Tough Questions Answered

A Christian Apologetics Blog
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  • Will We Lose Our Identity in Heaven?

    Posted By on March 27, 2015

    Is Heaven some kind of dystopia where everyone drones on and on about how they love God? A place where everyone talks, thinks, and acts the same? Is Heaven full of Stepford Wives?

    Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, answers with a resounding “no.” Alcorn first reminds us that

    [w]e can all be like Jesus in character yet remain very different from each other in personality. Distinctiveness is God’s creation, not Satan’s. What makes us unique will survive. In fact, much of our uniqueness may be uncovered for the first time.

    Alcorn then quotes from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity:

    Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most ‘natural’ men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints. . . . Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

    In Heaven you will finally be you! All of the unique aspects of your personality will shine through brilliantly for the first time. Rather than everyone becoming automatons in Heaven, we will be the most fascinating group of people you can imagine.

    Why Don’t Christians Celebrate the Day of Atonement?

    Posted By on March 25, 2015

    If God commanded the Day of Atonement to be a lasting ordinance, then why don’t Christians, who regard the Book of Leviticus as the inspired word of God, celebrate this holy day?

    The reason, quite simply, is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the purpose of the Day of Atonement by the New Testament writers. In the Gospel of Matthew, the author refers to the curtain in the temple being torn in two when Jesus died, thus destroying the separation between God and man that was remembered every year on the Day of Atonement.

    In the Book of Hebrews, the central theme is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement in Jesus Christ. There are several passages in Hebrews that compare Jesus’s death to the rituals of the Day of Atonement.

    Hebrews 7:26-27 reads, “For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do — first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself.”

    As the perfect high priest, Jesus did not need to repeat sacrifices for himself and for his people, as Aaron did. Once was enough for Jesus.

    Hebrews 9:11-14 reads, “But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?”

    The blood of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, is so much more powerful than the blood of goats and cows.

    Hebrews 9:25-26 reads, “He did not do this to offer Himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

    Jesus’s one sacrifice is all that was needed for the removal of mankind’s sins. When his sacrifice was made, he declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Hebrews 10:11-12 states, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.”

    What does all of this mean for the believer?

    God says, “I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin” (Heb 10:17-18). The writer of Hebrews adds, “Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water” (Heb 10:19-22).

    Commentary on Leviticus 16 (Day of Atonement)

    Posted By on March 23, 2015

    Leviticus 16 regulates the most important day of the year for the nation of Israel, the Day of Atonement. Modern Jews still celebrate this day and call it Yom Kippur. After the initial anointing ceremony of the tabernacle (Lev 8-10), this would be the only day each year that anyone could enter the inner room of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. Take a look at the illustration of the tabernacle and its surroundings again to see where the Holy of Holies is located with respect to everything else: http://www.karbelmultimedia.com/portfolio/the-tabernacle/

    In verses 1-2, God explains to Moses and Aaron that the high priest cannot enter the Holy of Holies whenever he wants. Just as Nadab and Abihu died, so shall the high priest die if he enters the Holy of Holies on any other day of the year, other than the Day of Atonement.

    God instructs Aaron how to prepare himself for the sacrifices he will make on this day in verses 3-6. Aaron will need a bull for a sin offering (to atone for the sins of Aaron and his household) and a ram for a burnt offering. He was not to wear the normal high priestly garments, but a simpler wardrobe that would symbolize the humility of the nation who was coming before God to ask forgiveness. Aaron would also need two goats and a ram as offerings from the people of Israel.

    In verses 7-10, we learn that one goat would be chosen to be sacrificed as a sin offering, but the other, the scapegoat, would be sent into the desert to atone for the sins of the nation. The scapegoat would leave the camp of Israel, and never return, symbolizing how the sins of Israel from the previous year had been removed and would never return again.

    Verses 11-14 describe the ceremony in detail. First, Aaron must present the bull as a sin offering for himself and his household. The high priest cannot present an offering for the sins of the people until he has first atoned for his own sins. The blood of the bull had to be taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, also called the “mercy seat.”

    Before Aaron enters, he must burn incense and allow the incense to fill the Holy of Holies so that Aaron will be protected from the direct presence of God, who is “located” above the Ark.

    In verse 14, Aaron is instructed how to sprinkle the blood of the bull on the Ark. Commentator Mark Rooker, in Leviticus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) explains:

    Aaron was to sprinkle the blood of the bull with his finger on the front of the mercy seat seven times. This transporting and sprinkling of blood in the Most Holy Place [Holy of Holies] is the most unique feature of the Day of Atonement. This was the only occasion in which blood was brought into the Most Holy Place, which underscores the singular solemnity of this preeminent day. The mercy seat covered the ark, which contained the Ten Commandments, manna, and Aaron’s rod (Heb 9:4–5). The narrative accounts surrounding these items stress the rebellion of the Israelites. Thus the cherubim looking down upon the mercy seat saw only the evidence of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The blood on the mercy seat indicated that Israel’s sin was atoned for by a substitutionary death.

    Next, in verses 15-19, the blood from the goat offered for the people of Israel is also sprinkled on the Ark. Because the sins of the people are so pervasive, the goat blood is then sprinkled on every object within the tabernacle, inner room and outer room. In addition, the altar for burnt offerings in the tabernacle court must also be purified with the blood of the bull and goat. In this way, the tabernacle and its courtyard is cleansed of all impurity brought by the people of Israel into God’s earthly home.

    Once the blood atonement has been performed, Aaron is to move on to the scapegoat. Verse 21 states clearly the procedure: “He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task.”

    Notice that the scapegoat is to remove all the sins of Israel from the preceding year. The Day of Atonement is comprehensive, and thus significant for the people of Israel. Even though sacrifices and offerings have been happening every day in the tabernacle courtyard, they are not sufficient to remove all the sins of Israel. One day a year is set aside to wipe the slate clean.

    Why are two goats required for the Day of Atonement? Mark Rooker remarks,

    In the Day of Atonement ceremony the first [goat] pictures the means for atonement, the shedding of blood in the sacrificial death. The scapegoat pictures the effect of atonement, the removal of guilt. What is accomplished in the scapegoat ritual is expressed by David in the Psalms: ‘As far as east is from west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us’ (Ps 103:12).

    After the scapegoat is sent away, Aaron has a couple more things to do. He must remove his garments and bathe. Once he has bathed, he is to put back on his normal high priestly garments. He must then sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the people of Israel. The man who escorts the scapegoat must also bathe himself before re-entering the camp.

    Verses 29-34 also instruct the people of Israel that on the Day of Atonement, they are to deny themselves. Jewish tradition holds that they were not to work, eat, bathe, use body oil, have sex, or wear shoes. All of these were hardships to remind them of their humility before God. God mandates that the Day of Atonement is a lasting ordinance to be performed on the same day every year.

    What Is a Game?

    Posted By on March 11, 2015

    Ludwig Wittgenstein famously argued that there are no such things as essences. He claimed that when we group things together into classes, we are doing so because there are “family resemblances” among the objects of the class. The objects grouped together do not share a common essence. They merely share some similar characteristics.

    His most famous example is of the word “game.” Wittgenstein argued that there is no common definition or essence of what a game is.  It is just a word that groups some things together in a class that have “family resemblances” to each other. If we can’t find an essence for a word we use so frequently as game, then surely essences don’t exist. We think we know what a game is, but we really don’t. It’s that way with all words that name objects in the world, argues Wittgenstein.

    It surely is hard to define what a game is, but is it true that nobody has ever been able to give a definition of the word game? Is there no essence to games?

    David Oderberg, in his book Real Essentialism, cites the philosopher Jesper Juul as arguing that there is an essence to games. Juul offers the following definition:

    Jesper Juul, for one, has argued with some persuasiveness that games do indeed have an essence, and that the essence is given by six features: (1) rules; (2) a variable, quantifiable outcome; (3) a value assigned to possible outcomes; (4) player effort; (5) attachment by the player to the outcome; (6) negotiable consequences.

    Oderberg notes, “One interesting feature of Juul’s definition is that he seeks to capture our intuitive understanding of what a game is, comparing it to a number of previous definitions found in the literature.”

    Oderberg continues:

    [T]he ‘variable, quantifiable outcome’ in feature (2) does not require that a game have an outcome that is numerically measurable, only that it be clear, unambiguous, and such that, at the very least, one can in principle say that it has been achieved or not achieved (the quantification here can be thought of as binary – achieve (1) or not achieve (0)).

    Hence Wittgenstein’s examples of patience and of a child throwing a ball against a wall, even if they do not involve winning and losing or competition, fall within Juul’s definition. So does his other example of ring-a-ring-a-roses, where the outcome is precisely falling down on the word ‘down!’ So would rope-skipping as typically played by children, where a child either hands over to another the first time she misses the rope or does so after enough misses; in any case, simply staying clear of the rope is a variable, quantifiable outcome. A boxer’s rope-skipping as part of his training is, on the other hand, not a game. Nor is finger-painting or (usually) playing with dolls – a child can play with dolls without playing a game with them.

    Oderberg discusses other aspects of Juul’s definition of games, but his main point is that Wittgenstein was far too hasty to claim that there is no essence to games. The bottom line for me is that anyone who claims that there is no such thing as essences has their work cut out for them. The fact that someone was able to offer a persuasive definition for game is bad news for the anti-essentialist, because finding the essence of a game is extremely difficult. If we can find an essence in this difficult case, then we can surely find essences in other easier cases. If we can do that, then there is strong reason to believe that essences exist.

    How Did Evil Arise in a Good Universe?

    Posted By on March 9, 2015

    According to the Bible, an angel created by God (Satan or Lucifer) was the first creature to bring evil into the universe. But the question arises how this good creature, created by a good God, living in a good universe, could choose evil. God did not cause Satan to sin, so who caused Satan to sin?

    Theologian Norm Geisler tackles this problem in his book If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Question. Geisler argues that there are only three options for who caused Satan to sin:

    The best way to comprehend the basis of a free act is to examine the three possible alternatives. A free act is either uncaused, caused by another, or self-caused. That is, it is undetermined, determined by another, or self-determined.

    No action can be uncaused (undetermined); that would be a violation of the law of causality (every event has a cause). Neither can a free act be caused by another; for if someone or something else caused the action, then it is not ours (not from our free choice) and we would not be responsible for it.

    Hence all free actions must be self-caused, that is, caused by oneself. Now we can answer the question, “What caused Lucifer to sin?” No one did. He is the cause of his own sin. Sin is a self-caused action, one for which we cannot blame anyone or anything else. Who caused the first sin? Lucifer. How did he cause it? By the power of free choice, which God gave him. Thus God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.

    So how did evil arise by free will?

    1. A good creature (Lucifer),

    2. With the good power of free will,

    3. Willed the finite good of the creature (himself)

    4. Over the infinite good of the Creator.

    Geisler continues:

    It is important to note that no evil need exist in order to will evil; for example, willing a lesser good can be an evil. Evil is created by a free person (oneself), and such a person does not have to participate in something outside of himself in order to be evil. The evil of willing oneself to take the place of God is an evil in itself. In fact, this is precisely what the Bible says about the first evil act of Lucifer: It was pride. . . .

    Thus sin was born in the breast of an archangel in the presence of God. A stunningly beautiful and extremely powerful creature fell when he made himself, rather than God, the object of his adoration. God created only good things. One good thing He made was free will. A good being, with the good power of free will, chose to put his will over God’s. Who caused Lucifer to sin? No one else did – he was the cause of his own sin. Sin is a self-caused action, caused by oneself. Hence it is as meaningless to ask, “Who caused Lucifer to sin?” as it is to ask, “Who made God?” No one made God, the Unmade Maker, and Lucifer is the maker of his own sin.

    Was Jesus a Miracle Worker?

    Posted By on March 6, 2015

    There continue to be liberal Christians, and even non-Christians, who really like the moral teachings of Jesus (e.g., “Love your neighbor”), but who set aside the accounts of his miracles (e.g., raising Lazarus from the dead). They chalk them up to legend or they insist that the miracles were not what his ministry was about. In their mind, a serious Bible student can ignore the miracle accounts in the Gospels and just focus on the Sermon on the Mount or Jesus’s other ethical discourses.

    But are you a serious Bible student if you ignore the miracle accounts? Are the wonders Jesus performed peripheral to his mission, a sideshow that can be carved out?

    Setting aside the issue of whether you believe miracles can occur, there is absolutely no doubt that Jesus and the people who witnessed his ministry thought that they could and did occur. Craig Keener, in his book Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set), teaches us that a modern person simply cannot ignore this part of the Jesus traditions.

    Although limited in kind (i.e., no artifacts), the available evidence for Jesus as a miracle worker is substantial. Although the evidence is limited concerning most particular miracles, all of the many ancient sources that comment on the issue agree that Jesus and his early followers performed miracles: Q, Mark, special material in Matthew and Luke, John, Acts, the Epistles, Revelation, and non-Christian testimony from both Jewish and pagan sources. . . .

    Most scholars today working on the subject thus accept the claim that Jesus was a healer and exorcist. The evidence is stronger for this claim than for most other specific historical claims that we could make about Jesus or earliest Christianity. Scholars often note that miracles characterized Jesus’s historical activity no less than his teaching and prophetic activities did. So central are miracle reports to the Gospels that one could remove them only if one regarded the Gospels as preserving barely any genuine information about Jesus.  Indeed, it is estimated that more than 31 percent of the verses in Mark’s Gospel involve miracles in some way, or some 40 percent of his narrative! Very few critics would deny the presence of any miracles in the earliest material about Jesus. (emphasis added)

    Where is the consensus of historical scholarship on the issue of miracles in Jesus’s ministry?

    It is thus not surprising that most scholars publishing historical research about Jesus today grant that Jesus was a miracle worker, regardless of their varying philosophic assumptions about divine activity in miracle claims. For example, E. P. Sanders regards it as an “almost indisputable” historical fact that “Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.” Using traditional historical-critical tools, John Meier finds many of Jesus’s reported miracles authentic. Raymond Brown notes that “scholars have come to realize that one cannot dismiss Jesus’s miracles simply on modern rationalist grounds, for the oldest traditions show him as a healer.” Otto Betz regards it as “certain” that Jesus was a healer, arguing “even from the Jewish polemic which called him a sorcerer.” The miracles, he notes, are central to the Gospels, and without them, most of the other data in the Gospels are inexplicable. Even Morton Smith, among the recent scholars most skeptical toward the Gospel tradition, argues that miracle working is the most authentic part of the Jesus tradition, though he explains it along the magical lines urged by Jesus’s early detractors.

    Keener continues:

    These observations do not resolve the question of individual miracle stories in the Gospels, but they do challenge one basic assumption that has often lodged the burden of proof against them: against some traditional assumptions, one cannot dismiss particular stories on the basis that Jesus did not perform miracles. One need not, therefore, attribute stories about Jesus’s miracles purely to legendary accretions. Nor should one expect that the church’s later Christology led them to invent many accounts of Jesus’s miracles; it may have influenced their interpretation and shaping of the accounts, but there was little reason to invent miracles for christological reasons. We lack substantial contemporary evidence that Jewish people expected a miracle-working messiah, and nonmessianic figures like Paul were also believed to be miracle workers (2 Cor 12: 12). Rather than Christology causing miracle claims to be invented, claims already circulating about Jesus’s miracles, once combined with other claims about Jesus, undoubtedly contributed to apologetic for a higher Christology. (emphasis added)

    Where does this evidence leave us? It would seem that the miracles Jesus performed were an integral part of his ministry. The hope that historical Jesus can be separated from the wonders he performed is a lost cause. It’s really a package deal. Jesus loved his neighbors not by talking to them about good morals, but by miraculously healing them.

    What Is Real Essentialism?

    Posted By on March 4, 2015


    David Oderberg, in his book Real Essentialism (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 11), describes the metaphysical system that derives from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and their students. This system is the closest thing to explaining our common sense knowledge of the world around us that I have ever seen. It is sometimes called classical Christian metaphysics or Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.

    If it embodies the best common sense, then why write about it? Everybody should be agreed! It turns out that every one of its tenets has been and continues to be attacked by philosophers who propose competing metaphysical systems. As you read through the presuppositions for real essentialism below, keep in mind that every point is disputed by somebody in the academic, philosophical world.

    Oderberg offers five presuppositions for real essentialism:

    First, there is a real world , by which I mean a world that is wholly objective. . . . Of course there are many dimensions of contrast for the term ‘real’ – real v. fictional, real v. artefactual, real v. imaginary and the like – and the essentialist incorporates all of these distinctions into his ontology. But the overall position he holds is that there is a real world, and that the things in it are all real in the sense that they are beings of one kind or another and their being is not a matter of opinion or conjecture.

    Secondly, the reference to being indicates that the real essentialist starts from the classic Aristotelian position that metaphysics is the study of being qua being: being in all its manifestations and varieties, classified according to a suite of concepts and categories that derive from the Aristotelian tradition. . . . Real essentialism takes nature seriously, and whilst it may countenance the existence of the immaterial – as I think it should – it does not reduce or refer nature as it is in concrete physical reality to a realm of the immaterial that is supposed to be its ultimate ontological ground.

    Essences are real, they encompass all kinds of being and, thirdly, they are knowable. The essentialist is committed to the view that the human mind can come to know the essence of things. Knowledge of the truth just is the conformity of the mind to the way things are, and so knowledge of essence is the conformity of the mind to the natures of things. The knowledge is frequently only partial and incomplete, but it is no part of the real essentialist worldview that humans can always achieve complete, adequate knowledge of the essences of things. This not a counsel of despair but an encouragement to the increase and improvement of knowledge.

    Fourthly, real essentialism holds that knowledge of essence is captured by means of real definition. As Fine puts it, ‘[ j]ust as we may define a word, or say what it means, so we may define an object, or say what it is’ (Fine 1994a: 2). The prejudice against real definition is a deeply held one, going back to the roots of empiricism. Yet it is hard to see why the concept is unacceptable. Indeed, since defining a word is best seen as giving the essence of a kind of object (the meaning), the opponent of real definition who at least concedes that we can define words has already conceded the principle that one can define objects of a certain kind; if that kind, why not others ? . . . To define something just means, literally, to set forth its limits in such a way that one can distinguish it from all other things of a different kind. . . . Putting the point again in Aristotelian terminology . . . , to give the definition of something it to say what it is, to give the ti esti or to ti e-n einai of the object. Put simply, the real essentialist position is that it is possible to say correctly what things are.

    Fifthly, the real essentialist holds that the world is orderly and hence that things are classifiable, a point heavily emphasized, and rightly so, by Ellis. Describing the world accurately requires one to be able to classify the things within it into kinds of being. This does not depend on there being multiple examples of any particular kind, for even if each thing that existed were the only one of its kind it would still be classifiable as a member of some kind or other. . . .  The real essentialist, however, is concerned primarily with classification not according to some real dimension or other, but according to what objects are in their entirety. This is given by the form of the object as a whole, and this too is multiply instantiable.

    Let’s simplify further to the following five statements:

    1. There is a real world.
    2. The metaphysician should study the world as it is.
    3. Essences are real, they encompass all kinds of being, and they are knowable.
    4. It is possible to say correctly what things are.
    5. The world is orderly and the things in it are classifiable.

    From these five points is where the real essentialist starts. Again, all of these statements seem blindingly obvious to me, but philosophers at universities that you are sending your kids to might disagree. All I can say is, “Beware.” Once you start denying these five points, you are on a trajectory of intellectual chaos and confusion.

    Is Satan Totally Evil?

    Posted By on March 2, 2015

    Many people mistakenly believe that while God is totally good, Satan, or the Devil, is totally evil. They are polar opposites of each other.

    This idea, however, is false. Satan, while being totally evil in a moral sense, is not totally evil in a metaphysical sense. Theologian Norm Geisler explains the distinction in his book If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Question. Geisler writes:

    The Bible speaks about Satan as “the evil one” (1 John 5:19) who is a liar by his very nature (John 8:44). Surely there is no good in Satan – is he not totally evil? Yes, he is completely evil in a moral sense, but not in a metaphysical sense. Just like fallen humans still have God’s image, even so Satan has the remnants of good that God gave to him as a created angel.

    For example, Satan has good insofar as he is a creature of God, insofar as he has intelligence, and power, and free will. Of course, he uses all these God-given good powers to do evil; he is ever, always, irretrievably bent on evil. But this is only to say he is totally depraved morally, not that he is totally deprived of all creaturely good metaphysically.

    God, on the other hand, is totally good, both metaphysically and morally. They are not opposites in a metaphysical sense. In fact, Satan could not even exist unless God created him. Evil is a corruption of good, a parasite. A personal agent who is totally and completely evil is, therefore, impossible.

    Why Don’t Christians Ordain a High Priest?

    Posted By on February 27, 2015

    If God commanded Moses to ordain a high priest, then why is it we aren’t doing that today? After all, the book of Leviticus recounts a 7-day ceremony meant to inaugurate the priesthood, and the high priesthood in particular, for the Israelites. If the Bible commands it, then why aren’t we doing it?

    Although the Old Testament books were written for us, they were not written to us.  They were written to ancient Israel, to a people who were saved from Egyptian slavery, and who agreed to a covenant with God, mediated through Moses. Since we are not living under the same covenant with God, then we cannot blindly apply Old Testament commands to our lives today. We must look to the new covenant described in the New Testament for guidance.

    When we look at the New Testament book of Hebrews, our questions are answered about the High Priest. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus Christ is our High Priest. As High Priest, he made a “sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people,” he was faithful to his calling from God the Father, he resides in Heaven with the Father, he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” and he is High Priest forever. The author of Hebrews summarizes:

    For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. (Heb 7:26-27)

    Commentary on Leviticus 8-10 (The Ordination of Aaron and His Sons)

    Posted By on February 25, 2015

    The first seven chapters of Leviticus regulate the offerings to be given to God. Now that these instructions have been given, it is time for Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his four sons, to be anointed as the first Israelite priests under the new Mosaic covenant.

    Since there are no priests yet, Moses acts in the role of high priest to anoint Aaron and his sons, according to the commands of God. In verses 1-3, God gives Moses instructions to begin the anointing ceremony. The following people and items are needed: 1) Aaron and his four sons, 2) the garments that were made for them as specified by God in the book of Exodus, 3) anointing oil, 4) a bull for a sin offering, 5) two rams and bread without yeast for additional offerings, and 6) the elders representing all of the tribes and clans of Israel. Everyone was to gather in the tabernacle courtyard to witness what was about to happen.

    In verse 5, Moses says, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.” The entire process of ordination was detailed in Exodus 29, and Leviticus 8 and 9 confirm that Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel, did exactly as God had earlier commanded. Verses 6-29 recount the first day of the ordination of the first High Priest (Aaron) and his sons.

    Gordon J. Wenham, in The Book of Leviticus (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament), explains the significance of the role of high priest and his garments. “The nation of Israel as a whole was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), and the church is also (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6). Israel could see in the glorious figure of the high priest the personal embodiment of all that the nation ought to be both individually and corporately.”

    As we pick up at verse 30, we see Moses completing the first day’s ceremonies. Moses takes anointing oil and blood from the altar (placed there during the sacrifices of the bull and rams) and sprinkles Aaron and his sons with them. This completed the first day of the ordination (which would last 7 days).

    For the next 6 days, Aaron and his sons would have to offer sacrifices for themselves every day. Moses commands them not to leave the tabernacle courtyard for the remainder of the 7-day period, lest they become unclean.

    Moses explains to Aaron and his sons, in verse 34, that the ordination rituals just completed were to make atonement for their sins. After all, the primary duty of the High Priest was to atone for the sins of Israel so that Israel could remain in relationship with God. But the High Priest cannot make atonement for the people before he atones for his own sins. That was the purpose of the day’s sacrifices. Again, we see in verse 36 that they “did everything the Lord commanded through Moses.”

    Wenham brings out a central theme of chapter 8, the pervasiveness of sin. He writes,

    In this section one doctrine emerges very clearly: the universality and pervasiveness of sin. The men chosen to minister to God in the tabernacle pollute the tabernacle and therefore purification offerings have to be offered. Their clothes and bodies are stained with sin and they must be smeared with blood to purify them. These sacrifices are not offered just once; they have to be repeated, because sin is deep-rooted in human nature and often recurs. There is no once-for-all cleansing known to the OT. It is the incorrigibility of the human heart that these ordination ceremonies bring into focus.

    In chapter 9, we have moved ahead to the 8th day of the ordination of Aaron and his sons. Now that they have atoned for their sins, it is time for them to atone for the sins of all of Israel. In verses 1-5, Moses explains all of the offerings that must be made for the people. The purpose for the sacrifices is stated in verse 6: “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” Once the sins of Aaron and sons were atoned for, and then the sins of the rest of Israel were atoned for, God would appear and confirm his presence and covenant with Israel.

    In verse 22 of chapter 9, Aaron completes the sacrifices for the people of Israel. With the process completed Moses and Aaron go into the tabernacle. When they come back out, God’s glory appears in the form of fire on the brazen altar that instantly consumes all of the remaining offering. The elders of Israel react as any of us would when confronted with the God of the universe. They fell flat on their faces and shouted for joy!

    Why was the whole process of sacrifices and ordination necessary for God’s presence to be made known? Wenham comments:

    Aaron’s gorgeous garments, the multiplicity of animal sacrifices, were not ends in themselves but only means to the end, namely, the proper worship of God. These elaborate vestments and sacrifices helped simple human minds appreciate the majestic holiness of God. But all the ritual in the OT would have been pointless if God had not deigned to reveal himself to the people. The clothing and the sacrifices merely helped to put the worshippers in a state of mind that was prepared for God’s coming, and removed the obstacles of human sin that prevented fellowship, but they did not necessarily ensure God’s presence.

    Throughout all of chapters 8 and 9, we are reminded that every command of God was followed with exactitude. In the first three verses of chapter 10, however, we see what happens when the newly anointed priests disobey God’s commands.

    Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, offer incense to God, but they do it in a way that is unauthorized, that is contrary to God’s commands. The text is not clear as to their exact violation. Some scholars have speculated that they performed a Canaanite or Egyptian ritual. Regardless, it seems they knew what they were doing and they paid for their disobedience with their lives.

    Fire consumed both of them, fire from God. Moses, in verse 3, explains to Aaron that the priests must honor God because he is holy, with the implication being that Nadab and Abihu did not honor God. Rather than dispute what Moses said, Aaron remained silent.

    What are we to make of the death of Aaron’s sons? It seems that the closer a man is to God (Levite priest being very close indeed) the stricter is the standard by which he will be judged. The New Testament reiterates this teaching. Consider Luke 12:48: “Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required.” Peter said in 1 Pet 4:17, “Judgment begins with the household of God.” James said in James 3:1, “We who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” Christians in visible leadership are held to a higher standard.

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