Index by Subject

“Literally” – A Discussion of Definitions

I recently read an interesting short article on the use of the term “literally” that I want to share with you, then comment upon.

Two Misuses of “Literally”

“He literally knocked his head off.”  No.  If he had, the head would have rolled across the floor, separated from the body.  “Literally,” in that case, is mistakenly used to intensify a figure of speech, but “literally” does not intensify the figure.  It says “knocked his head off” is not a figure of speech but a true description of what he did.

Another misuse of “literally” has to do with word meaning.  Someone says, “proskuneo ‘literally’ means ‘kiss the ground toward.’”  No, proskuneo literally means “worship.”  “Kiss the ground toward” is its etymology, how the word was formed.  It is also an archaic meaning; as ancient Persians did literally fall on their faces and kiss the feet or hem of the robe of their deified kings.  Etymology does not determine meaning; usage does.  The New Testament frequently says, “They fell down and worshipped him”  (Matthew 2:11; e.g.).  “Fell down” is from a different original word, “worshipped” is proskuneo.

“Literally” does not intensify a figure.  A word’s etymological meaning is not its “literal” meaning.

Cecil May
Preacher Talk (Vol. 27, No. 2—April 2012)

The first misuse of the term “literally” is typical in casual conversation.  While irritating to those who are sensitive to the mangling of the English language, it is innocuous.  However, defining biblical terms by their etymology, (or even their assigned dictionary definitions), without considering context, is extremely troubling as we seek to interpret God’s word.

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The Ethics of Men

I grew up hearing lessons preached on ethics.  The lessons were critical of a ethical view taken by many religious people called “Situational Ethics.”  While a situational view of what constitutes ethical action has always had a foothold in the world, it was largely rejected by those who claimed an affinity for the Bible.  For generations religious people were content to let the word of God be the standard by which ethics were established.  They accepted at face value the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).  To those who accepted the Bible as an authoritative and absolute ethical standard, lying was always a sin, as was sexual activity outside of the marriage bed.  Regardless of circumstance, sin was sin, and righteous behavior was well defined.

In the 1960’s things changed for many religious people.  Situational Ethics was first popularized by an Episcopal priest named Joseph Fletcher, who wrote two books titled The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics.  In the books he contended that the principle of Love (agape) was supreme, and sometimes situations necessitated a breaking of God’s law for the higher good of expressing love for another.  The concept was accepted by a large number despite its arbitrary, individualistic and subjective nature.  Its influence is the primary reason why the hue and cry of religious people today, rather than obedience to God, has become, “You have no right to judge me!”

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Are We Relevant?

Several times in the history of Watchman Magazine I have written articles explaining the present state of the effort, and desires for the future.  As many may know, Watchman Magazine is my personal project, for better or worse, and the ebb and flow regarding its relevance and prolificacy are almost entirely a result of my efforts or lack thereof.  That means that my organizational abilities, mental state, and life circumstances all play a part -both in my writing, and in my publishing of the magazine.

Watchman Magazine began in January of 1998, and continued a regular publication schedule, for the most part, through 2004.  Toward the end of this initial iteration of the magazine, publication became more sporadic, as I personally dealt with a bad case of editor/publisher burnout.  After a hiatus of several years, publication resumed in January of 2010, with several changes.  Primarily, the magazine took on a blog format, rather than maintaining a monthly schedule.  With the advent of social networking, and powerful blogging software platforms, I believe this change to be a positive one.  It has made it possible for the Watchman writers to post articles on their schedule, and my editorial responsibilities have lightened.  It is nice to no longer be responsible for coding HTML, and fighting the compatibility problems of earlier years.

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Editorial: Love (Motivation, Obligation & Reciprocation)

In 1 John 4, the apostle instructed his readers to “test the spirits, whether they are of God.”  This testing was necessary because, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  One of the false doctrines that was deceiving brethren at that time was the claim that Jesus had not really come in the flesh.  John said that the denial of Jesus’ humanity was “the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (vs. 3).

In writing to his brethren, John said, “You are of God” (vs. 4), and “We are of God” (vs. 6).  These statements were in contrast to those who “are of the world.”  They “speak as of the world, and the world hears them” (vs. 5).  In contrast, John commended his readers as those who know God and who would as a result heed John’s writings, “He who knows God hears us” (vs. 6).  This willingness to heed John’s writings was evidence that his readers, (in contrast to the worldly), possessed the “spirit of truth” (vs. 6).

It is in this context that John instructed his readers on the importance of love.  As did the acceptance of Jesus’ humanity, the presence of love set the true believer apart from the world.  “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (vs. 8).

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Editorial: Commitment of Biblical Proportions

No doubt you have heard the following story in one form or another:

The pig and the chicken walked down the street together.  Every restaurant they passed had signs in the window advertising, “Ham and Eggs.”

“See,” said the chicken, “We’re famous.”

The pig grunted. “For you,” he said, “a plate of ham and eggs is just a cackle. For me it’s the supreme sacrifice.”

In a more concise form it is observed that when it comes to such a breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed!

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Lessons to Learn from Elijah and Obadiah

1 Kings 18 records a conversation between the great prophet Elijah, and Obadiah, the steward over the house of King Ahab.  Despite his close association with the evil king, scripture describes Obadiah as a man who “feared the Lord greatly” (18:3).

Elijah gave Obadiah instructions to set up a meeting between him and the king.  The two were mortal enemies, and Ahab had been searching for him ever since Elijah had instigated a drought in the land in response to Ahab’s evil practices.  As Obadiah told him, “As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,”’ he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you” (18:10).  Elijah was now ready to reveal himself to the king, and recruited Obadiah to set up the meeting.

A number of lessons can be learned by becoming familiar with these two men, and examining the conversation they had on that eventful day.

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Editorial: God Breathed

In 2 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul penned a wonderful sentence that establishes both the precious nature of the words contained in our Bibles, and their efficacy in ordering our lives as His servants.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (vs. 16-17)

The Greek word used in verse 16, translated “inspiration of God” is found nowhere else in scripture.  It is the term theopneustos. Vine gives the etymology of the word: (Theos, God, pneu, to breathe) and says that it, “is used in 2 Tim. 3:16, of the Scriptures as distinct from non-inspired writings” (Vines, Volume II, page 263).

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Editorial: Free Will – Confusing the Simple

The concept is so simple… man is a free moral agent.  He can and does make choices, every day of his life.  Some men choose to do good.  They support their families, pay their taxes and are productive citizens.  Others choose to do evil.  They are unfaithful to their spouse, they cheat their neighbor, they commit crimes.  Those who choose to do good could choose to do otherwise.  Conversely, the evildoer is one by choice as well.  They are responsible for the evil they do.

This can be demonstrated anecdotally.  We see it every day, even recognize it in our own lives.  If our consciences are tender, we strive always to do good.  However, from time to time we choose wrongly, and our conscience is pierced with guilt.  Those who choose to do evil again and again have their consciences hardened (seared), and feel guilt no longer.  Regardless, we always maintain the ability to choose.

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Watchman Magazine 2.0

Welcome back to Watchman Magazine!  With this editorial, we begin actively publishing material to Watchman Magazine after a hiatus of about five years.  In the last five years, the internet has changed greatly.  So, we will be doing things a bit differently this time around.

In the previous iteration of Watchman, we sought to maintain a regular monthly publication schedule.  There was no real reason for this other than it mimicked our paper based cousins, and it gave me as the editor a deadline for the preparation and publication of material.  It also wore me out!  As editor and publisher, it was my responsibility to both to correct and prepare manuscripts, and then to code them into HTML for publication on the web.  With some authors, this was fairly simple, but with others it was a real chore.  I must confess that the process became ever more daunting to me.  Though I am proud of all the material that has appeared on Watchman, I think it obvious that the first four years or so of the magazine were consistently of high quality, and that the efforts were a bit more inconsistent after that.  Without going into great detail, the magazine ceased publication as a result of editorial burnout on my part. Continue reading » Watchman Magazine 2.0

Editorial: A New Church in India

In November of 2004, Bobby Holmes and I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to India, and preach the gospel.  We were in the country for the full month, and much was accomplished in the effort, due to the grace of our Lord and the power of His word.


While Joshua Mahendranath was working in Kuwait, he determined to use his time away from his family to study for himself the truth of God’s word.  He signed up for many correspondence courses over the internet, and from them found that those courses he received from churches of Christ were different.  They were challenging and Bible based, and from them he learned the truth.

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Editorial: Sanctification

God is Holy.  The Psalmist proclaimed, “Exalt the Lord our God, And worship at His holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9).

Because God is holy, supplicants who approach Him must be holy as well.  Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, profaned themselves before God when they offered up strange fire by way of sacrifice.  In punishment, God took their lives. “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying:  “By those who come near me I must be regarded as holy; and before all people I must be glorified.”’  So Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3).

This call to holiness is fully realized in the term sanctification.  The term sanctification is used, as pointed out by Vine, of (a) separation to God; (b) the course of life befitting those so separated. (pg. 317).

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Editorial: "Let Us Pr….Play"

In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, the above title was used for an article written by the back page feature writer, Rick Reilly.  I normally enjoy Reilly’s writing, as it is incisive as well as humorous.  This particular article was no exception.

Reilly mentioned that more and more youth leagues are beginning to have their athletic activities on Sunday.  It is a time when coaches and parents are off of work, and as the emphasis on organized youth sports increases, time becomes more precious.  A time period which was once off limits (Sunday morning) is now routinely filled with regularly scheduled softball, baseball and soccer games.

And, as Reilly put it, we can’t really expect the officials and coaches to take the lead in changing the trend.  It happens more and more often because of the parents!  After all, if the parents did not allow their children to play on Sunday, there would be no games, no matter what the league or coach wanted.

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Editorial: A Short Note to Our Readers

With this issue of Watchman we begin our seventh year of publishing.  From the Prospectus issue, published to the web on November of 1997, until today, the effort has been a labor of love for yours truly.  The reader will have to determine for himself the value of the material online, but we are gratified to have been able to share with you the wisdom and knowledge of the men who have written for the magazine.

We are likewise gratified that we have been able to archive the material, and that every article written in the previous six years remains available to this day, free of charge, to our readers.  We have never sought to limit the reproduction of this material, and again repeat our desire that the articles get a wide reading.  We ask  only that the articles are reproduced completely and faithfully, and appropriate recognition is given to the author and the Magazine.

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Editorial: Issues in this Issue

The Debate

In this issue of Watchman there appears a debate between Tom M. Roberts and Vance E. Trefethen which was originally published  in Guardian of Truth magazine in November 1994.  The debate is reprinted with the permission of both authors, and we are gratified to have had a part in making it available in electronic format.

In a recent email to me, brother Roberts indicated that the debate came about in response to material brother Trefethen had published in a booklet entitled “Confusion or Consensus.” In that booklet he affirmed “There is no pattern for men-only business meetings and a clear pattern for congregational (men and women) decision-making assemblies” (p. 12).

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Theme Editorial

Webster’s defines hermeneutics as:

“The study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible)”

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

In his introductory comments in his book on the subject, Hermeneutics, Professor D.R. Dungan said:

Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. It is derived from the Greek Hermes, the messenger of the gods and the interpreter of Jupiter.  Every Hermeneus was, therefore, an interpreter, as he was supposed to inherit some of the mystic qualities of this god of philology, this patron of eloquence.  Sacred hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Scriptures.  Exegesis (from ex, out, and egeisthas, to guide or lead), means to lead out.  It is the application of the principles of hermeneutics in bringing out the meaning of any writing which might otherwise be difficult to understand.

(Hermeneutics, page 1)

In this issue of Watchman Magazine, we intend both to examine the Divine Hermeneutics, and to warn of some present departures from that hermeneutics.  When we use the term Divine Hermeneutics, we refer to the “methodological principles of interpretation” which are established by God.  In other words, the principles established in this series of articles are divine mandates.  They are not “man-made” principles as is commonly contended by some.

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Editorial: Binding Archaisms

The King James version of the Bible is a wonderful translation of the words of God into our native tongue.  As a translation, it is limited in that it represents the scholarship of mere men who have attempted to take the words of God from the original languages (Hebrew in the Old Testament, Greek in the New Testament), and establish their meaning accurately in the English language.  The effort was laudable, and well executed, giving English readers almost 400 years ago a reliable translation of God’s Word into an important and influential language.  It must be understood, however, that it is merely a translation, and that final arguments concerning meaning and usage of the words used by the Old and New Testament writers must be settled by a study of the original tongues of inspiration.

It can be said that no other translation of the Bible has had a greater influence upon literature than the King James version.  The translators were careful to respect the plenary and verbal inspiration of the original autographs, and yet managed a work that is almost poetic in its reading.  Though the English language has changed in the ensuing 400 years, the Bible remains usable and desirable to many believers.

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Editorial: Revisiting “Let None Deal Treacherously”

The special theme section of our last issue of Watchman, (June, 2003), was entitled “Let None Deal Treacherously”:  An Examination of God’s law (and the error of men) on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage.  The issue consisted of nine articles on the subject, establishing what I believe to be the truth, and dealing with some (though not all) of the errors which men have advocated on the subject in recent years.  All of the articles were written by me.

The series initially was printed in the local bulletin I edit for the West Side congregation here in Fort Worth.  Because of the format of the bulletin, the articles were not long, and it was not my intention for them to be particularly “in-depth.”  I was aiming for a general, concise discussion of the issue, and judging from the generous feedback I received concerning the material, some at least were satisfied with the effort.

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Dealing With Doctrinal Error

Most are aware that a controversy exists among Christians today regarding what the Bible teaches about fellowship.  Included in the differences expressed by brethren is a disagreement on the bounds of Christian unity based on differing understandings of Romans, chapter 14.  Some believe the instruction of the chapter, "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things" (vs. 1), to be inclusive of some sinful practices and some doctrinal error.  Others, rightfully I believe, limit the context of the admonition to matters of liberty.

Another area of disagreement is found regarding the true designation of a false teacher.  Some limit the term to those who are dishonest in heart.  They take the description of the false teacher in 2 Peter 2, which describes false teachers as being willful, and deceitful, as excluding a brother who teaches error, but who himself is sincere and honest.  Others, rightfully I believe, identify the false teacher by his doctrine, and believe God desires us to judge his works rather than his heart (cf. Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1).

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Theme Editorial: The Home

The oldest institution established by God, the home is the building block of society. Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The home is under attack in our day. The nuclear family, designed by God, is no longer the norm. Homes broken by divorce, single parent families, and even homosexual unions are accepted in society. As more and more children are disadvantaged by such circumstances, juvenile delinquency, alcohol and drug use, and promiscuous activity increases. These trends have had a very definite and deleterious effect on the fabric of our society.

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Editorial: The Faith of the Atheist

Christians have faith in God.  Basically, we believe that God exists though we have not seen Him.  Despite our inability to prove the existence of God by the use of our physical senses, we accept the affirmation of Scripture.  We freely admit that this is faith, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

This does not mean that there is no evidence as to the existence of God.  Indeed there is. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead" (Romans 1:20).  The argument of design is one that cannot be successfully refuted by those who deny God’s existence.  If there is no designer, why does structure and organization abound in the physical universe?  Why is it "cosmos" (ordered) rather than "chaos"?  Design demands a designer.

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