July 2020 Bible Questions and Answers

  1. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
  2. Is Baal more than a carved idol?  And how did people worship this false god?
  3. Hebrews 6:19 — What is “the veil” referring to here?
  4. Is it sinful to have cultural art that includes images of Buddha, Confucius, or other figures of the like in the home?
  5. What exactly is a graven image?
  6. On Pentecost, the apostles were miraculously speaking in tongues, but it says about the multitude that “each one was hearing them speak in his own language.”  Were two miracles taking place, or just one?
  7. What happens to us after we die?  How can we exist in the Hadean world if our bodies remain on earth to later be raised and changed in an instant?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

When God made man, he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  “Image” comes from the Hebrew term tselem, which has to do in this context with having a resemblance with someone.  “Likeness” comes from the Hebrew term demuwth, which likewise has to do with bearing a resemblance to someone or being similar to someone or something.

So to be created in God’s image means that we in certain ways resemble God and are similar to Him.  In what ways is this true?  Well, our physical bodies aren’t similar to God because God is spirit (John 4:24) and a spirit does not have flesh and bones as we do (Lk. 24:39).  So we’re not made in the physical image of God since He has no physical body.  Yet we do have a soul or spirit and the ability to reason, be creative, think, understand, and plan.  God has these same capabilities.

The spiritual side of man – our soul, our spirit – was created by God (Zech. 12:1), whereas God has always been and always will be.  Yet our soul and spirit, once created, will never cease to be (Matt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:6-9; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Eccl. 12:7).  So that is another way we resemble God.

God is immeasurably pure and holy.  When we come into being, we also are pure and holy and thus are similar to Him in a spiritual, intellectual, and moral sense.  It is only through sin that we lose that resemblance.  Yet when we obey the gospel and grow to become more and more “in the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29), we regain these similarities.

Is Baal more than a carved idol? And how did people worship this false god?

Baal (“owner,” “master,” “husband,” “lord” in ancient Phoenician, Hebrew, Amorite, and Aramaic languages) was the name given to several ancient pagan deities.  The Baal we read of in the Bible was first associated with the Phoenicians and Canaanites and was originally generally identified with the Dagon deity worshiped by the Philistines (Judg. 16:23ff; 1 Sam. 5:2ff).  Worship of this false god gained prominence in a big way during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel during the time of Elijah, especially when Ahab erected an altar and a temple for Baal in Samaria (1 Kings 16:29-33; cf. 2 Kings 10:21, 26-27).

When Elijah prophesied a long drought (1 Kings 17:1), that would have been considered a threat against the Baal cult which was becoming the official state religion of Israel at the time because Baal was the god of fertility.  His followers believed he sent dew in the summer and rain in the winter to nourish the earth.  His worshipers gave him the title of “rider of the clouds” and believed that another god – Mot, the god of death – put Baal to death each spring but Baal would be resurrected each fall to bring rain upon the land again.  Baal worshipers believed he was responsible for seasons of good harvest, fertile wombs for women and livestock, and anything else they thought necessary for prosperity.  So Elijah prophesying that Yahweh would bring a long drought was basically a clear challenge to the worship of Baal.

When Elijah later mocked the false god by telling his prophets to basically pray louder because “either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27), those insults were based on the widespread teaching of Baal being basically a very busy god who was constantly involved in the building of his castle, defeating his enemies, being very involved in many sexual conquests, and even stories of Baal not being home when expected and being tired and needing sleep…a story which was usually tied in with the aforementioned accounts of Baal regularly being slain by Mot only to later be resurrected.

In addition to the previously mentioned altar and temple of Baal, the Bible gives some insight into how Baal was worshiped through the recording of how the prophets of Baal both prayed to him and “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out of them” (1 Kings 18:28).  Many ancient religious rituals included cutting oneself, perhaps in an effort to get a deity’s attention or sympathy.  Perhaps the Baal prophets cut themselves to cause Baal to have pity on them and show himself, or perhaps to rouse him from the dead per their beliefs.  This gives insight into the reasons behind the Old Testament prohibition against cutting oneself (Lev. 19:28; 21:5; Deut. 14:1; cf. Jer. 16:6; 41:5).  God clearly did not want His chosen people to follow after the idolatrous practices of the pagan nations around them.  Unfortunately, their joining of the Baal cult is just one example of many of how they converted to the pagan ways around them.

Hebrews 6:19 – What is “the veil” referring to here?

The book of Hebrews was originally written to Christians of Jewish ethnicity who were considering leaving Christianity to return to Judaism due to severe persecution from their fellow Jews.  The Hebrew author wanted to show the superiority of Jesus over the Mosaic system in an effort to persuade them to stay.  Therefore the book of Hebrews contains a lot of references to what was done under the Law of Moses.

The tabernacle, and later the temple, of the Old Testament was divided up into two sanctuaries, the outer sanctuary called the Holy Place and the inner sanctuary called the Most Holy Place.  Inside the Most Holy Place was the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, the golden altar of incense, Aaron’s staff which had miraculously budded, and the tablets on which were written the ten commandments (Heb. 9:3).  A veil or curtain separated the two sanctuaries (Ex. 26:31-35).  Throughout the year, regular priests would enter into the first sanctuary, the Holy Place, to perform their regular duties (Heb. 9:6; cf. Ex. 27:20-21; 30:7-8; Lev. 25:4-9).  However, once every year only the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place behind the veil and offer an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people (Heb 9:1-7; cf. Lev. 16).  By his atoning sacrifice, the high priest would make intercession to God on behalf of the people for forgiveness of their sins.

One of the themes of Hebrews is that Jesus is the Christian’s high priest (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 7:1-10:25).  Another theme of Hebrews is found in the concept of these Old Testament rituals being copies or foreshadowing of spiritual, heavenly truths taught in the New Testament (Heb. 8:4-5; 9:23; 10:1).  Thus, the most Holy Place behind the veil foreshadowed being in the presence of God on His throne in heaven.  Since God cannot be among sin (Is. 59:1-2), only the sinless can be in His presence in heaven, the symbolism behind the Most Holy Place.  The Holy Place in front of the veil, in which regular priests would perform their duties, symbolized how the gifts and sacrifices offered by Old Testament Israel were not enough to make them completely sinless and thus be allowed in the presence of God (Heb. 9:6-10; 10:1-4).  A greater sacrifice was needed.

While talking about the solid hope Christians have due to the steadfast promises of a God who cannot lie, the Hebrew writer alluded again to Jesus’ high priesthood when he wrote, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (6:19-20).  Just as the Old Testament high priest passed behind the curtain or veil into the Most Holy Place to intercede on behalf of the people by offering an annual sacrifice to atone for their sins, so also Jesus, our high priest, also “enters into the inner place behind the curtain” in a sense to intercede on our behalf.  In other words, He had offered Himself on the cross as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins before ascending into heaven to sit at God’s right hand (the literal Most Holy Place) to intercede on our behalf as our high priest (Heb. 9:11-14, 23-28).  Being made sinless by the continual cleansing of His blood and the intercession He offers on our behalf, our hope of entering heaven to be in the presence of God is now made sure.

Is it sinful to have cultural art that includes images of Buddha, Confucius, or other figures of the like in the home?

Several biblical and cultural principles must be kept in mind when considering this question.  First, it must be acknowledged that Buddhism and Confucianism are false religions which are predominant in many eastern cultures.  Their influence is not as far-reaching in western culture, although it is present.  Second, we must clearly understand the definition and parameters of the sin which is idolatry.  Let’s take a moment to examine this sin.

Have you ever wondered why God inspired Paul to refer to covetousness as idolatry (Col. 3:5)?  Greed is an attitude, a priority.  It’s not a material thing like a statue representing a false deity one would worship.  Yet God calls it idolatry nonetheless because it requires one to love one’s wealth more than God.  Such was the problem with the rich young ruler.  His riches were more important than God (Matt. 19:16-23); thus, covetousness is idolatry.  It would be no different than ancient pagan idolaters replacing God with their false gods (cf. Ex. 32:1-4), or modern-day idolaters such as Buddhists or Confucius’s disciples following their religions instead of God.  Idolatry therefore is committed when God is not truly the top priority and center of one’s life.  Anything that is more important than God can be an idol.  One may not consciously replace God with something else or even be aware of how important one’s idol is in their life, but for idolatry to take place one must at the very least consciously adhere importance to what one idolizes.

Idolatry would be the only biblical reason to indict as sinful the simple possession of an image of Buddha or Confucius.  So the question would be whether any association with these images is inherently idolatry and thus necessarily sinful.  To answer this question, consider the following scenario.  If one eats at an Oriental or Indian restaurant whose owner has decorated the dining room with images and pictures common in those eastern cultures, one will probably be sitting down and eating in the vicinity of a painting or statue of Buddha or Confucius.  Is one inherently practicing idolatry by doing so?  Are they inherently ascribing any level of importance to the pagan image, much less a degree of prioritization or homage that would result in their worshiping that image?  Or would one simply be interested in eating Oriental or Indian food while not giving any sort of religious homage or even thought to the image of the pagan idol sitting five feet away?  Generally speaking in western culture, most of us eat in restaurants which feature these images without giving them a second thought.  If we notice them at all (which many don’t), most of us will just notice them in passing or, at best, think, “That’s a nice picture or a nice statue of a Buddha.”  Such thinking does not pass the biblical standards of true idolatry, and thus would not be sinful.

The church at Corinth faced a similar situation with the pagan idols common in its culture (1 Cor. 8-10).  If one wanted to buy meat for their families’ supper, most likely one would have to enter a pagan temple or be in proximity to a pagan temple to purchase meat from the butchers who were known to provide the meat for those pagan sacrifices.  A controversy broke out in the church at Corinth because some Christians there were purchasing meat from those butchers to feed their families.  Others in the church thought that by doing so they were participating in idolatry, even though in reality they were simply getting some food to eat.  God inspired Paul to tell those who were offended that the simple purchasing and eating of food was not inherently sinful or righteous and that their offended conscience should not be the standard by which others must adhere (1 Cor. 8:8; 10:29).  He also told those who recognized the inherent lack of sinfulness of purchasing and eating meat that not everyone knew what they knew, and thus the consciences of some would be offended by their association with idolatry to the point where they would either fall away or cause division in the church (1 Cor. 8:7-12; 10:23-31).  Thus, should they find that they would cause such problems by the exercising of that which they had freedom to do, they should give up their freedom for the sake of the spiritual benefit of their brethren (1 Cor. 8:13; 9:12, 19-23; 10:23-24, 31-33).

These principles provide divine guidance concerning the question at hand.  One would not necessarily be inherently guilty of idolatry simply by possessing artistic images of Buddha or Confucius in their home, just as one would not be inherently guilty of idolatry simply by eating at a restaurant that had those same images in the dining room.  Yet should it be brought to your attention that a brother or sister in Christ is being influenced to dabble in Buddhism or Confucianism or has assumed you are doing so after seeing those images in your home, God would want you to give up the freedom you have to possess the art so that you do not put a stumbling block in their path until such time as they have been taught and have accepted the truth about these matters.

What exactly is a graven image?

The term “graven image” (Ex. 20:4) comes from the Hebrew term pecel which literally means “idol” or “carved image.”  As noted in the previous question, idolatry comes in many forms.  One of the most common forms of idolatry in biblical times was the worshiping of gods manifested in statues or images carved out of wood or stone by man.  This was done in all of the pagan cultures surrounding Israel during Old Testament times.  God did not want them to fall away from worshiping Him to worship a false god.  Thus, the very first commandments He gave to them in the Law of Moses were to “have no other gods before Me” and “not make for yourself a graven (carved) image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:3-5).

On Pentecost, the apostles were miraculously speaking in tongues, but it says about the multitude that “each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” Were two miracles taking place, or just one?

Before studying this question more fully, I used to hold to the notion that two different miraculous spiritual gifts were being used on this occasion: the “various kinds of tongues” spoken by the apostles, and “the interpretation of tongues” on the part of the listeners (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-10).  I theorized two things: that the apostles were miraculously speaking in the various “tongues” (glossa, languages or dialects used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations) and “languages” (dialektos, the tongue or language peculiar to any people) of the fourteen to fifteen nations listed as present (Acts 2:4-11), and that those who heard them were given the miraculous spiritual gift to automatically interpret what they were saying, i.e., automatically hear it in their own ears as their own native language.

Yet upon further reflection about the passage and this question, I realized that my former position held flaws.  The Bible specifically says that the apostles “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4).  If God miraculously gave each person in the multitude the ability to automatically mentally interpret in their own language what the apostles were saying, why did the apostles need to have the miraculous ability to speak in other languages in the first place?  Why not have them just speak their native Galilean and then have each of the listeners miraculously hear their words in their own native language?  Furthermore, the text says that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, not the multitude (Acts 2:1-4a).  Indeed, the multitude did not even form until after the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles.  I realized I was ascribing the miraculous spiritual gift of interpreting tongues upon people whom the New Testament gives no indication had received the Holy Spirit.

For these reasons I studied the passage further and have come to a different answer to the question.  Each of the twelve apostles were miraculously given the ability to speak to everyone there in an understandable way by speaking in the tongues and dialects common to the various geographical areas from which each member of the multitude was born and lived.  Of the twelve, God gave each of them the ability to speak in at least one of the languages represented among their listeners.  While fourteen or fifteen nationalities are listed (vs. 8-10), that doesn’t mean there were fourteen or fifteen different languages represented that day.  Phyrgians and Pamphylians spoke Greek.  Persian was spoken by the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, albeit with different dialects.  In all likelihood there were seven or eight different languages known by this gathering, along with different dialects of the same language.

So what likely happened once the multitude assembled was the quick realization by the entire group that these Galileans had the ability to speak to them with fluency in their own language and were given that ability miraculously.  It is noteworthy that while Peter’s speech is prominent in Luke’s record of the event, Scripture specifies that he spoke only to “the men of Judea” (v. 14).  Luke also specifies that “all” of the apostles were speaking in other tongues, which means that each of them spoke in various tongues and dialects to the rest of the crowd while Peter spoke to his fellow Judeans.  This probably led the listeners to gravitate toward the particular apostle whom they understood.  Rather than what we commonly picture of Peter singularly addressing thousands who were all gathered together while the rest of the apostles stood behind him, it is more probable that the multitude broke up into smaller groups who each were centered around the apostle whom they understood.  This would result in each member of the crowd paying attention to the specific apostle who spoke their exact language or dialect, thus being exactly what Luke described: “…each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (vs. 6-7, 11).

What happens to us after we die? How can we exist in the Hadean world if our bodies remain on earth to later be raised and changed in an instant?

The account given by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 concerning the rich man and the beggar Lazarus gives us great insight into what happens to our spirit when it departs our body in death (James 2:26).  Upon his death, Lazarus “was carried by angels to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22).  The rich man died and found himself “in Hades, being in torment” at which point he “lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (vs. 22-23).  Jesus also went to Hades after He died during the three days before His resurrection (Acts 2:23-27).  Since He had promised the thief on the cross that he would join Him “in Paradise” that very day (Lk. 23:43), this leads us to conclude that Paradise is a part of Hades.  Jesus and the forgiven thief would clearly not be punished after death by being in torment, just as Abraham, “a friend of God” (James 2:23), would also not be punished in torment.  Thus, Hades is divided into two parts: Paradise, where Abraham, Lazarus, Jesus, the thief, and all the redeemed are, and torment, where the rich man and the condemned are.  Upon hearing the rich man’s request for water, Abraham pointed out that “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (v. 26).  So apparently those in the two parts of Hades can see and communicate with each other, but not leave their respective abodes due to this great chasm.

While our spirits depart to go to Hades, what happens to our deceased bodies here on earth after death?  In the rich man’s case, he “was buried” (v. 22).  The bodies of Saul and his sons were decimated by the Philistines and eventually cremated by those loyal to Saul, who then buried the bones (1 Sam. 31:8-13).  Many throughout history have drowned at sea (cf. Rev. 20:13) or have been eaten by wild animals.  Others have died in fires or alone in such a way that no one found their bodies and buried or burned them.  Ultimately, decomposition takes place so that, one way or another, the body returns to the dust from which the first human being, Adam, came (Eccl. 3:20; Gen. 3:19; cf. 2:7).

The Hebrew writer said that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).  Judgment Day will take place when Jesus comes back (Matt. 25:31-46).  On the day Jesus returns, He will “bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:14).  This will happen because “Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them” before being cast into hell (Rev. 20:13-14).  When He returns, all who have ever died on earth will be resurrected either to eternal life or eternal condemnation (John 5:28-29).  His return “from heaven” will be announced “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God,” at which point the resurrection of everyone will take place (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:50-55).

When we are resurrected, “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).  Instead of this perishable, mortal body we currently inhabit, we will “put on the imperishable” and “immortality.”  While not going into great detail about the particulars of this immortal body, Paul makes it clear that it is not the “flesh and blood” we currently have because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (v. 50).  He compares it to the fully-grown plant of wheat or grain that is completely different from the kernel which had previously been buried in the ground (v. 37).  Just as the bodies of humans, animals, birds, and fish are all different (v. 39), and just as the planets and stars are all different from each other (v. 41), so our heavenly body will be different from our earthly body (v. 40).  As far as I’m aware, the Bible goes into no greater detail about these new bodies we will all receive on that day.  At the sound of the trumpet, upon resurrection our souls which Jesus brings with Him from Hades will then apparently enter these new bodies, and those who died “in Christ” will then rise first to meet the Lord in the air and in the clouds, followed by the Christians who are alive on that day (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

All who have ever lived will then stand before God’s throne to be judged (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eccl. 12:14; Rev. 20:11-12).  The condemned will depart from the presence of God and be cast into eternal hell (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:46a; Rev. 20:15; 21:8; cf. Matt. 5:29-30; 10:28).  The saved will enter into eternal life (Matt. 25:46), claiming their inheritance which is kept in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4), where “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17; cf. John 14:2-3; Mk. 16:19).