point for Possibility #1. The rest of the passage is replete with elements that make more sense as symbols than they do as literal things (e.g., animals of symbolic colors, a pair of scales, and a rider named Death who is followed by Hades). Why would this one part be literal when it’s surrounded by symbols?

Possibility #2

Possibility #2 is that this is literal language referring to martyrs who died and were resurrected.

The Bible certainly teaches that the dead will be resurrected, so we’re okay there; it’s more a question of timing. After martyrs died in Bible times, they “did not receive the promise. For God provided something better for us, so that with us they would be made perfect” (see Hebrews 11:35,37,39-40). It’s fair to say that this references the resurrection of the dead in Christ at the second coming. It certainly indicates that, at the time of the writing of Hebrews, they had not been resurrected. Were they resurrected between the writing of Hebrews and the writing of Revelation? It’s highly unlikely, and there’s nothing to indicate that.

That being said, it’s possible that this is a representative selection of martyrs who were resurrected and ascended to heaven. But, I’m not aware of any mention in the Bible of a special ascension other than Moses, Elijah, and Enoch. Plus, this would leave us with that mighty strange notion of people literally being under an altar.

Possibility #3

Possibility #3 is that this is symbolic language.

As I’ve mentioned, a literal interpretation doesn’t make sense in a few ways. The entire passage makes more sense if it’s taken as symbolism.

What’s happening in the Revelation 6 passage is strongly reminiscent of what the Bible says about Abel, the first martyr (who happened to be murdered in relation to a sacrifice on an altar). After his murder, God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel “still speaks through his faith, though he is dead.” Hebrews 12:24 references “the sprinkled blood that speaks better than that of Abel.”

These references to Abel indicate that, metaphorically, he communicates. The symbolism is a good match for Revelation 6:9-10. The same thing is being communicated: martyrs must be avenged. The next seal (the sixth, beginning in verse 12) introduces that vengeance (God’s justice).

The passage also connects to something Jesus says in Luke 18:6—“‘Shall not God avenge His own elect and be patient with them, who cry day and night to Him?’”


Possibility #3—that this is symbolic language—makes the most sense of the three possibilities, and it’s the only one that’s consistent with the rest of scripture. As always, the Bible provides a coherent message.

Every year we hear that the holiday season is a difficult time for many people. Some have bad memories of Christmases past. Some don’t have family or friends around them at the time of year when it’s most expected and desired.

If you fall into either or both of these categories, my heart goes out to you. I can empathize only a bit. My loved ones are so spread out, it’s impossible to have everyone together. Every year I have to make a tough choice, and it’s never a perfect one. Still, I’m grateful for happy memories and the pleasure of celebrating with some family and friends. I realize that I have it better than many people.

As we know it today, Christmas is a time of giving, eating, and other ways of celebrating. That’s why it’s hard for some — they don’t have wonderful people in their life to share it with. I want to offer you more than my sympathy. I want to dispel a couple of myths about Christmas and give you a new way to think about it.

Myth #1: Christmas Is Family Time

While gathering with family and celebrating together is certainly a great idea, it’s just a tradition and not a “necessity.” If family time is not part of your experience, there’s still a reason for Christmas joy. Keep reading to see what that reason is.

Myth #2: Christmas Is a Christian Holiday

As I read the story of Jesus’ birth this week, this part stood out to me: “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.“ That’s what the angel said to the shepherds. The angel didn’t bring news that’s a source of joy just for Jews or Christians. It’s a source of joy for all people. That’s you and me and my neighbor and your cousin and my tax preparer and your mail carrier. All people.

Joy to the World

Christmas is for all people. That’s because it’s about the news. The news isn’t that Macy’s is having a sale or that Grandma is bringing the apple pie. It isn’t that the flights are on time or that Uncle Kevin is bringing his new girlfriend to Christmas dinner.

Here’s what the angel said: “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today.“

Even if you’re alone this Christmas, this news can bring you joy. Even if you’re not a Christian, this news can bring you joy. If you’re a person, this news can bring you joy. I could go on and on about why that is, but I invite you to think about it. Consider why this should be a source of joy for you. If you want to chat about it, leave a comment below or drop me a line. It’s my favorite thing to talk about.

Want to have a merry Christmas? Don’t look to celebrations, presents, friends, or even family. Consider the news and why it can be a source of joy for all people, including you.

Some of the world is abuzz about the wacky goings-on on The Bachelor. Bachelor Clayton told Gabby, Rachel, and Susie that he loved them. He was “intimate” with Gabby and Rachel. Just as he was expecting the evening with Susie to go in the same direction, Susie asked him what he’d been up to with the two other women. He confessed.

Susie had been falling in love with Clayton. But, when she heard what he said to (and did with) Gabby and Rachel, she determined that Clayton wasn’t the man for her. If he truly loved her—she reasoned—he wouldn’t have said and done what he did.

On Clayton’s search for love, he and all three women experienced pain that could have been avoided. Here’s how I believe Clayton missed the love boat and ended up on a dinghy that left a wildly disproportionate wake of destruction. A lot can be learned about the God who is Love.

Clayton’s 1st Mistake: Living in the Moment

Stephen Stills wrote the lyrics “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Clayton seemed to live by this philosophy. His words and actions appeared to hold some degree of sincerity. Over and over, he said he was just expressing what he was feeling in the moment.

It seems that Clayton also subscribes to the popular philosophy of living in the moment. That message is everywhere. While we certainly can find value in being fully present (not distracted) and taking advantage of each moment, the philosophy can go off the rails if consequences are of no concern. Clayton’s “moments” resulted in a lot of pain for a lot of people because he failed to think about the next moment.

Sometimes God works through miracles. But, the vast majority of the time, God works through principles. One of those principles is that you reap what you sow. Galatians 6:7 says, “Make no mistake about this: You can never make a fool out of God. Whatever you plant is what you’ll harvest.”

Clayton’s 2nd Mistake: Regarding Love as a Feeling & a Selfish Desire

It seems that Clayton used the word “love” to refer to his feelings about these three women and his experiences with them. He felt good around them. He was attracted to them. He wanted to be with them. I believe that he cared about them to some extent, but the way he treated them indicated that he wasn’t terribly concerned about their well-being. To him, “I love you” equated to “I want you.”

Clayton is certainly not unique in this way. These days, feelings and experiences are paramount, and they increasingly exist without the counterbalance of facts and reason. To compound problems, selfish desires are fiercely defended. Who are you to get in the way of what I want?! I’m living my truth and my story!

Now, imagine a rapidly spinning wheel. The spokes are feelings and experiences (separated from facts and reason) and selfish desires. Toss a wet ravioli noodle into the spokes, and you’ll get a sense of what happens to the concept of love when it gets mixed up in this whirling chaos.

So, what is love if it isn’t feelings, experiences, and selfish desires? “Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Once again, the Bible provides timeless wisdom. From beginning to end, it shows us how love is unselfish, giving, and sacrificial. Those who regard love as a feeling or a selfish desire are treating the ocean like a bird bath.

Clayton’s 3rd Mistake: Failing to Grasp Marital Love

It’s extremely helpful to recognize three types of love:

  • Compassion for people you don’t personally know
  • Caring for friends and family
  • Love for a spouse

The first two types are unrestricted. You could have compassion for every person in the world. You could love both of your parents, all of your children, and some of your friends.

The third type of love is beautifully different. It’s singular. It’s exclusive. By nature, you can have marital love for only one person at a time. This is why marriage vows include the forsaking of all others.

When Clayton expressed love for each woman, they understandably believed he meant marital love. They each felt special. They each believed that they were “the one.” Something innate makes us believe and desire that. When each woman found out that Clayton expressed love to the others, they understandably felt betrayed. It hurt deeply.

(This week I got an email from Sam’s Club telling me that I’ve been chosen to receive an exclusive offer worth $90. I don’t think I have to tell you why it didn’t make me feel as special at they had hoped it would.)

Marital love is special and beautiful. There’s a good reason why the Bible compares humanity’s relationship with God to a marriage union. Not in the sense of “Jesus is my boyfriend” (He actually wants us to have human boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives). The comparison is in the sense that it’s singular. It’s exclusive. That’s why He’s a zealous God. That’s why He doesn’t want us to put anyone else before Him. He knows that pursuing any other “god” will destroy us.

Marital love, by nature, involves an undivided heart. After the initial fallout from Clayton’s blundering, a lightbulb came on for him. He realized that, if Susie had his heart, his heart couldn’t possibly belong to anyone else. I truly hope that his understanding and experience deepens.

A Fool for Love?

Spoiler Alert: At least for now, Susie is choosing to be in a relationship with Clayton. Many people find it hard to believe that she has taken him back. How can she trust him after the way he treated her and the other women? Time will tell.

Perhaps Susie’s a fool. Maybe she just truly loves Clayton. Perhaps it’s like the story of Hosea in the Bible, which illustrates how God takes us back after we’ve betrayed Him. But, that’s a story for another time. For now, let’s just wish everyone well as they—and we—strive to find love, true love.

“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

How would you put this into your own words? Would you say, “Faith without works goes to heaven“? Might you say, “Faith without works returns to God“? Surely you wouldn’t say, “Faith without works will burn in hell forever.” Surely.

It’s more likely that you would say something such as, “Faith without works is nothing.” That makes more sense, right? That seems to be the point that James is making in James 2:14-26.

James understood that death was nothingness. Afterall, that’s what the whole of scripture tells us. So, how did death come to mean “going to heaven” or “returning to God” or “eternal torment”?

The Spirit versus the Soul

Some interpret the spirit returning to God as the person returning to God. However, the creation account tells us that the spirit is the breath of God, the animating life force that makes a body a living person, or soul (Genesis 2:7). At death, the spirit (breath) returns to God who gave it. But the breath is not the person; it is what animates a body, resulting in a living person (soul). On the cross, Jesus said to the Father, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). At that point, He stopped breathing and died; He didn’t go to heaven (John 20:17). He went to heaven later, after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11).

The Notion of an Immortal Soul

Another explanation is that the notion of an immortal soul entered mainstream Christian theology by way of Greek philosophy. The philosophers got it from pagans, not scripture. The Bible teaches that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16).

The Good News about Death

James tells us that works animate faith. Just as the spirit (God’s breath) brings a body to life, works bring faith to life. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

James makes a fantastic point with a brilliant analogy. Usually, we pay attention only to the point. But, it’s also worth noting what he understood about death. He did not see it the same way most Christians do today.

According to the Bible, death is nothingness. It implies a lifeless body that returns to dust, resting in peace. It is good news that, for those who trust God, there will be a resurrection to eternal life when Jesus comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16). But, there is also good news in the fact that death is nothingness. It means that those who do not trust God will be sentenced to eternal nothingness rather than eternal suffering. Not only is that good news, it is consistent with the Bible and its broadest theme—that God is love.

Today I was about 10 feet away from three bald eagles. My camera was within reach, but I chose not to take a photo.

I was driving through the Northwoods of Wisconsin when I saw an eagle swoop down and land alongside the road just ahead. As I got closer, I could see three eagles on the roadside. I pulled over.

At once, I was thrilled and disgusted. Thrilled, because I was so close to three magnificent bald eagles. Disgusted, because they were feeding on a deer carcass.

Eagles gotta eat, y’all.

As an animal lover, I hate to see this sort of thing. But I know it’s a matter of survival. I also know that it’s a matter of time before it won’t be this way anymore.

In the Bible, Revelation 21:4 tells us about the future:

“There will be no more death.”

Death will be a thing of the past. No one and nothing will die ever again. I’ll get that bald eagle close-up shot—and a million more.

Is the Bible true?

“How do you know that Jesus is God?”

“Because the Bible says so.”

Don’t you just hate that? Surely, you can’t blame someone for coming back with, “And why should I believe the Bible?” Excellent question.

If your beliefs are based on scripture, a built-in premise for each of your beliefs is that the scripture is true. Is that a sound premise in your case? I urge you to examine the evidence for and against the validity of the scripture that your beliefs are based on.

“Because the Bible says so” isn’t good enough unless you’ve provided a basis for its trustworthiness. I encourage you to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and other books by people who have examined the evidence about the Bible. For now, here is a quick list of reasons to trust it:

  1. The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses.
  2. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue.
  3. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message.
  4. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-Bible times.
  5. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings.
  6. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

I understand that not everyone will find this evidence compelling. But, here’s the thing. Alongside nature, the Bible is the best evidence we have about God. If God is real, He must be the most important and relevant reality in existence; therefore, the truth about God is worth pursuing. I encourage you to dig further. There is much more to be found, and it is a most worthy pursuit.

Which of the six reasons is the most compelling to you? The least compelling? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Let’s say that you have a brother named Clive, and people claim that he’s perfect. I mean, he has never done anything wrong. You would know better, right? You know for a fact that he cheated on his sixth grade history exam as well as his first girlfriend, and he is a jerk on Twitter.

Clive’s friends start talking about him being faultless, and they implore people to hang on his every word and trust him completely. You would speak up, right? You would caution people and let them know that Clive is not the infallible saint they think he is. He’s a good guy, sure — but let’s not get all culty, okay?

This was similar to the situation that James was in. People claimed that his brother Jesus was sinless. James did not believe all of the claims about Jesus — he was not on board with this “Messiah” thing — but he couldn’t dispute this claim. James knew that Jesus was, in fact, without sin. That’s why James (an unbeliever in general) never spoke up and said, “You’re wrong. At least twice, he lied to Mom about why he came home late. He beat up the neighbor, and — although he denies it — I know that he stole my butterfly collection. It took me six years to build that collection, and he never admitted it!”

Fast forward several years. Jesus had died and risen from the dead. The movement of Christ was gaining momentum. The Jewish leaders came to James for help in shutting it down. According to Hegesippus:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: “We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they have gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. … Persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus. … Take thy stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot thou mayest be clearly seen, and thy words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the passover, all the tribes have congregated hither, and some of the Gentiles also.” To the scribes’ and Pharisees’ dismay, James boldly testified that “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven”. The scribes and pharisees then said to themselves, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.” Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees … threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall. And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.*

In his younger days, James did not buy into the claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Something changed between that time and this moment of amazing confidence. Likely, it was the moment when James saw Jesus alive after He was dead. Understandably, that tipped the scale for many people.

In his unbelieving days, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus was sinless. If that claim had been false, James likely would have blown the whistle. After the resurrection, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus died and rose again. He was there. He knew the truth. If it had been false, he would have stayed an unbeliever. If it had been false, he would not have stood up and confidently declared that Jesus was the Christ. He probably would have stood up and said, “Y’all have this all wrong!”

James wasn’t a blind believer in Jesus. He wasn’t an in-the-bag follower, just because He was his brother or a nice guy. James believed only when he was presented with compelling evidence. He knew for a fact that Jesus was dead and then alive, just as He said would happen.

I don’t share James’s experience, but his experience translates into compelling evidence for me. Jesus rising from the dead and being the Christ is the explanation of the evidence that makes the most sense to me. If Jesus had been a less-than-perfect liar or lunatic, James would have known that, and he probably would have nipped that cult right in the bud. Instead, he used his last breath to pray for those who were killing him for his now-unshakable faith in his brother.

*From Book 5 of Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord

The image above is a depiction of souls burning in the flames of Purgatory as displayed on the facade of the Church of Ánimas (Capilla de Ánimas) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Source/License

“The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory. … We often want to pray for those we love who die. It’s actually fairly hard in certain Protestant services I’ve been at … where you don’t pray for the dead. My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love. That means that I’m one of those Protestants who thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory.”

This was said by Phillip S. Cary, an American philosopher who serves as a professor at Eastern University. I heard it in a course he teaches: The History of Christian Theology.

Purgatory is said to be a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are atoning for their sins before going to heaven.

Let me provide the context for the first sentence in the quote by Dr. Cary: “The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory.” Earlier in the lecture, Dr. Cary mentioned that Augustine of Hippo, in his autobigraphical narrative, asked readers to pray for his mother, who was dead. Dr. Cary believes that the doctrine of purgatory developed from this request. The reasoning goes like this: It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in hell, because it won’t do any good. It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in heaven, because they don’t need it. Therefore, there must be a third place where the soul of a dead person can be, where prayers could be beneficial.

The reasons for believing

Dr. Cary teaches that the doctrine of purgatory is not from the Bible but that it was developed during the Middle Ages, likely based on a personal request made by Augustine — a theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries. The doctrine of purgatory relies on the soul being eternal (or, at least, existing after death). Dr. Cary’s course contains a lecture about the state of the soul after death, and he makes it clear that the idea of an eternal soul is from Plato, not the Bible. He contends that the Bible teaches that, after death, the soul sleeps until resurrection. (I, too, find this in my own study of the Bible.) It is relevant here to note that Augustine was greatly influenced by Plato.

Despite all of this, Dr. Cary “thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory”. Why? His own words: “My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love.”

What was the reason that the medieval mainstream church created the doctrine of purgatory? According to Dr. Cary, it seems that they wanted to provide an explanation for Augustine’s request for prayers for his dead mother.

These are self-described Christian scholars and theologians. Their reason for believing (or wanting to believe) is not “because it is what the Bible teaches” or “because it is consistent with Bible teaching”. This particular belief is not in the Bible, nor is it consistent with Bible teaching about death or salvation. That does not seem to be a concern of these scholars and theologians.

The source of authority

I understand that not everyone shares my view of sola scriptura, that the Bible is the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice. I believe that because I believe this:

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-biblical times. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

In other words, I trust the Bible as sole authority because I believe there is strong evidence that supports it as the word of God.

The basis for belief

Many doctrines of the mainstream church come, not from the Bible, but from pagan philosophy or non-biblical, non-apostolic tradition. Do you know which ones? This post isn’t really about the specific doctrine of purgatory. It’s about ideas and where they come from. It’s about our reasons for believing. The doctrine of purgatory is just one example.

It is important that we know where ideas come from, especially the ideas we embrace or reject. It matters why we believe what we believe. We would be wise to base our beliefs — not on desires or hopes or an attempted explanation of one person’s notion — but on evidence. Only then can we build a thoughtful faith that is less likely to be shaken — and more likely to be true.

You might remember a couple of years ago when then Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration law.

What exactly did Sessions say in a speech to law enforcement officers on June 14, 2018? I checked four sources and came up with two different versions. (That should remind us to check multiple sources and realize that errors are made.)

Version 1:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” (USA Today and The Independent)

Version 2:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” (New York Times and Washington Post)

Romans 13:1 says this:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God.”


What did Paul mean? We can make some reasoned guesses. Some say that Paul was being sarcastic or appeasing authorities he knew would intercept his mail. The Greek word he used to describe authorities in Romans 13:1 is a word he used at other times to mean “morally superior” or “excellent”, so it could be argued that he meant that people should submit only to morally superior authorities. We get some insight by considering what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In other words, we should follow those who follow Christ.


We are unlikely to determine Paul’s exact meaning simply by looking at one or two texts. What we can do, however, is know for sure what Paul did not mean, and that is incredibly important.

Let’s leave Paul for a moment. Remember Daniel in the lions’ den? Daniel said something similar to what Paul wrote:

“The Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and … He appoints over it whomever He wills” (Daniel 5:21).

Does that mean that Daniel always obeyed earthly rulers? Nope. In the very next chapter, Daniel learned of a new law in the kingdom and immediately broke that law in front of open windows for all the world to see. Cue the lions. After God rescued him, Daniel claimed, “I have committed no crime.” He had zero regard for an earthly law that was in violation of God’s law.

Back to Paul. He wrote Romans 13:1, and he lived a life of civil disobedience. He was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by order of Nero.

Perhaps we can’t know for sure what Paul and Daniel meant by their similar statements, but we can know for sure that they did not mean that people should obey civil authorities no matter what. Check out Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a more recent example of Godly civil disobedience.

This being said, it is important to note that Daniel, Paul, and Bonhoeffer didn’t confront all civil authority with impertinence. They broke human laws only when those laws were in conflict with God’s laws.


How important it is for us to discern whether laws and authorities are right and good! The best way to make that determination is to be clear what is right and good, and there’s no better source for that than the Bible — properly understood and applied. We must not pluck passages out of context. Above all, we must seek to know and reflect the heart of God. Again, Bible study is the best way to undertake that endeavor.

At least Jeff Sessions got us talking, studying, and (I hope) thinking. Some have the task of governing. The rest of us have the task of discerning whether that governance is to be respected or rejected. May we choose well.

Is history’s most compelling event the opening night of Private Lives?

I love words and old stuff, so I listen to a BBC radio program from the last century called My Word! Panelists are quizzed on words, literature, and the like. In one episode, the panelists were asked, If you could be present at any historical event, which one would you choose?

Dilys wished she could have witnessed the moment when Stanley found Livingstone. We know about the famous “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Dilys was dying to know whether Livingstone replied with something such as, “Did you have a good journey?”

Dennis would be present at the opening night of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. The play has garnered popularity over the years and is still produced, and Dennis wondered whether he would recognize its greatness at its premiere.

Frank wanted to have been there when the cities of the plain were destroyed so that he could see exactly what they did in Sodom and Gomorrah that warranted fire and brimstone. That made the audience giggle.

Antonia agreed with Frank that the Bible is full of irresistible episodes, and she would have chosen to be there when the Red Sea parted and the children of Israel escaped from the pursuing Egyptian army. She would choose that event because she loves to travel and likes the idea of crossing an international border without the bother of passports, customs, and immigration checks.

Perhaps the panelists weren’t going for significance and gravity but rather for humor and levity and even quirkiness. Maybe they didn’t want to get too heavy or religious. I can understand that. If that’s what we’re going for, I’ll pick that moment in 2737 BC, when Camellia sinensis leaves blew into the water that Chinese emperor Shen Nung’s servant was boiling for him. Let there be tea!

History’s most compelling event (IMO)

If we’re being completely serious, I’ll choose the resurrection of Jesus. How amazing would that be to witness?! Granted, not everyone believes that this event happened. But, here’s something that is definitive about this event: If it happened, it is of utmost significance to us all. The veracity of the entire Bible — all that it claims — hinges on the veracity of Jesus’s resurrection. That includes the hope of eternal life and the end of suffering.

Let’s say that someone claims that a squadron of alien spaceships has just entered earth’s atmosphere. If that’s true, it is of utmost significance to us all. What is the first thing we should do? Look for evidence to determine whether it is true. Are there unusual lights in the sky? Is NASA taking it seriously? If we find evidence to support the claim, we should Google “alien invasion handbook”. If not, we should go back to our cup of tea.

This is how we should handle a claim that, if it is true, is of utmost significance to us all. There is evidence to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. We would be wise to follow the evidence and see where it leads. For me, it adds up to proof. I do not say this lightly, and I have been able to say it only recently.

Do you know any of the evidence? You might know more than you realize. For example, you know that millions of people believe that Jesus rose from the dead; there must be reasons why they do. You know that a movement that has circled the globe and lasted nearly 2,000 years is based on a claim that people knew for a fact was either the truth or a lie. If it had been a lie, the movement would have been squashed before it got going. The first Christians were operating on fact, not faith.

The claim of Jesus’s resurrection deserves investigation because there is evidence for it and because, if it is true, it is of utmost significance to us all. If Jesus rose from the dead, we too can be resurrected to eternal life. Our future just might depend on history.

If you could be present at any historical event, which one would you choose? It’s fun to think about, and it provides perspective. You know what’s even better? Realizing that the future holds far more. I missed out on being there for the greatest events of history, but I plan on being there for the greatest events of the future. See you there?

Their jaws dropped. They stared at me with eyes wide open. Just like the time I told them that there will be sex in heaven.

It was not unusual for us to have brain-bending and mind-blowing moments our meetups with The Thinkery. This time, though, an audible, synchronous gasp filled the air outside the coffee house, where a few of us gathered after we closed down the place and resisted bringing the conversation to an end. What caused the gasp? I asserted that jealousy is love.

Earlier in the discussion, someone mentioned that he was burdened by jealousy. Indeed, jealousy is widely regarded as a negative trait, one that implies a flaw ranging anywhere from insecurity to psychotic possessiveness. (Often, it’s used to express envy, another negative trait.) Yet, the Bible names jealousy as an attribute of a perfect God.


Shortly after I blurted out that jealousy is love, we had to wrap up the conversation. We planned to pick up where we left off the next week. I went home and gleefully researched the etymology of jealous. ‘Cause I’m a word nerd.

You shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

The Hebrew word that is translated into English as jealous is qanna’, which means “not bearing any rival”. That’s not surprising, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the motivation. There’s still room for insecurity and psychosis.


Now let’s look at the English word jealous. It is derived from the Greek word zēlos. Does that look or sound familiar to you? The English word zealous also is derived from zēlos. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Zealous means “having great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective”. Add that to “not bearing any rival”, and we’re forming a clearer picture of what it means to be jealous.

Most of the words that became distinctive terms for jealousy
were originally used in a good sense of zeal and emulation.”

The Greek word zēlos denotes a positive quality. The two English words that derived from it — jealous and zealous — originally denoted a positive quality. Zealous has retained it, but jealous went off the rails somewhere on the way to the 21st century. (The same thing happened to customer service and dinnertime.)

What did jealous mean when it was written in the Bible? The Greek word zēlos, which is used in the New Testament, literally means “heat” and figuratively means “zeal, ardor in embracing, pursuing, and defending something”. Here are a couple of texts in which zēlos is used, although it has been translated into different words in English, depending on the version.

I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband — Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

This was written by the apostle Paul in a letter to Christians in Corinth. This helps us understand that jealousy is God’s desire for undivided devotion. He knows that, if we turn our hearts elsewhere, He’s lost us. He doesn’t want to lose us, because He loves us. Paul reminds readers that Eve’s devotion to God was undermined by the deception of the devil. That’s how we all got into this mess, dang it.


Notice the syntax in Paul’s writing. God isn’t jealous of us; He’s jealous for us. I can be envious of someone — wanting for myself something that belongs to him. I can be jealous for someone — wanting him not to belong to anyone else because that would mean that I’ve lost him. That’s how God feels about us. Because He loves us.

If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Pardon my Shakespearean English, but I like the word choice in the King James Version. Here, zēlos is translated as indignation, which is anger provoked by injustice. This adds to our understanding of jealousy. God is so zealous for the relationship, He will wipe out any enemies of the relationship.

Who are the adversaries? The passage from Paul above tells us who’s who in the big picture. There are three parties: the husband, the bride, and the deceiver:

  • The husband is God.
  • The bride is originally Eve and ultimately all people who love God.
  • The deceiver is the devil and anyone who conspires with him to turn people’s hearts away from God.

The good news? The adversary who is devoured is not the bride. (This is not a horror movie.) The adversary is the one who strives to turn people’s hearts away from God. He’s an enemy of God. He’s an enemy of God’s friends. The Bible describes him this way: “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” In the end, he is the one who is devoured by our jealous God.


“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

A person can love multiple friends, no problem. A person can love multiple children, no problem. But when a bride tries to love multiple husbands, a plethora of problems ensues. Everyone gets hurt. It’s not the same kind of love we have for friends and children and siblings and third cousins. Romantic love is singular by nature. The Bible tells us so, and it uses that kind of love as a metaphor for the love between God and people.

No, I’m not one of those people who call Jesus their boyfriend; that’s an odd notion. But I agree with the Greek philosophers who believed that romantic love contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. This kind of love is the context in which jealousy belongs. It’s the kind of love that jealousy serves and protects.


That’s why I say that jealousy is love. It’s not a burden; it’s a gift. I’m deeply grateful that God loves me and cherishes our relationship so much that He will take out anyone who interferes. That’s not to say that He won’t let me walk away if I choose. Everyone has that choice, always.

But, if we walk away, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and the whole of the Bible tell us why such a choice is made: We’ve been lied to by someone who seeks to destroy our relationship with God, and we’ve fallen for the lie — that God can’t be trusted, that He doesn’t really love us.

One day the the liar and the lie will be devoured. No more deception. No more damage. Just mutual love and loyalty.

I’ll understand if you think I’m wacky or just wrong. I know that my views hang on faith and a particular interpretation of the Bible. You may see things differently, and that’s okay. But, if you ever thought that God must be insecure or psycho because He’s jealous, I hope I can help you see something you never saw before. Maybe faith isn’t your thing, but can I interest you in etymology?

I’ve been wronged.

Yeah, I know I’m not alone. You, too, have been wronged. Perhaps like me, you’ve struggled with forgiving people who wronged you. Every time I think I have a handle on what it means to forgive, I have trouble fully translating the philosophical into the practical. I think I finally know why.

It occurred to me when I started thinking about how Jesus forgave the people who wronged Him. It dawned on me that He never did.

When Jesus was on earth, He was both human and divine. However, He set aside His divinity; He operated in the role of human, not God. Jesus spoke for, and completely relied on, God the Father, but He asserted only His human role. Simply by being God, He had the authority to forgive (Matthew 9:6), but what did He actually do in His human role?

What Jesus never did

First, let’s establish what He didn’t do; at least it never was recorded: Jesus never said to anyone, “I forgive you.”

In the Gospels, we can divide wrongdoers into two categories: people who did something wrong in their lives (i.e., everyone except Jesus) and people who wronged Jesus personally (e.g., those who falsely accused Him, betrayed Him, or crucified Him).

What did Jesus say to the general wrongdoers who came to Him with a repentant heart?

  • “Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
  • “Your sins have been forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

What did Jesus say to those who wronged Him personally? In order to understand this better, let’s zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture. Have you noticed how Jesus talked to the Father? He generally didn’t make requests; He used the sentence structure of a command:

  • “Glorify Your Son.” (John 17:1)
  • “Keep them in Your name … that they may be one.” (John 17:11)
  • “Let this cup pass from Me.” Quickly followed by: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Jesus taught us to talk to God in the same way:

  • “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10)
  • “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
  • “Forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12)
  • “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)

Jesus didn’t make requests of the Father; He simply identified His Father’s desires and agreed with them. The one time Jesus reversed Himself was when He knew that what He had just “commanded” was not the Father’s will; there was no agreement.

Jesus knew His limitations

What does all of this have to do with forgiveness? We already looked at how Jesus handled the forgiveness of general wrongdoers — not by forgiving them, but by telling them that they were forgiven. What about those who wronged Him personally?

“Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus didn’t say to them, “I forgive you.” He “commanded” the Father, “Forgive them.”

We can tell from Jesus’s prayers that He was well in tune with the Father’s heart. He knew that the Father wanted to glorify Him at the right time, that He wanted to unify the disciples, and that He did not want to let the cup of suffering pass from Jesus — for our sake. He also knew that the Father wants to forgive every last one of the people who wronged Jesus or anyone, ever. Jesus’s prayers were not requests; they were agreements.

What God needs in order to forgive

To forgive, God must have agreement from the wrongdoer (not the wronged), as He respects each person’s choice. Repentance releases forgiveness.

As Jesus hung on the cross, He knew that not every person He prayed for would receive forgiveness because some would never repent; some would never give their agreement to God’s desire to forgive them. But Jesus — as the wronged party — gave His agreement.

That agreement — “Father, forgive them” — had no power to forgive (that’s between God and the wrongdoer), but it revealed that Jesus’s heart was aligned with His Father’s. It showed that He loved those who hated Him.

Yes, Jesus taught that we should forgive others, but it was always in the context of being forgiven ourselves: If you forgive, you’ll be forgiven. If you don’t, you won’t (see Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:22,35; Mark 11:25-26). The complete thought is that our attitude toward those who hurt us directly impacts our own forgiveness.

Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Jesus’s agreement with the Father to forgive His wrongdoers revealed His love for them. The same goes for us. Jesus taught us to forgive others, and He showed us how when He said, “Father, forgive them.”

Why forgiveness is a struggle

Now I think I understand why forgiving those who wronged me has been such a struggle. I’ve been trying to do something that only God can do. Forgiveness isn’t something I do; it’s something I agree to. It’s a shared desire — between God and me, about those who have hurt me.

I’m not saying that it’s a cinch to make that agreement. I still have to ask for, and rely on, the love and grace of God to flow through me, and that’s not easy in the midst of pain. But at least it makes sense to my heart. I want to be like Jesus. I want to share God’s desires. I want to love people the way He loves me. Drawing from that well, I find a way to say, Father, forgive them.

⇒ What is your experience with forgiveness? I invite you to add your thoughts below.