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Wordwise Insight, Issue #026
February 14, 2007

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. Intercessory Prayer; Seven Steps in Lot's Decline; Things That Happened in Caves

READER Q & A. Can Christians Be Demon Possessed? How to Find Hymns in Public Domain; Is Dispensationalism Biblical? Also, a Questionnaire for Pastoral Candidates

REVIEWS & IDEAS. A Study Bible Not Recommended


Early in the Scriptures the experience of Abraham gives us a lovely example of intercessory prayer. The old patriarch prays for the deliverance of his nephew Lot, when he learns that God is about to destroy the city of Sodom where Lot and his family live. “Abraham came near [to the Lord] and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’” (Gen. 18:23). He then pleads for the safety of the city if fifty righteous can be found in it, bargaining his way down to ten righteous people.

This latter figure could well be the number in Lot’s own family. There were: Lot and his wife, and two virgin daughters living at home (Gen. 19:15, 4 people), plus sons-in-law, married to Lot’s daughters (vs. 14, at least 4 more people), and “sons” (vs. 12, may imply at least 2 more). Abraham knew his nephew was a believer (cf. II Pet. 2:7-8), but he seems to have assumed a greater influence for that worldly compromiser than Lot actually had.

1) Abraham showed an appreciation for the justice of God in his prayer (Gen. 18:25).

2) He had a loving concern for the welfare of others.

3) He speaks to God with humility (vs. 27).

4) Perhaps there is even a desire to see the wicked Sodomites come to repentance and faith in God, in that the preservation of a few righteous would spare the whole city.

5) In the end Lot was rescued because of Abraham’s intercession (Gen. 19:29).

Some would deny that it is possible for our prayers to change God’s mind, but I am not so sure about that. God knows what will eventually be done, because He knows all things. But somehow He has designed intercessory and prevailing prayer to operate within the sphere of His sovereignty. Prayer “avails much” (Jas. 5:16). Prayer moves the hand of God in those matters He has sovereignly permitted to be affected by the input of His people. So, do we pray for others as we should? That is the question.

Backsliding rarely, if ever, happens suddenly and completely in an instant. There is a process of spiritual drift, and a number of seemingly small decisions and actions contribute to the end result. That is so in the life of Abraham’s nephew Lot. His experience is a cautionary tale for us all. Even though he seems to have been a believer (cf. II Pet. 2:7-8), Lot made too many choices based on worldly and materialistic values. Psalm 1 could have been written about him. He walked in the counsel of the ungodly, stood in the path of sinners, and sat in the seat of the scornful. And in the end he lost everything.

1) He chose to move near the wicked city of Sodom for materialistic reasons (Gen. 13:10-11).

2) He moved into a house in Sodom, perhaps for convenience (Gen. 14:12; cf. 19:3).

3) He gained a position of power and prestige in Sodom’s society (Gen. 19:1, where “sitting in the gate” suggests he was an elder on the town council).

4) He was willing to sacrifice his daughter’s purity and physical safety (Gen. 19:7-8). (And note that the wicked Sodomites had become “my brethren.”)

5) He was reluctant to leave condemned Sodom, and had to be dragged from the doomed city (Gen. 19:15-16).

6) He made a final attempt to cling to some of the old comforts (Gen. 19:17-20).

7) We see him last in destitution and drunken shame (Gen. 19:30-36).

Lot’s children by his daughters, were ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites, who later led Israel into idolatry and immorality (Num. 25:1-2), and into child sacrifice (to the god Molech, Lev. 18:21).

Numerous times Bible events are associated with caves, in part because the terrain in that area is often riddled with them. Commonly, caves in the Scriptures became either hiding places or graves. They were home to the desperate, the destitute, and the dead. Here are some examples of events related to caves.

1) Lot’s shameful end came in a cave (Gen. 19:30).

2) Abraham was buried in a cave, as were other patriarchs (Gen. 25:9).

3) Evil men in Job’s time hid themselves in caves (Job 30:6).

4) Five Canaanite kings hid from Joshua in a cave, but they were found and killed (Josh. 10:16ff).

5) The backslidden Israelites hid from the Midianites in caves (Jud. 6:2).

6) And they hid from the Philistines in caves (I Sam. 13:6).

7) David hid from King Saul in a cave (I Sam. 22:1).

8) David showed mercy to Saul in a cave (I Sam. 24:3ff).

9) Faithful Obadiah hid 150 prophets of the Lord in a cave (I Kgs. 18:4ff).

10) Elijah hid from Jezebel in a cave (I Kgs. 19:9).

11) Ezekiel predicted Israel would be chastened by the Babylonians and men would hide in caves (Ezek. 33:27).

12) Lazarus was buried in a cave (Jn. 11:38).

13) Persecuted believers, in the early church, hid in caves (Heb. 11:38).

14) In the future Day of the Lord, people will attempt to hide from Him in caves (Isa. 2:19; Rev. 6:15)

On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.

THE DA VINCI CODE is often in the news these days. The novel by Dan Brown claims to be based on fact. Is it? Check out the resources in this newsletter, as well as the following article The Da Vinci Code.


Question: Is it possible for a Christian to be demon possessed?

Answer: No, I do not believe it is.

While it is true that no specific text states that a Christian can never be demon possessed, there is a cumulative amount of evidence supporting this thesis. The phrase “possessed by demons” is found a number of times in the New Testament (in the Gospels and the book of Acts), beginning in Matthew 4:24. It is actually a translation of a single Greek word which could perhaps be rendered “demonized.” Plainly, more than simple temptation, or even severe demonic attack, is intended by the term. The person who was demonized usually exhibited several of the following characteristics:

1) The demon(s) controlled bodily movement, sometimes eliciting bizarre and dangerous behaviour (Matt. 17:14-18; Lk. 13:10-13)

2) The demon(s) afflicted the individual with disease or a crippling handicap (Matt. 9:32-33; 12:22)

3) The demon(s) controlled and disturbed the mind and emotions of the individual (Lk. 8:26-35)

4) The demon(s) overpowered the human will and rendered it incapable of resistence (Matt. 17:14-18)

5) The demon(s) expressed themselves audibly using the person’s vocal chords in some way (Lk. 4:33-35)

Such terminology as “demon possessed,” or “demonized,” show the difficulty the Bible’s authors confronted when trying to describe the spiritual realm in physical, spatial terms. Another example of this (which is relevant to this discussion) is the “filling” of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Eph. 5:18). If He is already omnipresent, how can the Spirit of God “fill” a person in addition? What does it mean?

A definition of the Greek word helps a little. As well as meaning to fill, it can also mean to fulfil. Thus, by the filling of the Spirit is meant His equipping and empowering for the purpose of fulfilling His will. (This is clearly seen in the Bible’s first use of the term (Exod. 31:1-5).

That, in turn, helps us with an incident in Acts 5:1-11, in which Ananias and Sapphira try to deceive the church. When Peter confronts Ananias he asks, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie...? (vs. 3). So, is this a case of demon “possession”? And is Ananias also a Christian? Because if so, it is an example of what the present author is suggesting cannot happen. Actually, whether Ananias is a true believer or not is irrelevant, though I am inclined to think he may have been. What happened to him parallels the filling of the Spirit. It was an equipping to prepare him to fulfil the devil’s wicked and destructive purpose.

That it was not true demon possession in Ananias's case can be seen from the fact that none of the above listed characteristics were in evidence. There were no bizarre bodily movements. The two were quite rational-- otherwise Peter’s interrogation would have been pointless. And Peter’s question suggests that Ananias’s will was functional. “Why, Ananias, why have you let this happen? Why have you not resisted temptation?” The devil was at work, but not in a way that bypassed the decision-making ability of the sinning couple.

Though it is plain from the Word of God that Satan and his demon army can continue to tempt the one who has become a Christian, and to attack in various outward ways (Eph. 6:11-12), it is contended here that true “demonizing,” involving the possession and absolute control of the believer, cannot occur. There are too many passages indicating that God has put powerful safeguards in place against any such demonic indwelling.

1. The Full Meaning of Salvation
When a person gets saved, all things become new. A new day has dawned, conditions have forever changed. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Cor. 5:17). Some see the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian as simply that one has faith in Christ and the other does not. But this falls far short of the transformation that takes place the instant God saves a lost sinner. It is like radical surgery. He can never be the same again.

Space does not permit a discussion of the 30 to 50 things God does that are a part of this great “umbrella” word, salvation. But here is a relevant one. Christians have the permanent “seal” of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit within. “In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).

We are the temples of God. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (I Cor. 6:19). Does it not seem inconceivable that the Spirit of God would also give place to the devil or his demon hosts? According to the teaching of Jesus, it is the “empty house” these wicked entities sought out (Matt. 12:43-45). But God has placed His seal of ownership on our hearts and writ large over the door, “Occupied.”

2. The Effect of the Work of Christ
Why did Christ come? He came “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).

“He [God the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13). We have been “delivered from the power of darkness.” Could anything be plainer? God sent Paul to preach the gospel to the unsaved, “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God...” (Acts 26:18).

The people of God are already on the victorious side and have overcome the evil one. “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one” (I Jn. 2:14). (Note: Some hold that the age levels spoken of in First John 2:12-14 are levels of maturity. It seems better to see them as aspects of Christian experience, each potentially true for all believers.) The Son has made us free, and “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed [free in reality, unquestionably free]” (Jn. 8:36).

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind [meaning a disciplined, self-controlled mind--not a demon controlled mind]” (II Tim. 1:7). “You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom. 8:15). “We have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16).

Further, we are part of the body of Christ. “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (I Cor. 12:27). Christ is working to “sanctify and cleanse” the church “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” (Eph. 5:25-27). And Christ Himself lives in us. “Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

3. The Nature of Our War Against Satan
Though it is an argument from silence, nonetheless no believer on this side of the cross is ever warned about the possibility of demon possession--or of what to do about it if it happens. This is a serious oversight, if such a condition is a danger Christians face. Paul was founding churches among the Gentiles, people who had little or no background in the Old Testament Scriptures or the things of God. That he would not teach them about this vital area is inconceivable-- if it were needed.

Satan’s place is “in the world”--where he is able, for a time, to attack Christians from the outside. He goes about “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). But this he does by an external assault, not by taking possession of their souls. “Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God....You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (I Jn. 4:1-6).

“We are not ignorant of his devices” (II Cor. 2:11). We have only to resist the devil. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). “Resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Pet. 5:8-9). Notice the contrast between the absolute mind control of “demonization,” and the assumption that Christians have the God-given power to resist. And how do we “resist”? We arm ourselves with truth, “above all taking the shield of faith [literally, the shield of The Faith, meaning the whole body of truth contained in the Scriptures] with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:1018). This is exactly what the Lord Jesus did when He confronted Satan repeatedly with “it is written” (Matt. 4:1-11).

4. The Protection God Provides
While the following passages do not deal with demon possession directly, they show how jealously God guards His own. No one is able to snatch away His sheep. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:28-29). “Never” translates a compound Greek negative meaning: not under any circumstances, not under any conditions. Praise the Lord, we can never be separated from the love of God--not even by demons. “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers...shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

Question: Gayle asks, “Is there a good website for determining if a hymn is in the public domain [meaning hymns that can be copied and used by anyone without infringing on a copyright]?"

Answer: Yes, there is. I recommend that you go to the Cyber Hymnal on the web. (Address: Editor Dick Adams has created a website giving the words of over 6,000 hymns– sometimes in several languages. He also plays the tune for you, so you can sing along and learn it. And here’s the thing: Almost all of the hymns Mr. Adams uses are in the public domain. When they are not, he tells you. Or, if he has been unable to get permission to use the hymn, he lists it, with the copyright owner, under “Popular Hymns.”

Question: Is dispensationalism biblical?

Answer: The simple answer to that is, yes. The word dispensation is a domestic term, simply meaning household economy, or stewardship–with the world being the “household” God is managing. I believe that all orthodox Christians are “dispensational” in the sense that they recognize different ways God has worked with man through the ages, and different responsibilities given to man. If we did not believe that, we would still be offering animal sacrifices on an altar.

But it is also true that dispensationalism has been distorted, or made to imply things about God’s program that the Bible does not. For one thing, some accuse dispensationalists of teaching that there are different ways of salvation from age to age. Whether some have taught this, or mistakenly implied this, is possible. But I am a dispensationalist and I do not believe that. Salvation has always been by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). To learn more about this teaching, see my new article on the website Dispensationalism: Is It Biblical?

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.


The multiplication of Bibles has no end. They are available in every colour and hue, size and shape, with footnotes directed to every age, occupation, and interest group imaginable. Some seem to have merit, and others have little or none. One of the popular current offerings is a large volume called the Life Application Study Bible (LASB). The one I have beside me now uses the New American Standard Bible text, and it was published by Zondervan in the year 2000. However the study notes were apparently produced earlier by Tyndale House Publishers.

Along with the usual outlines, maps, and background material found in many study Bibles, the LASB has thousands of footnotes intended to show the reader how the text applies to daily life. A noble aim, but does it succeed? In my view the result is certainly mixed. This is not a Bible I would recommend to others. Its publisher claims the LASB is the best-selling study Bible on the market today. That could be a good thing. But perhaps it simply shows the lack of doctrinal clarity and spiritual depth in too many North American churches, and in the people they serve.

Sample a few notes on critical issues and you will find the LASB trying desperately to ride the fence–likely in an attempt to find acceptance with as many as they can, and sell as many Bibles as possible. “How long did God take to create the world?” They are unsure whether it was in six days of 24 hours each, or whether “each day represents an indefinite period of time (even millions of years).” Thus they leave the door open to evolution. And what of the flood of Noah’s day? Was it a worldwide cataclysm, or merely a local event? All the LASB will admit is “a universal flood was certainly possible.”

In matters of Bible prophecy–the rapture of the church, the tribulation, the millennial kingdom–the LASB is chronically non-committal. Some say this, some say that, and it does not really matter anyway. This latter ploy is frequent, and it reflects the common ecumenical cry, “Let’s ignore doctrine and be one big happy family.” So, in discussing whether creation took only six days we read in the LASB, “It is not important how long it took God to create the world, whether a few days or a few billion years, but that He created it just the way He wanted it.” But this is careless and grossly misleading. Far from being “not important,” our understanding of the plain words of Genesis carries with it huge implications about the trustworthiness of the Bible and the high place given to man by his Creator. Even the plan of salvation is affected.

It is not possible in this brief review to deal with some of these things. But I do want to say a word about the life application notes that provide the main rationale for this volume. Some are fine, but many involve simplistic and superficial applications of the text. Further, the editors sometimes depart from the more likely explanation of biblical events to espouse unusual and largely unsupported explanations.

As an example, consider the account of the famine in the land of Canaan in Abraham’s day (Gen. 12:10-20). Instead of trusting the Lord to provide for him in the Promised Land, Abraham heads down to Egypt in search of food. There are indications that he was not walking with the Lord at the time. He immediately conspires with Sarah to deny their marital status, in order to save his own skin. And it is striking that we have no record of him worshiping God until he later returns to Canaan (13:3-4). The LASB rightly describes this as “a test of Abraham’s faith.” But they tell us “Abram passed” the test because he made use of the intelligence God gave him! This book is not recommended.

2) THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

3) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

4) Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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