Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:5–6

[NOTE: This post is one of the most important to appear on this blog in relation to what God is like!]

The ruined earth

How many times have you heard someone say about their sin, “I wasn’t hurting anybody but myself”? But the truth is that all sin hurts God!

How does God feel about sin? What will God do in reaction to the pain which sin causes him? How will God comfort himself concerning the pain caused by human sin?

One thing about being God is that you never have to explain yourself! Yet Gen. 6:5 does exactly that; it explains why God decided to destroy the world he originally created. Clearly, God does not provide this explanation as a matter of obligation but to inform his servants of his motivation and character. God takes sin so seriously that he will ultimately destroy those who carry it out.

Victor Hamilton does an excellent job of summarizing our two verses:

Here, first of all, is what God saw (v. 5), then how he felt (v. 6), then what he intends to do (v. 7). What God saw was both the intensiveness of sin and the extensiveness of sin. Geographically, the problem is an infested earth. Note that in Gen. 6:5–13, the earth (Hebrew ha’arets) is mentioned eight times.[1]

In Genesis 2:16–17 we found a pattern of a general observation followed by a specific exception. The Lord first said (2:16) the man could eat “from every tree” in the Garden of Eden. Then came the specific exception that the man “must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17). The same pattern occurs in Genesis 6:5–8, in which God condemns the evil of all humankind (6:5) and then introduces the specific exception—Noah (6:8).

Genesis 6:5
But the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.
(NET Bible)

Point of no return

Recall that in Genesis 1:31, God saw all that he had made and it was “very good.” By this point (6:5), the picture has totally changed to evil! This state of affairs is the direct result of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Here is the result of falling into the ‘knowledge of good and evil: Evil becomes dominant, and the good is ruined by the evil.”[2] “Ruined” is the operative word for this section of Genesis.

The word translated by NET as “inclination” primarily means “something made into shape,” like a pot fashioned by a potter, and then secondarily means “inclination,” which is an idea shaped by the mind.[3] Good things were fashioned by the mind of God, but evil things were the creative product of pre-flood humanity. In what may be a fitting description of the effects God saw, the apostle Paul describes the “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28) of those who refused to acknowledge God, and he further describes them as “contrivers of all sorts of evil” (Rom. 1:30). That last phrase in Paul fits nicely with the second half of Genesis 6:5.

Wenham correctly says, “Few texts in the OT are so explicit and all-embracing as this in specifying the extent of human sinfulness and depravity.”[4]

Genesis 6:6
The LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended.
(NET Bible)

Underneath this verse’s clearly-stated meaning lies a world of theological reflection. For centuries the church held that God was incapable of feeling emotions; some Christian scholars still take that position today. Those interpreters take the view that this verse is a case of anthropopathism, meaning “the ascription of human feelings or passions to God.”[5] The idea behind anthropopathism  is that God cannot actually feel emotions such as we experience — a doctrine called “impassibility” — but the only way we can comprehend him is to act as if he is like us in this way. Moreover, to assume the Bible contains just-pretend sections opens Pandora’s Box for deriving the meaning of any biblical text.

I believe that God feels emotions just as the Bible describes them, and we also have such emotions because we are made in his image.[6] The NET Bible clearly takes the same view in its translation and Notes for Genesis 6:6; you should read those notes. Hamilton says, “Verses like this remind us that the God of the OT is not beyond the capability of feeling pain, chagrin, and remorse.”[7]

Remember that in Genesis 5:29 it was predicted that Noah “will bring us comfort,” using the verb N?M (the unfamiliar symbol ? sounds like the last two letters of the Scottish word “loch”). That very same verb is used in a different sense in Genesis 6:5 to say “the LORD regretted” making humankind.

Hamilton observes, “It will be noticed that there is a polarity between several of these meanings; thus, N?M means both ‘be pained’ and ‘be relieved of pain.’”[8] Sometimes, when we feel pain, that pain can be relieved when it moves us to take action. That is exactly how God will soon relieve the pain he feels about humanity’s pervasive sinfulness—he will take decisive action.

To make sure we get the point, the author of Genesis adds a second clause to describe God: “he was highly offended” (Gen. 6:6b). The verb in this clause “is used to express the most intense form of human emotion, a mixture of bitter rage and anguish.”[9] Wenham adds that Dinah felt this after being raped (Gen. 34:7) and so did Jonathan upon learning that his father Saul planned to kill his best friend David (1 Sam. 20:34).

When God feels such emotions, the status quo is headed for a reversal! Yet God’s mercy and kindness lead him to allow 120 years before the torrential rains begin to fall.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 273.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:5.

[3] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000)  yetser, form, intention, q.v.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 144.

[5] “anthropopathism.” Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 20 Oct. 2008..

[6] Occam’s Razor: all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.

[7] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 274.

[8] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 275, fn 5.

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 144.

NIV 2011 is defended by Craig Blomberg

All who want to know more about the updated NIV (“NIV 2011” in this blog) should be sure to read the recent post by Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary.

Craig presents a discussion of 1 Timothy 3:11, which says, “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV 2011). The whole issue revolves around the word translated “women” and how various translations handle this text. Even more important, Blomberg explains how the claims made by the ESV to offer a “literal” translation seem to have been ignored by ESV in favor of a translation determined for theological reasons.

All in all, Blomberg gives a useful account of how various influences affected the translations produced in the last ten years.  I especially like it because Blomberg hammers those who give an English translation that forecloses other interpretive options and may not even let the reader know they have done it. Very good stuff!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:12

Matthew 7:12
“In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Summarizing the Law

The sign on the auto dealer’s wall said, “We operate this business according to the Golden Rule.” I recall thinking skeptically, “I wonder if that rule reads ‘The one who has the gold makes the rules.’”

Which of these two golden rules is the one you honor? Which one did Jesus teach?

We have reached a watershed point in the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s verse summarizes “the ethics of discipleship”[1] that Jesus has presented up to this point. Jesus has described the righteousness that exceeds that taught by the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), and now he sums it up by this variant of the law of love for your neighbor.

Before discussing the details of the verse, I will compare two translations of it.

(NET) “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” [italics added] NIV 2011 is similar to NET Bible.

(HCSB) “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them— this is the Law and the Prophets.” [italics added]

Of the two translations, HCSB is closer to the Greek text of Matthew 7:12. Note carefully that HCSB begins with a disciple thinking about how they wish to be treated by others. In other words, the disciple first imagines a scenario about how they would prefer to be treated in the future. Only then does the focus turn to using that analysis to determine how to treat others. I want to be shown love, and so I show love to others.

We all know by experience that our showing love in human relationships does not always result in getting love in return. In spite of that fact, Jesus places his disciples under obligation to lead off with love. There is no bail-out point at which we get to switch tactics and start hating the other person. Recall that we have already been commanded to love our enemies (5:44).

According to R.T. France, “The common description of this saying as the ‘Golden Rule’ is traditionally traced to the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (A.D. 222–35), who, though not a Christian, was reputedly so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this maxim of Jesus as a guide to good living that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber.”[2]

HCSB is again more literal at the end of the verse by saying “this is the Law and the Prophets,” while NET leans a bit farther out to say “this fulfills the law and the prophets.”

The point is, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, obeying this command is the place to start.

Seeking the minimum

Of course, the problem is that some Christians want to see the Golden Rule as the end of what Jesus requires of them. If you ask such a person if they are a Christian, they may say, “I try to live by the Golden Rule.” That probably means they also attend church on Easter but not otherwise!

The world has tried to distort the teaching of Jesus by replacing it with a cleverly-worded alternative: Do unto others before they do unto you! To the contrary, Jesus wants us to be loving and merciful, but we know that he did it for us first!

“But ‘when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior.’” (Tit. 3:4–6)

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 282.

[2] France, Matthew, 284.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:24–25

Genesis 2:24–25
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.  25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.
(NET Bible)

First Family

Any counselor can tell you that the relationship with in-laws is one of the greatest stressors on many marriage relationships. Knowing the relative priorities of these relationships can save you a world of heartache.

But who has the wisdom and authority to set those priorities? What priorities have been set? What is the nature of the husband-wife relationship?

Genesis 2:24 is very familiar to many Christians who have heard some form of it used in wedding ceremonies. However, a Bible student must always be aware that the interpretation of such heavily used verses may have been shifted away from the original meaning toward a contemporary adaptation.

To begin understanding what the verse is saying, consider Gordon Wenham’s historical input:

The traditional translation ‘leaves’ suggests that the man moves from his parents and sets up home elsewhere, whereas in fact Israelite marriage was usually patrilocal, that is, the man continued to live in or near his parents’ home. . . . On marriage a man’s priorities change. Beforehand his first obligations are to his parents: afterwards they are to his wife.[1]

The uniting of the man and woman is a powerful bond. The NET Bible Notes say, “In this passage it describes the inseparable relationship between the man and the woman in marriage as God intended it.”[2]

The NET Bible’s shift from “one flesh” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) to “a new family” seems to replace a powerful metaphor of marital unity with a much weaker abstraction. The semi-poetic nature of Genesis 1–11’s language resists the incursion of such anachronistic language. Further, the Hebrew word for “family” does not occur here. Since the language here is figurative rather than idiomatic, there is not adequate justification for replacing the metaphor (“one flesh”) with the paraphrased abstraction (“a new family”).

Genesis 2:25 gives us a last, idyllic glimpse at the unaffected happiness of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The environment did not require clothing, and there was no other reason to have it; unfortunately, there would be a reason before long. Wenham says, “They were like young children unashamed at their nakedness.”[3] The man and woman are together with nothing to hide from one another; that too would soon change.

Victor Hamilton explains that the significance of nakedness changed over time: “With the exception of this verse, nakedness in the OT is always connected with some form of humiliation.”[4] In Genesis 3 we will find out why.

The verb used for the phrase “they were not ashamed” needs clarification due to cultural differences between us and the ancient Israelites. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, “[The English phrase] ‘to be ashamed’ stresses the inner attitude, the state of mind, while the Hebrew means ‘to come to shame’ and stresses the sense of public disgrace, a physical state.”[5] With our cultural stress on individualism, we find it less natural to think of shame as a public status rather than a private feeling.

With sadness we look back to a lost Eden that we might have inherited. But our sorrow gives way to joy in knowing that we can regain all that was lost and much more through faith in Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 70.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:24.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 71.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 181.

[5] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 1:97, bosh, to be ashamed, q.v.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:21–23

Genesis 2:21–23
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
(NET Bible)

A really big moment!

In 1970 an obscure Australian student said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”[1] Really? If true, that would mean it is good for woman to be alone, even though we already know it is not good for man. That seems an unbiblical conclusion, to say the least!

God was not compelled to create the man and woman for close companionship with each other. Why did he do so? How does God’s creative intention affect us in our attempt to please him?

The “deep sleep” which God brings upon Adam (Gen. 2:21) occurs rarely in the Bible, and it is not well understood. The standard Hebrew lexicon says it “is not only an unusually deep sleep . . . but also a sleep which marks an event as one of the high-points of the actions of Yahweh.”[2] The creation of woman is one such high point; others are the making of a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:12), revelations from God to Daniel through an angel (Dan. 8:18, 10:9), Jonah’s sleep during the great storm (Jon. 1:5), and a famous encounter of David and Saul (1 Sam. 26:12). The mystery remains as deep as the sleep. But in Genesis 2 we can understand why Adam needed deep sleep!

The NET Bible bravely deviates from saying God used one of the “ribs” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NASB, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) from the man to make the woman (Gen. 2:21b). Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton says, “Gen. 2:21 is the only place in the OT where the modern versions render this [Hebrew] word as ‘rib.’”[3] They do so due to the power of the King James Version in setting people’s expectations in familiar passages. NIV 2011 only had the courage to put the correct translation in a footnote.

Instead of following the pack, NET offers “he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.” In support of this choice the NET translators say: “Traditionally translated ‘rib,’ the Hebrew word actually means ‘side.’ The Hebrew text reads, ‘and he took one from his sides,’ which could be rendered ‘part of his sides.’ That idea may fit better the explanation by the man that the woman is his flesh and bone.” The argument is convincing.

Using a verb suitable for a potter, God fashioned Adam from the earth (Gen. 2:7). In Genesis 2:22 the language figuratively shifts to that for a builder when God literally “builds” Eve from the tissue taken from Adam. Then, in what must have been an unforgettable scene, God presents the woman to Adam.

In Genesis 2:23 — Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” — Adam sounds awestruck, does he not? By expressing his words in poetry, the author captures the emotion of the moment. The phrase “at last” conveys Adam’s relief in finding his companion from the vast array of life he has examined.

Concerning the phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” Hamilton says:

[The phrase] speaks not of a common birth but of a common, reciprocal loyalty. Thus when representatives of the northern tribes visit David at Hebron and say to him, ‘we are your bone and flesh’ (2 Sam. 5:1), this is not a statement of relationship (‘we have the same roots’) but a pledge of loyalty (‘we will support you in all kinds of circumstances’).[4]

The next important issue is whether the fact that the man names the woman means he has authority over her. We agree with the NET Bible Notes, which answer no:

Some argue that naming implies the man’s authority or ownership over the woman here. Naming can indicate ownership or authority if one is calling someone or something by one’s name and/or calling a name over someone or something (see 2 Sam. 12:28; 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 4:1; Jer. 7:14; 15:16), especially if one is conquering and renaming a site. But the idiomatic construction used here . . . does not suggest such an idea.[5]

The reader is already aware that almost every verse in the early chapters of Genesis is awash with thorny issues of interpretation and theology. We have only begun to face the challenges of this amazing book!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Irina Dunn, a student at the University of Sydney (Australia) in 1970.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) tardemah, deep sleep, q.v.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 178.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 180.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:23.


Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:7–9

Genesis 2:7–9
7 The LORD God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  8 The LORD God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed.  9 The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.)
(NET Bible)

Our very first day

Anyone who loves sports knows that a common theme is the ability of a competitor to win an almost-won game. How many times have you seen a sports team blow a safe lead?

Humankind began with the presence of God in the paradise of Eden. What could become a cause for failure in a place like that? How do we as believers squander our spiritual advantages?

As we move through Genesis, we will take care to note what larger narrative-account contains the verses we are considering. In this case, Genesis 2:4 says, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” So, Genesis 2:7–9 stands in the first of the tôledôt divisions of Genesis discussed in the Introduction. Old Testament scholar Alan Ross offers a somber evaluation:

The first tôledôt traces what became of the universe God had so marvelously created: it was cursed through disobedience, so that deterioration and decay spread throughout the human race. . . . Whereas the word “bless” was used three times in the account of creation, the word for “curse” appears three times in this tôledôt.[1]

Since this section of Genesis extends to the end of Genesis chapter 4, the accuracy of Ross’s assessment will not immediately be obvious. Give it time.

This verse contains a phrase that first made its appearance in Genesis 2:4: “Lord God” (Hebrew, Yahweh ‘Elohim). This phrase occurs twenty times in Genesis 2-3, but it occurs nowhere else in Genesis. The question is: why?

Most evangelical scholars have adopted the views of the Jewish scholar Umberto Cassuto that the appearance of the two names for God in this combination “is easily explained by Scripture’s desire to teach us that Yahweh, which occurs here [2:4] for the first time, is to be wholly identified with ‘Elohim mentioned in the preceding section; in other words that the God of the moral world is none other than the God of the material world, that the God of Israel is in fact the God of the entire universe, and that the names Yahweh and ‘Elohim merely indicate two different facets of his activity or two different ways in which he reveals himself to mankind.”[2]

In this verse and the ones which follow, we are told additional details about how both the first man and the first woman were formed. These two were unique in being the only two human beings not born of a human mother.

The initial focus falls on Adam, “the man,” whom God fashioned from ordinary soil. Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton adds, “We should note that neither the concept of the deity as craftsman nor the concept of man as coming from earthy material is unique to the Bible.”[3] Various authors cite ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian stories as echoes of the account given here.

“Dust,” the traditional translation for what the NET Bible translates as “soil,” has been the subject of many sermons designed to highlight the insignificance of man. However, Hamilton strikingly notes that this viewpoint does not emerge from the biblical text:

Nowhere does Gen. 2 imply that dust is to be understood as a metaphor for frailty. . . . Especially interesting for possible connections with Gen. 2:7 are those passages which speak of exaltation from dust, with the dust representing pre-royal status (1 Kings 16:2), poverty (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7), and death (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2). . . . Thus, the emphasis on the dust in Gen. 2:7, far from disagreeing with ch. 1, affirms ch. 1’s view of man’s regality. He is raised from the dust to reign.”[4]

Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke gives insight into the phrase “breath of life” by saying, “Animals also have breath, but it is the narrator’s intention to stress that human beings have the very breath of God sustaining them.”[5] This separates humanity from the animal part of creation.

The concluding clause “the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7b), has been translated in several ways with regard to the final English word. “Living being” is used by NET, NASB, NIV, and RSV. “Living creature” is the unusual choice of the ESV — odd because it fits no entry in the standard Hebrew lexicon for nephesh.[6] KJV has the well-known “living soul.” Waltke says, “Essentially [Heb.] nephesh means ‘passionate vitality.’”[7]

Genesis 2:8 introduces the Garden of Eden, which the NET Bible translates as “orchard” due to the dominance of trees in the subsequent verses (e.g., 2:9 and 2:16–17). However, it seems more likely that the account stresses the trees because two of them are central both to the garden and to the story. Wenham says: “gan ‘garden’ is an enclosed area for cultivation (cf. verses 5, 15): perhaps we should picture a park surrounded by a hedge (cf. 3:23). This seems to be the understanding of the early versions which translate gan as ‘paradise,’ a Persian loan word, originally meaning a royal park.” Adam was created in paradise! Eden has defied all attempts to define its location.

The only unusual feature of Genesis 2:9 is the phrase “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Of the many interpretations for this phrase, the best seems to be that offered by Hamilton:

“The knowledge of good and evil” represents moral autonomy. . . . It is our position that this interpretation best fits with the knowledge of good and evil in Gen. 2–3. What is forbidden to man is the power to decide for himself what is in his best interests and what is not. This is a decision God has not delegated to [the man].[8]

Humanity requires God’s guidance because we cannot fathom all that faces us. If only the first man and woman had been content to let God be God, how different things might have been!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 117.

[2] Umberto Cassuto, From Adam to Noah, trans. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1961) 88.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 157.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 158.

[5] Waltke, Genesis, 85.

[6] HALOT, nephesh, living being, q.v.

[7] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 71.

[8] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 165-166. Waltke appears to hold the same view: Genesis, 86.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:24

Matthew 6:24
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The two masters

Every resort which features snow skiing tells its customers not to ski off the carefully prepared ski runs. But not everyone listens. Michael Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, did not listen and met his death when his head struck a tree at Aspen. Less than a week later, singer Sonny Bono failed to heed the warning and died in a collision with a tree at Heavenly Ski Resort in Nevada.

Don’t be too quick to consider them foolish. Jesus says that no one can serve both God and money. Are you trying to do so in spite of the warning?

Sometimes English translations try a little too hard to make biblical language contemporary. Matthew 6:24a is better translated: “No one is able to be a slave to two owners” (my translation). Since a slave owes all his service, attention and allegiance to his owner, it is nonsense to think of a slave having a second owner.

Jesus explains what such a ridiculous situation would lead to: “He will hate the one and love the other” (6:24b). Craig Blomberg says, “Love and hate in Semitic thought are often roughly equivalent to choose and not choose.”[1] Alternatively, Jesus says, the slave “will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (6:24c). The latter clause might be translated, “he will be devoted to the one and disregard the other” (my translation of 6:24c).

In other words, a slave owned by two masters will make a choice and make one master happy while disregarding the interests of the other master. Even an uneducated slave knows they cannot please two different owners. Jesus’ audience understood this principle thoroughly; it was common sense and common knowledge.

After setting the stage, Jesus lays out the crushing conclusion: “You cannot be slaves of God and of money” (6:24c, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Notice that Jesus does not say that you may not serve both, as if it were a matter of permission. No, he says you cannot, making it a matter of ability. It simply cannot be done!

The word Jesus used for money is relatively rare — the Aramaic word mammon. So, the King James Bible says, “Ye cannot serve both God and mammon.” The word mammon refers to both money and possessions. They each present a danger to the soul. Later in this Gospel, Jesus will say, “I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 19:23). In a country such as ours whose whole economic system is set up for the acquisition of wealth by individuals, that is not good news.

Blomberg points out that the greatest danger to Western Christianity does not come from Islam, humanism or Marxism “but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent culture.”[2]

The one-master life

If your life is all about making the one big score, then God is not your master. If you believe the person with the most toys wins, then God is not your master.

One of the cruel things about chasing possessions is that you can never get enough to satisfy. That is one reason Jesus turned down the devil’s offer of all the kingdoms of this world. Imitating Jesus by choosing God rather than possessions will make the difference between heaven and hell.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 124.

[2] Blomberg, Matthew, 124.