Revelation 3i

SERMON TOPIC: Revelation 3i

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 16 June 2024


Sermon synopsis: Some maintain that the birds nesting in the tree must not be interpreted in a positive light.
We must be consistent in translation and also translate Scripture with Scripture. But while Jesus does mention birds positively when speaking of God’s provision and care for them, whenever birds appear in parables, dreams or prophecy they carry a negative connotation.

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REVELATION – chapter 2-3 (CONT)

We saw how this period corresponds to the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Matt 13:32 (NIV) “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

The mustard seed is always used by Jesus to speak of exponential growth from small and insignificant beginnings.

Similarly, the Kingdom of Heaven may have started small and seemingly insignificant, but it would ultimately grow and flourish.

This same ‘tree’ analogy is used before in Scripture and it represents the world kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, and even the Messianic kingdom. Thus, in the 3rd kingdom age the Church becomes a world power and dominates the earth.

Who are the birds that nest in the branches?

Some argue that birds perching in the branches (Luke 13:19) is intended solely to emphasise the size of plant the seed grows into, in comparison with its humble 'smallest of all seeds' beginnings.

Another interpretation suggests that the birds represent God's providential care. Just as God provides for the birds of the air (Matt 6:25-27), the birds finding shelter in the mustard tree symbolize God's provision and care for those in the Kingdom of God.

In Daniel 4:10–12 and Ezekiel 31:3–14 a tree symbolizes empires; and birds, those who enjoy its protection. In Ezekiel 17:22–24 the tree symbolizes the Messianic kingdom, and the birds symbolize those who enjoy its blessing.

Others maintain that the birds nesting in the tree must not be interpreted in a positive light.

We must be consistent in translation and also translate Scripture with Scripture. But while Jesus does mention birds positively when speaking of God’s provision and care for them, whenever birds appear in parables, dreams or prophecy they carry a negative connotation.

E.g. In Genesis 15:1 birds of prey interfere with Abraham’s covenant sacrifice and he has to drive them away.

In Genesis 40, the birds in the chief baker’s dream pointed to his execution.

Mystery Babylon becomes “a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird” (Rev 18:2, NIV).

More importantly, in the immediate context (the telling of the seven Kingdom parables) Jesus tells us that the birds represent Satan in the Parable of the Sower.

Thus here the birds must also represent Satan who infiltrates this kingdom which has now spread exponentially.

Millions of new members pour in. Becoming a Christian is no longer a risk, but can even be politically and socially opportune, so the church has to deal with a new laxity in standards of belief and behaviour.

The Church starts to became worldly and corrupt, and Satan finds lodging in its organization.

Remember that this period is represented by the church at Pergamum.

When Attalus III died without an heir in 133 BC, he bequeathed the whole of Pergamon to Rome. Now the church in this period is bequeathed to Rome.

This period saw the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, and the beginning of what became the Roman State church. The centre of Christianity shifted to Rome, the former centre for Emperor worship – “where Satan has his throne”.

Rev 2:13 I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name.

It has often been suggested that Constantine’s profession of Christianity was purely a matter of political expediency more than of religious conviction. Upon closer examination, it appears that he has been unfairly vilified.

Some claim that he deliberately corrupted Christianity with pagan influence, motivated by political reasons. However, in investigating the historical evidence for such claims, there is no evidence for this. He adapted an extremely pro-Christian course in policy-making that is totally inconsistent with someone seeking popularity with his many pagan subjects.

As to actual evidence he passed many laws and was an industrious letter-writer (with over 40 surviving letters and documents authored by him), all of which are pro-Christian, anti-pagan and anti-heretic.

Constantine’s letters also show numerous efforts to resolve factions in Christianity. He spends much time trying to resolve both the Arian heresy and the Donatist controversy.

Although he seems determined that the Church be united with a single doctrinal view, he doesn’t try to dictate what the doctrine should be. Instead he writes to the involved parties and later sponsors the Council of Nicaea to get Christian leaders to thrash out the issues and to negotiate a statement of orthodox Christian belief that could be recognized across the Empire.

Some contend that by getting a council of bishops to settle theological issues and reach a consensus view, Constantine brought about a shift in the way that the Church operated. They say that this was a worldly way of resolving spiritual issues.

This is simply not true. In Acts 15 a council of the apostles and elders convened in Jerusalem in order to settle the earliest controversial issue in the church. The issue was the question of circumcision and the conditions under which Gentiles should be allowed into the Church. After consensus was reached, the result was a letter from the attendees instructing everyone of the ruling.

This was very similar to the way the Council of Nicaea was conducted. Although Constantine was there both as Emperor and as a Christian, there’s no indication that he tried to sway the decision either way; he simply wanted consensus and a unified belief.

One criticism leveled against Constantine is that he kept pagan gods on coins. From this it is ‘deduced’ that his motivation was to maintain popularity with his pagan subjects. However it is extremely debatable as to whether history can be extrapolated and motives inferred from the study of old coins. The representations of pagan gods disappear from Constantine’s coinage after 318 AD. In 315 AD Constantine’s coins began to carry the Chi Rho symbol (a Greek monogram for Christ).

Much of what is attributed to, or blamed on Constantine, was actually the work of his successors. However, by establishing the framework for a State Church, he paved the way for the conditions that would cause an ultimate drop in Christian standards, compromise and power mongering.

Some believe that by establishing Christianity as the preferred religion of the Roman Empire (which ultimately led to it becoming the official state religion), Constantine radically altered the church and accelerated its acceptance of pagan rituals and heretical doctrines.

Church historian Walter Nigg says, “As soon as Emperor Constantine opened the floodgates and the masses of the people poured into the Church out of sheer opportunism, the loftiness of the Christian ethos was done for.”

Possibly Constantine inadvertently “corrupted” the Church by legitimizing it. At first seen as a great benefit to the Christian community, entanglements with the political realm and with persons of great secular power soon burdened the church with problems. Today there is still debate over the relationship of Church and State and concern over the use of power to enforce religious belief and practice.

Bear in mind though, that there was no place in the world then, where religion and state were separated. There were no “secular states” like today.

The concept of the separation of church and state originated among early Baptists in America. In 1644, Roger Williams, a puritan minister and founder of the state of Rhode Island and The First Baptist Church in America, was the first public official to call for "a wall or hedge of separation" between the world and the church. *

* https:// wiki/ Separation_of_church_and_state

In Theodosius’ Edict of 380, Christianity was made the preferred State religion.

Along with this came legalization of ‘retribution’ against heretics.

We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic (i.e. universal) Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative…

Three problems resulted from these anti-heretical laws.

The treatment of heretics was not always in the spirit of Christ. *

Not all ultimately affected by these laws were heretics. **

Regrettably these laws would set a legal precedent for the persecution of those trying to reform the church later in the Middle Ages.

* In 409, Marcellinus of Carthage, Emperor Honorius’ secretary of state, decreed the Donatists heretical and demanded that they give up their churches. They were so harshly persecuted by the Roman authorities that even Augustine (their chief critic) protested. ** (a) The primary disagreement between Donatists and the rest of the church was over the treatment of those who renounced their faith during the Diocletian persecution (303–305). The rest of the Church was more forgiving of these people, but the Donatists refused to accept the authority of priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution. (b) Justinian (527-65) persecuted the Montanists, greatly reducing their numbers. Many have drawn parallels between Montanism and Pentecostalism. The most well-known Montanist was undoubtedly Tertullian.

Persecution was often initiated from the emperors rather than the church itself.

E.g. Around 380 Emperor Magnus Maximus (influenced by the Bishop Ithacius), executed Priscillian (Bishop of Avila in Spain) on charges of sorcery and immorality.

Priscillian allegedly taught a Manichaean-Gnostic doctrine.

Beyond religious differences, Priscillian’s execution was also entangled with political maneuvering. This was the first execution on supposed charges of heresy and leading Christians protested the action.

Martin (Bishop of Tours) had expressed his disapproval of bringing an ecclesiastical case before a civil tribunal, and obtained a promise from the emperor that Priscillian would not be executed – a promise that was not honoured.

Siricius (Bishop of Rome) reprimanded the emperor himself, and excommunicated Ithacius and his associates.

On an official visit to Augusta Treverorum, Ambrose (Bishop of Milan) refused to give any recognition to Ithacius, "not wishing to have anything to do with bishops who had sent heretics to their death".

By the end of this period, we start to have accounts of the “Christian” state (in particular the Emperor Justinian) ordering forced baptisms of pagans, 1 and other persecution including confiscation of property, 2 public ridicule, 3 imprisonment, torture, 4 and even executions. 5

1 Forced baptisms – in 528 the emperor Justinian (527-65) commanded all pagans to receive baptism within 3 months. 2 In 530 Justinian conducted a persecution of pagans in Constantinople. The property of many of the accused was confiscated. 3 In 559 the pagans in Constantinople were ridiculed and marched in a mock procession. Their books were burned. 4 In 549 John of Ephesus denounced a group of senators, grammarians, sophists, lawyers and physicians. They were accused of paganism, tortured, whipped, and imprisoned. 5 In 545 Justinian suppressed the Manichaeans. He attempted to convert those who had been arrested, but they remained firm in their beliefs. They were then tortured and killed; their bodies were buried at sea, and their property confiscated. In 579 the governor of Edessa, Anatolios, was condemned to death for commissioning a portrait of Apollo (under the guise of being a portrait of Christ) to worship secretly.

Obviously having a state religion complicates matters because:

The state courts are now deemed to be Christian courts.

The state could legislate and enforce religious obedience.

Ultimately the state had the power to imprison those with religious differences and even to issue a death sentence.

From the 1st to early 4th century, the Church was persecuted by pagans. Sadly now the tables slowly start to turn. Granted the persecutions were not on the same scale, or equal in cruelty to the pagan persecution of the Church, but this practice was in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

Does the NT teach that we should spread the gospel through force? No! The lost are reached when:

We love them and show mercy (Luke 6:35).

We live exemplary lives despite being slandered (1 Pet 2:12). *

They see the love Christians have for other Christians (John 13:35).

We share our faith with ‘gentleness and respect’ (1 Pet 3:15 **), not torture and coercion. We do not convert by the sword, and Christianity should not be embraced for political or social advantage. Jesus should be sought for his own sake.

* 1 Pet 2:12 (NIV) Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. ** 1 Pet 3:15 (NIV) Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

In the NT, there is no religiously condoned physical violence by Christians against non-Christians, which could be used as a precedent for Christian persecution of other groups.

Christians are not to take other professing Christians to court, but to settle these matters in the church (1 Cor 6). Naturally this excludes a death sentence for anything. As for heretics, Church discipline comprises of rebuke, or expelling people from the church, not persecution or killing (1 Cor 5).

Titus 1:9 (ESV) He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

1 Tim 5:20 (NIV) But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.

Pergamum was the compromising church. Thus it represents a period when the church began to compromise doctrines, reflecting the era of the church's alliance with the state.

Rev 2:14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam …

One aspect of Balaam’s doctrine is that he invoked God’s name, but he also practiced sorcery. (Num 24:1). This is called syncretism - the attempted merging of different religions, or schools of thought.

There are occasions when either deliberately or inadvertently certain pagan customs crept into the ever-expanding church of this age.

Church historian, Philip Schaff notes, “Nor can we wonder in the least. For the great mass of the Christian people came, in fact, fresh from polytheism, without thorough conversion, and could not divest themselves of their old notions and customs at a stroke.” (History of the Christian Church)

Balaam’s doctrine led to slow and subtle compromise. He came up with a scheme to gradually seduce the people to sin, turning them to idolatry.

Balaam was a prototype of all corrupt teachers. We will look at a few of the corrupt doctrines introduced into the Church during this period.

In some cases we only see the excesses in the Middle Ages, but the roots of the corruption started here, sometimes even seemingly innocently.

We find in this period the rise of the veneration of, and prayer to angels and dead saints. (It wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1545 that the teaching on saintly intercession was officially laid down.)

In the first three centuries the veneration of the martyrs in general restricted itself to the thankful remembrance of their virtues and the celebration of the day of their death as the day of their heavenly birth. This celebration usually took place at their graves. *

But in the Nicene age it advanced to a formal invocation of the saints as our patrons, intercessors or mediators before God, and degenerated into a form of refined polytheism and idolatry. *

* Schaff “History of the Christian Church”

The noted church historian, Philip Schaff (1819-93) says:

“The saints came into the place of the demigods… As once temples and altars to the heroes, so now churches and chapels came to be built over the graves of the martyrs, and consecrated to their names (or more precisely to God through them).

People laid in them, as they used to do in the temple of Aesculapius, the sick that they might be healed, and hung in them, as in the temples of the gods, sacred gifts of silver and gold.” *

* Ibid.

E.g. Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397) spoke of Peter, the angels and martyrs as being available as intercessors. ** He says of the latter, “For they are martyrs of God, our high priests, spectators of our life and our acts. We need not blush to use them as intercessors for our weakness…” *

However, the NT uses the terms ‘high priest’ and ‘intercessor’ of Jesus alone. (Heb 9:11-14)

This practice was not without opposition:

The Spanish presbyter Vigilantius, in the fifth century, called the worshippers of martyrs and relics, ashes-worshippers and idolaters, and taught that, according to the Scriptures, the living only should pray with and for each other. *

* Ibid. ** “May Peter, who so successfully weeps for himself, weep also for us, and turn upon us the friendly look of Christ. The angels, who are appointed to guard us, must be invoked for us; the martyrs, to whose intercession we have claim by the pledge of their bodies, must be invoked.”

Schaff notes that it was in this period (AD 379) that we have the first record of prayer being addressed to Mary. *

* The first instance of the formal invocation of Mary occurs in the prayers of Ephraim Syrus (379), addressed to Mary and the saints. The first more certain example appears in Gregory Nazianzen (389), who, in his eulogy on Cyprian, relates of Justina that she besought the Virgin Mary to protect her threatened virginity. Justinian I (r. 527 -565), in a law, implored her intercession with God for the restoration of the Roman empire. His general, Narses, like the knights in the Middle Ages, was unwilling to go into battle till he had secured her protection.

Proponents of prayer to Mary argue that that do not actually prayer TO her. They simply ask her to intercede to Christ on their behalf.

They defend this by pointing out that Mary seemingly interceded to Jesus in John 2, to get him involved in the wine shortage crisis at the wedding in Cana, when initially he seems reluctant.


That Mary did this on one occasion when she was alive, in no way implies that she is able to do this once she has died.

The very fact that – unlike Mary and the saints – Jesus never dies, is what makes him the perfect mediator.

Heb 7:23-25 (NIV) Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

The NT contains no instruction to request Mary or saints to mediate on our behalf. In fact, the opposite is true; Paul explicitly tells us that we have only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5, NIV).

This indicates Mary and saints cannot be mediators or even sub-mediators of our prayer requests to God.

Furthermore, the Bible tells us that Jesus himself is interceding for us before the Father. So why would we need Mary, angels or the saints to intercede for us? Who would God listen to more closely than his Son?

Romans 8:26-27 describes the Holy Spirit interceding for us. With the second and third members of the Trinity already interceding for us before the Father, what possible need could there be to have Mary, angels or the saints interceding for us?

Another major problem with ‘prayer’ or ‘requests for intercession on our behalf’ to Mary or saints - is simply the fact that only God is omnipresent.

Even if they could hear prayers addressed to them, they could only hear one at a time, and thus most requests would simply remain unheard. *

* These were problems that even Augustine acknowledged, where he declares “his inability to solve the difficult question of the way in which the dead can be made acquainted with our wishes and prayers.” (Schaff “History of the Christian Church”)

Thank you for praying to St. Christopher. Your prayer is very important to us. Unfortunately all our saints are busy. Please hold and we’ll attend to you shortly.

Dear St. Christopher …

Some argue that praying to Mary and the saints is no different than asking someone on earth to pray for you. Let us examine that claim. Many Scriptures describe believers praying for one another. Paul asks other Christians to pray for him (Eph 6:19). But the Bible never mentions anyone asking someone in heaven to pray for them.

Nowhere does the Bible describe anyone in heaven praying for anyone on earth. Rev 6 which is often cited for support for this practice, describes martyrs praying in heaven for themselves. They are not being prayed to by those on earth.

Rev 6:9-10 (NIV) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He taught them to address the Father directly, “Our Father in heaven” (Luke 11:1-2). Thus the Biblical precedent, as instructed by Jesus, is to pray directly to the Father.

Whenever the Bible mentions speaking with the dead, it is in the context of necromancy – an activity the Bible strongly condemns (Deut 18:10-13).

The only instance when a dead ‘saint’ is spoken to is Samuel (1 Sam 28:7-19), when Saul consulted a witch.

It is plainly clear that praying to Mary or the saints is completely different from asking someone here on earth to pray for you. One has a strong Biblical basis, the other has no Biblical basis whatsoever.

The Pre-Nicene church correctly identified the Sons of God of Genesis 6 as angels.

Gen 6:4 (NKJV) There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

In the 3rd century Julius Africanus introduced the theory that the Sons of God simply referred to the descendants of Seth. This idea was popularized by Augustine in the 5th century.

Like Origen before him, Augustine interpreted scripture allegorically (i.e. not literally). He believed that the Bible had been veiled by God in order to exercise those seeking him. Amongst other things, this led to the misidentification of the Sons of God and to the rise of Amillennialism.

Premillennialism is the belief that the Millennium is a future, literal 1000-year reign of Christ with his saints on earth. Satan is literally bound in the Abyss.

Amillennialism is the belief that the Millennium is the current reign of Christ in heaven (not a literal 1000 years). Satan is figuratively bound.

(Historic) Premillennialism was the predominant view in the 1st to 3rd century church.

When Constantine became emperor, persecution and martyrdom of Christians became a thing of the past. *

With Christianity’s new-found respectability in the Roman Empire, it was much easier to accept the newer Amillennial position that Satan was already bound and that people were now living in the golden age of Christ's rule over the nations through the Church. *

* The wolf and the lamb (Gavin Paynter)

Schaff says of the demise of early Premillennialism: “After Christianity, contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman empire, and was embraced by the Caesars themselves, the millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearance of Christ, or from the conversion of Constantine and the downfall of paganism, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state-church.” *

Augustine is often referred to as the ‘Father of Amillennialism’ and popularized this view in his book ‘The City of God’. He interpreted Mark 3:27 to be a present binding of Satan throughout the church age.

Amillennialism soon became the accepted view of the church. It became so accepted that the Council of Ephesus (431) condemned the Premillennial view as superstitious.

* History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. AD100-325 - Chiliasm

Institutional Christian monasticism seems to have begun in the deserts of 4th century Egypt. * Some attribute this to the immense changes in the church when it gained state approval.

Christianity became fashionable and this led to compromise and a decline in Christian standards. Monasticism might have been a reaction to this, in an attempt to maintain purity and holiness.

* In 314 an Egyptian named Pachomius left the Roman Army this year and joined the hermit Palemon near Tabennisi on the east bank of the Nile, near Thebes. He built the first monastic enclosure and formulated a rule for daily work and prayer. By the time of his death in 346, Pachomius had founded 11 monasteries with more than 7000 monks and nuns.

With monasticism came the idea that celibacy was preferable to marriage.

At the Council of Nicaea (325) a motion was raised for mandatory celibacy among the clergy. But Paphnutius of Thebes - himself a celibate bishop - objected, saying that “marriage and married intercourse are of themselves honourable and undefiled”, and his words prevailed.

In 340 AD the Council of Gangra resolved, “If anyone shall condemn marriage, let him be anathema” (Canon 1) and “If anyone of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord’s sake should treat the married arrogantly, let him be anathema.” (Canon 10)

By the 5th century there was a preference towards celibacy of priests in the Western (Catholic) Church.

However this only became mandatory in the 11th century.

Modern priests in the Eastern (Orthodox) Church may be ordained after marriage; they may not marry once ordained to the priesthood. In both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, bishops must be unmarried.

Does the Bible teach, that ‘priests’ or overseers (bishops) should be celibate?

Overseers (i.e. elders / bishops) must be “the husband of but one wife” (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:6).

Widows under the age of 60 were encouraged by Paul to remarry and bear children. (1 Tim 5:14)

Paul even uses the relationship between a husband and wife to typify the relationship that exists between Christ and the Church. (Eph 5:23-27)

He writes, “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5)

Peter (Cephas) was married. In the gospels we also read of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14).

James (Jesus’ brother) led the church in Jerusalem and he was married (along with Jesus’ other brothers).

The ‘other apostles’ are all cited as having a ‘believing wife’. So as a rule the apostles were married. Jesus and Paul are the only two notable celibates in the NT.

Matt 19:9-12 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “… some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus’ comments about those renouncing marriage have nothing to do with marriage being ‘evil’. In the context, he’s talking about divorce. The disciples are concerned about the stringent requirements for divorce and remark that this is good reason not to get married. Jesus corrects them by saying that the only legitimate, Scriptural reason to remain single is “because of the kingdom of heaven”.

This is effectively the same reason Paul cites i.e. for singleness of purpose in a ministry, not because of the evils of marriage. *

Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that remaining unmarried:

should only be for the sake of devoting oneself to the kingdom of God,

is a God-given gift to some only.

Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given … others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. (Matt 19:11-12)

I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Cor 7:7)

* “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor 7:32-35).

This supernatural gifting from God enables a single person “not to burn with passion” or in simpler terms, not to be ‘taken up or overcome’ with the normal sexual desires inherent in every man and woman.

1 Cor 7:8-9 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Cor 7:2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

While Paul expressed a personal preference for celibacy, he admitted there was no “command from the Lord” on the matter.

The idea that Mary was a virgin not only before, but also after the birth of Jesus, came from a 2nd-century apocryphal work, the ‘Protoevangelium of James’. * But this work is completely unreliable. **

* In the 3rd century, Origen cites the Protoevangelium on this issue, “But some say, basing it on a tradition in … ‘The Book of James,’ that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end…” (Commentary on Matthew)

** The first mention of this book is by Origen. The book is believed to have been written in the 2nd century. Yet the author falsely claims to be James the Just, a son of Joseph from a prior marriage, and thus a step-brother of Jesus. The book is further inaccurate by claiming Mary’s father as Joachim when we know from Luke’s genealogy that it was actually Heli. It also claims that Mary hid Jesus in a feeding trough to spare him from the massacre of the Bethlehem babies by Herod. We know from Matthew (2:13-15) that Joseph had been forewarned of this event by an angel and had already escaped with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The book alleges that Herod was also hunting down the baby John the Baptist (why?) and that a mountain split to hide him and Elizabeth. Then it mixes up John’s father, Zechariah, with Zechariah the son of Berekiah (Zech 1:1) and claims that he was killed by Herod in front of the altar, presumably based on Jesus’ reference to the martyrdom of the OT prophet Zechariah in Matthew 23:35.

Even though the Catholic church condemned this apocryphal literature so early as the Decrees of Gelasius (AD 495); many of the fabrications in it—such as the names of the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anna, the birth of Mary in a cave, her education in the temple, and her mock marriage with the aged Joseph—passed into the Catholic tradition. *

Tertullian (2nd / 3rd century) denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, as the act of childbirth would render her no longer a virgin. **

* She bore which did bear: and if as a virgin she conceived, in her child-bearing she became a wife. For she became a wife by that same law of the opened body… (De Carne Christi) ** Schaff “History of the Christian Church”

Yet by the 4th century, the false and extra-biblical doctrine of perpetual virginity became widespread. *

The Second Council of Constantinople  (553) recognized Mary as Aeiparthenos, meaning "ever-virgin". However this extra-biblical belief was still not unanimous at this time. **

Why was it necessary to embellish what was already the miraculous virgin birth? As celibacy was starting to be considered as spiritually ‘superior’ to marriage it was useful having Mary in the ranks. ***

* The view was held by Athanasius, Epiphanius, Didymus, Basil, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine and others. ** Epiphanius, in his seventy-eighth Heresy, combats the advocates of the opposite view in Arabia toward the end of the 4th century (367), as heretics under the title of Antidikomarianites, opposers of the dignity of Mary, i.e. of her perpetual virginity. (Schaff). Helvidius maintained that the mention in the Gospels of the ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ of Jesus proved that Mary had subsequent children, and supported his opinion by the writings of Tertullian and Victorinus. Jovinian taught that childbirth ended Mary’s virginity. *** The rise of monasticism supplied the development of Mariology a further motive in the enhanced estimate of virginity, without which no true holiness could be conceived. Hence the virginity of Mary, which is unquestioned for the part of her life before the birth of Christ, came to be extended to her whole life, and her marriage with the aged Joseph to be regarded as … only a nominal marriage. (Schaff)

Scripture alone can be used to settle these issues though, and not the opinions of early Church fathers or apocryphal works. The use of the word ‘until’ below implies that Mary and Joseph had customary marital relations afterward.

Matt 1:25 (KJV) And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

(NIV) But he [Joseph] did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son …

(NASB) but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son …

Even the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible renders it, “And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son …”

Jesus had 4 brothers (who are named) and at least 2 sisters. At his hometown the people asked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers [adelphoi] James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (Matt 13:54-56)

Adelphoi in the Greek is literally “of the same womb.”

The Scriptures make numerous references to Jesus’ brothers accompanying Mary. (Matt 12:46, John 2:12, John 7:2-3, Acts 1:14), Paul also calls James “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19).

The argument that Joseph had children from a previous relationship, besides being drawn from an apocryphal source, has other problems.

Matt 2:14 (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…

If Joseph had other children before Jesus was born, why did he take only Mary and Jesus to Egypt?

Baptismal regeneration is the idea that water baptism is essential for salvation.

This idea arose because of a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”.

‘Born of water’ was seen as a reference to baptism.

Looking in context, Jesus is simply contrasting natural birth with spiritual birth.

John 3:5-6 … no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

“Born of water” is a reference to the water of the womb. Jesus was answering Nicodemus’ question “can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”

Augustine writes:

Baptism washes away all, absolutely all, our sins, whether of deed, word, or thought, whether sins original or added, whether knowingly or unknowingly contracted. *

… neither salvation nor eternal life can be hoped for by any man without baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” **

* Against Two Letters of the Pelagians (AD 420) ** Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin and the Baptism of Infants (AD 412)

Augustine was wrong on both counts. Neither water baptism nor communion are prerequisites for salvation.

Water baptism is an outward sign of the regenerative work of salvation that has already happened inside.

Communion is a memorial of Jesus’ death and not an additional prop for salvation.

We are saved by grace through faith and “not by works” (Eph 2:8-9).

Because of original sin, Augustine believed that unbaptized infants could not be saved.

From the idea that baptism was necessary for salvation, came the practice of baptizing children, just in case they died in infancy. *

* It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated … when that infant is brought to baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn. (Letters 98:2 - AD 412)

But Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to little children (Matt 19:13) and that their angels always saw his Father’s face. (Matt 18:2)

the STRATEGY OF THE ENEMY – first violence, then alliance

The Sower

The kingdom is sown – the enemy seeks to steal the seed or destroy the crop through persecution.

The Wheat & Weeds

The enemy sows a counterfeit seed. Persecution intensifies.

The Mustard Seed

Exponential growth of the kingdom, but the enemy infiltrates from within.

AUTHOR: Gavin Paynter

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Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (http://

Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV: Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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