Reader Questions: Why Was Eli Judged for the Sins of His Sons?

There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics. Recently I received the following question:

In regard to God’s treatment of Eli in 1 Samuel 2-4, I’ve always been disturbed that Eli was included in judgement because of his sons.

1. Aaron was not condemned to death because his sons offered “strange’ fire.
2. Eli raised Samuel to be an upright man of God; he must’ve done something right.

I know that perhaps Eli’s heart was not right with God as the text does not elaborate and it does not say that he asked for forgiveness or repented. His admonition of Hannah for being drunk may also reflect that he did not possess the compassion and empathy that reflects God’s character in his servants. Still, I was hoping you might point to other portions of the Bible that explains Eli’s punishment more effectively rather than trying to “read between the lines” and dangerously make up what’s not written.

Still, this has always made me ask if my heart is in the right place and whether or not my faith in Jesus’ redemption is truly “genuine enough”

For those who might need a refresher on the story, Eli was the high priest at the time recorded in the beginning of 1 Samuel. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as priests in the temple, but they were corrupt, stealing, embezzling, and committing acts of sexual immorality by abusing their positions of power with women who came to the Tabernacle to worship. As a result of their actions, not only was the Tabernacle profaned, but people avoided coming to worship because of the presence of these wicked priests.

The reason for God’s judgment on Eli is outlined in 1 Samuel 2:27-29, in which a prophet tells Eli that he is going to be judged for the sins of his sons because he did not do enough to stop them from doing these acts. In 1 Samuel 2:29, God states that Eli honored his sons more than he honored God, and it is for this sin that Eli is being judged. Although Eli had scolded them, he did not do anything besides talking to them. Eli’s responsibility is two-fold, since he was both their father and their boss – as high priest. Eli should have fired his sons or carried out some sort of disciplinary action, and it is for this reason of allowing these things to take place and not doing anything about it, that Eli received God’s judgment.

I’ll never forget that one of my mentors fired his own son in law over an act of impropriety in the church. It must have made for a very awkward Thanksgiving, but at least he was not following in the sin of Eli.

Two Important Thoughts About Judgment: Temporal Judgments and the Mercy of God

It is worth noting that the removal of both the priesthood from Eli and his life were temporal judgments, rather than eternal or spiritual judgments upon his soul. I think it is likely that Eli, recognizing his shortcomings and sins, and knowing the promise of God to send a savior to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), he would have cast himself upon God’s mercy and received forgiveness. Temporal judgments, in other words, do not preclude eternal salvation.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that the very nature of justice is that it entails getting what is deserved. Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting the judgment that is deserved. So, for God to judge Eli for his failure to lead well as high priest, is fair. On the other hand, when God chooses to give mercy, such as in the case of Aaron, that is His prerogative. As Paul puts it in Romans 9:18: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.” Mercy is never deserved, nor can it be demanded or expected. God reserves this right, and does so for His purposes, which we may never fully know on this side of eternity.

Knowing this helps us understand both the reasons why sometimes God doesn’t save us from the consequences of our sins even when He forgives us of them, and it helps us marvel all the more at the undeserved grace and mercy of God towards us!

Thank you for the question, and God bless you!

My Top 10 Books of 2020

I read 35 books in 2020 (including the Bible!). Here are a few of my favorites (other than the Bible), in no particular order:

  1. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson

I read this book as part of my research for my Masters dissertation, which was on the topic of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, and whether belief in this concept was novel to the Reformation period, or if it had precedent in the patristic period as well.

2. The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, Nathan Hatch

Great short essays about the history of thinking about the Bible in America, particularly in regard to radical individualism and the rejection of tradition and the church in the interpretive process. Sadly, it is out of print, but used copies are available to order.

3. On Christian Doctrine, Augustine of Hippo

A true classic, written between 397 and 426 AD. The main topic of this book is about how to interpret and teach the Bible.

4. Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace, Kim Phuc Phan Thi

The autobiography of the woman from the famous photo of a girl burning in napalm in Vietnam, and how she became a Christian.

5. The Burning Edge: Travels Through Irradiated Belarus, Arthur Chichester

An engaging travel log through the area hit by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by one of my favorite YouTubers.

6. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, James K.A. Smith

Theologian James K.A. Smith gives a biography of Saint Augustine while retracing his steps from North Africa to Italy and back.

7. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse teaches at Wheaton College, an evangelical divinity school in Illinois. This book gives and important framework for understanding the issues related to gender dysphoria from a Christian perspective, including much of the research that has been done on the topic, and advice for parents and those who seek to minister to people and families.

8. Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, Kevin DeYoung

An accessible study of what the Bible teaches about the Bible.

9. How to (Not) Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith

This is a thinking person’s book about culture in our postmodern age. Smith uses terms like “epistemic pelagianism” to describe the idea that people can figure out everything on their own without the help of God. He discusses Charles Taylor’s idea of the “imminent frame,” i.e. the present world, and its shortcomings. So many important thoughts in this book, although it’s not the easiest read.

See also: What is Epistemic Pelagianism?

10. Légy Jó Mindhalálig, Móricz Zsigmond

A few years ago I decided to read the required reading for Hungarian secondary students. This is a classic novel about a student in Debrecen, Hungary, a city where I lived for over 3 years.

How Much Faith Must You Have to Have Your Prayers Answered?

What is the relationship between your faith and having your prayers answered? Certainly there is a relationship, but how much faith do you need to have?

What about righteousness, or personal holiness? If 1 Peter 3 tells husbands to dwell with their wives in understanding lest their prayers be hindered, does that mean that a lack of personal holiness can hinder your prayers? If James 5 says that the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much, then what about an unrighteous person who prays?

In our weekly Sermon Extra video, Mike and I discuss this topic. You can get these videos, or the podcast audio version of these discussions, every week by subscribing to our YouTube channel or our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Here’s our discussion of the topic of the how faith and righteousness affect prayer:

Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same-Sex Partner?

A while back a friend shared a TikTok video with me in which a young guy was teaching something from the Bible which he portrayed as something people had overlooked, or about which they had been unaware, which could be potentially paradigm-shifting.

What this young man claimed is that the gospels tell us that Jesus healed a centurion’s servant, but that the word used there for “servant” actually means a same-sex lover. Thus, his conclusion was that by doing this, Jesus essentially affirmed and condoned, rather than condemned, homosexual sexual relationships.

The story of this healing is found in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and is about a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus and begs that Jesus heal his servant. Jesus agrees and says he will come to the centurion’s home, but the centurion says that he does not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and that he has faith that all Jesus has to do is say the word, and his servant will be healed.

Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same Sex Lover?

The word in question is the Greek word “Pais.” Interestingly, the word Pais literally means boy. There is another Greek word for servant, the word doulos, but the word pais was used to designate a young, male servant boy.

Pederasty and Sexual Abuse

As Preston Sprinkle explains in his excellent book, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, it was common in the Greco-Roman culture of Jesus’ day for homosexual sex to be part of the power differential in a relationship, but only as long as the dominant partner was older, of higher social standing, and in the penetrating role. This is often referred to as pederasty, in which older men would have dominant sexual relationships with teenage boys. Both modern psychology and laws would deem these relationships to be unethical and illegal for multiple reasons, as they are abusive and harmful; not only are they an abuse of power, but these relationships were physically, sexually, and psychologically abusive to the younger victim.

Furthermore, Sprinkle goes on to explain that such relationships in the ancient world were not at all like our modern conception of a gay couple in a loving, consensual, co-equal relationship. For example, the penetrating partner in such relationships was not necessarily considered “gay” or “same-sex attracted,” rather this was an act of subjugating the passive partner and was about asserting power.

Pais Alone Doesn’t Imply a Homosexual Relationship

However, there is actually no indication that this centurion had such a relationship with his servant boy just by use of the word “pais.” While these relationships did exist, to assume that this centurion was sexually abusing his servant boy based on the simple fact that he had a servant boy, would be like reading that a man had a wife and then assuming that he must have abused his wife, because some people do that. It’s a major assumption, in other words, that requires a giant leap that is not indicated by anything in the text.

In fact, Luke uses the word doulos (the general word for servant) to describe this boy (Luke 7:2). Furthermore, of the 24 uses of pais in the Greek New Testament, it is never used of a homosexual relationship. So, the idea that this specific servant boy was being sexually abused by his master is definitely not something that ancient readers would have automatically assumed based on the use of the word pais. Furthermore, since any such relationship would have been abusive in nature, to say that this is an example of Jesus condoning or affirming a homosexual relationship is far-fetched and misguided; certainly no one would argue that Jesus, by healing this servant, was affirming or condoning of the sexual abuse of a minor by an older man in position of power.

Would Jesus have healed a gay person?

Although it is very unlikely that this passage is speaking about the healing of a centurion’s same-sex partner, the question remains: Would Jesus have healed a gay person? I think the answer to this question is also very simple: Yes.

Here’s why I say this: because Jesus’ healing of people never hinged on, or depended on, their level of personal righteousness. When Jesus healed the man born blind, he never brought up that man’s struggle with bitterness, greed, or envy. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, he never brought up that man’s struggle with lust. Healing is an act of grace, and grace – by definition – is not something that is earned or merited, it is a gift from a God who gives to undeserving recipients.

The message of the gospel is that God shows grace to sinners, and that’s good news for a sinner like me, and for you as well. As Paul tells us in Romans 2, the kindness of God often leads us to repentance.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

I highly recommend the above mentioned book, Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue. Preston addresses the topic of homosexuality with scholarly insight and tons of empathy and love. Furthermore, I recommend Justin Thomas’ online course on Biblical Gender and Sexuality. Justin is the lead pastor of Calvary: The Hill on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington, and a fellow leader in Calvary Global Network.

Does Proverbs Condone Bribery? – Interview with Benjamin Morrison

On this site there is a page where readers can submit questions or suggest topics . Recently I received the following question from a reader in Ukraine:

Outside of proverbs, bribery is spoken against. Inside proverbs we see both direct opposition to it, but also some almost-approving of it. I won’t list verses which speak against it because they’re numerous and easy to find, but I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding verses like these:

A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.
Proverbs 17:8 ESV

A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
Proverbs 21:14 ESV

Corruption and bribery are major topics here in Ukraine and we’ve dealt with this question a few times.

That’s a great question. To answer it, I reached out to a friend who lives in Ukraine where he serves as a pastor and missionary: Benjamin Morrison.

Ben has lived in Ukraine for 19 years and is the Lead Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Svitlovodsk, Ukraine, and the Director of City to City Ukraine.

We had a great discussion on this topic, which I think you will really enjoy and benefit from. In this video we discuss the nature of the Book of Proverbs, different scenarios in which bribes are asked for or offered – and how to respond in each, as well as some personal stories. Finally we end the conversation on a note of how the gospel helps and empowers us to face corruption and bribery and other things that are wrong in the world. Enjoy!

Most Popular Articles of 2020

This year this blog continued to grow, both in page views and in subscribers. Thank you for reading and sharing these articles with friends and on social media, and for submitting your questions and requests for topics!

These were the top 10 most read and shared articles of 2020:

  1. The Statistical Probability of Jesus Fulfilling the Messianic Prophecies
  2. Reader Questions: Could the Mark of the Beast Be Transmitted Through a COVID Vaccine?
  3. Are the Anakim the Same as the Nephalim?
  4. Will There Be Ethnic Diversity in Heaven?
  5. What Does Peter Mean by Adding “Virtue” to Your Faith?
  6. Was John the Baptist the Reincarnation of Elijah?
  7. Book Review: A Framework for Understanding Poverty
  8. Racism, Identity, & Self-Justification
  9. Resisting the Sirens’ Song
  10. A Word for Christians in a Politically Divided Culture

Thanks for reading and commenting this past year! If you haven’t done so yet, you can subscribe to the blog via email or WordPress and stay in touch with future posts.

God bless you, and I look forward to the year to come!

Reader Questions: Forgiveness for Habitual Sins, Submission to Authorities, & Scripture Memorization

There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received the following questions:

Question 1: Does God forgive our repetitive or habitual sins?

In Romans 8:1-4, Pauls says that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that there is no judgment, conviction, or guilty verdict for past sins, or does it also include sins committed after the believer comes to Christ, as long as he asks for forgiveness? What about our repetitive and “pet” sins?

The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has taken the judgment for our sins, the condemnation that we deserved. Therefore, if someone is in Christ – which means to trust in, cling to Jesus and what he accomplished in his sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection, they will not face condemnation for their sins because Jesus has already faced it for them on their behalf.

When it comes to habitual or repetitive sins, one of the places in the New Testament that deals with this question directly is the Epistle of 1 John.

In 1 John, John is writing to believers, and yet he says:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

1 John 1:8-10, 2:1

John also says things like, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:9) Think about it like this: you “practice” things that you want to get better at; you practice your golf swing, you practice the guitar, because you want to improve. John is describing two types of people: one who desires to sin and delights in it, and another who stumbles into sin on occasion but hates it and mourns over it.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The idea is that you become a “whole new animal,” if you will; you go from being a pig to being a sheep. Whereas a sheep might sometimes fall in the mud, the pig’s entire goal in life is to find some mud and roll in it; it’s the pig’s every dream and goal in life. The person who is in Christ has gone from being a pig to being a sheep.

The existence of habitual or persistent sin in a believer’s life is indeed cause for concern. However, it is of even greater concern if it doesn’t bother you. The promise of the Lord to us, is that in Christ and in the power of His strength we can overcome any temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Question 2: Will believers be judged?

Yes and no. Believers will not be judged for condemnation for their sins, but they will be judged for reward for the good things they have done.

Think about it like this: there are judges over criminal courts, who condemn criminals for their crimes, and there are also judges in the olympics who hand out bronze, silver, and gold medals for performances.

We who are in Christ through believing will not be judged for our sins, since Jesus already took that judgment – but we will be judged for our good works unto reward.

This reward seat is sometimes called the Béma seat of judgment. Paul describes this judgment for reward in 1 Corinthians 3:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15

Question 3: Are we still to be submitted to the authorities even if the authorities are against God’s Word?

If authorities demand that we do something which is in contradiction to what God has commanded in His Word, we are to obey God rather than human authorities.

Romans 13 and 1 Peter both instruct believers to obey the authorities that God has placed over us in His providence. Keep in mind that the authorities in these cases were pagan, ungodly, and even cruel and terrible dictators, yet by honoring them, we are honoring God.

However, there are limits to our submission to authorities. Passages like Acts 4 are examples of times when believers disobeyed the authorities when they commanded them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, which was something they could not do because they had been commanded by Jesus to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Question 4: What has been your way of memorizing scripture?

I have never spent much time trying to memorize Scripture, but I have succeeded in memorizing much of it. Here are some things I do which have helped me to do it:

  • Read Scripture regularly
  • Choose one translation of the Bible and stick to it.
  • Quote Scripture often, and speak it aloud.
  • When quoting Scripture, avoid paraphrasing. Try instead to quote it precisely, until you succeed in memorizing it through use.

Thanks for the questions, and I hope those answers help!

For any further questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Christmas Eve Services in Longmont

Join us on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020 for a time of singing Christ-centered Christmas songs and a message from Galatians 4:4-5 about how the Son of God came to us so that we could become children of God.

Service times: 3:00, 4:30, & 6:00

Location: White Fields Community Church, 2950 Colorful Ave. Longmont, CO 80504

Is Christmas Pagan?

A while ago I addressed many common, but incorrect claims that the origins of Easter are pagan: “Does Easter Come from Ishtar?”

But what about Christmas? Does Christmas have pagan origins?

The Claims About the Pagan Origins of Christmas

Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice?

Didn’t Christians simply take over the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia and call it a celebration of the birth of Jesus? After all, that’s why we celebrate Christmas right around the same time as the winter solstice, isn’t it?

I used to believe this one myself. However, upon further investigation, it turns out this may not be true. Here’s why:

We don’t know what time of the year Jesus was born. The one thing we know is that it was almost certainly not in late December. The reason for this is because Luke’s Gospel tells us that the shepherds were watching their flocks by night, sleeping in the fields. In Israel it gets too cold in the winter for that; shepherds sleep outside from about March-September. Clement of Alexandria wrote that some believed May 20 was Jesus’ birthday, others believed it was April 19 or 20, others still believed it was in late March. [1]

Early Christians also did not celebrate birthdays in the same way we do because ancient cultures did not celebrate birthdays like we do in our modern culture. Only two of the four Gospels talk about Jesus’ birth. The early Christian writer Origen dismissed birthdays as something only celebrated by tyrants, such as Pharaoh and Herod in the Bible. [2]

Things changed in the early 300’s with the beginning of the celebration of Epiphany, which commemorated the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles at the coming of the Magi to see Jesus after his birth. This was celebrated in early January in the Eastern church, not because they believed this to be the birthday of Jesus, but because of how it fit into the liturgical calendar which gave a plan for teaching through key events in the Gospels every year.

The Western (Latin speaking) part of the church wanted to have a festival similar to Epiphany, and decided that since they did not know when exactly Jesus had been born, they would have their festival of the celebration of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus in late December, before Epiphany – since the Magi would have arrived after the birth of Jesus.

Again, the decision of this date was based on liturgical calendars, not on the taking over of pagan festivals. It was considered significant, however, that the coming of “the light of the world” should be celebrated at the time of the year which is the darkest in the Northern Hemisphere. After this date, the days get longer and the darkness wanes. This symbolism was not lost on the early Christians, but rather considered to be a great symbol of the effect of Jesus’ entrance into the world.

Here’s what’s so interesting: there is a document from about 350 which tells us that Romans celebrated the festival of Sol Invictus Natali (the birth of the unconquered sun) on December 25, and that same document also tells us that Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on this same day. There is no earlier evidence or report of a Roman pagan festival on December 25. In other words, it is just as likely that the pagan Romans chose this day for their pagan festivals because Christians were already celebrating the birth of Jesus on this day, and wanted to have their own counter-festival, than that Christians chose this day because of an existing pagan festival.

Furthermore, there is nothing particularly pagan about celebrating anything at the darkest part of year, right before the days start getting brighter. Judaism, for example, celebrates Chanukah – the Festival of Lights, in which they light candles in the darkness to celebrate God’s faithfulness at this same time of year. Pagans don’t own the symbolism inherent to the orbit of the Earth.

Are Christmas Trees Pagan?

There is some evidence that Roman pagans liked to decorate their homes with greenery during winter festivals, and that early Christians decorated their houses with greenery during Epiphany as well.

It should be remembered that in the ancient world, decorating with greenery in the winter was also common because it was bleak outside and they didn’t have Wayfair.com to depend on for affordable home decor.

Some people claim that these verses in Jeremiah are speaking about the practice of Christmas trees:

“Learn not the way of the nations…for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.

Jeremiah 10:1-5

Sounds like a Christmas tree, right? Except that’s not what it’s describing. What Jeremiah is describing is the creation of a household idol out of wood. Isaiah talks about a similar practice in which people would fashion an idol out of wood, stone, or metal, and then worship the very object they had just created.

The history of the Christmas tree dates back to medieval Europe, in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which December 24 was celebrated as “Adam and Eve Day” which was celebrated with the decorating of “paradise trees” by attaching apples to them (think how much bulbs look like apples) – a rarity during the winter, so they were considered treats. Because it was winter, and especially in Northern Europe, evergreen trees were popular to use for this. [3]

Modern Pagan Christmas?

Perhaps of bigger concern is the way in which our modern consumeristic Christmas traditions can detract from the celebration of Jesus and the incarnation which Christmas is meant to be about.

May we, even in the joys and the fun of our modern celebrations, not lose sight of what it is that we are celebrating this season: that to people like us who live in deep darkness, a light has shone: the promised Messiah has come to save us from our sins and give us the light of life forever! That is certainly something worth celebrating.

Advent Devotional: Hope for the Disfavored

This is a devotional I wrote for It is Well, a great Instagram account that posts encouraging devotional messages. They’re worth following!

Hope for the Disfavored

The true measure of character is not how we treat the privileged, but how we treat the disfavored. There was no one more disfavored in the minds of the Jewish people than the Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews. After all, the Jewish people were God’s chosen people. What then of the Gentiles?

And yet, Romans 15:10-13 tells us something incredible: quoting from Deuteronomy, we read: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him,” because “the root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles, and in him will the Gentiles hope.”

The good news of Christmas, is that God has come to the disfavored, to save them and welcome them into his family! That is good news for us, who have fallen out of favor with God because of our sins.

Great rulers and conquerors, from Alexander to Augustus, had established empires which provided people with stability and peace. But as the Roman philosopher Epictetus explained: “While the emperor can give peace from war on land or sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, which men long for more than outward peace.” And yet the promise of the gospel is Jesus has come to give us the peace which our hearts long for by making peace between us and God through the sacrifice of himself on our behalf.

The good news of Christmas is that God has treated disfavored people like us with kindness and grace. He came to us, in the person of Jesus, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

The way to receive this great gift, Romans 15:13 tells us, is by “believing,” which means “to trust in, to rely upon, and to cling to” Jesus. That is the way to be filled with joy and peace, and to abound in hope this Christmas season.