• New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

    Where did Baptism Come from?

    When we read through the Bible from the Old to New Testament, a few things jump out when we get to the New Testament. One major surprise is the prevalence of baptism. Where did baptism come from? There doesn’t seem to be any indication of baptism in the Old Testament. However, the New Testament puts a significant priority and importance on baptism. What is the background to the baptism process? It seems unlikely that John the Baptist invented baptism. There is no indication that the Pharisees or Sadducees asked John what he was doing. Instead, the New Testament paints the picture that people were familiar with baptism. Scholars have attempted to explain why people were already familiar with the process. There are typically four possible options that scholars put forward as the historical background for New Testament baptism. Mystery Religion Adaptation Qumran Lustration Proselyte Baptism Jewish Purification and Washing Rituals…

  • Old Testament

    Was Samuel a Levite?

    How is it that Samuel was able to work in the Tabernacle? Wasn’t the Tabernacle work reserved for Levites? Samuel was born in Ephraim, so wouldn’t that disqualify him from service? These are some significant questions that readers of 1 Samuel often think about. The book of 1 Samuel opens up by talking about “a certain man of Rammathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah” (1 Sam 1:1). Elkanah is married to two wives, one of whom is Hannah. Although barren, Hannah prays for a child, and the Lord answers her prayer. This child is Samuel! After giving birth, Hannah names her son Samuel, and dedicates him to tabernacle service with Eli (1 Sam 1:28). Samuel stays with Eli and serves the Lord (cf. 1 Sam 2:11, 18). Throughout the story, it is obvious that Samuel is ministering in the tabernacle (cf. 1 Sam 3:3). This…

  • Old Testament

    The Ketef Hinnom Scrolls and the Antiquity of Scripture

    Discovered in 1979 by Gabriel Barkay, the Ketef Hinnom scrolls made news because they contained the text of Numbers 6:24-26 and thus represent the oldest testimony of an Old Testament text that we know about. Funny enough, the discovery of the scrolls took place because the lead archaeologist, Gabriel Barkay, an archaeology professor at Tel Aviv University, told a young boy to go clean up a cave. This young boy ended up hitting the floor of the cave with a hammer (as young boys are wont to do), causing the false floor to collapse and reveal a trove of bones beneath. This hidden tomb, within walking distance of Jerusalem, had been preserved from tomb raiders and so revealed its treasures to the archaeologists working the scene. The tomb complex found at Ketef Hinnom followed the Old Testament burial practices (basically from Abraham’s time to around 522 B.C.). The procedure of…

  • Old Testament

    A War, a Witch, and a Weak King

    One of the most undervalued aspects of biblical narrative is geography. Just like any story, biblical narratives involve an important geographical component that either overtly or subtly gives additional insight into what is happening. Whenever I’m in Israel, I am reminded that geography can often reveal aspects of a story in a way nothing else can. One of my favorite illustrations of this is the story of Saul’s last stand against the Philistines. This story is found in 1 Samuel 28, and through the careful narration and attention to geographical detail, we are given special insight into the character of Saul. The story starts by describing a time when the Philistines had gathered to fight against Israel. At the time, David was living with the Philistines, and originally was instructed to go to war against Israel (1 Sam 28:2). However, due to the providence of God, David was forbidden by…

  • Old Testament,  Theology

    When did Israel Stop Being God’s People?

    No one can deny that Israel had a unique role as God’s chosen people in the past. They received a privilege no other nation had ever experienced! They were his firstborn son (Exod 4:22) and his treasured possession (Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6). When Moses was reminding the people of their special role as God’s people, he noted the uniqueness of God speaking to them “out of the midst of the fire” and taking “a nation for himself from the midst of another nation by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war…” (Deut 4:33–34). We read one of the most descriptive statements about Israel’s unique status as God’s people in Deuteronomy 7:6. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the…

  • Old Testament

    What Does it Mean to be Cut Off in the Bible?

    Throughout the Bible, there is a bit of a harrowing phrase that seems quite menacing. The Bible warns that, given specific circumstances, an individual, a family, or a nation will be cut off. But what exactly does it mean to be cut off? There have been at least five major theories as to what it means to be cut off. childlessness and premature death premature death caused by God capital punishment administered by a human court cessation of existence after death so as not to enjoy eternal life proclamation of God’s judgment A brief survey of the different contexts where the phrase “cut off” occurs is helpful in evaluating what this phrase means. The following list is borrowed from Stuart’s excellent commentary in the New American Commentary series (Exodus, 284). The Old Testament law stipulates the cut off penalty in the following instances: failure to practice circumcision (Gen 17:14) failure…

  • Christian Living,  New Testament,  Old Testament

    What does the Bible Say about Dreams?

    What does the Bible say about dreams? Although at one point I was surprised whenever someone would ask this question, this has long since ceased. Christians regularly want to know what the Bible says about dreams. One of the reasons for this is because human beings are naturally curious about dreams. Dreams intrigue us. This is evidenced in part by the fact professional dream interpreters have their own business. Additionally, almost everyone has read of Sigmund Freud and his propensity for analyzing dreams and what they signified about an individual. For Christians, not only do dreams interest us, but the Bible also interests us. Hence, when we read about God speaking to people through dreams, it is a natural question which comes up—should we expect to hear from God in dreams? Dreams in the Old Testament The first mention of dreaming in the Old Testament comes in Genesis 20:3, where…

  • New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

    Infant Baptism and the Connection to the Abrahamic Covenant

    As we have noted before, for the Reformed paedobaptist, the covenant of grace is the foundational argument for paedobaptism. Within the covenantal system, the specific covenants mentioned in Scripture are just various manifestations of that singular covenant. Specifically, however, for the Reformed paedobaptists, the New Testament discussion of the “old covenant” is the Abrahamic covenantal manifestation of the covenant of grace. In contrast, the Bible’s mention of a new covenant is not not “new” in the sense of something that has not been seen before, but rather, a renewed version of that Abrahamic covenant which already existed. Note, for example, renown Berkhof’s explanation. “The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect, and of this spiritual covenant circumcision was a sign and seal….  This covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation. The…

  • Church,  New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

    Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism

    Reformed paedobaptists are not shy to assert that their defense of infant baptism relies on covenant theology. In fact, although many Baptists take issue with infant baptism not being mentioned anywhere in Scripture, this is really a simplistic understanding of the Reformed position. In reality, for the Reformed paedobaptist, the entirety of the debate centers around the unified covenant of grace. Note the words of paedobaptist Cornelis Venema: This debate can be reduced to one principal question: Does the covenant of grace in its New Testament administration embrace the children of believing parents just as it did in the Old Testament administration? However complex and diverse the arguments, pro and con, on the subject of infant baptism may be, this remains the overriding issue. Precisely because the debate between paedobaptists and Baptists centers on the doctrine of the covenant of grace, particularly the similarity and dissimilarity of the covenant in…

  • Ethics,  Old Testament

    Does the Bible Support Polygamy?

    Anyone familiar with the Bible has had to wrestle with the question of polygamy in the Old Testament. There are numerous examples of polygamy. Some of these polygamous relationships are even practiced by those whom we would consider important people in Scripture. For example, Jacob (a patriarch of Israel) had two wives, Leah and Rachel (Gen 29). Similarly, David, a man after God’s own heart, had multiple wives. These stories give us pause. Why are there faithful Israelites who have multiple wives? Although many would reject polygamy today, some are willing to say the Bible still supports polygamy today. The First Mention of Polygamy Although the Old Testament has concrete examples of polygamy, these are not looked upon favorably in the Old Testament. Where polygamy exists, family strife and difficulty follows. The strife and rivalry between Rachel and Leah is well known to students of Scripture (cf. Gen 29-30). The…