January 2017 Bible Questions & Answers

Romans 5:7 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.”  Is there a difference between “good” and “righteous”?

“Righteous” in Romans 5:7 comes from the Greek term dikaios.  By contrast, “good” in Romans 5:7 comes from the Greek term agathos.

There are times when both terms are used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.  See Matthew 5:45, Luke 23:50, and Romans 7:12.

However, it must also be said that one of the definitions of dikaios (righteous) is:  “in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due and that in a judicial sense, passing just judgment on others, whether expressed in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them.”

In Romans 5:7, it seems that a distinction is made between “righteous” and “good.”  If this is the case, then the definition of righteous/dikaois which Paul ahd in mind would be distinct from simply being a good man.

With this in mind, the righteous man in Romans 5:7 would not necessarily be a good man.  Rather, he is one who does only what justice demands; he does not operate on the basis of the Golden Rule or the principles of the beatitudes.  He is totally honest in his dealings with others, but he may not be a tenderhearted or likeable man.  For such a person one would scarcely be willing to give his life.

In contrast, a few might be inclined to forfeit his life for a good man.  A few rare cases could likely be found where one person would be willing to die in behalf of a good man.

So in most cases in the Bible, “righteous” and “good” are used interchangeably.  But in this case there is a distinction made.

Is it sinful for a Christian to salute or honor a national flag?

Christians must only worship the God of heaven (Rev. 22:8-9).  Yet, we are also commanded to give honor to governmental authorities (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:17).  The “Caesar,” “governmental authorities,” and “emperor” referred to by Jesus, Paul, and Peter would be the same entities which persecuted Christians severely and who would have a hand in their deaths, but Christians were still commanded by God to show honor to them.  American Christians need to remember that.  One can disagree with policies put forth by those in political office, especially if they go against God’s Word…but that doesn’t give us as Christians a license to blatantly insult them and show them dishonor.  Rather, God would have us show our disagreement and disapproval in governmental authority in a respectful, honorable way, and thus show ourselves different from the rest of the world.

God wants us to give honor to governmental authorities.  Saluting a national flag reflects honor towards those in governmental authority, not worship.  God must come first in one’s allegiances and loyalties (Matt. 6:33); by definition of being first that means there must be allegiances and loyalties that come after God.  One pledged allegiance or loyalty to one’s spouse when they got married, for example.  There’s nothing wrong with that as long as one does not put one’s spouse as a higher priority than God and thus have a higher allegiance or loyalty to one’s spouse than to God.  In like manner, one can give allegiance or loyalty to one’s country and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as God still comes first.  Thus, it is not sinful for a Christian to salute or honor a national flag.

That being said, if it violates your conscience and personal convictions, God would have you abstain from doing so (Rom. 14:22b-23).  However, be careful not to bind your own personal idiosyncrasies upon others (Rom. 14:13, 22a).

Why are we not allowed to see the Lord’s face and live?

The Bible does not give a reason why.  Therefore, any answer given is simply supposition and theory.  Personally, I think the reason God does not allow us while in human form to see his face and live is so that our faith will be strengthened.  I’m reminded of what Jesus said to Thomas once Thomas had actually seen and touched him after his resurrection:  “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

(Since giving this answer last Sunday night, I had an opportunity to discuss the question with the person who had asked it.  They proposed the theory that we are not allowed to see the Lord’s face and live because we are not worthy.  That may well be true.  Again, we cannot know for sure without biblical revelation.)

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

It is undeniable that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  The Bible teaches that he did so during the plague of the boils (Ex. 9:12), after the plague of the locusts (Ex. 10:20), after the plague of darkness (Ex. 10:27), and before the final plague of the killing of the firstborn (Ex. 11:10).

In fact, God told Moses ahead of time that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; cf. 7:3), giving one specific reason as to why:  “so that he will not let the people go.”

Later, God told Moses twice that he would again harden both the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Ex. 14:4, 17), giving another specific reason as to why:  “…and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”

HOW did the Lord harden Pharaoh’s heart?  First, the Bible also specifically says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34); Pharaoh by his own admission sinned by refusing to let Israel go (Ex. 9:27).  Calvinists teach that God was completely responsible for Pharaoh resisting his command to give Pharaoh their freedom, meaning that God would be responsible for Pharaoh’s sin, a blasphemous notion (Ja. 1:13; 1 Cor. 10:13).

Pharaoh was the head of Egypt.  The name, “Pharaoh,” means “Great House.”  He was worshiped as the incarnation of the Egyptian sun god Amun-Ra.  His enormous power and prestige depended upon his control over his subjects, including the Hebrew slaves who built his cities.  It would be against his political and economic interests to let the Israelites go.

This is important to remember when trying to understand how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  Being all-knowing, God knew the condition of Pharaoh’s heart already (Ex. 4:21; 7:3).  He foresaw what Pharaoh would freely do.  Because of his pride and selfishness, Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34) by letting his own interest dry up his conscience and morality, rendering them callous and unyielding (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-2).  God’s part in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart lay in the fact that he gave the demand to let Israel go, a command which Pharaoh rebelled against.

Calvinists disagree, citing Romans 9:17-21 as proof that the Lord forced Pharaoh to sin against him; they believe Paul said that God predestined Pharaoh would resist giving Israel their freedom, that God made Pharaoh do what he did so that God’s power could be shown through the plagues.  In his commentary on Romans, John Calvin said that Pharaoh’s “character was given to him by God.”  His followers ascertain that Pharaoh was passive, like the clay in the hands of the potter.  They believe God alone actively and directly made Pharaoh and his moral condition, and that God does the same to each and every one of us today.

Yet if that is the case and Romans 9:17-21 is a prime example of how God directly controls all of us, why would God inspire Paul to give mankind so many specific obligations concerning salvation in the next chapter of Romans (10:13-15)?  If God molds some of us to be created as nothing but good (so that he gives them mercy), and others of us to be created as nothing but bad (so that he hardens them), then there is no need for preaching.  No good would be accomplished by anything any preacher would say.  The concept of God the potter molding man the clay into what he wants does not necessarily prevent man from having free will.  After telling Judah that he had power over them like the potter has power over the clay, God specifically affirmed that Judah had free will to sin against him in spite of his warnings and pleas for them to repent (Jer. 18:1-12).

That’s exactly what happened with Pharaoh.  God through Moses told Pharaoh of his will for him, but Pharaoh chose to follow his own plans according to the stubbornness of his heart (cf. Prov. 16:9a).  God did not turn him into a puppet; rather, God simply told Pharaoh to do something he was already set against doing anyway.  In that way, Pharaoh also hardened his own heart and made the choice himself to sin.

Where were we before we were born?  Did we enter our mother’s womb the same way Christ did?

In the numerous times in the Old Testament where it says God “created” man, the Hebrew word asah is used.  It has as part of its definitions:  “To make,” “to produce,” “to bring about,” implying producing something from nothing.  Thus, God when all was said and done created, made, produced, brought us about from nothing.

God had told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jer. 1:5), showing us that Jeremiah had been in the mind of God before he was born and before he had even been formed in the womb.  Thus, a biblical case could be made that we existed in the mind of God before we were born and formed in the womb.  To my knowledge, that is the extent of what the Bible says about where we were before birth or conception.

Concerning the question of whether we entered our mother’s womb the same way Christ did, the answer is no.  Christ’s conception was miraculous in the sense that God chose to violate the laws of nature which he had put into place at creation by causing a virgin to become pregnant and bear a child.

When Mary was told that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son, she asked, “How?”  (Lk. 1:34)  The answer she received was:  “The Holy Spirit will come (eperchoamai, overtake, operate within) upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God” (v. 35).

One of the ways Jesus was holy (unique, set apart) from the rest of us is that his conception was unique, miraculous, one of a kind.  A virgin became pregnant.  No sperm fertilized Mary’s egg, and yet she became pregnant.  The same cannot be said of any of us.  Christ was different.  The Holy Spirit miraculously operated within Mary; he does not miraculously operate within any of us today (1 Cor. 13:8-10).