QUESTION: "What does the Bible mean when it says we should fear God? Does it mean that we should be afraid of Him?" Nelita R., Washington, D.C.
ANSWER: The term "fear" as used in the Bible can encompass a sense of awe, respect and reverence for God, as well as fear of the consequences of disobeying Him. The Bible says that this fear is only the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). When we are "babes in Christ," just coming into a knowledge of God's truth, we may be mainly motivated by fear of the punishment God will bring on those who don't keep His laws (Rev. 20:14-15). But as we grow in understanding, we will be motivated more by love for God and love for our neighbor than by fear of retribution. A mature Christian knows very deeply that Christ has paid the penalty for his sins, and that as soon as he repents of any new infractions he is justified, free of guilt. He has nothing to fear from God, and is free to develop a relationship on a higher level; to become, like Abraham, a "friend of God" (James 2:23). As it says in I John 4:18: "... Perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."
Q: "I Timothy 2:9 reads: 'In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety ....' My question is, why the terms 'shamefacedness' and 'sobriety'? Why should women be ashamed and sober?" M.M., Lenoir, North Carolina
A: You quoted I Timothy 2:9 from the King James Version, which is written in somewhat archaic language and therefore misleading in this particular passage. Translated directly from the Greek, verse 9 reads: "In like manner also the women in seemly guise with modesty and discreetness to adorn themselves..." (The Englishman's Greek New Testament). The Revised Standard Version renders this verse: "Also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel...." So this verse is referring to modest and sensible attire, and has nothing to do with being "ashamed" or "sober." Checking several translations and possibly a concordance or other Bible help is sometimes necessary in order to determine the true intent and meaning of an unclear passage. For more on this subject, read our free booklet How To Study the Bible.
Q: "What is a 'solemn assembly'? For instance, how can one keep the Feast of Tabernacles and 'rejoice,' and at the same time be 'solemn'?" B.M., Greenwich, Connecticut
A: In Leviticus 23:36 the last great day of the fall festival is called a "solemn assembly" in the King James translation. This is the eighth and final day of the Tabernacles period. The Hebrew word translated "solemn assembly" is atzereth, meaning literally "assembly" (see Brown, Driver, Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 783). It can perhaps be translated "closing festival" (see The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, by J. H. Hertz, Soncino Press, p. 524). The same expression is used of the last day of the spring festival (Unleavened Bread) in Deuteronomy 16:8. The last days of the spring and fall festival periods are especially important because they "closeout" the feasts. Therefore, we see that the term "solemn assembly," as translated in the King James Version, is somewhat misleading. One of the meanings of the word "solemn" at the time of the King James translation (the seventeenth century) was " sacred "or" having a religious character, associated or connected with religious rites or observances" (Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 10, p. 391). The King James translators probably had this meaning in mind when they translated atzereth as "solemn assembly." In more modern English the word should probably be rendered "sacred assembly." The New English Bible translates atzereth as "sacred assembly" in Leviticus 23:36 and "closing ceremony" in Deuteronomy 16:8. Rotherham, in The Emphasized Bible, translates "a holy convocation" for Leviticus 23:36. The Hebrew term is intended to indicate importance rather than solemnity in the modern sense of that term. The last days of these two major festivals are Sabbaths or "high days." They are days of rejoicing, closing out the festivals before the attendees return to the relatively mundane pursuits of everyday life for another six months.
Q: "In some of your booklets that deal with prophecy of the future, you seem to indicate a belief that the end of the age and Christ's return will occur within five to ten years from now. Many sources claim Adam was created in 4004 B.C. Since God marked out a 6000-year period before Christ's millennial rule, would this not put Christ's return date some time in the year 1996?" Cory H., Seattle, Washington
A: There has been much speculation about the precise time of Jesus' return to this earth. World conditions would seem to indicate that we are living near the close of an age. Many of man's global problems seem to have reached the point of no return. Environmental destruction, the capacity for total war, rapid and continuing economic breakdown, and the moral and social problems of modern society amount to strong evidence that Christ must soon intervene to save man from himself (Matt. 24:22, Moffatt). But we cannot know just when Christ will return. No man knows the day or the hour of that momentous event (Matt. 24:36). We cannot set dates for the fulfillment of major prophetic events, since such dates are not revealed in biblical chronology. And there is even a great deal of disagreement among scholars and experts as to the exact dates for key past events such as the creation and Noah's flood.
Q: "You mentioned the 'Great White Throne Judgment' in a recent GN article. I've often wondered about innocent little babies who never grew to adulthood, and also about the billions of people who never have heard of Jesus Christ. Could you send me some literature explaining what happens to people like this when they die?" Jerry 5., Green Bay, Wisconsin
Q: "Some scriptures indicate that at the time of the end true Christians will be persecuted and even put to death (Rev. 13:7; Matt. 24:9). On the other hand, there are verses (notably Psalms 91:7-11 and Revelation 3:10) which promise that there is a way for true Christians to escape the trials and tribulations of that day. How can these apparently contradictory scriptures be reconciled?" KenB., Chicopee, Massachusetts
A: Psalms 91:7-13 reads: "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but It will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and thE3 adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot." These verses, like many in the Psalms, are written in a poetic literary style. They express praise for God's deliverance, which is described in somewhat hyperbolic language. But by no stretch of the imagination can this psalm be taken as a definite promise of God to always protect every individual Christian. As Hebrews, chapter 11, vividly describes, many righteous people have been martyred in the past (Heb. 11:35-38). And many of the righteous will be killed in the future (Rev. 6:9-11). Tradition indicates that all of the original apostles (with the possible exception of John) died violently at the hand of persecutors. Even Christ Himself was crucified. Revelation 3:10, part of the message to the church at Philadelphia, states: "Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth." While it is obvious that this verse cannot be applied universally to every single Christian, it does appear to have a definite application to "the crisis at the close." Even then, however, no individual Christian has a "arte blanche" promise for personal, physical safety. Ecclesiastes 9:11 states that "time and chance" happen to us all. If we are caught in the middle of an accident, a war, or a national disaster, perhaps God will have mercy on us and deliver us from our troubles. But again, He may choose, in His perfect wisdom, to ret us live through such trials or allow us to die as a result of them. But does this imply that God is in some way remiss to allow such things to occur? Isaiah 57:1-2 reads: "The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. [But] the righteous man is taken away from calamity, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in uprightness." So even death itself can be a haven from this world's troubles. But where does this leave the average Christian hoping for some form of security to hang on to in this unstable time? Notice Paul's personal example. He experienced a great number of devastating personal trials (see II Cor. 11:23-28), but he never lost faith. He had his mind set on the only really definite promise of salvation recorded in Scripture — the promise of the resurrection. He was able to say: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead" (Phil. 3:8-11). Paul valued being a Christian, and being able to preach the message Christ had given him, over and above his own life. He knew that whatever happened to him physically, he would eventually be resurrected to immortal life. This kind of salvation is what Christians today ought to be pinning their hopes on, rather than some type of physical deliverance which may or may not materialize.