Better Bible Study Tip #67: Think About Biblical Chronology

The content of the Bible spans from creation to the end of time as we know it. The actual writing of the Bible spanned from the time of Moses in the 1400’s BC until John penned Revelation, possibly close to 100 AD. That’s a period of about 1500 years. How do we get those numbers? What was going on during that time period?

Although there are numerous resources out there, such as chronological Bibles and commentaries, that can help us to make sense of the biblical timeline, the actual text of the Bible doesn’t provide us with “real time” dating of events, at least not as frequently as we might wish, or in terms that make a lot of sense to the average modern person. It doesn’t tell us “this event happened 700 years before Christ” or “I Paul, am writing this letter 31 years after the resurrection.” Rather the Bible usually dates itself in relation to other events – what happened before or after what. The only way scholars can determine “real time” chronology, that is, actual, numerical dates, is by finding events in the Bible that correlate with records kept by other ancient cultures that kept time with detailed astrological records. When something in the Bible corelates with those records, scholars can fix those events with actual numerical dates.

Practically speaking, if an average person wants to know the real time numerical dates of biblical events, the easiest thing to do is consult a commentary (or even google). It’s even more important to become familiar with the big picture story of the Bible (Tip #13). Even if we don’t know the precise date of a biblical event, understanding a general timeline can be helpful.

Here’s a general chronological outline to be familiar with:

1500s BC and before: Genesis
1400s BC: Moses, The Exodus
1300s BC: Joshua, Conquest of Canaan, First of the Judges
1200s BC: Ruth, The Judges, Ehud, Deborah
1100s BC: The Judges, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson
1000s BC: Saul, David
900s BC: Solomon; Israel splits in two, Ephraim and Judah
800s BC: Elijah, Elisha
700s BC: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah; Assyria the superpower; the fall of Ephraim
600s BC: Jeremiah, King Josiah; Babylon the superpower
500s BC: Ezekiel; the fall of Judah; Daniel; Persia the superpower; Jews free to return home
400s BC: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
300s BC: Intertestamental period; Greece the superpower; Hellenistic culture spreads
200s BC: Intertestamental period; Syria and Egypt as dueling regional powers pulling Judah one way or another
100s BC: Intertestamental period; Judah’s rebellion against Syrian power and gain of partial independence
000s BC: Intertestamental period; Rome the superpower
000s AD: Jesus; the apostles; the early church; the writing of the New Testament

Understanding how the Bible fits together chronologically is helpful because correctly situating a biblical author in a particular time can help us to understand what the writers say and why. Time important for reading the Bible in context. That’s why it helps to think about biblical chronology.

Christianity and Economics, Part 6: Voluntary Exchange

For other articles in the Christianity and Economics series, click here.

There are numerous indications in Scripture that God intended for people to work together and help one another. After placing man in the garden, and charging him with the task of working it and keeping it, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). God did not intend for people to function as isolated individuals cut off from human interaction. Man is benefited by working together with someone who will help him in his work. This truth is later affirmed in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Much of the New Testament addresses the importance of Christians working together (John 13:33-34; 1 Cor. 1:10-12; 12:12-27; Rom. 12:4-5; Eph. 4:1-6, 11-16; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 John 1:7; 2:9-11).

God designed people to function best through interaction with others. But not all forms of interaction are good. Rather than helping Adam, Eve led him to take the forbidden fruit. One generation later, Cain murdered his brother Able. As mankind failed to work together in mutually beneficial ways, God gave Israel laws to govern their actions.

As the apostle Paul later observed, these laws can be summed up in the commandment to love one another.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet”, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10; cf. Mt. 22:37-40

When people interact with one another in love, they do not take what belongs others and they do not threaten violence towards others. Rather than forcing their will on others, they seek to peacefully cooperate with one another.

Two Categories of Exchange

As we consider the economics of the interpersonal exchange of goods from a Christian perspective, we start by recognizing that all exchange of goods can fall into one of two categories: forbidden exchange and voluntary exchange.

Forbidden exchange is taking goods for yourself that God has not permitted you to have, that is, taking something that belongs to someone else. If a store has apples, and I want the apples, I could simply take the apples for myself. This of course would be stealing, which is wrong. I could purchase the apples, using counterfeit money. This would be fraud, which is wrong. If the store owner resists, I could choose to carry a weapon into the store and take the apples by force. This would be a threat of murder, which is wrong. Behind all of these actions are attitudes of covetousness and greed, which are wrong. Forbidden exchange is unloving because it harms others.

The other kind of exchange is voluntary. If I want the apples, I could simply choose to buy them. If I don’t have enough money to buy them, I could offer an alternative form of payment. For instance, I might offer to help bag groceries in exchange for the apples. It might even be that the store owner recognizes that I am hungry, and so he voluntarily chooses to give me the apples for free as an act of grace and kindness. In each of these examples, the exchange of the apples is voluntarily agreed upon by both parties.

In either case, I end up with the apples I desire. But unlike forbidden exchange, voluntary exchange benefits both parties involved, and fosters feelings of goodwill, love, and unity.

Voluntary Trade is Always Mutually Beneficial

Many profound and important economic principles can be logically established by reflecting on very simple illustrations. Suppose two boys packed sandwiches for lunch. Opie has a peanut butter and jelly, but prefers ham and cheese. Leon has a ham and cheese, but prefers peanut butter and jelly.

In this situation, we can easily see that both Opie and Leon would be better off by trading sandwiches. Opie could give Leon the peanut butter and jelly in exchange for the ham and cheese. As a result, both boys would enjoy a sandwich they value more than the one they packed.

From this example, a wise economic thinker can observe an important truth. For voluntary exchange to occur, each party must value the end result of the exchange more highly than their original state. If Opie and Leon both preferred their own sandwich over the other’s, they would have no desire to trade.

Similarly, if Opie and Leon both preferred peanut butter and jelly over ham and cheese, no trade would take place. In this situation, Leon would happily trade his ham and cheese for Opie’s peanut butter and jelly, but Opie would not agree to the trade, since he values his own peanut butter and jelly over Leon’s ham and cheese. For voluntary exchange to occur, both parties must view the exchange as an act that will lead to a more preferable situation.

The important implication of this observation is this: voluntary exchange is always expected to be mutually beneficial. Both parties must believe they will benefit from the exchange or they would not agree to the exchange.

If Opie and Leon agree to trade sandwiches, who is better off? As long as they have both voluntarily agreed to the exchange, they are both better off. If either boy believed he would be worse off from the trade, no sandwich exchange would have occurred.

Voluntary Exchange Creates Wealth

 As long as the trade was voluntary, both boys were able to obtain something they value more. We could call this increased value their “profit” (see part 4). Observe that both boys have profited by increasing the value of their lunch, yet without adding a single item of food to the table. The number of sandwiches are the same. The same ingredients are used. And yet, because of the trade, both boys are better off. One boy does not benefit at the expense of another. How can it be that both benefit without adding food to the table? Because both boys value the sandwiches differently.

This illustrates another important principle. Voluntary exchange has the ability to create wealth even with a fixed number of resources. We must not imagine the distribution of wealth as a zero-sum game, where one person gets a bigger slice of a pie only at the expense of leaving the other person with a smaller slice. This is false because wealth is not a fixed sum, but can be increased by voluntary trade. As long as trade is voluntary, there are no “winners” and “losers”, “exploited” and “exploiter”, or “oppressed” and “oppressor.” This is only true, however, when both parties benefit from the trade. Both parties benefit only when it is a trade they would both voluntarily agree to.

It should be noted that the judgments about the benefit of exchange are made before the trade takes place. One or both parties could certainly be in error. Leon may trade for Opie’s peanut butter and jelly, only to later discover that Opie used crunchy peanut butter, and Leon only likes smooth peanut butter. In this situation, Leon was not unjustly taken advantage of by Opie. He was not bullied into trading sandwiches. Leon simply made an error, and suffered a loss of value as a result of the mistake.

As noted in part 4 of this series, losses are important. As a result of the mistake, Leon will learn that he does not in fact prefer Opie’s peanut butter and jelly. Next time Leon sees a friend with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, before he agrees to a trade he will know to first ask “does your mom use crunchy or smooth peanut butter?” As a result of the loss, Leon will become a wiser entrepreneur.

The Fallacy of “Price Gouging”

Sometimes people have a hard time believing that all voluntary trade is mutually beneficial. For instance, during times of extreme shortages, prices can rapidly increase. It is not uncommon for gas prices to almost double after natural disasters. When gas prices increase, it is common to hear gas stations accused of “price gouging.”

Of course a gas station owner may choose to keep their prices low as an act of kindness. In this case, the gas station owner may willingly choose to suffer financial loss so that they will enjoy the profit of knowing they have helped their customers during a time of need. As long as the decision to keep prices low is voluntary, both parties benefit as a result of the exchange.

But suppose the gas station owner chooses to increase prices. In such a situation, is the owner of the gas station profiting at the expense of those who buy the expensive gas? One might be tempted to think so. But before assuming that the gas station owner is acting unjustly or unloving towards their customers, we must think clearly about the nature of the exchange.

We have observed that for a voluntary exchange to occur, both parties must think that the trade will be mutually beneficial. If gas stations are in fact able to sell their gas at double the price, this must mean that there are buyers who think the gas is more valuable to them than the money they exchange for it. Otherwise, they would simply decide not to purchase the gas. At a minimum we must conclude that the gas station owner is not harming their customers since their customers think they are better off as a result of the exchange. The choice to increase prices may not be as selfless as the gas station owner who decided to keep prices artificially low, but it certainly cannot be described as oppression or exploitation.

On the other hand, if the local government were to force the gas stations to sell their gas at a cheaper price, this could be described as oppression or exploitation, since the exchange of gas would benefit the buyers at the expense of the gas station owners. It can also be noted that reducing the profits of the gas providers would only serve to prolong the shortage by removing the incentive for increased gas production (see part 4).

Oppression and exploitation are only features of forbidden exchange, where dishonestly, theft, and violence enable one party to benefit at another’s expense. As long as exchange is voluntary, no one party will benefit at another’s expense. On the contrary, overall wealth will increase as both parties are able to improve their overall satisfaction.

Christianity and Economics, Part 5: Private Property

For other parts of this series on Christianity and Economics, click here.

Strictly speaking, the study of economics does not include questions of what we should or should not do. Questions of right and wrong are ethical questions. But as Christians, we should be concerned with both. It is not enough to understand whether various economic systems are effective in achieving their goals (economic questions). We must first and foremost consider what is right (an ethical question). Before considering the economic implications of different economic systems, we must first consider ethics of private property and the exchange of goods. From a Christian perspective, how should we feel about the ownership of property?

The Bible is full of warnings against greed (Prov. 15:27; 28:25), covetousness (Lk. 12:15), the love of money (Mt. 6:24; 1 Tim. 6:10; Heb. 13:5), and the desire to be rich (1 Tim. 6:9). What’s more, Scripture continually encourages an open-handed approach towards possessions, where we are always ready and willing to give our possessions to others. Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to be generous in their giving by pointing to the example of Christ, who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). In Acts 2:45, we are told that the earliest Christians  “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Possessions can certainly become a stumbling block. It should be noted, however, that nowhere in Scripture is the possession of property ever condemned. In fact, the numerous prohibitions against theft imply at least some notion of private property.

God as the Ultimate Owner

The Christian approach towards possessions begins with the recognition of God as the Creator and the ultimate possessor of all things.

For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.

Psalm 50:10

The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein.

Psalm 24:1

As the ultimate possessor of all things, God has the right to delegate the use and oversight of his possessions to whomever he desires. For instance, in Genesis 1:29 God said “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” God commanded mankind to subdue the earth, teaching them that by their labor the earth would yield produce which they could enjoy (cf. Gen. 1:28; 3:19).

People are not owners, but stewards who are called to temporarily manage those things which ultimately belong to God. This relationship is illustrated in the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). God has entrusted the authority over possessions to mankind. In his authority and wisdom, he delegates more possessions to some, and less to others. Regardless of how little or how much he entrusts them with, everyone is called to exercise our management of those possessions under the watchful eye of the Creator.

As the ultimate owner of all things, God maintains the ultimate right to establish the principles he wants mankind to follow in regards to his property. God is the one who can determine how we can morally invest it, trade it, and use it. He can forbid certain uses of it. For instance, in Genesis 3:15-17, God gave Adam and Eve the right to eat of every tree of the garden except one, which he forbade them from eating. When God forbids greed, the love of money, or theft, or when he commands us to be generous with our possessions, he has that right. After all, he is the ultimate owner of all things, so he can determine how they should be used. Ultimately, God will hold mankind accountable for whether or not we have managed his property in accordance with the principles he has established (Mt. 25:21-28).

For this reason, when as we consider private property from a Christian perspective, it is important to always recognize that all things are ultimately possessed by God, and we are only stewards. To echo the words of Deuteronomy 8:17-18, when we are tempted to think “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (v. 17), we should remember that it was the LORD our God gave us the ability to produce wealth in the first place (v. 18).

Prohibitions Against Theft

Throughout the whole Bible, the possession of property is recognized as something which must not be violated. The Old Testament is filled with prohibitions against theft. “You shall not steal” was one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:15; Deut. 5:11). This commandment included the prohibition of oppression and fraud (Lev. 19:11-13).

The command is reiterated in the New Testament as well. Not stealing is part of what it means to love your neighbor (Rom. 13:8-10). As Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be charitable, he never called for the compelled extraction of funds, but instead emphasizes the importance of voluntary giving (2 Cor. 9:7). Paul encourages Christians not to steal, but to do honest work so that they may give to those in need (Eph. 4:28).  Peter recognized that choosing what to do with possessions is the responsibility of the one who owns the possession (Acts 5:4).

Besides outright theft and fraud, Jesus tells us that the motivation for theft begins in the heart (Mt. 15:18-20). This echoes the ten commandments, which forbid not only stealing, but also covetousness (Ex. 20:17).

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we are not to take from others what belongs to them. When God entrusts someone with property, it is their responsibility to manage it.

The Principle of Voluntary Exchange

Since the Bible continually teaches that people’s ownership of property should be respected, there can only be one morally proper way for humans to exchange goods with one another, and that is through voluntary exchange. The prohibition of theft prohibits the forced, or involuntary, exchange of goods.

To illustrate this point, consider how Luke describes the time when Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and told Peter that they were giving all the proceeds to the church, all while holding back some of the possessions for themselves (Acts 5:1-2). Peter confronted Ananias by saying:

While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.

Acts 5:4

Peter plainly says that their possessions were theirs to do with as they wanted.

Jesus affirmed this principle in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). Jesus told about a master who hired different laborers to work for different amounts of time for the same amount of money. In response to the complaints of the laborers, the master responded:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose to do with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?

Matthew 20:13-15

Although not the main point of the parable, Jesus’s teaching relies on the accepted principle that the owner of property is the one who has the right to choose what to do with it.

Just because God delegates ownership of property to individuals, this does not indicate that a property owner is free to use his possessions however he may desire. God is the ultimate owner. Everyone will be held accountable for how they use the property that God has entrusted to them. It does, however, imply that it is wrong to forcibly remove the management of property away from another person.

The Moral Implications of Private Property Upon Economic Policy

As we consider the strengths and weaknesses of different economic systems or policies we must continually remember that the only moral way to divide up the earth’s possessions is through voluntary exchange. Even if it could be shown that an economic system could be designed which can promise greater prosperity by forcibly restricting or compelling the exchange of goods, we as Christians must ultimately come back to the question of what is morally right. Because of the numerous biblical restrictions against theft, only voluntary exchange is morally right.

It should be noted that the prohibitions against theft not only forbid individuals from taking the possessions of other individuals. God also forbids governing authorities from doing so. Even rulers are commanded to serve the Lord with fear (Ps. 2:10-12). The only way for a ruler to do this is to rule with justice (2 Sam. 23:3). God does not command us not to steal unless we work for the government. For example, consider 1 Kings 21, where King Ahab was held accountable for forcibly taking Naboth’s vineyard. His authority as king did not give him the authority to take what did not belong to him. (For a more thorough discussion of the ethics of taxation, click here).

Jesus calls his disciples not to follow the example of gentiles who seek greatness by lording over others. Instead of seeking to exercise authority over the lives of others, Jesus’s followers are expected to be servants (Mk. 10:42-44).

Conclusion

God has delegated to mankind the possession of the earth. In his wisdom, he also gave us moral laws about how to use those possessions. These laws include the prohibition against theft. For this reason, all exchange of goods should be voluntary in nature.

In future parts of this series we will examine how God’s wisdom regarding the possession of property and voluntary exchange has laid a necessary foundation for the division of labor and the creation of wealth. As the study of economics reveals to us, this enables us to be more productive, provide more benefits for one another, and is necessary to alleviate poverty. God created the world with wisdom, and in his wisdom, he gave us his commands. Economics demonstrates that following the wisdom of God’s teachings is the best way for mankind to thrive in God’s world.

Christianity and Economics, Part 4: What Does It Profit?

For other parts of this series on Christianity and Economics, click here.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Mark 8:36

The answer to Jesus’s question is obviously nothing. Even if a man were to gain the whole world, if he loses his soul in the process, he has made a terrible trade. In the end there is no profit at all. There is only tremendous loss.

What is “Profit”?

It’s not uncommon to hear “profit” treated like a bad thing. Just think about all the movies where the villain is some evil businessman that chooses “profits over people.” But profit is not a bad thing. The word “profit” simply means “benefit.”

Profit can certainly be measured in money if the “benefit” sought is money. If I buy something for $3, and I turn around and sell it for $5, I’ve earned a profit of $2. But in a more general sense, such as the sense in which Jesus used the word, profit simply refers to the reward for making good decisions. Giving away money to a charity can be “profitable” if advances a cause that I’m passionate about.

When discussing economics, however, “profit” often takes on the more precise meaning of monetary profit. When all goods can be traded for money, those goods develop market prices defined in amount of money. For this reason profit and loss can be discussed in terms of money. As long as revenue is greater than expenses, there is a profit. If expenses are greater than revenue, there is a loss.

But we must remember that as soon as we limit “profit” to a monetary value, we are no longer making a statement about an entrepreneur’s overall happiness, spiritual well-being, or subjective satisfaction. We are only talking about profit as it is appraised by other members of society, who ultimately determine monetary value through their demand for certain products in relation to their supply.

It’s easy to see how profit benefits an entrepreneur. But what often goes unrecognized is how profit benefits others. In order to explain how this is so we must first consider the problem of resource allocation.

The Complex Problem of Resource Allocation

God created the world with numerous resources, each of which could be used in any number of ways. For example, iron could be used to make all sorts of things – cars, refrigerators, medical devices, construction buildings, houses, power plants, tools, weapons, spoons, etc. The possibilities are endless. The same could be said for all natural resources.

With endless possibilities, mankind is faced with the complex task of deciding what resources, in what quantities, should be used in what ways. What needs are most important? How can we properly use the earth’s resources to help as many people as possible? Even if we are properly motivated impartial love for everyone, how can we know for certain that we are using the earth’s resources most effectively? How much iron should be used for refrigerators? For medical devices? For houses? For machines?

Even if we correctly prioritize the right needs, we still have a problem.  Perhaps we think housing is most important. Since resources are limited, at what point does our investment in housing begin to take away from the important need for medical devices? Or for tractors, which are used to harvest the food everyone needs? Even if our intentions are pure, it would be impossible to know for sure if we are using resources in the best possible way.

To illustrate the complexity of this problem, imagine a world where this problem is perfectly solved, where we know the optimal use of every resource. To simplify the illustration, imagine there are no changes to anyone’s subjective wants, changes in technology development, changes in the total population, or changes in resource availability. If this were the case, every person would do the same tasks every day. Producers would produce the same products, in the same quantity, every day. The prices of all consumer goods and factors of production would remain constant, as neither supply nor demand ever changed.

Consequently, there would be no uncertainty about the future. There would be no need for someone to risk combining resources in a new way. There would be no reason for a business owner to invest more in one line of production, or less in another, or for anyone to take any risks or seek greater profit. Everything would already be used towards its optimal end.

It’s not difficult to see why this can only be an imaginary scenario. James cautions us against assuming that things will continue in the future as they do today.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

James 4:13-14

People’s subjective values change all the time. Technology changes. Population levels change. Resource availability changes. There’s always change going on. Tomorrow will not be like today. The future is uncertain.

For this reason, all entrepreneurs have the task of taking risks. No mater how successful an investment may have been in the past, or may appear today, the future will be different. An entrepreneur has no guarantee of future profitability, because prices are always changing to meet changes in supply and demand.

How Profit and Loss Solves The Problem of Resource Allocation

Since the future is uncertain, entrepreneurs must engage in the task of forecasting future prices for the factors of production and finished products. They must forecast future profitability.

For example, one farmer may forecast that there will be a beef shortage, beef prices will increase, and raising cattle will be profitable. As a result, he may raise more cows, build bigger barns, and dedicate more land towards cattle farming. On the other hand, a competing farmer may forecast that cattle prices will fall, and his time will be better spent growing fresh produce, such as corn, beans, and garden vegetables. Whichever farmer’s forecast proves to be more correct will enjoy a greater profit.

Suppose the first farmer is correct. Due to a beef shortage, prices were high, and he was able to enjoy a good profit. The following year, the other farmer may look to the first farmer’s success as a signal that he should raise cattle as well. Because of the first farmer’s profits, the beef shortage will move quickly towards a solution as more and more farmers move into cattle farming. This will continue until cattle production reaches a level where cattle farming is no longer as profitable as the next best use of the  land. As entrepreneurs seek to invest where there will be the greatest return on their investment, production shifts to meet consumer demand.

Just as important as profit is loss. By suffering a loss, the unsuccessful entrepreneur may be forced to make changes. Suppose the cattle farmer was wrong. Instead of a shortage, there was a surplus of cattle. As a result, he was not able to bring in enough revenue to cover the cost of his investment. If the farmer continues suffer loss, he will eventually have to make a change. Perhaps he will shift away from cattle farming to something more in line with consumer demand. Or perhaps he will sell the farm to another entrepreneur who will use the land more efficiently and more profitably. For instance, if there is a housing shortage, there may be a great demand to develop the land as a new neighborhood.

Profit and loss is a wonderful thing, because it communicates to entrepreneurs the most effective uses of resources allowing them to produce what people want and need. Regardless of whether the farmer is profitable, or suffers a loss, by following profit and loss signals, resources will continually be reallocated to meet consumer demand.

This process plays itself out every day, in every industry, in various ways. All over the world, entrepreneurs continually adapt to changes in people’s preferences, changes in technology, and changes in resource availability. When consumers are free to choose which products, they spend their money on, they are able to influence where entrepreneurs invest, what products are produced, and in what quantities.

Who Benefits from Profit?

Obviously, the entrepreneur who correctly forecasts future economic conditions will enjoy the reward of greater profits. But now we can see how others benefit from profit as well.

Consumers enjoy the benefit of enjoying new and better products. Because of profit, these products will become increasingly available and affordable until the market is saturated to the point where increased production is no longer profitable. As entrepreneurs seek to maximize production of profitable products, they will need to invest in the labors of others.  So not only to consumers benefit, but workers are able to earn a greater living as well. Profit and loss are signals which everyone to a greater standard of living.

A successful entrepreneur is able to earn a profit, not by cheating people, but by meeting the desires of his customers. He does this by anticipating what products they are most willing to spend money on. As they seek to earn a profit, they continually examine whether the resources at their disposal are being used in the most efficient way to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.

Obstacles to Meeting The Needs of Others

This process only works when consumers are free to choose what products they spend money on, and entrepreneurs are free to make whatever changes are necessary to earn a greater profit.

When profits are villainized, so that a portion of profits are taken through taxation, this is bad for everyone. It is bad for entrepreneurs, who receive a decreased return for their investments. As profits decrease, entrepreneurs will decrease investment in production. This hurts workers, who receive less investment for their labors. It is bad for consumers, who get less of the product that they desire.

When people call for the government to bail out industries that aren’t profitable, they prevent those resources from being recombined in more beneficial ways. When politicians protect certain jobs they like, they fail to recognize the more profitable, yet unseen jobs they destroy (see Part 2). Instead of responding to losses by making necessary changes, they will continue to waste scarce resources for products that people don’t want enough to buy.

We have the responsibility to use the limited resources as efficiently as possible to meet the needs of others. Making sure entrepreneurs are free to seek a profit, while also bearing the risk of an uncertain future, is the best way to make sure that the earth’s resources are being used in the best possible way.

The Miraculous and Non-Miraculous Work of the Spirit

This is part 11 of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous parts click here.

What Happened After Baptism

In the previous part of this study it was observed that the “mighty rushing wind”, “tongues as of fire” and the miraculous ability to speak in tongues from Acts 2:1-4, was recognized by Peter as the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. Then in Acts 2:38-39, Peter promised that the gift of the Holy Spirit himself would be given to all those who would repent and be baptized for remission of sins.

What then would Peter’s audience have expected to happen for those who were baptized? It seems they would expect to receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 2, what does it look like when a person receives the Holy Spirit? Up to this point, it has looked like the things they were seeing and hearing on Pentecost (cf. 2:33), namely the mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in tongue.

What then would Peter’s audience have expected to happen for those who were baptized? It seems that they would expect to receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles did.

That expectation makes what happens next even more interesting and noteworthy. Notice carefully what the result is (and what it is not) when those who received Peter’s words were baptized.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:41-47

Did you catch that? About three thousand people received his word and were baptized, but there is not one word about a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire, or speaking in tongues. In fact, Luke specifically mentions that they were in awe at the “sign and wonders being done through the apostles.” That makes it clear that signs and wonders were not being performed by everyone. Instead of describing a recurrence of the events of Acts 2:1-4, Luke gives us a picture of unity, fellowship, self-sacrificial giving, with glad and generous hearts.

What should we make of this? There are only two possible explanations.

  1. Peter was wrong. Despite Peter’s promise, those who were baptized failed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Peter was right. The gift of the Holy Spirit was given in baptism, but the three thousand who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles did, nor did they experience the same kind of results as the apostles did.

Again, since the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to all who would repent and be baptized (2:38-39), and since “signs and wonders” were only being done by the apostles after the three thousand were baptized (2:43), this means that the three thousand who were baptized did not receive the ability to work signs and wonders as the apostles had when they received the Holy Spirit.

So which is it? If Peter was wrong, and the gift of the Holy Spirit was not given to the three thousand in baptism, what would we expect to read next? We would probably read a description of disappointment, as their expectations to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit were not realized.

But what we see next is anything but disappointment. Instead we see gladness and joy. We see God’s people, who were once scattered (2:9-11), enjoy unity and fellowship with one another. We see where Christians self-sacrificially gave up their possessions for one another. We see that no one was left in need.

Luke makes it clear that something incredible happened when the three thousand were baptized. Something had changed. What is it that Luke trying to communicate to his readers?

Prophecy Fulfilled

Here it may be helpful to revisit the prophesies referred to in Peter’s sermon. If we go back and read Joel’s prophesy about the Spirit in context, we can see that the coming age, the age that would be characterized by the Spirit’s presence, would be an age when God’s people would have their needs satisfied.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:26

When Jesus was raised from the dead (which was understood to be an act of the Holy Spirit, see Part 8), the result would be joy and gladness.

I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

Acts 2:25-28 (cf. Ps. 16:8-11)

Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to what Luke describes at the end of Acts 2? When Luke describes the unity of God’s people, with no one lacking what they need, who experience joy and gladness, he is describing the new age; the age that the prophets had said would be brought by the Spirit.

It seems that Luke is showing his readers that, yes, the early Christians did in fact receive the promised Holy Spirit in baptism, albeit not in the same manner, nor with the same miraculous results experienced by the apostles in Acts 2:1-4. As we continue to carefully read the book of Acts, it will be seen that Luke continually describes the miraculous reception of the Holy Spirit as something separate from the way the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit in non-miraculous ways.

A Parallel Passage to Acts 2

After Acts 2:38, the Spirit is not mentioned again until Acts 4:8. To set the context, In Acts 3:1-10, Peter miraculously healed a lame beggar. Peter then stood at the temple and preached a sermon about the risen Jesus (3:11-28) which resulted in the arrest of Peter and John. The following day, Peter and John were called before the Jewish authorities. It is here that we read:

And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders…

Acts 4:7-8

You may notice that Luke mentioned the Holy Spirit filling Peter as Peter was opening his mouth to give a defense. The idea of the Holy Spirit giving someone words to speak shouldn’t surprise us. This has always been an activity of the Spirit (see Parts 3 and 4). This is the same things that happened on Pentecost in Acts 2 (See Part 10). This also reminds us of what Jesus had told his disciples previously about the Spirit giving them words to speak.

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say.

Luke 12:11-12

After Peter and John gave their defense we read:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13

How did they know that Peter and John had been with Jesus? It wasn’t Peter’s miracle itself (although they certainly recognized this as an undeniable sign). It was the boldness of their speech.

The following day, after Peter and John had been released, we read:

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

Once again, we see that being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is connected with the disciple’s boldness as they continued to speak the word of God. Here once again, Luke shows us the result of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples.

Now the number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:32-35

Did you notice the parallels to Acts 2:42-47? After the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with boldness, the result was unity, fellowship, and self-sacrificial giving. Once again, Luke specifically mentions that the apostles continued to with great power (4:33), but they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31), and they were all living like a transformed community of people.

Once again, just as in Acts 2, Luke describes work of the Holy Spirit, not only in miraculous signs and wonders done by the apostles, but also in the transformation, boldness, and generosity of all those who follow the way of Christ.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

This is part 10 on an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous parts of this study, click here.

The Promise of the Father

Luke introduces the book of Acts by reminding how Jesus had given commands to his apostles “through the Holy Spirit” (1:2), and by recalling what Jesus had said to his apostles prior to his ascension.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-8

Observe:

  • Luke connects the “promise of the Father” (Lk. 24:49) with the statement about how Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3:16, See Part 9)
  • When asked about the restoration of the kingdom, Jesus answered by telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them and empower them as his witnesses. The connection between the question about the kingdom, and Jesus’s response about the Spirit makes sense when we recall that the prophets had frequently spoken of the new kingdom as the work of the Spirit (see Part 5).
  • Jesus promised that the apostles would somehow be empowered when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Again, the idea the Holy Spirit giving someone special “power” or “strength” makes sense when we recall those times in the Old Testament when the Spirit did the same sort of thing (cf. Judges 14:5;14:19; 15:14. See Part 3).

With the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” and the “promise of the Father” in the front his mind, Luke then tells his reader about the events of Pentecost.

The Spirit on Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4

Observe:

  • The close connection between the mighty rushing “wind” and the “Spirit.” Recall that the words “wind” and “Spirit” are the same (see Part 1). This passage could be translated that the apostles heard a sound of a mighty rushing “Breath” or “Spirit”, they were filled with the Holy “Breath”, and began to speak in tongues as the “Breath” gave them utterance.
  • It was the “Spirit”/”Wind”/”Breath” that gave them their words. This makes sense when we recall how God filled various people in the Old Testament, giving them the ability to speak words from God (Part 3). The apostles, filled with the Spirit, were speaking words that originated with God’s Spirit.
  • Given the context of Acts 1, we can observe that Luke sees this event as closely connected to the baptism with the Spirit and the promise of the Father.

Next, notice how Peter explains these events by referring to the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 (Part 5).

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:14-18

Just like the other prophets, Joel had spoken of a future day when the world would change. This day would be brought about by God’s Spirit, which would be poured out on “all flesh”. This prophecy included men and women of all ages who would be given the ability to prophesy. According to Peter, this was being fulfilled in the events of Pentecost.

This raises a question. Up to this point, the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Jesus’ apostles. But Joel prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh”. When would the Spirit be given to everyone else?

Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

This brings us to Peter’s words at the conclusion of the Pentecost sermon:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:38-39

Peter says that those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins will receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, as had been promised to them. Grammatically speaking, the gift of the Holy Spirit could be understood in one of two ways. We could read the phrase as referring to a gift which is given by the Holy Spirit (as in, this new shirt is ‘the gift of my wife.”) Or the phrase could be understood as referring to the Holy Spirit himself as the gift which is given (as in, my wife gave me “the gift of my new shirt”).

The key to understanding this phrase is to pay attention to the immediate context, where Jesus referred to the Spirit as “the promise of the Father” (1:4-5) and where Peter had just spoken of the outpouring of the Spirit as “the promise of the Holy Spirit” (2:33). Having just mentioned “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, Peter immediately adds “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” What promise was Peter referring to in verse 39? The context would suggest the same promise already mentioned and just offered as a gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the promised Holy Spirit who had just been poured out, and is now available to all those who repent and are baptized.

Looking ahead in the book of Acts, we will see that the Holy Spirit himself is given to all those who obey him (5:32).  The phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” appears again in Acts 10:44-47, where it clearly refers to the Holy Spirit himself as the gift.

From Acts 2:38-39 we can thus observe

  • The Holy Spirit himself is promised as a gift to all those who repent and are baptized.
  • This serves to fulfill Joel’s promise that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, because through baptism, the Holy Spirit is now available to everyone.
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit is connected with the command to be baptized. This, of course, fits perfectly with what John the Baptist had spoken about Jesus, that he would “baptize” with the Holy Spirit.

Reading the book of Acts closely to this point answers some important questions, but it raises others. If the Holy Spirit was poured out in a miraculous way upon the apostles, and if the Holy Spirit is promised to those who would repent and be baptized, in what sense would the Holy Spirit be given to those who were baptized? Would they also be given the ability to speak in tongues? This question will be the subject of the next part of this study.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

This is part 9 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. For previous parts of this study, click here.

In part 5 of this study we observed where God promised, through the prophets, to give his people new hearts by sending his Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27) and to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:32-38).

In a similar manner, John the Baptist spoke of a coming one who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:7-8 (see also Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16)

John was baptizing with water, but the coming one, identified as Jesus (Jn. 1:33), would baptize with the Holy Spirit. We know that this is somehow tied to the events of Pentecost (Acts 2) because of what Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now“… “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-5, 8

As we observed in parts 6 and 7, Jesus had spoken of a day when the Spirit would be given to those who ask the Heavenly Father (Lk. 11:13), and he identified himself as the source of the Spirit, who would be poured out on the thirsty (Jn. 7:37-39).

What is this baptism with the Holy Spirit that was referred to by the prophets, and spoken of by both Jesus and John?

Not “Baptism Of The Holy Spirit”

It may be interesting to notice that the Bible never actually speaks of a “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, Paul says that the “unity of the Spirit” only involves “one baptism” (Eph. 4:3-6). This can only refer to the baptism that was commanded by Christ (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:5) and his disciples (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and was referred to by Paul as the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

When it comes to “baptism” involving the Spirit, we only find the following phrases:

  • “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16)
  • “This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33)
  • “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16)
  • “Be baptized… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)
  • “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)

There are also phrases that refer to Jesus “pouring out” the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45, Titus 3:5-6), and this also seems to be closely connected with Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit, but the phrase “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” never occurs in the Bible. Perhaps this is a difference without a distinction. But since many today refer to a “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, it should be noted that the phrase is never actually used in Scripture.

Popular Views of the Baptism

There are many who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an event that is described as occurring only a few times in the book of Acts. As noted above, Jesus’ “baptism” is most certainly tied to the events of Acts 2. Many will identify this baptism in the events of Acts 2:1-4, where the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’ disciples who were together in Jerusalem, and gave them the ability to speak in tongues. They will also point to Acts 10:44-48, when in an occurrence similar to that of Acts 2 (see 11:15), the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were with him, giving them the ability to speak in tongues.

There are many variations of this view. Some will also include the events of Saul’s conversion (9:17-18), when the Samaritans received the Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:14-17), and/or when the Ephesians received the Spirit by the laying on of hands (19:6). Some will argue this “baptism” was a unique event that only occurred a few times in the first century. Some will argue that this is a baptism that all Christians should seek, even today. Some will say that this miraculous “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is the moment of conversion. Others will argue that this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” served an important purpose, but should be thought of as separate from the actual moment of conversion, which happens when a person is baptized in water.

What these various views hold in common is the belief that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is to be equated with miraculous signs described in those passages cited above. It is easy to see how many arrive at this view, as the book of Acts makes a strong and indisputable connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the unique ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders.

An Event That Occurs at Every Conversion

What is sometimes overlooked is the way that Luke, in the book of Acts, speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit for all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39), as available for all those who obey (Acts 5:32), and also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s presence among those who apparently lacked the ability to perform miracles (Acts 6:3). Paul also frequently speaks of the Holy Spirit being something that all Christians are baptized with and all Christians drink from.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13

Paul also spoke of the Spirit’s role in the “washing of regeneration” for all Christians.

He saved us, not because of works done by use in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:5-6

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 6:11

Paul appears to be referring to the one baptism spoken of by Jesus, which was necessary to enter the kingdom of God, and which involved two elements: water and Spirit.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5

For this reason, Paul can also of the Spirit dwelling in all Christians (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:8-13), even though he recognized that the ability to perform miraculous gifts was not common to everyone (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Rom. 12:6-8).

The Importance of Reading Both Luke and Paul Carefully

The role of the Holy Spirit in Christians today has been the source of much confusion, disagreement, and sometimes division among Christians. I believe on of the primary reasons for this is because it is easy to read the book of Acts, and get the impression that the Holy Spirit is primarily connected with miraculous gifts, but it is easy to read the letters of Paul and be left with the impression that the Holy Spirit is common to all Christians and not necessarily miraculous. We must avoid the temptation to emphasize only those verses which fit our preconceived notions about the Spirit.

The key to rightly understanding the role of the Spirit is, I believe, to accept that both Luke and Paul were inspired authors of Scripture, and both shared at the same understanding of the Spirit. For this reason, Luke and Paul should not be pitted against one another. At the same time, we can also recognize that Luke and Paul were different individuals who wrote for different purposes, and thus emphasized different aspects of the work of the Spirit. It would be a mistake to assume that every time Paul refers to the work of the Holy Spirit that he was contemplating the same aspect of the work of the Spirit as described by Luke, and vice versa. The inspiration of both authors does not eliminate their individual personalities, writing styles, unique purposes, or unique points of emphasis.

So what was Luke’s point in emphasizing the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in the book of Acts? Did Luke view Jesus’ “baptism with the Spirit” as something limited to those special, miraculous occurrences, or did Luke, like Paul, view the baptism with the Holy Spirit as something which is available for all Christians? These questions will be the subject of the next two parts of this study.

The Holy Spirit Raised Jesus From the Dead

This is part 8 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. For previous parts, click here.

During the time of Israel’s rebellion, the prophets looked forward to a future age, when the Messianic king would set all things right, sins would be forgiven, and the exile would be over. This would be accomplished by God’s Spirit (see Part 5).

In all four accounts of the gospel, the Holy Spirit is emphasized as playing a major role in the life of Jesus (see Parts 6 and 7). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18), declared to the be the Son of God when the Spirit descended on him like a dove (Lk. 3:21-22), was led by the Spirit (Lk. 4:1; 14-15), attributed his ministry to the Spirit (Lk. 4:17-21), and spoke God’s words by the Spirit (Jn. 3:34). The gospel accounts thus portray all of Jesus’ life, leading up to and culminating in his death on the cross, as the work of the Spirit.

It should be no surprise when we see that the Holy Spirit is said to be the one who raised Jesus from the dead.

God Raised Jesus from the Dead

After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples quite naturally attributed this to the work of God.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 2:24

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.

Acts 2:32

God raised him on the third day and made him appear.

Acts 10:10

But God raised him from the dead.

Acts 13:30

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into dead, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:4

Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

Galatians 1:1

God is the one who created life. The only way a dead body can be resurrected to life is by the creative act of God. Without God, there is no life, and there is no resurrection from the dead.

God Raised Jesus From the Dead By the Holy Spirit

As noted in part 2 of this study, God created life by his Spirit. In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, it was God’s Spirit that resurrected the dead bones into living bodies. Since resurrection was an act of the Spirit, we can see how the disciples concluded that Jesus was raided from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.

1 Peter 1:18

He was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 1:4

Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and Our Resurrection

Not only is the Holy Spirit the one who raised Jesus from the dead, but our resurrection will also be the act of the Holy Spirit.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

In order for us to be raised from the dead like Jesus was, we must have the Spirit dwelling in us like Jesus did. Without the Spirit in us to give us life, there is no hope for the resurrection. This raises the question of how Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and what does it mean for us to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. These are the questions we will consider in the upcoming parts of this study.

The Holy Spirit in John

This is Part 7 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. Click here for the previous parts of this study

.

John’s account of the gospel gives special emphasis to Jesus’s teachings regarding the Spirit.

Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one of born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:5-8

In John’s introduction, he spoke of the necessity of a “new birth” taking place in order to become children of God (1:12-13). This new birth is the theme of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, in which he tells him that he must be born of both the “water and Spirit” in order to see God’s kingdom. Just as the prophets had foretold, God’s Kingdom was coming by the work of Spirit, blowing like a wind in whatever direction God desires for it to blow (remember that the Greek word for “Spirit” and “wind” were the same). Just as no human organization can control the wind, or dictate the direction it should blow, so it is with how God was bringing his kingdom by the Spirit. You can’t see God’s Spirit, control God’s Spirit, or dictate to God’s Spirit the direction you want him to blow, let alone try to get into his kingdom on your own terms.

Words of the Spirit

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

John 3:34

As John contrasts Jesus who “comes from above” with those who are “of the earth” (3:31), special attention is drawn to Jesus’s words. Jesus speaks words from God. He does this because God “gives the Spirit without measure.” This is right in line with how we see God’s Spirit connected with speaking words from God in the Old Testament.

Living Water

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 7:37-39

By referring to himself as the source of living, or flowing water, Jesus was identifying himself as the source through whom God’s Spirit would be poured out on the thirsty (see Isaiah 44:3-5). Through Jesus anyone who was faithful to him would be able to receive the Spirit. John notes, however, that this had not happened yet, and it would not happen until after Jesus was “glorified”, a phrase which John uses to refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 3:14; 12:23; 17:1).

The Helper

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him not knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you… These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:16-17; 25-26

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that he would be going away (14:2). But he promised them that they would not be left alone like orphans (14:18), because he would send the “Spirit of truth” as a “Helper” (sometimes translated as “Comforter” or “Advocate”) to dwell with them and be with them. Even though the world would not be able to see him, they would be able to see him (14:19). In this way, Jesus would be “1in them” (14:20). Jesus would show himself and make his home with those who would love him and keep his commandments (14:21-23). This would be accomplished by sending the “Helper”, the “Holy Spirit” who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all the things that he had said to them (14:26).

Observe that the Helper is described as the “Spirit of truth.” Through the Spirit, Jesus will be made manifest to those who love him and keep his commandments (14:21). Jesus says that the Spirit will “teach” and “bring to remembrance” all the things that Jesus had said to them. This concept of a spirit being connected to truthful ideas, commands, teachings, and memories makes sense. That’s what a spirit does. When people teach things, they do so with their breath. When people know things, or remember things, they do so with their mind, or with their “spirit”.

But Jesus’s disciples wouldn’t just have any ordinary human spirit, as a source of ordinary human teachings or memories. They would somehow be helped by THE Spirit. They would be taught teachings which originated with Jesus, as opposed to those created in their own mind. Just as in the Old Testament, when people were said to be filled with God’s Spirit as a way of saying that their actions and their words could be attributed to God working and speaking through them (Part 3), so the apostles would be given the Spirit, showing that their teachings had their origin with Jesus himself.

In this way Jesus would be present with his disciples after his departure. He was going to be with them in that the Spirit would continue to be with them.

When the World Hates You

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:26-27

Jesus warned his disciples that they would be hated and persecuted by the world (15:16-21). They should not be taken by surprise when this happens, for they hated Jesus without cause as well (15:22-25). But fortunately, according to Jesus, they would not be left alone. He reminds them that the “Helper”, the “Spirit of truth” would be sent from the Father. When he comes, he will (along with the apostles) bear witness about Jesus.

Once again we see that the Spirit will have something to say to the world about Jesus. The idea of a “spirit” having something to “say” makes sense given the Hebrew understanding of “spirit” (Part 1).

Guide Into All Truth

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judges.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will come to declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:7-15

Jesus consoles his disciples by telling them that it is to their advantage that he goes away. That’s because his death, resurrection, and departure are necessary events that must happen before sending the Helper, the Spirit of truth. Part of the job of the Spirit will be to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, to guide the apostles into all truth, and to glorify Jesus, taking what is his and declaring it to the apostles.

Once again we can observe that the Spirit’s work, as in the rest of scripture up to this point, is that of expressing or teaching God’s words. But here the message which the Spirit will speak is namely the teachings of Jesus himself (which of course came from the Father to start with).

In other words, the past work and teachings of Jesus will be continued after his departure through the work and teachings of Spirit.

Jesus, the Spirit, and the Disciples

John’s emphasis on Jesus’s teachings about the Spirit culminates in his interaction with his disciples in the upper room after the resurrection.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:21-23

Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples by breathing on them. By doing this, he made them his agents through which sins would be forgiven. By giving them the Holy Spirit, he commissioned them to act on his own behalf. What Jesus had done previously on earth would now be accomplished through His Spirit, who was now embodied in his apostles.

Up to this point, Jesus’s teachings about the Spirit had always been forward looking. But now that Jesus had been glorified through his death and resurrection, the anticipated time had come.

Observe that the point of Jesus “breathing” on his disciples and giving them the Spirit was not to give them some moving or emotional experience. Surely following Jesus can and should be deeply moving and emotional, but that’s not what Jesus giving the Holy Spirit was all about. Nor is the point that Jesus’ disciples were now free to follow whatever kind of intuition they might feel tugging at their hearts. Part of the point of giving the Spirit is that they would be led and taught by Jesus Himself through the Spirit, not by their own spirit, their own feelings, or their own emotions. The apostles, now having received the Holy Spirit, would be acting on Jesus’ own behalf, teaching things that originated with Jesus Himself.

Christianity and Economics, Part 3: Honest Money

Just Weights and Measures

You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin.

Leviticus 19:35-36

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good.

Proverbs 20:23

It is not necessary to explain what unit of measurement the “ephah” or “hin” were. The point is clear: once defined, they could not be changed by individuals in the marketplace. Moses instructed the Israelites not to tamper with this constant measurement so as to defraud another person.

In Old Testament times, when an individual went to buy something, he would bring with him something valuable. At times they would have used barter (maybe trading a sack of wheat for a sheep). At other times they may have brought silver or gold as money. Either way, the use of scales and measurements were important. Their money didn’t have dollar amounts printed on it. They had to weigh out the appropriate amount.

It would have been easy for a dishonest businessman to steal from his neighbor by rigging the scales. For instance, say a man was trading one pound of wheat for a sheep. If he could make his side of the scale heavier, he might put 4/5th of a pound of wheat on the scale, and yet the scale would say that he had enough to buy the sheep. At the end of this fraudulent transaction, the thief would have the sheep plus 1/5th of a pound of wheat which rightfully belonged to his neighbor. But the law of God made it clear that tampering with the scales was wrong.

When people would bring silver or gold to the market, it became even easier for sellers to use dishonest scales. The metal money would normally be measured in weight. The dishonest man could defraud his neighbor by mixing in a less valuable metal with his gold or silver. As long as the impurity of the metal was not noticed, he could then trick his neighbor into thinking he was getting real money, when he was actually getting a watered-down version of the real thing. Meanwhile, it would appear as if the dishonest man had more money left over to buy more stuff. By diluting the silver or gold, a dishonest man could defraud anyone in the marketplace, even if the actual scales were accurate. Diluting the value of money was another form of dishonest measurement, which Isaiah specifically cites as one of the sins of unfaithful Israel when he says “Your silver has become dross” (Is. 1:22).

Why Counterfeiting is Sin

Suppose an individual in Old Testament times figured out a way to duplicate coins for himself. Perhaps he figures out a way to make coins out of cheap metal, and then coat the coin in gold so that it looks and feels like the real thing. Today we call this practice counterfeiting. In addition to breaking God’s instructions for just weights and measures, this individual is stealing. But who is the victim of the kind of theft known as counterfeiting?

The counterfeiter steals money by increasing the money supply when he spends this money in the marketplace. With each fraudulent coin he spends, he slowly dilutes the value of everyone else’s gold coins. With more money being circulated in the marketplace, goods and services cost more. Economist refer to this process as “inflation.” Counterfeiting is destructive because it slowly steals from everyone except for the counterfeiter. The counterfeiter benefits by getting to spend new money he didn’t work for, while everyone else is force to pay higher prices with the same amount of gold coins they had in the first place. For others, the cost of living simply rises and no one can provide an explanation. They are totally unaware of the counterfeiter. Counterfeiting is therefore an invisible form of theft, but it is most certainly theft and therefore breaks God’s law.

This is an important point. Counterfeiting money is not simply wrong because it breaks the laws of a country. Counterfeiting is wrong because counterfeiting breaks God’s law, regardless of the laws of a country. When sin is legalized, it is still a sin. Legal abortion is still sin. Legally recognized homosexual marriage is still sinful. If counterfeiting were legal, it would still be theft.

Thankfully, private counterfeiting has never been much of a problem in society. If anyone is caught printing new money on a private printer, the consequences are very severe. Even when private counterfeiting successfully occurs, it happens on such a small scale that the impact of the counterfeiter on the cost of living is immeasurably small.

However, when creating new money is legal, and even sanctioned by the government, this is still counterfeiting, it is still wrong, and it is detrimental to an economy.

Modern Money

In one sense, modern money has become invisible. It moves electronically from one computer to another, and does not even have a physical form. A vast majority of money used today is simply numbers in a computer on someone’s account balance. But at some point this electronic money is converted back into paper cash and coins.

If you examine a dollar bill from your wallet, you will find the words “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.” In other words, this dollar bill is legal money. Yes, we can pay for things using checks or credit cards or Venmo, but ultimately, these can be turned back into paper dollars.

You will also find the words “Federal Reserve Note.” In other words, these paper dollars are created and distributed by the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States. The green piece of paper is very obviously money because it has official and authoritative images in the right places. These images indicate the full faith and strength of the United States Government.

Prior to 1957, dollar bills looked very similar to how they look today, but with a few slight differences (click here for an image). Dollars at this time contained the words “Silver Certificate.” The also included the following words: “This certifies that there is on deposit in the treasury of the United States of America… One Dollar in silver payable to the bearer on demand.”

That tiny difference is significant. To be perfectly clear, there is nothing backing modern currency. At one point in time, a United States dollar could be traded for a silver dollar on demand. But this convertibility was gradually removed. Evidence of this can be seen in coins. If you are lucky enough to find a quarter from before the year 1964, you will notice that it is made of 90% pure silver. Now days quarters are made of much cheaper metal.

Although you might find this interesting, you might also be wondering “what’s the big deal? People still accept the dollar. Just as long as people are honest, how is paper money wrong?” To be clear, there is nothing immoral with paper money, just as long as the measurement of value is held constant and just. The problem with unbacked paper money is that it can be created at almost no cost. When paper money is not backed by something of value, this enables individuals (governments, big banks, and their buddies) to enter the marketplace with newly created, counterfeit money, which is in direct opposition to what the Bible teaches about just weights and measures.

What Is the Right Quantity of Money?

Without a fixed measure of value (such as gold or silver) backing the dollar, there is no longer any limit on how much new money can be created. In 1971, Richard Nixon officially removed the dollar from the gold standard, and ever since then the supply of money created by the Federal Reserve has dramatically increased (especially in the year 2020). This new money has been literally created out of thin air. It is dishonest money that contradicts God’s prescription for honesty in trade. If this was done by a shady guy in a basement with a fancy printer, he would be thrown in jail for a very long time.

Someone might object that allowing the Federal Reserve to create money isn’t the same thing as a private individual printing up 100’s in his basement. Not only do they have the proper legal authority, but there are times of economic crisis (such as in the year 2020) when there just isn’t enough money to go around. During such times, wouldn’t there be an economic benefit to having a more elastic money supply? Can we really say that the Biblical standards for “honest money” apply in such a situation?

In other words, if new money is created legally, with only the very best intentions of creating wealth and preventing poverty, is it still wrong?

To answer this objection, imagine you had the ability to create a new can of peas out nothing (or turkeys, or watermelons, or cattle). Would this help the poor? Of course it would! The increased supply of goods per person would mean everyone can consume more, and the standard of living would go up for everyone. But creating new money provides no benefit for society at all (except for the dishonest counterfeiter).

Why not? Because money itself cannot be eaten or consumed. Money is used only as a medium of exchange. Once we have enough money for the use of exchange, no more money is needed. So while increasing the number of cattle or cars or cell phones or houses would be beneficial, increasing the supply of money only dilutes its value because there is more of it floating around.

To put it simply, if the number of cars suddenly doubled, twice as many people could own cars. But if the supply of money were doubled, the only result would be that we would have the same number of goods and services for double the price (at least on average). Now if everyone saw their bank accounts double, they might feel richer, at least in the short term, and go buy houses, vacations, or new cars. But once prices went up to compensate for the increased demand, reality would set in, and people would realize that they are not better off at all. In fact, they might be worse off because they were encouraged to buy things that they really couldn’t afford.

Counterfeiting money does more than just drive-up prices. It causes people to make foolish decisions with their money (“malinvestment” is the economic term). Dishonest money has no societal benefit at all.