Monday, January 30

Book Overview: Job

The Book of Job. The book itself is forty-two chapters long. It relays the account of Job, a patriarchal man who had it all. Job had seven sons, three daughters, a wife, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, a large number of servants, and five hundred donkeys (Job 1:2-3). He was a wealthy and well-known man, "the greatest man among all the people of the east" in his time (Job 1:4). He would make the offerings to God, and allowed his children to hold feasts. God had blessed this man and his family, and they lived in prosperity. But this was not to last. Satan and his angels came before God, and Satan, the "accuser" (Revelation 12:10), engaged in a cosmic challenge with God. His challenge? Allow Satan to wreck Job's life, which God had blessed, and Job would curse God to his face. The cosmic challenge had been initiated, and the trials of Job had begun. But why did this happen? (Photo credit: God and Job, c.1200 AD - Public Domain usage; Folio 46r from the Syriac Bible of Paris - Public Domain usage)

This is the eighteenth Book Overview in a series of 73 Books. These overviews are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible in fact, as God wants us to do. If we do not stand on Biblical truth, our starting point for all areas of life. Now, onto the Book of Job.

Title: Book of Job (English), אִיוֹב‎ ʾ iyobh  (Hebrew). The title is derived from the individual whose life and sufferings are featured in the book: Job.
Authorship/Written: Generally, it is acknowledged that the author of Job is unknown. However, the time, the theme, and the nature of the work fit well with the tradition that Moses compiled it, some believe from records made by Elihu or others involved (cf. 32:10-18), but more likely from the hand of Job himself (Job 19:23-24), and later compiled through Joban tablets by Moses through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are several lines of reasoning: (adapted from Dr. Geisler's book, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament and Dr. Morris' The Remarkable Record of Job)
  • The story of Job comes from before Moses' day.
    • There are no references to the Exodus or the law of Moses; the events seem to have occurred in an earlier period. There is no mention of Abraham of God's covenant with Abraham, nor is there mention of any judges, kings, or prophets.
    • The characteristic patriarchal name for God, "the Almighty," occurs more than thirty times (Job 5:17; 6:4, etc; cf. Genesis 17:1; 28:3, etc.)
    • The family-clan type of social unity is pre-Mosaic (cf. Job 1).
    • The word for "money" (Quesitah) suggests a date at least as old as Joshua (Joshua 24:32), if not patriarchal (Genesis 33:19).
    • The comparative rarity of the name 'Lord' (Jehovah or Yahweh, JHVH) and the common usage of "God" (Elohim) suggests a pre-Mosaic date (cf. Exodus 6:3).
    • The longevity of life seems to be patriarchal. Job lived 140 years after his family was already grown - (42:16) - compare Abraham who lived 175 years (Genesis 25:7).
    • The many allusions to primeval events, such as the global flood, the dispersion at Babel, and a familiarity with Adam and the account of the fall of man (cf. Job 12:14-15, 20, 23-25; 20:4; 22:15-16, etc.).
    • Job the Uzite, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Elihu the Buzite all believed in the monotheistic God. They were not nearly as influenced by the nearly universal acceptance of pantheism spreading to nations after the dispersion at Babel. There is no hint of pantheism, polytheism, idolatry, or other such things in the book of Job, and after the time of Abraham, such a situation is nearly inconceivable, suggesting a pre-Abrahamic occurrence. 
  •  Some of the words and phrases are characteristically Mosaic in nature, such as "sons of God" (Job 1:6, 21; cf. Genesis 6:2), "fire from God" (Job 1:16; cf. Genesis 19:24), "but" (ulam), "judge" (pelil), "Almighty," and "hawk" (netz). 
  • The theme of pain and suffering fits with the concern Moses would have had while living in Midian for forty years (Acts 7:23, 30), regarding the suffering of his people, including family and likely old friends, in Egypt.
  • While the exact location of the land of Uz is debated, it is thought by some that Uz was adjacent to Midian where Moses spent forty years contemplating the sufferings of his people in Egypt, providing a valuable amount of writing and compiling time.
  • Early Babylonian Talmudic tradition attributes the book of Job to Moses (Baba Bathra 14b), as well as uniform Jewish tradition in general.
  • According to Dr. Henry Morris, "modern archaeological research supports the probability that Job's author lived no later than the time of Moses, and probably much earlier. The name Job has been found in a number of tablets dated 2,000 B.C. (the time of Abraham) or earlier. These include Akkadian documents from Tel-el-Amarna, Mari, and Alalkh, and the Execration Texts from Egypt. The name 'Bildad' has also been noted in a cuneiform text from this period. Finally, a number of Sumerian documents incorporate the literary motif of the righteous sufferer. None of these archaeological references should be taken as referring to the actual Biblical record, of course. Nevertheless, they do confirm the high probability that the biblical account was written sometime in the same general period. Writers of many centuries later could hardly have been aware of these archaeological data."
Summary: "Job explains that God is sovereign, that the causes of suffering are not always known, that people who follow God are not immune from suffering, and that humans cannot understand the mind of God." (Source: NLT)

Job 1 -
Prologue; Discourse between God and Satan; Job's Loss
Job 2 - Second Discourse between God and Satan; Intro to Job's "Friends
Job 3 - Job asks "Why?"

Job 4-5 - Eliphaz states his case

Job 6-7 - Job replies, mourns his lot

Job 8 - Bildad speaks, defends tradition
Job 9-10 - Job speaks bitterly
Job 11 - Zophar speaks, defends God
Job 12-14 - Job defends his innocence; Allusions to the Flood and Dispersion at Babel
Job 15 - Eliphaz claims that he knows better
Job 16-17 - Job speaks, feels helpless
Job 18 - Bildad speaks, reiterates his point
Job 19 - Job speaks; Reference to the future dwelling of God on earth
Job 20 - Zophar speaks, agrees with his friends
God and Job (12th century)
Job 21 - Job contradicts his friend's claim
Job 22 - Eliphaz accuses Job
Job 23-24 - Job seeks justice
Job 25 - Bildad is irritated
Job 26 - Job speaks; Reference to free-float of Earth in space
Job 27-31 - Job's final word to his friends, final defense; Allusions to aftermath at Babel
Job 32-37 - Elihu speaks; Hydrologic cycle described
Job 38-39 - God speaks; Scientific facts mentioned
Job 40 - The Behemoth
Job 41 - The Leviathan
Job 42 - Job speaks; Epilogue


In the land of Uz, likely shortly before the time of Abraham, a man named Job lived with his wife, seven sons and three daughters. Job was well-known in the East, and also served God faithfully. When his sons and daughters held feasts, Job would rise early in the morning after the feast to sacrifice a burnt offering to God, as a regular custom, in the event that his sons or daughters sinned. In a single day, news reaches him, with one blow after another, one message followed by the next: the Sabeans (nomads of south-west Arabia) had attacked the oxen and donkeys and made off with them, and killed the servants. The next messenger came to tell Job that fire fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and while he was still speaking, another messenger arrived to tell Job that the Chaldeans (nomads from south Mesopotamia) killed his servants and made off with his camels. Yet another messenger came to deliver the news that wind had struck down the house in which his ten offspring were at, and none survived. On this day, Job had the carpet pulled from under him, and yet in these things, he did not curse God, but worshiped God instead.

Despite what his friends would later claim, these things did not happen as a result of any sin that Job committed. Before these tragedies occurred, in the courtroom of heaven, God engaged in discourse with the fallen angel: Satan. Satan and his angels came before God. God spoke with Satan about Job, telling him that Job was "blameless and upright, a man who fears [respects] God and shuns evil" (1:8). Satan then began accusing Job, claiming that Job simply obeyed and followed God because he was blessed. Satan then initiated a cosmic challenge: "stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face" (1:11). God allowed everything that Job had to be put under Satan's power, but with one clause: "on the man himself do not lay a finger." Job was not privy to these conversations, and was unaware of the cosmic challenge between God and Satan concerning Job. The conversation is something revealed later, but presented to the reader, who is able to have this background while reading the book of Job

After these afflictions, Satan again presented himself to the Lord. After repeating a bit of their prior conversation, God says to Satan, "he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." Satan then accused Job, saying, "Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face" (2:3-5). God granted Satan power over Job, but again with one stipulation: "you must spare his life." Satan then afflicted Job with painful sores. He tried scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. His wife came to him and told him to curse God and die, to which Job replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:7-10).  Having heard of his sufferings, Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite came to sympathize with - and help comfort - Job. But when they saw him from a distance, they hardly recognized him, and for seven days, they sat down with him in silence. After the seventh day, Job spoke, cursing his condition and wishing he had never been born. 

Thus ensued a long discourse between Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They were falsely accusing Job of sin. By their logic, suffering was the result of sin, Job was suffering, therefore, Job had sinned. In three rounds of debate, Job and his friends debate the problem of suffering, and why Job was suffering as he was. As none of them were aware of the cosmic challenge between God and Satan, however, their knowledge of the situation was less complete. In each round except the last, each participant speaks. The friends accuse, and Job replies to each of them. In the final round, Zophar does not speak, in his frustration at Job's stubbornness, and Job carries on for five chapters after his accusers have stopped talking. Eliphaz had argued as a theologian, basing his arguments on a vision of God's greatness (which was actually a demonic deception), Bildad had argued as a traditionalist, basing his view on the concept of justice, and Zophar took the role of a moralist, basing his arguments on human wisdom. After Job and his friends have finished speaking, however, a young observer (and some believe a stenographer) intervenes in the debate. Satan had tried sending a spirit in a vision to Eliphaz (4:15-21), with Bildad also resting their case on the spirit's claim (25:4-6), but with Elihu, he had one last attempt to influence Job in a negative fashion.

Elihu had a heightened sense of importance, of his spiritual and philosophical insight. While many commentators contend that he gives a better understanding of the problems than Job and his friends, when examined closely, we find that he is essentially rephrasing what Job's friends had claimed. He also distorts Job's testimonies and pleas, ignoring his repeated references of trust in God. He also ignored Job's notion of innate sin, acknowledging the possibility that he could have unknowingly sinned, and simply that he desired to know why God was allowing his suffering. Instead, Elihu contends that Job had sinned by speaking about God's justice, distorting Job's words to make his point. He took something Job had said out of context (Job 21:14, cf. 35:2-3), resorting to deception and distortion. While he made several correct statements, he was not spirit-led as he believed. Most of his argument was either a restatement of what Job's friends had already said or a distortion of Job's words. He claimed that he could justify Job before God (Job 33:32-33), and while it is true that God can speak to men and women in dreams and visions (33:14-22; cf. Joel 2:28; Matthew 2:13, etc.), Job had been terrified by dreams and visions (Job 7:14), likely from Satan.  

Elihu seemed to believe that his words were divinely inspired (32:8-10, 18). However, this was likely a demonic influence attempting to destroy Job's faith (cf. 4:15-21; 7:14; 32:8-10). Satan had not backed out of this challenge, and was attempting to use various means to destroy Job's faith in God, and get Job to curse God. Yet Job would not do so. In fact, his faith seemed to grow stronger. Job's apparent questioning of God's justice was in reality a defense of God, and not an attack. He understood that God had a purpose for the suffering (23:10), even if he did not understand it. While Elihu was an intelligent young man, he was likely unaware that he was being demonically manipulated. His arrogance of being a gifted youth may have led to his susceptibility to manipulation. In a letter to Timothy, St. Paul warned against this (1st Timothy 3:4-6). Job did not answer Elihu, and in doing so, did not deny God, as Satan was trying to get him to do. He had gone too far, and Job had still not cursed God. Satan had tried to get Job to lose faith in God and deny him, but Job had overcome. The cosmic challenge was then over, and God finally broke His silence, bringing a climax to the book.

Having suffered for months (29:2), and having discussed suffering with his friends and with a likely stranger, Job had not sinned by cursing God. God finally answered Job's pleas to speak with Him, coming in a "storm" (or whirlwind), with the cosmic drama nearing its end. Directly from God, thus ensued a four chapter discourse. Even skeptics acknowledge God's discourse to be one of the greatest masterpieces of literature. It is, of course, much more than that. It is also littered with many scientific facts that had not been known to science until centuries later. Elihu had claimed direct inspiration from God, and God evidently condemned his message from the start (38:2). God began to ask Job a multitude of questions concerning His marvelous creation, which Job could not answer. He mentioned various scientifically verifiable facts, and toward the end of his discourse, mentions the behemoth and the leviathan. Where the behemoth was first in rank among the land creatures, the leviathan was first in rank among the sea creatures. Having finished his questioning, God ended. Job finally replied, essentially apologizing and acknowledging that there were things he spoke of which he could not understand, and repented.

After these things, God spoke to Eliphaz, saying, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7-8). After they had done so, and Job had prayed for his friends, God restored Job's fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. Job's brothers and sisters (he was not an only child) came to eat with him, each one giving him a kestiah (a unit of money) and a gold ring. Job's amount of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkey had doubled. He also had ten more children, seven sons and three daughters. He named his daughters Jemimah, Keziah and Keren-Happuch. Following his sufferings, Job lived another 140 years, and lived to see his children and their children "to the fourth generation." He died, old and full of years, experience, and descended to Sheol, where he would await the Incarnation of Christ, and the day when he could ascend to heaven with him (cf. Ephesians 4:8-10, etc.). A definite solution to the problem of suffering was never presented, although several considerations were made. Perhaps a better question, instead of the usual "if God exists, why is there evil?" should instead be, "if God does not exist, why is there good?" 

Book's Place in Canon:
The question of the book of Job in Hebrew canon is a non-issue. The book was well known by the time of Ezekiel, c.600 BC (Ezekiel 14:14), and was considered Scripture by the early Christian church (1st Corinthians 3:19). The question of canonical status did not truly arise until approximately 200 BC, when apocryphal works began circulating. According to the non-canonical work 2nd Maccabees 2:13-15 (written c.100 BC) states that Nehemiah (c.400 BC) "collected the chronicles of the kings, the writings of the prophets, the works of David, and royal letters about sacred offerings, to found his library," going on to imply that Judas Maccabeus (c.167 BC) collected several books of the Hebrew Bible. Some scholars believe that Hebrew Bible was closed by the time of the Hasmonean dynasty, while some appeal to the Council of Jamnia which allegedly occurred around AD 90. But what of Job's place in the canon? 

In the 2nd century BC apocryphal work Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), a list is given of great heroes of Israel's past. Some scholars have argued, based on this list, that the books of Genesis-Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the twelve minor prophets were available or known to the author, supposed to be Jesus ben Sirach. However, this list of great heroes excludes names and events from books such as Job, Daniel, Esther, Song of Songs and Ruth, suggesting that the author either did not feel the need to make his long work any longer, did not feel that these people or events fit the context of what he was attempting to write, or did not have access to these works. The prologue of the work mentions "the scriptures," which are classified then as "the law, the prophets, and the other writings of our ancestors," indicating that a general canon, which likely included Job, was available at the time. The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which began by the 3rd century BC and was completed around 132 BC, included the book of Job in its canon.

While there are several other considerations which we could explore, it is hardly necessary to engage further. The book of Job was regarded as canon both by early Jews and early Christians. The book of Job is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well. For example, the Targum of Job (a targum is an Aramaic paraphrase or interpretation of the Hebrew Bible) was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is present in the canon of many pre-Christian Jews, as well as Origen (AD 185-232) and other early church fathers. It is also found in manuscripts such as Latin Vulgate (4th century), the Syriac Peshitta (5th century), the Aleppo Codex (AD 930), the Codex Leningrad (AD 1008), and so forth. Essentially, the canonicity of the book of Job has never been seriously questioned. Its location in the canon, however, is another story. Protestant Bibles follow the order of books found in the Latin Vulgate, placing Job after Esther and before Psalms. Both Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 313-386) and Epiphanius provide external credence to this tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, Job appears in the third division known as the Writings. In the Sephardic manuscripts, the order is: Psalms, Job, Proverbs; in the Ashkenazic manuscripts, Job follows Proverbs. In the Syriac Peshitta, Job is placed after Deuteronomy in honor of the tradition that it was a book of Moses. The canonicity of Job is a non-issue, people simply disagreed on where to place it in the order of books. 

Points: This book overview is not intended to be an exhaustive commentary and exploration of Job, and as such, there are only a few points and considerations to mention. However, the depths of the wisdom, science, and literature found within Job should not be taken for granted. There is much we can learn from Job, his life, his example, his discussion with his friends, Elihu's points, and, most important, God's questions, filled with some of the most amazing insights found in the Hebrew Bible.

The first and second chapter of Job give us a picture of the courtroom of heaven, where Satan had accused Job before God, and challenged Him in a cosmic drama of the ages, which was later recorded in Scripture. However, Satan's presence in what was likely God's throne room has caused some confusion among people. Other passages indicate that Satan was cast out of heaven, along with his angels (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17; Luke 16:18, etc.), but if Satan was expelled from heaven, how could he enter it? Theologians have sometimes contended that Satan was expelled from heaven - but is still able to enter the throne room of God. This is allowed by Scripture, and is not contradicted. But do we have other cases of Satan accusing men and women before God? In fact, we do. According to Zechariah 3, Satan stood beside the angel (messenger) of the Lord (likely pre-incarnate Christ) to accuse Joshua, the high priest. Zechariah was written around 520-518 BC, about 1000 years after Job was compiled by Moses. Joshua was the high priest in Israel in the sixth century. In 1825, the traditional tomb of Joshua was reported to have been found. Evidently, by this time, Satan was still accusing people before God. Jesus hinted at this in Luke 22:31-32, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (emphasis mine). Finally, Revelation 12:10 calls Satan "the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night."

According to some, there are around fifteen scientific facts in the book of Job, although that is contended by skeptics. One example is found in Job 26:7, which says, "He stretches the northern skies over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing." Essentially, space is empty ("empty space") and the earth truly hangs "on nothing." Some critical attempts have been made to view these "northern" (Hebrew tsaphon) skies through the lens of Ugaritic mythology, where the god Baal's title was Baal-zephon and he dwelled on Mount Zaphon. These critical attempts are unnecessary, as Psalm 48:2-3 and Isaiah 14:13-14 demonstrates that the north features prominently in connection to God and mountains. Such texts may indicate that it is Yahweh and not Baal who rightly dwells on Zaphon (heaven). However, mythological borrowing may not have been present. Job may have meant "the northern skies," home to the North Star and its constellations. Along with this, some scientists observe that the earth is suspended in space, supported by gravitational forces, with is in agreement with Job's text.

Another example is Job 28:9, which mentions the "roots of the mountains" or the "mountains at their foundations." The fact that mountains have "roots" consisting of rocks generally with the nature and density as the mountains themselves was not known to science at the time. In Job 28:25, we read of the "force" or "weight of the wind." Meteorologists have calculated that the average thunderstorms can hold thousands of tons of rain. To carry this load, logically, it must carry mass, i.e., a "weight of the wind," just as described in Job. It is also believed that Job 36:27-28 may describe the Hydrologic cycle. In fact, it is amazingly precise. It says, "He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on the human race." Yet another example is found in Job 38:16, where God mentions the "springs of the deep." In recent decades, it was discovered that there "springs of the deep" in the ocean, which are found in certain parts of the deep ocean floor. Scientifically, until recently, it was believed that oceans were fed by rain and rivers. There are many other examples, but these will suffice.

Some claim that Job 1:20-21 teaches reincarnation. The passage says, "Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, 'Naked I came from the womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh.'" But does it actually teach reincarnation? According to the Apologetics Study Bible, "The doctrine of reincarnation as taught in Hinduism, Buddhism and New Age religions is an attractive belief for those who think many lifetimes are needed to reach spiritual perfection. This present passage, along with Ecclesiastes 5:15, is sometimes misused to support belief in reincarnation. Similarly, the 'born again' phrase in John 3:3 is sometimes said to refer to reincarnation. However, Hebrews 9:27 says we are given only one life before we face judgment. In this light, we must heed St. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 6:2, 'now is the day of salvation.' This is why the apostles were so passionate about preaching the good news to those who were lost. There are no next lives in which you can get right with God. Now is your one chance. Thus, Christians ought to have a sense of urgency in telling others about Jesus, for only by faith in Him can we have peace and relationship with God."

As Job is likely the oldest book in Scripture, it is interesting to note that it includes descriptions of the afterlife. However, despite what skeptics have claimed, Job's view of the afterlife was shaped by his despondent and depressed condition. His view is not representative of the full biblical view on the subject. In fact, some scholars claim that Job's remarks about the afterlife are reminiscent of belief in the Mesopotamian underworld, in which people enter the underworld by crossing perilous mountains, rivers, and a series of gates. However, this interpretation of Job's remarks is fallacious. The phrase "gates" is considered a metaphor for the entrance into the state of death or the grave (Job 17:16). Similar passages include Job 38:17, Psalm 9:13 and 107:18, Isaiah 38:10 and Matthew 16:18. 

Job 28:2 says, "Iron puts an end to the darkness; he probes the deepest recesses for ore in the gloomy darkness." Skeptics once claimed that the usage of iron was a later development. The mining of iron, however, is now known to have taken place as early a the third millennium BC in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and ancient Anatolia. The widespread use of mining operations, however, did not begin until around 1200 BC, about two hundred years after the time of Moses. Also, since the usage of iron (though not widespread at the time) pre-dates Moses, and hence, the usage of iron in mining during Job's time is a non-issue.

There is much more that could be written about the book of Job, and indeed, much more that should be written. The topic of the problem of pain, the scientific nature of God's Word, the historical allusions found throughout the book, among other things are a vast wealth of treasures of the Bible. Perhaps something we ought to bear in mind as we face each day, Job endured much. He lost his family, his wealth, his livestock, and his good health. But he did not lose his faith in God nor did he curse the Lord. Instead, he endured, understanding that there was a purpose, and that "The LORD works out everything to its proper end" (Proverbs 16:4). In the end, there is a purpose for pain and suffering, even if we do not comprehend it. That is not to say that we should simply accept it and allow this corrupted world. Nay, if you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything. Christ did not say that a life in service to Him, the Creator of the universe, would be easy. God never said that life would be easy, but He did say that the pay-off would be worth it: through faith in Christ, we are stripped of our sin which hinders us from entrance into heaven and eternity with God. 

Next Book Overview: Book of Psalms
Previous Book Overview: Book of Esther 

Balchin, John. Opening Up God's Word: The Compact Survey of the Bible. 1st ed. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985. 87-90. Print.

Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978. 185-190. Print. 

Kohlenberger III, John R. "Read Through The Bible In a Year." Moody Publishers, 1986. 10-11. Print.

Morris, Ph.D., Henry M. The Remarkable Record of Job. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Master Books, 2004. 16-19, 67-70, 75-84, 115-118. Print. 

Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, et al.. Apologetics Study Bible for Students. 1st ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009. 513, 524, 530-531. Print. 

Various. Zondervan Handbook To The Bible. Zondervan, 1999. 3rd ed. 349-358. Print.

Saturday, January 14

What About People Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

On a lone island in the Pacific Ocean sat a young man of Asian descent. The island he lives on is a small one, but inhabited by a small group of people, with his father as the tribal leader. As he sits on the beach and stares at the great expanse known to us as the ocean, the young man wonders what his purpose in life is. He wonders if there is anyone else out there, across the blue expanse. Greater yet, he wonders if there is someone in the great expanse above, known to us as outer space. Observing his surroundings, the young man ponders some of the big questions in philosophy. For him, they are but momentary wondering as the dark ocean sways to and fro, and the great stars light up the night sky before being called back to his home by his father. This is a fictional scenario, but a plausible one. While details may differ, nevertheless, there are people who live in corners of our world who have yet to hear of Jesus, and what He did on this planet. According to the Bible, mankind can only be saved through faith in Jesus. "But," we may object, or wonder, "What about people who have never heard of Jesus?" (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons under public domain; NASA/ESA)

The question is indeed valid, and while it is true that there are other questions which apologetics answers more adequately and which are more prominent in the minds of men and women, this is nevertheless a question which we ponder, and one which deserves an answer. What does the Bible tell us on the topic of salvation? It conveys that our ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed a direct command of the Creator (Genesis 3) and led to the corruption of all of creation, the entirety of the universe (Romans 8:19-22). God, being holy, perfect and infinite, cannot allow beings made in His image yet corrupted by sin to enter His presence. For those who would object concerning Satan's sin, note that Satan is not said to have been made in the image of God, and Satan seemingly lacks a true corporeal form, whereas mankind is bound by corporeal forms. Bearing this in mind, God's Word is clear that we have all sinned (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23), and as finite beings, we cannot pay an infinite payment for sin. This is why God became flesh, as the infinite being, He became the infinite payment (1st Peter 2:24). Concerning salvation, it is made clear that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 6:29; 14:6). This teaching was also found among by early Christians (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-17).

A small island in the Pacific Ocean
According to God's Word, all other ways fall short of trying to reach God (John 3:18, 8:19; Acts 13:38-39, 17:30). Evidently, we are not saved without a knowledge of Christ and faith in Him. It is difficult to have faith in someone whom you knew nothing about. However, ignorance of Jesus Christ does not excuse us. If that were the case, it may be better not to tell anyone about Jesus at all, for fear that they would take the chance to reject him. It is sin which makes us guilty before the just and righteous Creator, not ignorance of Jesus. According to Romans 10:2, even the Jews, who were given the Law, "have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge," and are not justified by the Law (Acts 13:38-39). However, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live" (Ezekiel 33:11). God is patient with mankind, "not wanting any to perish" (2nd Peter 3:9), demonstrating His patience and love in this: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). The infamous John 3:16 bears repeating, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God, in His sovereignty, has provided and acted in wondrous ways to spread salvation to all creation (Acts 5:12-16, 8:26-40, 10:1-43, 16:6-10).

To be sure, however, "The Bible does not speak of any special provisions for those who have not heard of Christ. The Bible is simply silent on this matter. The Bible is written so we'll know Christ and engage in the task of preaching Him to all peoples."[1] Yet the question still remains, "what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus, who never hear of God or are able to read the Bible?"  Just as with ancient believers, pre-Christ, they are saved by faith through grace. Each of us is responsible for the information that we do have, not the information we do not have. There exists a doctrine called "progressive revelation," which deals with the unveiling of God and His nature over time to mankind, rather than all at once to Adam and Eve, or Abraham, or Moses. Over time, progressively, if you will, God revealed Himself as the Father, the Son and the Spirit. This was how God was able to appear to men and women on earth during Hebrew Bible times.

The men and women knew and understood that to see God meant death (Exodus 33:18-23; Judges 13:20-23), yet God appeared several times in a physical form to man. While some had seen the Father in heaven (Isaiah 6; Daniel 7), having gone through a kind of cleansing, this was in Heaven, and not in earth. They were also likely "in the spirit" (cf. Revelation 4:2). However, for those who had seen God in physical form, the overall flow and clues throughout both Testaments provide that the physical appearances were of God the Son, known as Christophanies, or pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus Christ. More often than not, these appearances were under the title of the "angel of the Lord." Jesus was and is not an "angel," as the Hebrew word for angel can also mean "messenger." There are many examples in the Hebrew Bible, but one of the better known examples is when this messenger of the LORD appeared to Moses in the burning Bush (Exodus 3).

Here, “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up” (v.2). Verse 4 says, “When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush...” verse 5 notes that it is God speaking, and verse 6 continues, “’I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” When Moses asked God what name He would tell the Israelites, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’” (v.14). From this passage, it is clear that the angel of the Lord, also rendered the messenger of the Lord, is God Himself. This angel – or messenger – appears many times in the Hebrew Bible, and is also called God several times. Having appeared in physical form, being called God, and claiming to be God, “I AM,” shows that the angel of the Lord can be no other than God the Son. Interestingly, Jesus claims to be “I AM” in John 5:58, hence why the Israelites attempt to stone Him. It is also worth noting that in some early manuscripts of Jude 5 we read, “Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that Jesus at one time delivered His people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.” Later manuscripts render “Jesus” as “Lord,” although Romans 10:9 says, “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus is the “I AM” who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Note also that the word used for angel in Hebrew is mal’ak, which does mean messenger. 

Again in Judges 2:1-4, "the angel of the LORD" claims to have been the one who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, yet many other passages in the Hebrew Bible declare that it was God. Jesus himself said, "God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'" (Matthew 22:31-32). If God exists as a Trinity, this further elucidates and sheds light upon the passages. If not, we have a theological mess to sort out, seemingly unlikely to unravel. Again, it is faith by grace that we are saved, both believers of antiquity, those who have never heard of Jesus, and those of us today. As aforementioned, we are responsible for whatever knowledge of God we do have. Our salvation is not determined by how "complete" our knowledge is of God. "Who among us has a truly 'complete' faith? If you are a Christian, are you 'completely' knowledgeable regarding everything that could be known about God, his Savior and the plan of Salvation? How much of a theologian do you have to be to be saved? Must your faith be 'complete' or is there some level of ‘sufficiency’ required? How much do you need to 'know' to 'know' if you are saved? Can you answer every question about the Trinity, for example? Do you completely understand how it is that Jesus could be completely human yet completely God at the same time?"[2]

"Does your lack of 'complete' understanding disqualify you from Salvation? Each of us is expected to do the most we can with the information that we have. Someday, each of us will be held accountable for the information that we have received from God. We will be asked, 'What did you do with what I revealed to you?' Just like us, the saints of the Hebrew Bible did the most they could with what was revealed to them. They placed all their faith in all that God had given them. And this faith in God and His promise of a future Savior was sufficient for them to be included in the family of God."[3] Ancient believers were responsible for the information that they had available to them, just as we are responsible for the information God has revealed to us. None have "complete" understanding of God, so information about God does not condemn us, but sin. The young man on a lone island mentioned in the earlier scenario may not have "complete" information of God, indeed, he may never have heard of Jesus, or of anyone mentioned in the Bible. If he has never heard of Jesus, then in all likelihood he has never heard that Jesus is the only way to the Father. What happens to this young man?

Credit: NASA/ESA
Finally, when we come to the point of understanding about sin, God's nature, salvation, and other topics touched upon, we come to understand what will happen to this young man. Before being called by his father, the tribal leader, the young man is watching the dark ocean's waves, as well as glancing up at the star-lit sky above. This vast expanse, filled with the stars created by the Word of God (Psalm 33:6), is part of God's creation. As King David said, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4). Just as David observed the "heavens," so too has this hypothetical young man observed God's creation. He sees the ocean spread out before him, vast and spacious. He sees the sky above, filled with the brightness of God's night-lights. He has likely caught fish before; "the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas" (Psalm 8:8). The young man has seen other humans, and is able to observe the intricate design of which God has fashioned us. In other words, this young man has the evidence of design before his eyes!

According to Romans 1:20, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." St. Paul, writing to the Romans around AD 57-58, has echoed a truth found throughout the world: from the depths of the ocean to the deepest cave, from the tallest hill to the highest mountain, from the jungles of Africa to the lone island on the Pacific Ocean, God's creation can be clearly seen in some way. While there are, of course, those who would disagree with us, the young man is without excuse, being able to discern that an intelligent force is behind nature. Also, according to Jeremiah 31:33, the moral law is written on our hearts. When we do something wrong, more often than not, most people recognize that they have committed a wrong act in some way. While there exist some people who are what society calls amoral, someone who is "having no moral standards, restraints, or principles; unaware of or indifferent to questions of right or wrong,"[4] regardless, the law is written on the hearts of all men and women. If one were to contend that that such individuals lack morals, regardless, they are able to view God's creation, and are "without excuse." If someone was blind and unable to see God's creation, they would have the moral law written on their heart.

Therefore, we are able to draw a few conclusions based on this information. First, none of us are in a position to judge God's actions as fair or unfair. Whatever information about God you have in this life, whether you are a scholar of Biblical texts for sixty years or simply able to observe God's creation through sensory information, we are each responsible for the information available to us. God is just and righteous, and not a single sinner will be able to protest, in honesty, to God that they wanted to get to know Him but were not allowed. In countries such as China, while Christians face persecution, and are "not allowed" to practice, they are not physically or mentally hindered from coming to Christ. They would face persecution, yes, but ultimately, each of us are given a chance in this life to come to faith in God. Sociologically, we are aware that isolated cultures have developed a concept of God, although it is usually polytheistic or pantheistic as opposed to the monotheistic view presented in Scripture. Nevertheless, it demonstrates, in part, the notion that observable creation can lead to belief in God. While the true answers essentially evade us, we are able to draw some conclusions about the matter. 

Troy Hillman 

[1] Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, et al.. Apologetics Study Bible for Students. 1st ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009. 989. Print.
[2] "How Were People Saved Before Christ?." PleaseConvinceMe. N.p., Jan 2012. Web. 6 Jan 2012.
[3] Ibid.

[4] "amoral." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 14 Jan. 2012.

Monday, January 9

How Were People Saved Before Jesus?

Globally, there are approximately upward of 2.1 billion Christians.[1] It is difficult to estimate, however, who follows the teachings of Jesus and what is found in the Bible, or who simply calls themselves a "Christian" yet does not adhere to any of its teachings. While denominations vary on exactly how salvation is obtained, on the mind of many is a simple and innocent question: "How were people saved before Jesus?" (Photo credit: Albrecht Durer, c.1508, public domain usage; Rembrandt, 1659, public domain usage)

The question is valid. If we are saved by expressing faith in Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, and by the grace of God, how were the ancients saved? What of the likes of Adam and Eve? What of Noah and Abraham, Job and his companions, or Moses and the Israelites? The list stretches onward. If salvation is through Jesus alone (John 14:6), yet believers in B.C. times lived prior to the sacrifice of God on the cross, how were they saved? The question is not particularly concerning details about Heaven or Hell, but a theological question concerning how people were saved before Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, literally opening the way to Heaven through his infinite being. The simple answer is that these people were saved just as we are today, by grace through faith. The difference essentially is thus: while we are able to look back to Christ, they were looking forward to Christ. The ancients were not without revelation from the Creator, as we may assume, but clearly had a grasp on the concept of faith and grace. Those who loved God wished to be with Him forever. The writers of the Hebrew Bible were given revelation from God concerning salvation.

From Albrecht Durer (c.1508)
For example, King David wrote, concerning God's grace, wrote, "Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed are those whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.' And you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Psalm 32:1-5). St. Paul alludes to the fact that David understood God's gift of salvation (Romans 4:6-8), and as demonstrated by Hebrews 11:13 says, the ancients "[lived] by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." Clearly, believers of antiquity understood that good works could not save them (Isaiah 64:6), and also understood that animal sacrifices and meal offerings could not save them (Psalm 40:6). Clearly, the notion that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," as described in the New Testament, is found in the Hebrew Bible.

According to Ecclesiastes 7:20, "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins,” clearly demonstrating an understanding that all people sin. Solomon, who likely wrote Ecclesiastes, probably wrote c.935 BC. The apostle Paul dealt with this question of salvation, pre-Christ, in Romans 4. Citing the Hebrew Bible, he demonstrated that is was by grace through faith, just as it is today. "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.... Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.... Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (Romans 4:1-5, 9-10, 16).

It was not through works or acts that saved Abraham - the act of circumcision was not introduced until ten years after God credited Abram as righteous (Genesis 17). What has changed, then, between then and now? "What has changed through the ages is the content of a believer's faith. God's requirement of what must be believed is based on the amount of revelation He has given mankind up to that time. This is called progressive revelation. Adam believed the promise God gave in Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the woman would conquer Satan. Adam believed Him, demonstrated by the name he gave Eve (v. 20) and the Lord indicated His acceptance immediately by covering them with coats of skin (v. 21). At that point that is all Adam knew, but he believed it. Abraham believed God according to the promises and new revelation God gave him in Genesis 12 and 15. Prior to Moses, no Scripture was written, but mankind was responsible for what God had revealed. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, believers came to salvation because they believed that God would someday take care of their sin problem. Today, we look back, believing that He has already taken care of our sins on the cross (John 3:16; Hebrews 9:28)."[2]

When Jesus was speaking about Abraham, he noted, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). John 12:41 conveys, "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him." According to Acts 2:31, "Seeing what was to come, [David] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay." Evidently, these ancient believers looked forward to the Messiah, and even "saw Jesus' glory," "Seeing what was to come." Moses also looked forward to the coming of Christ, "[regarding] the disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward" (Hebrews 11:26). In fact, Moses also wrote about the Messiah, just as Jesus said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me" (John 5:46). Job, who lived either shortly before or shortly after Abraham, anticipated the Messiah. Just as recorded in Job 19:25, "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth." The Hebrew Bible looks forward to the coming Messiah (מָשִׁיחַ, Mashiaẖ), as did wise men and others of Hebrew Bible times. 

One example of this comes from Enoch, the seventh from Adam and Eve. Enoch is quoted in the book of Jude, written by Jude brother of James, both brothers of Jesus. While the issue is dealt with elsewhere, in prior articles, that Jude quotes from Enoch is claimed to have been derived from 1st Enoch, a Jewish work from the 1st century BC. He may also allude to the Jewish Testament of Moses, a 1st century AD work, in Jude 9. However, simply because specific events referenced or direct quotes or cited in a Biblical work does not grant canonical status to the pseudipigraphal book of Enoch, or the Testament of Moses. St. Paul quotes from the Cretan philosopher Epimenides and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus during his address at Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17), along with the Greek poet Menander (1st Corinthians 15:33), and again quotes from Epimenides in Titus 1:12. There are other works alluded to and cited in both the Old and New Testament, but it does not grant them canonical status. Truly, the New Testament cites the Old, but it is generally cited as "Scripture" by the New Testament writers. That the book of 1st Enoch was written several millenniums after Enoch was taken by God (Genesis 5) demonstrates that it was not written by Enoch, but the quote cited by Jude may have actually been said by Enoch, and included in 1st Enoch to help it to become more accepted. 

In other words, the following quote was said by Enoch, but used in 1st Enoch to give credibility to the work. Yet it does not agree with either Testaments, or practicality for that matter, and as such, should not be thought that Jude considered it Scripture. Having established this, Jude 14 says, "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: 'See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones.'" Enoch, who lived a few centuries after creation, prophesied about the Messiah. Although it was not recorded in Scripture, it is also reasonable to think that Enoch also prophesied about the first coming of Jesus, just as the Hebrew Bible prophets had. The birthplace of Christ was mentioned (Micah 5:2), his betrayal was mentioned (Zechariah 11:12), as was the details of His death (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53), as well as His resurrection (Psalm 16:10, Isaiah 26:19, 53:11), and many other details about His birth, life, death and resurrection. So much was written about the Messiah that Acts 10:43 says, "All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." This is why Jesus asked Nicodemus, "You are Israel's teacher, and you do not understand these things?" (John 3:10).

Although the ancient believers did not know every detail of how their sin would be paid for, or how they could be saved, they did what they could with the information available to them, and were saved by grace through faith. Just as Hebrews 1:1-2 records, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." The sacrifice of Jesus was planned from the beginning of time (2nd Timothy 1:9; Revelation 13:8), and believers of antiquity were aware that their sins would be atoned for (Isaiah 53:6). The prophets of old, through revelation from the Creator, taught that grace through faith was the path of salvation. "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into" (1st Peter 1:10-12, emphasis added).

From Rembrandt (1659)
As demonstrated by texts such as Luke 24, Jesus "opened [His disciples'] understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, 'Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem'" (Luke 24:45-47). Acts 3:18-24 reads, "But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." Therefore, we rightly conclude that the believers of old understood, even in part, that their Messiah would come. Just as we are today, people before Jesus were saved by faith alone. An issue that tends to arise in the mind of some is that those believers did not have complete knowledge of Jesus, His birth, life, death, and resurrection, and therefore could not have been saved by faith in God. 

However, "Who among us has a truly ‘complete’ faith? If you are a Christian, are you 'completely' knowledgeable regarding everything that could be known about God, his Savior and the plan of Salvation? How much of a theologian do you have to be to be saved? Must your faith be ‘complete’ or is there some level of ‘sufficiency’ required? How much do you need to 'know' to 'know' if you are saved? Can you answer every question about the Trinity, for example? Do you completely understand how it is that Jesus could be completely human yet completely God at the same time? Does your lack of 'complete' understanding disqualify you from Salvation? Each of us is expected to do the most we can with the information that we have. Someday, each of us will be held accountable for the information that we have received from God. We will be asked, 'What did you do with what I revealed to you?' Just like us, the Old Testament saints did the most they could with what was revealed to them. They placed all their faith in all that God had given them. And this faith in God and His promise of a future Savior was sufficient for them to be included in the family of God."[3]

As conveyed by Jim Wallace, "Just like us, these early believers were saved by grace alone, through the Savior alone, even though their understanding was not as complete as ours is today."[4] None may have complete understanding of God, the universe and how it works, or how Jesus could be both God and man, and indeed, none of us truly do. God has given us sufficient information about Him to come to a decision about whether or not we will accept Him or deny Him. God denies none of us, it is us who deny Him. If an individual does not enter into Heaven after death, it is not fault of God's, but the fault lies with the individual. This has been true from the beginning of time. From the first man who encountered death, Abel, "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4). Chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews is sometimes called the "Heroes of Faith," "Faith in Action," or the "Hall of Faith." From Abel to Enoch, Noah to Abraham, Isaac to Moses, Gideon, David, Samuel, and several others are mentioned as serving God "by faith." Why is faith so important? Faith is necessary for salvation, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). How were people saved before Jesus? "By faith."

Troy Hillman

[1] "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents." Adherents., 9 August 2007. Web. 9 Jan 2012.
[2] "How were people saved before Jesus died for our sins?." Got Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 6 Jan 2012.
[3] "How Were People Saved Before Christ?." PleaseConvinceMe. N.p., Jan 2012. Web. 6 Jan 2012.

[4] Sean McDowell and Jim Wallace, et al.. Apologetics Study Bible for Students. 1st ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009. 989. Print.