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Wordwise Insight, Issue #029
May 14, 2007

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira; Salvation and praise; Bread from heaven; and more

READER Q & A. Answering a critic of the Bible; can we forgive sins? and more

REVIEWS & IDEAS. Scofield III (the newest version of the Scofield Study Bible)


Acts 5:1-11 records the first encroachment of sin into the infant church. There had been a common sharing of material possessions (Acts 4:32-35), but not through the imposition of any kind “communistic” system. It was a voluntary thing (5:4a), likely intended to aid the Jews who were visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost (2:5-11) and now wanted to stay on longer to receive more teaching from the apostles.

So if it was not wrong to keep back part of the money for themselves, what was involved in the sin of this couple? It was lying about what they had done. Hypocrisy was the very evil which had polluted Judaism. The Pharisees were notorious for it. Behind what Ananias and Sapphira did we can see the shadowy indication of some wrong attitudes and desires. Their actions suggest:

1) They envied the appreciation shown to Barnabas and others for their generosity, and they craved the praise of men (4:32-37).

2)They were unwilling to relinquish completely their claim and grip on the things of this world.

3) They tried to generate the outward effects of the fruit of the Spirit by fleshly effort.

4) They placed what men said to them above what God saw in them.

5) They had more thought of what their gift would do for themselves than what it would do for others.

6) They squandered the power of unity and agreement in the fellowship on selfish gain (cf. Matt. 18:19-20).

7) Their priorities were temporal and material, not eternal and spiritual.

8) They seem to have had no fear of God (cf. vs. 5, 11), or understanding of His omniscience.

9) They did not respect the leaders of the church, who represent God among us and should be recognized for this high calling.

10) They failed to resist temptation–which Peter’s “Why...?” (vs. 3) plainly suggests they could have and should have (cf. I Cor. 10:13).

11) They did not live up to their names. “Ananias” means the Lord has shown grace, or whom Jehovah has graciously given. “Sapphira” means sapphire, that which is precious and beautiful. But there was nothing of grace or beauty in what they did.

12) Their actions show that the enemy is at work within the church as well as attacking from the outside (Chapt. 4)

The prophet Isaiah gives the Lord’s pledge to Israel concerning the city of Jerusalem, “You shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (Isa. 60:18). It is a promise made to the Jews with regard to the restored glory and blessing to be enjoyed by the city of Jerusalem in the Millennial Kingdom (cf. vs. 13-14). But perhaps there is room to apply the text metaphorically to the individual Christian today, without denying its literal and primary application to Israel (as the Amillennialists try to do).

1) WALLS of Salvation. These represent protection, and also, in a secondary sense, identity (since they enclose a community and make it distinct). Thus salvation in Christ is both our eternal protection, and our source of identity. What makes is different is that we are “Christ-ones," (Christians), bound together in a spiritual community by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit.

2) GATES of Praise. Praise bespeaks our eternal purpose. And as gates provide access both in and out, so there is a dual aspect of praise. A) Moving inward: when others come in contact with us, and look at us, they should have cause to praise God for what he is accomplishing in our lives. B) Moving outward: It is ever to be characteristic of our speaking and our doing that we reflect and express praise to God for His greatness and grace.

When the nation of Israel was delivered from bondage in Egypt, they entered a wilderness where, as events transpired, they were to spend about 40 years. Though there was no doubt some food to be found in that wild area, it was not nearly enough to supply a huge number of people each day. For that reason, the Lord miraculously provided “bread from heaven” (manna) to feed them (Exod. 16:4). It never failed to be supplied through all the forty years (vs. 35).

In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus uses the manna as a picture of Himself, referring to Himself as “the Bread of Life” (Jn. 6:30-35, 47-50). With this comparison in view, it is interesting to explore the points of similarity.

1) It came down from heaven, as Jesus came to earth from heaven’s glory.

2) It was white (Exod. 16:31), representing Christ’s perfect purity and sinlessness.

3) It was sweet to the taste, like honey (Exod. 16:31), suggesting how precious the Lord is to our souls.

4) It came with the dew (Exod. 16:13-14), depicting Christ’s coming in the power of the Holy Spirit (symbolized by water in God's Word, Jn. 7:37-39).

5) It was found on the ground, suggesting Jesus’ lowliness and humility, and his availability to all.

6) It had to be either gathered or trampled upon, pointing to the need for each person to decide about Christ.

7) Once gathered, it provided nourishment through all the wilderness journey, picturing Christ’s sufficiency and His faithfulness to meet our needs.

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.


Question: The following is a response to an article which appeared recently in a local newspaper. It invites others to contribute, but not quite as I have! The writer mocks and derides the Bible, calling on others to do the same. “Come out of the closet,” he says. Write and tell us what in the Bible you are unsure of, or do not believe.” I have written instead to defend the Word of God. How would you have answered him?

Answer: On April 12, 2007, an article appeared in The Lloydminster Source written by Norman Laird of Grace United Church. The writer presents a rambling attack on the Bible, making a number of sweeping and unsubstantiated claims. They deserve a response.

Mr. Laird begins, “To say, ‘The Bible is the word of God’ is a statement of faith, not of fact. To say ‘the Bible is not the word of God’ is also a statement of faith, not of fact.” Very well. Then let me be counted as one who believes the Bible to be, in its entirety, the inspired, infallible Word of the living God. (And I convinced this is a “fact.”)

The Bible certainly claims to be the revelation of God. Over 2,000 times in the Old Testament alone we read phrases such as “and God said,” or “thus saith the Lord.” And the Bible declares that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally, it is God-breathed]” (II Tim. 3:16). And that, “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21).

But having positioned himself among those who dismiss (or doubt) the divine origin of the Scriptures, the author makes this absolute assertion: “There is no one who believes everything in the Bible is true.” What? No one? Has Mr. Laird questioned all six billion of us to find out? Hardly! Many individuals I know personally would reject his claim. But he goes on, “Even those who say the Bible is the inerrant word of God ignore certain passages.” Again, has he questioned us all on this? Obviously not. But rather than put words in the mouths of others, and if I may be forgiven for the personal references, let me speak of my own experience.

I have been studying the Bible intensively for about half a century, and have read it through from Genesis to Revelation many times over. I have written my own (unpublished) commentary on all 1,189 chapters of the Bible. (It is now at about 250,000 words, and still growing daily.) I have preached thousands of sermons, and taught the Scriptures for years in the college classroom. I write a devotional newspaper column that has appeared for years in several newspapers, and a have website through which I receive and answer Bible questions from all over the world. No verse or passage has been “ignored.” Yet all those years of study have only served to confirm the trustworthiness and divine authority of the Bible over and over.

Mr. Laird next proposes to give us proof of how fallible the Bible is, citing First Corinthians 15:22 as his “clearest example.” The verse says, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” The writer comments, “I have been told that the word ‘all’ in the first part of the verse means every person that has ever lived and will ever live. There are no exceptions. On the other hand, the same word later in the verse means only those people who have accepted Jesus as saviour. Many exceptions. The definition of the word ‘all’ changes mid-sentence to suit the believer.”

This mishandling of the text is both sad and silly. Sad, because it totally misses a wonderful truth that affects the eternal destiny of each human being--including Norman Laird. And silly because it fashions an argument using mere smoke and mirrors. “All” means all! It translates precisely the same Greek word (pas) in each case. It is the two phrases–all in Adam, all in Christ--that are in contrast, not the word all.

Let us turn to the Book. The Bible records how the Lord formed Adam of the dust of the earth, and breathed life into him (Gen. 2:7). He was the first human being, the crown of God’s creation (Ps. 8:5-6). All of humanity comes from him. In Eden, God tested Adam’s willingness to believe and obey Him. But he sinned against his Maker and reaped the promised judgment (Gen. 2:17; 5:5). Not only did Adam begin to age and die physically the moment he sinned, but in his fallen state he was in danger of eternal separation from God. This is true of all of us, since sin’s corrupting effects have been passed on to the whole human race through Adam (Rom. 5:12).

That is the bad news. But the text so maligned by Mr. Laird also gives us the good news–that God, in His amazing grace, has provided a remedy for sin. God the Son took on our humanity and walked among us (Jn. 1:1, 14). His purpose in coming was “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Norman Laird says he does not believe “that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for sin atonement.” That is his choice. But “what if some [do] not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:3-4).

Of the work of Christ the Word of God says, “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3:18). That is the gospel (a word meaning good news!)–that God has provided an answer for all who will receive it by faith. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

Each one who trusts in the saving work of Christ is placed into Christ as to his legal standing before God. That is, God views him as having been “in Christ” when He paid sin’s penalty, just as surely as he experienced sin’s corruption “in Adam.” Those who are “in Christ” are credited with His righteousness. “For He [God the Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”(II Cor. 5:21). And “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). This is “the righteousness of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, to all and on all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

Norman Laird’s article includes a dozen other things in the Bible which he says he does not believe. I cannot take the time to respond to them all here, but have tried to deal with his “clearest example.” A careful handling of the text, and a diligent comparing Scripture with Scripture, will answer every one of his concerns. The problem is not with the Bible, but with the spiritual perception of the one who purports to explain it away.

Question: Carol asks, “What is the meaning of John 20:23, (Jesus, speaking to the disciples) 'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'?"

Answer: Rather than answering this question myself, I have provided quotations from a number of commentaries. This manner of response, a little different from my usual, will serve, I hope, a couple of purposes. It will show the general consensus among conservative evangelical scholars as to the meaning of the text. Not that we decide on a proper interpretation by some kind of majority vote. But it is helpful, and surely significant, when reputable students of the Word agree. My other reason for approaching the answer this way is to recommend the volumes I have quoted. They would be valuable additions to any library.

1) “This verse does not give authority to Christians to forgive sins. Jesus was saying that the believer can boldly declare the certainty of a sinner’s forgiveness by the Father because of the work of His Son, if that sinner has repented and believed the gospel. The believer with certainty can also tell those who do not respond to the message of God’s forgiveness through faith in Christ that their sins, as a result, are not forgiven.” (The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997)

2) “Jesus was giving the apostles (and by extension, the church) the privilege of announcing heaven’s terms on how a person can receive forgiveness. If one believes in Jesus, then a Christian has the right to announce his forgiveness. If a person rejects Jesus’ sacrifice, then a Christian can announce that person is not forgiven.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. II, SP Publications, 1983)

3) “Since only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7), the disciples and the church are here given the authority to declare what God does when a man either accepts or rejects His Son.” (The Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, Moody Press, 1986)

4) “It was not the work of the disciples to forgive sins, but the work of the Holy Spirit through the disciples as they fulfilled the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Christ gave the disciples authority to state that forgiveness of sins was possible.” (The Parallel Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994)

5) “The disciples were given the right to declare sins forgiven....The disciples go out preaching the gospel. Some people repent of their sins and receive the Lord Jesus. The disciples are authorized to tell them that their sins have been forgiven. Others refuse to repent and will not believe on Christ. The disciples tell them that they are still in their sins, and that if they die, they will perish eternally.” (The Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995)

6) “The commission to forgive sins is phrased in an unusual construction. Literally, it is: “Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgiven have not been forgiven....God does not forgive people’s sins because we decide to do so, nor does He withhold forgiveness because we do not grant is. We announce it; we do not create it.” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition, Zondervan, 1994)

7) “It has been claimed by some that these disciples were the first bishops of the Church, and the Lord was giving them the authority to remit [forgive] sin and retain sin, and that they were to go out into the world and people were to confess sins to them, and they would tell them what penance to do and thus obtain remission of their sins. I do not find anything like that here.

One of the most important of the group, the Apostle Peter, was there that day, and Peter went forth in the name of the Lord to proclaim remission of sins. How did he do it? Did he say, “You come to me and confess your sins to me and I will forgive them?” Did he say anything like that? Let us see. In Acts 10 we find Peter preaching the gospel in the household of Cornelius. He tells of Christ’s wonderful life. “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all)....To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever”–confesseth his sins to a priest–“shall receive remission of sins.? Is that right? Do you have your Bible open? What does it say? “That through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.”

Believe on Jesus and you will get remission. That is the commission that every servant of Christ has. We go out to the world and say, We are commanded by Jesus Christ to offer you remission of sin if you will believe on Jesus. And when they do, we dare to say, “Your sins are forgiven or remitted.” And if they do not believe, what then? We say to them, “Your sins are retained.” How do we know it? Because He said so.” (John, a commentary by Harry Ironside, Loizeaux Brothers Incorporated, 1971)

8) “John 20:23 must not be interpreted to mean that Jesus gave to a select body of people the right to forgive sins and let people into heaven....As the early believers went forth into the world, they announced the good news of salvation. If sinners would repent and believe on Jesus Christ, their sins would be forgiven them....All that the Christian can do is announce the message of forgiveness; God performs the miracle of forgiveness. If sinners will believe on Jesus Christ, we can authoritatively declare to them that their sins have been forgiven; but we are not the ones who provide forgiveness.” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. I, by Warren Wiersbe, SP Publications, 1989)

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.


1) The Scofield Study Bible, 2002 Edition (also known as Scofield III) The Scofield Bible has been around for nearly a century, having been published first in 1909. The original work by Cyrus I. Scofield has been revised or reformatted a number of times–in 1917, 1967, 1989, and now again in 2002. Its study notes provide a solid defense of the great fundamentals of the faith, doing so from a premillennial and dispensational point of view. Though no study notes are divinely inspired, used with caution and care, these can be a great help to the one searching the Scriptures and seeking to understand and apply what is found there. There are many study Bibles available today–some quite good, some very poor. This is an excellent study Bible.

I received my first Scofield as a boy of twelve, and have used one extensively in my study and teaching ever since. With great interest I obtained a copy of the most recent edition, wanting to see what had been done with “Scofield III.” The copy I have before me uses the text of the New King James Version (which is my usual translation). It includes the notes of the previous edition, with a few things added and changed.

a) Over a hundred of the notes, dealing with specific subjects rather than a passage found on the page, have been placed in boxes to highlight them.

b) There are also new biographical notes, and genealogical tables.

c) Some added notes do not seem particularly helpful. There are over 550 in-text definitions of Bible names–David, Abraham, Sodom, and so on. But since many of these names are used multiple times in the Word of God they are often not on the page where the reader will need them. Such things are better left to an index (where they are also found in this Bible, with a helpful guide to their pronunciation).

In addition, some of the name definitions are questionable. We are told, for example, that “Israel” means Soldier of God. But this is by no means certain. F. W. Grant suggests the meaning Prince with God; Keil and Delitzsch give us God’s Fighter. Another suggests He Who Struggles with God. Still others turn the meaning around to refer to God, rather than Jacob. The Bible Knowledge Commentary has God Fights. Other suggestions include: May God Strive; God Rules, and so on. A fuller note on such an important word would have been helpful.

d) The fonts used for the Bible text, the headings, and notes, are good. Very readable. However, the edition produced in 1989 by Thomas Nelson Publishers used bold verse numbers to indicate the beginning of new paragraphs. For some reason this practice was not followed in Scofield III, and it is a significant loss. Also, the 1989 Bible I have has two ribbons for marking one’s place in the Bible and I have found this extremely useful. Scofield III has only one.

e) There are about 70 useful in-text maps and charts to assist the reader, plus a number of full-colour maps in the traditional place at the back of the book.

f) The copy I obtained is also thumb-indexed. This is supposed to aid the individual in finding a particular book or passage more quickly. But it is an unnecessary feature. Anyone who uses the Bible enough to know the approximate location of the books will not need it. Further, it takes up to a half dozen little nicks out of each page, with more corners to catch and curl. Avoid this feature.

Though there are things I would not have done the way they have been, in general, this is a worthy variation on the great Scofield tradition. The content cannot help but enrich your understanding of God’s wonderful Word. Very much recommended. Scofield III (The Scofield Study Bible).

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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