LPFM Journey – Part III

This is Part III in a series of posts that I will document my church’s journey in starting a LPFM radio station. Read Part I here. Read Part II here.

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“Do”s and “Don’t”s of LPFM Broadcasting

Here are some things you must or must not do in regards to broadcasts on LPFM. Much of this is from the FCC’s publication The Public and Broadcasting and a lot of it applies to all broadcasts and not just LPFM:

You CAN NOT broadcast:

  • “Hoaxes”. Think of the legendary War of the Worlds broadcast.
  • Calls to riot or other lawless action.
  • Willful distortion of the news. I can hear the snickering now that most news is distorted anyway. Free Speech rights give a ton of leeway here.
  • Obscene, indecent, or profane programming. Again, Free Speech rights apply but many court cases have given the FCC the power to limit speech that is deemed offensive. It can be somewhat subjective. From the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. the restrictions are loosened somewhat. Still, some profanity or sexuality explicit material will not be acceptable at any time.
  • Commercials. LPFM is strictly non-profit.

You MUST:

  • Broadcast official station identification at the top of every hour.
  • Disclose rules for any contests or promotions.
  • Have permission to broadcast phone calls.
  • Acknowledge gifts or sponsorship for air time. See payola.
  • Provide equal opportunity and time for candidates running for office.

Other than these general guidelines, the FCC really doesn’t care about what you broadcast. They do not care if you play music or what kind of music it is (as long as you have the proper license!). They do not care if you are right wing or left wing politically. They do care if you are sectarian in you religious positions. That is all considered First Amendment Free Speech rights.

Special Notes for Religious Broadcasters

Much of the information out there on LPFM stations is geared towards “community” stations that extremely eclectic and open to practically everything to be broadcast. I have no problem with those sort of stations, and honestly I think it is very neat concept. But there are a few things I have come across that I think are important for when a church or ministry is the one operating a LPFM station.

First, there is a loophole for equal opportunity employment requirements. From the FCC: “The FCC requires all licensees of radio and TV stations afford equal opportunity in employment. We also prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. However, religious stations are permitted to require that some or all of their employees meet a religious qualification.”

Second, you have a little more flexibility with a “call to action” in underwriting when talking about a church or non-profit. While you cannot say “come see Jim at Jim’s Plumbing” you can say “come join us this Sunday at church”. I would still be very careful here. RECnet has a good FAQ on this.

LPFM Journey – Part II

This is Part II in a series of posts that I will document my church’s journey in starting a LPFM radio station. Read Part I here. Read Part III here.

Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay

Are you ready for more LPFM talk? Here we go!

Setup Costs

So, how much will it cost to go on the air? Here’s some numbers I compiled from Prometheus Radio and Low Power Fm for Dummies. Please have some patience with my inexperience on a lot of this. I may not get all the numbers and details exactly right, but I do want people to understand the scale of setting up a station. As we go through this process I will update with more accurate information.

Last time, we looked at the application process to have a LPFM station in the U.S. It is highly recommended that you work with professionals for your application. There are aspects that you will need a knowledgeable engineer to put together. There are companies that will handle all of this for a fee. This varies greatly, but I’m seeing $500-$3,000 as good ballpark figures.

You will need a transmitter. Make sure it is FCC Type Certified. I hear some will claim this when they are not, so best to stick with reputable manufacturers. Expect $3,000-$6,000.

You will need a broadcast antenna. There are many options out there, and it looks like you can spent $200-$2,000 based on the models I see recommended.

You will need a broadcast tower to put your antenna on. You really need to have this figured out before you get your application in. You can file an amendment to your application if there needs to be any changes.

You can have one installed on your property or perhaps somewhere else that you negotiate a location. I don’t really know how to price this part, but I see used towers starting at around $2,000 and going way up from there. This is another area that you probably want to hire an expert.

Another option if you do not a place to put up your own antenna or perhaps you are located in a poor place to put one, is to rent space on existing towers. You may get lucky and find someone that will work with you because of how little power LPFM stations use. I’m hearing you can expect around $250-$500, but I’m sure there are many factors that can drastically affect those prices.

If you tower is remote or even distant from your broadcast building, you may need to build a shed or shelter for your equipment near the tower. You will also need a rack to mount your equipment. You will likely need some sort of ventilation or even climate control. Electronics produce heat and too much heat is not good for electronics.

If your tower is offsite then you will probably also need equipment to transmit your signal from your studio to your transmitter. This can be done with internet or wireless connections.

You are required to have an Emergency Alert System that will broadcast weather alerts and such. These can cost around $3,000.

All told, you are probably looking at $15,000-$20,000 minimum to get on the air… and we haven’t even got into the studio yet!

Studio Costs

The cost of setting up a broadcast studio can vary greatly. You can get on the air for maybe $2,000 and you can also spend $100,000 easy for top of the line, brand new equipment.

Are you renting a space? That’s an expense.

Have electricity? That’s an expense.

Need internet? That’s an expense.

Furniture? You could use folding chairs and tables or you could hire master craftsmen to custom build everything.

You will need an audio console. This is the backbone of your broadcast as all audio is processed through it. I priced some recommended models at $700 to $3,500, but they keep going way up from there. Most depends on how many inputs you need (fewer = cheaper) and how many “bells and whistles” you want.

You will need microphones. You could spend $10 on one (please don’t) or you can literally spend $1,000’s on one. Two models that are affordable and have a good reputation are the Shure SM57 and SM58. These retail for $99.

If you have mics you need mic stands or booms. You can spend $20 or $400 on these.

You need headphones to wear while on the air. You can get by with $5 ones are you can spend $1,000’s. There are plenty of good options around $100.

You will need playback devices like CD players, cassette decks, and turntables (depending on how old school you want to go).

Think of all the miscellaneous cords and adapters too!

How about a website? Domain and hosting are going to run at least $150 a year.

The good thing for a church LPFM station is that you probably already have space and some equipment (you have a PA system, after all). One thing to consider is the studio space really needs to be dedicated space. You need to be able to protect the equipment and also be able to broadcast without interruptions and unnecessary background noise.

Music Licenses

Are you going to play copyrighted music? Then you need licenses.

To play music on air, you need licenses from:

If you also stream your station online, there are additional licenses from the three entities above. There is also one more that is specific to streaming:

There is also a form with $50 fee that also needs to be submitted to the US Copyright office to use copyrighted recordings online. This is a one-time filing.

But just because you have these licenses does not mean you are free to play whatever whenever. There are some stipulations that come with them. You also need to track the copyrighted music you play online and submit reports.

So, just to be legal you are going to spend at least $1,000 a year for licensing, over $2,000 if you stream online. If you do not take the steps to be legal you can be fined, sued, and lose your license.

Manpower

Most LPFM stations seem to rely on volunteers to keep live programming on the air. For a church, it can be an investment to have staff man the station.

You can automate much of what goes out on the airwaves, so you do not have to have someone 24/7. The problem with this is that it does not create a reason for anyone to listen. Apps like Pandora, Stitcher, or Spotify, can do the same thing… and probably better! Listeners connect to the personalities over the air even more than they do music.

I’d suggest taking a look at other LPFM stations of all types and see how they manage their on air talent. You can likely find a model that works for you.

Funding a LPFM Station

LPFM stations must be owned by non-profit organizations. They are not commercial stations and there are strict rules to prevent them from becoming those. There are some interesting restrictions and requirements that you need to be aware of. Here’s the first one:

You cannot have advertising on an LPFM station. Period. You cannot sell or run ads. Since this is the primary source of income for commercial stations, you can already tell that funding a LPFM station is going to be difficult. Of course when you factor in the limited range they have there may not be many advertisers interested.

What you can do is receive contributions and and acknowledge them on air, a process called underwriting. This gets very technical. You can acknowledge that a business supports your station, but you cannot promote their business with a call to action (“…go visit them at….”) or promote their sales (“…everything is half off today…”). Confusing? Yes, yes it is. The FCC provides some guidelines but it can be pretty tricky.

Of course you can always just accept donations because you are a non-profit. Or if you are a church you can just fund it as a ministry. Or sell t-shirts and “merch”. Or you can get creative (but stay legal!).

LPFM Journey – Part I

This is Part I in a series of posts that I will document my church’s journey in starting a LPFM radio station. Read Part II here. Read Part III here.

Image by Benjamin Hartwich from Pixabay

On a Wednesday in October, 2023, I got a phone call from an old friend (at this point in time I am going to keep some details vague) that runs a Gospel radio station in another state. He was calling preachers and pastors to let them know about an upcoming window of opportunity to start local radio stations for their churches. He gave me the contact information of a group that was looking to help start Christian radio stations in rural areas. That night, I talked to our church about the opportunity and our leadership team decided to explore it.

That’s how the journey began. Here we are two months later stepping out into the unknown. If you will indulge my geekness, I think Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins summed up where we are at very nicely: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

One of my passions is sharing information that I put together, especially when I find an area or topic that I cannot find good information on. That is the impetus behind this website. I want to do the same with what I am learning in our LPFM journey.

LPFM Radio

Lower Power FM (LPFM) is a form of low power broadcasting that is in use across the world. Different countries have different rules and regulations governing it.

In the U.S., the FCC governs LPFM stations and the major restrictions on it are:

Because of the technical restrictions, LPFM stations have a very limited broadcast range. The FCC estimates the approximate service range to be about a 3.5 mile radius. Many factors like terrain and interference from other stations can affect this. A station in a rural community with lots of flat farmland will have a much better coverage area than one in the middle of a metropolitan area. The term I often see associated with LPFM is “hyper-local”.

Much of the history of LPFM radio in the U.S. stems from pirate radio stations and free speech activists. Commercial broadcasters have mostly sought to control the airwaves through influencing Congress and the FCC. Since 2000, a series of legislative acts has carved out and created space for LPFM stations.

LPFM Licensing in the U.S.

The FCC only accepts applications for LPFM stations during rare windows. The most recent was from December 6-13, 2023. This is only the third window to open. The previous were in 2000-2001 and in 2013. If the timing remains consistent, there may not be another chance to apply until the 2030’s.

There are a LOT of very important details and requirements to an application. As a newcomer to radio, I do not see how anyone can do this without outside help (legal, engineering, etc.). There are numerous organizations and companies that can assist or manage the process.

The initial application is a Construction Permit. You provide information on your organization and the proposed transmitter location and specifications. Some notes on applications and requirements:

  • You need to be incorporated as a non-profit.
  • Outside of rare situations, you are only allowed ONE application per filing window.
  • 75% of your board of directors must live near your station location (either 10 or 20 miles, depending on if you are in top-50 Nielsen radio market)
  • 80% of your board of directors must be U.S. citizens.
  • Board members cannot have ownership interest in other broadcast licenses.
  • Board members cannot have been or be engaged in pirate radio broadcasts.

In your application you specify which frequency you are applying for. Just because there seems to be an open spot on your radio dial without a station does not mean it is available. There is a great emphasis on preventing interference between stations, the larger commercial stations have the priority. There are some search tools to help identify potential frequencies, including the FCC’s Low Power FM (LPFM) Channel Finder.

One fun aspect of applying is that you do not know who else is applying. It is actually recommended that you keep your application quiet until after the window closes so someone else doesn’t file a competing application. After the filing window closes all the application information is made available to the public. If more than one application is put in for the same frequency within the same broadcast range then a couple of things can happen. First, applications can compete head-to-head with a point system with one coming out as the victor. Second, a time share agreement can be reached where two entities share access to the frequency.

Next Steps After FCC Application

Wait.

Wait some more.

It evidently can take months or years to get your application approved by the FCC if things do not go smoothly.

Here is my best understanding of the step of the process from submitting your initial application to being granted your Broadcast Station License

  • The first action the FCC will take is to move your application status from “Pending” to “Accepted For Filing”.
  • Posting required public notices of your application (this is rarely mentioned) online and in the newspaper.
  • A 30-day window begins where people can file a Petition to Deny (PTD). Properly formatted and submitted PTDs will be evaluated by the FCC.
  • If all goes well, you are approved for you Construction Permit. You have three years to get your station on air.
  • Choosing a call sign. You can search for available ones on the FCC site.
  • Construct your broadcast tower. You can also lease space on existing towers, but whatever you do cannot deviate from your Construction Permit.
  • Install your transmitter and antenna.
  • Install your Emergency Alert System.
  • Test your broadcast.
  • Start broadcasting.
  • File Form 319 to receive your Broadcast Station License.

LPFM Stations by the Numbers

Here’s some numbers I am compiling from LPFMDatabase.com and RECNet.com to give an idea of the scope of LPFM radio in the U.S.:

  • LPFM licenses granted in the 2000-2001 window – 1319
  • LPFM licenses granted in the 2013 window – 1978
  • LPFM stations currently licensed (1-2-24) – 1956
  • LPFM stations currently on the air (1-2-24) – 1928
  • LPFM applications from the 2023 window (not all will be granted, of course) – 1,366

There are around 970 LPFM stations (at least in 2022) operating that are owned by faith-based organizations. So just less than half of existing stations are faith-based. There are 441 applicants in the 2023 window that are faith-based, making them 1/3 of the applications filed.

I want to do some research into these religious LPFM stations. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some information on that in the future.

LPFM and the Gospel

While LPFM radio was nowhere on my radar a few months ago, the more I look into it the more I am convinced there a wonderful opportunities for the work of the Gospel. Some thoughts I have had:

  • You can have a local, 24/7 Gospel witness in your community.
  • You basically have a 24/7 billboard being broadcast for your church or organization.
  • Many opportunities are available for community involvement.
  • In many parts of the nation, you have the opportunity to be THE local radio station.

Depending on the situation, you may not even have to do much broadcasting live. There are are networks that you can rebroadcast, such as VCY and Christian Family Radio.

I’ll share some more of the vision and ideas that I am crafting in the future.

Helpful Links

Want to know more? Here are a few good places to start.

Was Ahaziah 22 or 42 When He Became King?

Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.” – II Kings 8:26

Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.” – II Chronicles 22:2

First, it must be stated that this is not a KJV issue, it is a Hebrew text issue.  The Hebrew Masoretic text in II Kings 8:26 says twenty-two years and in II Chronicles 22:2 says forty-two years. To deny the forty-two years in I Chronicles is to deny the text and imagine a mistake was made.

There are other ancient translations that appear to have “corrected” the 42 to 22, including the Septuagint.  I do not think this is evidence for an error, but rather that many before were like the critics of today and sought to “correct” perceived errors. 

Second, it is frankly improbable that this is a copyist’s mistake.  Below is an illustration of the mistake that is imagined having been made by a uncareful scribe. [1]  The top word is “twenty” and the bottom is “forty”.  This would not have been a simple mistake, like making an “O” a “Q”.

Third, there are many misrepresentations of the facts by those who claim there is a copyist mistake here.  For instance, it is often stated that these numbers are reckoned using numerical letter values.  Thus כ (kaf ­= 20) and  מ (mem = 40) are mistaken for each other.  But the text is not using this system and instead spells out the words as seen above.

Another instance is an insistence that Ahaziah’s father Jehoram died at the age of 40, those making it impossible for Ahaziah to ascend the throne at age 42.  However, the text never explicitly states how old Jehoram was when he died.  It states that Jehoram was 32 when began to reign and reigned for 8 years “in Jerusalem” (II Kings 8:17, II Chronicles 21:5&20).  It is therefore assumed that those 8 years begin when he is 32, but that does not have to be the case if there was a coregency between Jehoram and Jehoshaphat before an 8-year solo rule.

Fourth, while I cannot find one conclusive solution to this conundrum, there are multiple theories that are quite plausible.

Matthew Poole notes two possible solutions based on the idiomatic language found in II Chronicles 22:2, these being either the 42 years as the age of Ahaziah’s mother Athaliah or the age of Omri’s dynasty:

“In the Hebrew it is, a son of forty-two years, &c., which is an ambiguous phrase; and though it doth for the most part, yet it doth not always, signify the age of the person, as is manifest from 1 Samuel 13:1, See Poole ‘1 Samuel 13:1’. And therefore it is not necessary that this should note his age (as it is generally presumed to do, and that is the only ground of the difficulty); but it may note either,
“1. The age of his mother Athaliah; who being so great, and infamous, and mischievous a person to the kingdom and royal family of Judah, it is not strange if her age be here described, especially seeing she herself did for a season sway this sceptre. Or rather,
“2. Of the reign of that royal race and family from which by his mother he was descended, to wit, of the house of Omri, who reigned six years, 1 Kings 16:23; Ahab his son reigned twenty-two years, 1 Kings 16:29; Ahaziah his son two years, 1 Kings 22:51; Joram his son twelve years, 2 Kings 3:1; all which, put together, make up exactly these forty-two years; for Ahaziah began his reign in Joram’s twelfth year, 2 Kings 8:25. And such a kind of computation of the years, not of the king’s person, but of his reign or kingdom, we had before, 2 Chronicles 16:1, See Poole ‘2 Chronicles 16:1’. And so we have an account of the person’s age in 2 Kings 8:26, and here of the kingdom to which he belonged.”[2]

The Trinitarian Bible Society has published a solution involving coregencies:

“Again, a number of scholars attribute the apparent discrepancy to a copyist’s error. We are unwilling to do this, particularly as this discrepancy can be reconciled. The Hebrew Masoretic Text has ‘forty-two’ in 2 Chronicles 22.2; and while only the original manuscript was ‘inspired’, God has, in His special providence, preserved the Holy Scriptures so that we do now possess faithful and authoritative copies.
“We must admit, of course, that there is a problem in reconciling these two Scriptures. In 2 Kings 8.17, we are told that Jehoram (Ahaziah’s father) was thirty-two when he became king, and that he died eight years later, apparently at the age of forty. Now if Jehoram was eighteen years old when he became a father, this would mean that Ahaziah would have been twenty-two years old when he succeeded his father on the throne of Judah. And that is what the inspired historian says in 2 Kings 8.26. But 2 Chronicles 22.2 states that Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he became king. If Jehoram died at forty and Ahaziah became king at forty-two, then Ahaziah appears to have been two years older than his father!
“There have been various explanations, but we will confine ourselves to just one of these. According to 2 Kings 8.17, Jehoram (the father) was thirty-two when he began to reign. This appears to have been as co-regent with Jehoshaphat, for note the wording of 8.16, ‘Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign’. If Jehoram, at thirty-two, was co-regent with Jehoshaphat for twenty years, and then sole monarch for another eight years – and Scripture says that ‘he reigned eight years in Jerusalem’ (8.17) – this would mean that he died at the age of sixty (and not forty).
“Now this brings us to Ahaziah. Let us suppose that he was admitted to co-regency when he was twenty-two years old (as in 2 Kings 8.26) and that he continued in his office as co-regent for twenty years, he would then have begun to reign alone in his father’s sixtieth year, when he himself was forty-two years old – exactly as we have it stated in 2 Chronicles 22.2.
“Co-regency was a common practice in Israel ever since the time of David, who used it to ensure the succession of Solomon (1 Kings 1.29ff). If we take it into account here, we are able satisfactorily to harmonize 2 Kings 8.26 and 2 Chronicles 22.2.
“The explanation given above upholds the Masoretic Text and is perfectly reasonable. The believer in verbal inspiration always takes the position of faith: that is, he always tries to find an answer to a problem posed by the text of Holy Scripture. The believer does not immediately – or indeed after study – jump to the conclusion that there is an error in the text. Instead, he believes there is an answer to all these problems, even if he does not know the answer at that particular time. ‘The scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10.35).”[3]

There is another, to me, less plausible theory that Ahaziah was not the actual son of Jehoram, but his stepson.  This theory involves Athaliah being the daughter of Omri and not Ahab, and that Ahaziah was born to another husband before her marriage to Jehoram.  This would account for the idea that he is older than his father, if Jehoram did indeed die at 40 and Ahaziah became king at 42.  I do not think this is the best interpretation of all the Scriptural evidence.

Fifth, there are deep and convoluted ties between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms at this time that may not be possible to completely unravel.  Evidence for this includes:

  • In II Chronicles 18:1, it is noted that Jehoshaphat (Judah) enters an “affinity” with Ahab (Israel).  This involves a marriage between Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram and Ahab’s daughter Athaliah.  This does not unite the kingdoms, but it does intertwine the ruling houses.
  • In II Chronicles 20:35, Jehoshaphat is said to “join himself with Ahaziah king of Israel” (Ahab’s son).  The nature of this arrangement is not clear except for a trading venture at Ezeiongeber.
  • In II Chronicles 21:2, Jehoshaphat is said to be “king of Israel”.  This is often taken as another “copyist’s error” but could use Israel generically for the Jewish people[4] or could be used literally of the Northern Kingdom. That latter option could reflect the alliance between the kingdoms.
  • In II Kings 8:27, Ahaziah is said to be the “the son in law of the house of Ahab”.  Poole comments: “He was the proper son of Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, and the grandson-in-law of Ahab, because his father was Ahab’s son-in-law”.[5]  Most do not believe that he married someone of Ahab’s house, but that his relation was the son of his son-in-law.  The one wife we are aware of is Zibiah (II Chronicles 24:1) but it is possible there could be more, perhaps even a daughter of Ahab.
  • In I Kings 22:6, a “king’s son” named Joash is mentioned that some a few[6] is the same as Joash, king of Judah.  The chronology does not seem to support this and most commentators state this is a different Joash.[7]  This is a possible link, but I very doubtful.

These deep ties could make chronology difficult if, for instance, a prince was raised over a different kingdom for a time until they became king of another kingdom.


MY THEORY

I believe that both of Ahaziah’s ages are correct but refer to different occasions of becoming a prince or king.  He became a prince or co-ruler at 22 and then sole king at 42.

This theory depends on coregencies going back to at least into the reigns of Asa or Jehoshaphat.  Let us look at the evidence from the reigns of the kings of Judah dating back to Rehoboam.  Note the ages of when the heirs became king and lengths of their reigns.

  • Rehoboam was 41 years old when he became king and reigned 17 years (I Kings 14:21, II Chronicles 12:13).
  • Abijah/Abijam was 34 years old[8] when he became king and reigned 3 years (I Kings 15:1-2, II Chronicles 13:1-2).
  • Asa was 18 years old[9] when he became king and reigned 41 years (I Kings 15:9-11, II Chronicles 16:13-14)
  • Jehoshaphat was 35 years old[10] when he became king and reigned 25 years (I Kings 22:41-42, II Chronicles 20:21)
  • Jehoram was 32 years old[11] when he became king and reigned eight years (I Kings 22:17,20; II Chronicles 21:5).
    • There is definitely a coregency between Jehoshaphat and Jehoram (II Kings 8:16).  Reese says this is for 5 years on top of the 8 years, making 13 years total.

The coregency of Jehoram is key.  It is unclear if the 8-year reign includes the coregency or not.  This falls into the vagaries of chronological studies.  I have found differing opinions on the matter. My theory is that it does not and those 8 years are the length of his reign as king.

So, is there a gap between Jehoram becoming coregent with his father and his solo reign of eight years?  I believe there is.  Gill quotes Lightfoot saying that there are possibly three ways to calculate the beginning of his reign:

“…according to Dr. Lightfoot, there were three beginnings of his reign; ‘first’, when his father went with Ahab to Ramothgilead, when he was left viceroy, and afterwards his father reassumed the kingdom; the ‘second’ time was, when Jehoshaphat went with the kings of Israel and Edom against Moab; and this is the time here respected, which was in the fifth of Joram king of Israel; and the ‘third’ time was, at the death of his father; but knew his father was living.”[12]

Interestingly, according to Reese’s chronology, this is roughly the same time (~898 B.C.) the Ahab entering a coregency with his son Ahaziah.[13]  This all seems to involve the combined campaign of Jehoshaphat and Ahab against Syria.  There is a likelihood that these coregencies were safeguards in case the coming military campaign went bad.

The ages of Jehoshphat and Jehoram at the beginnings of their reigns suggest that that their presumptive heirs were born around the time of their ascensions. Then when the heirs were of a respectable age, they were given some authority, perhaps as a secondary ruler or even coruler.  Such a thing is not unknown in history.  Diocletian would do something similar with the Roman Empire with the establishment of the Tetrarchy in the late third century.

If these assumptions are true, then it is likely that Jehoram is older than Reese’s calculations.  He would have been born when Jehoshaphat was perhaps 18-20 years old.  He would have been given some authority or title (up to coregency) when he was also around 18-20 years old.  This shows he could very well have been elevated to a prince or coregent for most around 20 years of Jehoshaphat’s reign before being the primary ruler for eight years.  This scenario allows Jehoram to have a son very early in his father’s reign.  This son, Ahaziah, would then follow a similar track, being elevated in his late teens (or perhaps even as an infant or child) to be a prince or coregent.  This could feasibly even date back into his grandfather’s reign.

So, it is both possible that Ahaziah became a ruler (prince/coregent) at the age of 22 but the primary ruler (king) at 42.  He had twenty years of ruling experience of some lesser type before his ascension to the throne.

Why then does II Chronicles, written after the Babylonian Captivity, give a different age?  There are numerous examples where Chronicles has a different approach to numbers than Samuel/Kings.  It is commonly theorized that Chronicles was written with access to different sources of information than Samuel/Kings, perhaps even different official records.  I think there is also a perspective shift on how some things were calculated that comes from Babylonian and Persian influences.  In many cases, I believe the changes where Chronicles varies information in Samuel/Kings are to clarify something that now was confusing with this perspective shift in place.

The answer to why the writer of Chronicles chose to record the age differently is because of the Ahaziah’s ties to the Northern Kingdom and the house of Omri and Ahab.  Chronicles focuses on the Southern Kingdom, not the Northern.  Ahaziah is technically a prince of both Kingdoms. Note his genealogy:

Therefore, in Ahaziah we find an opportunity for the Kingdoms to be united again.  The problem with this would be that idolatrous influence of the counterfeit religion of Jeroboam and the corrupted religion of Jezebel that seems to have had a great influence on Ahaziah.  It is noted that Ahaziah “walked in the ways of the house of Ahab: for his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly.” (II Chronicles 22:3).  God intervenes and ends these evil influences with Jehu’s rise in the Northern Kingdom, followed by the execution of Athaliah and the ascension of Joash in the Southern Kingdom.  It likely speaks to the wickedness of Ahaziah that he is cut down by Jehu in his purge of Ahab’s house.

On this it is worth noting how Matthew’s genealogy of Christ handles this series of kings: “And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias [a.k.a., Uzziah or Azariah];” (Matthew 1:8).  Matthew skips Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah.  Gill comments: “either because of the curse denounced on Ahab’s family, into which Joram married, whose idolatry was punished to the third or fourth generation; or because these were princes of no good character; or because their names were not in the Jewish registers.”[14]  It is plausible to assume that the writer of Chronicles and Matthew have a similar approach to approaching the influence of Ahab, that is, ignoring it.

To summarize my theory:  Ahaziah was 22 years old when he became a prince/coregent, possibly with connections to the Northern Kingdom.  Ahaziah was 42 years old when he became king of Judah.  The writer of II Kings chose to include the time as prince/coregent, and the writer of II Chronicles did not.

In my opinion, the burden of proof should lie on those that claim there is an error in the text.  They can prove others believed there was an error and that attempts were made to correct this perceived error, but not that there is an actual error.  It is merely theorized that there is an error in the text to account for something that does not seem to make sense.  The danger here is that because something does not make sense to someone, it is assumed that it is because there is an error.  This makes man the final arbiter between what is God-breathed Scripture and what is not.  To casually dismiss something as an error when there are multiple plausible scenarios for it to be correct is careless as best.


[1] Made with screenshots from E-sword module “Hebrew Old Testament (Tanach) w/ Strong’s Numbers”.

[2] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/poole/2_chronicles/22.htm – accessed 10-13-23

[3] “Brief notes on 2 Samuel 15.7, 2 Kings 8.26 and 2 Chronicles 22.2” by the Rev. M. H. Watts from the Trinitarian Bible Society’s April-June 2004 Quarterly Record. Found at: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.tbsbibles.org/resource/collection/156A9AA2-2086-4C4E-BE0A-08A4508415DA/Brief-Notes-2-Samuel-2-Kings-2-Chronicles.pdf – accessed 10-13-23

[4] So says Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on this passage.

[5] Matthew Poole’s Commentary, E-Sword module.

[6] Ruckman, for example.

[7] Reese, Gill, and Barnes are examples.

[8] Reese estimates that Rehoboam was 24 at his son’s birth.

[9] Reese estimate that Abijam was 19 at his son’s birth.

[10] Reese estimates that Asa was 24 at his son’s birth.

[11] Reese estimates that Jehoshaphat was 25 at his son’s birth.

[12] Gill’s Commentary on II Kings 8:16 – E-sword module.

[13] Reese’s Chronological Study Bible, p. 624.

[14] Gill’s Commentary, E-Sword Module

Physical Expression in Worship

There has been great debate throughout the history of Christianity on how to properly and acceptably express worship through physical expression. The debate is usually presented as a false dichotomy: you are either for physical expression in worship or you are not. Actually, there is a vast spectrum of opinions on the matter.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

If we were to be honest, how we express our worship to God has much to do with our culture. Some cultures are far more physically expressive than others and it tends to bleed into how they worship. This is evident here in America, where many have observed that church services in the south are typically livelier than those in the north. A church service in Central America may be even livelier, while one in Europe may not be lively at all. Each of these situations is caused by the culture of the people.

Culture is something that must be considered when discussing this topic. Our modern American culture has some overlap with that of ancient Israel but there are also great differences. For instance, we do not express lament or mourning by tearing our clothes, wearing sackcloth, and putting ashes on our heads (II Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6, etc.). Yet we know what these actions represent in that culture.

The bottom line is that physical expression is worship is an area of Christian liberty. There are many verses that condone it and few that condemn it. As Paul said in Romans 14:5: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

The issue today is that there is a great push for physical expression in worship that is not based on sound interpretation of Scripture. In this chapter, I want to look at four commonly promoted physical expressions and examine the Biblical case for each.

Bowing/Kneeling/Prostration

The primary Hebrew and Greek words used for worship carry with them the idea of bowing or prostration. The Hebrew shachah (Strong’s H7812) is defined as:

“A primitive root; to depress, that is, prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God): – bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.”

The Greek proskeneo (Strong’s G4352) is defined as:

“to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.”

So obviously there is a connection between worshipping and humbling oneself by lowering ourselves toward the ground. I do not think anyone would deny that.

The issue then is whether that physical expression is figurative or literal for us today. Can this be done?

We must consider that in Hebrew especially there is a tendency to express abstract concepts with concrete imagery. That is, things that cannot be interacted with via our human senses are explained with things that are. A great example of this is the word qavah (Strong’s H6960) which is translated as “wait” in Isaiah 40:31. The Strong’s definition for this word is:

“to bind together (perhaps by twisting), that is, collect; (figuratively) to expect: – gather (together), look, patiently, tarry, wait (for, on, upon).”

Thus, the abstract idea of waiting is expressed in the concrete imagery of twisting and binding, such as braiding a rope from individual fibers. We see this meaning in Genesis 1:9 and Jeremiah 1:17 where qavah is translated “gathered”.

Does “waiting” (qavah) on the Lord mean that I must be twisting and binding? I do not think anyone would take those implied actions as literal. Instead, we would enhance our understanding of “waiting” to include preparing, strengthening, or producing so that waiting does not mean idleness.

So, does “worshipping” (shachah) mean that I must bow myself to the earth to truly worship? I would contend that it is a similar case to that of qavah, in that the implied action should be applied figuratively. It is therefore important to humble ourselves before God in our spirit, which may or may not be expressed physically.

Let me be honest here. I do not see any sort of command or precedent for physically bowing in our worship today. But of all the physical expressions we will discuss, this is the one that I would have the least problem with because it is the truest to the original sense of the words. Personally, I often lay prostrate on the ground in private prayer. I do think it would be out of place in corporate worship.

Clapping Hands

Clapping hands is a sign of joy or appreciation in our American culture. We may clap when our sports team wins or after a piano recital.

There is a little more nuance to the action when it appears in the Bible. It is chiefly an expression of joy or appreciation. However, it is also used in a mocking or derisive sense. Let’s look at the appearance of clapping and what each represents.

The first group are verses in which clapping hands is a clear expression of joy:

“And he brought forth the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king.” – II Kings 11:12

“O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.” – Psalm 47:1

The second group are verses in which anthropomorphic rivers and trees clap their hands in joy:

“Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together” – Psalm 98:8

“For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” – Isaiah 55:12

The third group are verses in which clapping hands is derisive or mocking, like gloating over a defeated enemy:

“Men shall clap their hands at him [wicked man], and shall hiss him out of his place.” – Job 27:23

“For he [Job] addeth rebellion unto his sin, he clappeth his hands among us, and multiplieth his words against God.” – Job 34:37

“All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?” – Lamentations 2:15

“For thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou [Ammon] hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced in heart with all thy despite against the land of Israel; Behold, therefore I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 25:6-7

“There is no healing of thy [Assyria’s] bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” – Nahum 3:19

Those nine references are all the references to clapping in the Bible. None of the five references in the third group are instructive for us as they do not relate to worship. Neither does II Kings 11:12. I would say that both Psalm 98:8 and Isaiah 55:2 are artistic representations of joy and not instructive to us.

This leaves us with one verse – Psalm 47:1 – to build a case for clapping our hands in worship of God. Here I believe we see the joyful praise of the Messiah in His Kingdom (see vs. 7-9) expressed through clapping (applause), shouting (vs. 1), and singing (vs. 6-7). Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The most natural and most enthusiastic tokens of exultation are to be used in view of the victories of the Lord, and his universal reign. Our joy in God may be demonstrative, and yet he will not censure it.”

I do believe that clapping is an acceptable means of expressing our joy toward God. I do think this refers to applause and not keeping rhythm to a song.

Raising Hands

Over the past few decades, the act of raising hands has become an almost ubiquitous expression of worship. Even in conservative churches there is often a grudging acceptance of the act even if it is not actually promoted or practiced.

I believe there is a great misunderstanding on the subject that is based on people reading a different definition or motivation into the appearance of raising hands in the Bible. To try to avoid confusion, we will look at the references to the practice grouped according to what the act of raising hands is referring to. I do acknowledge that some of these could fit into different or even multiple categories.

First, there is a group of references where raising hands is part of pronouncing a blessing:

“And Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them, and came down from offering of the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and peace offerings.” – Leviticus 9:22

“And he [Christ] led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.” – Luke 24:50

Second, there is a group of references where raising hands is part of swearing an oath:

“For I [God] lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.” – Deuteronomy 32:40

“And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” – Nehemiah 8:6

“And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” – Daniel 12:7

Third, there is a group of references where raising hands is an act of violence or opposition:

“And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.” – II Samuel 18:28

“Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews.” – Esther 8:7

“Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.” – Micah 5:9

Fourth, there is a group of references where raising hands is an act of beckoning or welcoming:

“Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.” – Isaiah 49:22

“I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;” – Isaiah 65:2

Fifth, there is a group of references where raising hands is an act of prayer or pleading:

“And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.” – I Kings 8:54

“And he [Solomon] stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands:” – II Chronicles 6:12

“And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. ” – Ezra 9:5-6

“Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.” – Psalm 28:2

“If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;” – Psalm 44:20

“Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.” – Psalm 63:4

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” – Psalm 68:31

“Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.” – Psalm 88:9

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.” – Psalm 134:2

“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” – Psalm 141:2

“I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah” – Psalm 143:6

“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” – Isaiah 1:15

“Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.” – Lamentations 1:15

“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” – Lamentations 3:41

“Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” – Lamentations 2:19

“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” – I Timothy 2:8

Sixth, there is a group of references where raising hands is simply the act of raising hands with no clear meaning behind the act:

“And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD’S.” – Exodus 9:29

“Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.” – Psalm 10:12

“LORD, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see, and be ashamed for their envy at the people; yea, the fire of thine enemies shall devour them.” – Isaiah 26:11

“The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.” – Habakkuk 3:10

“My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” – Psalm 119:48

“For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.” – Jeremiah 4:31

The sixteen verses of the fifth group regarding prayer are generally the ones used to promote raising hands in worship. This goes against not only a straightforward interpretation of the phrases, but also fails to discern how often these prayers are linked to lament or despair. I would challenge the reader to study out the setting for each of these verses, especially the ones from Ezra, Psalms, Isaiah, and Lamentations. What you will find is that the act of lifting hands in prayer is often tied to lament and desperation.

I firmly believe that careful study of raising hands in Scripture has little to do with worshipping or praising God. I believe that modern readers are reading a meaning into the action that is not consistent with a plain reading of the references.

Dancing

Dancing, like clapping or shouting, is a common expression of joy (Exodus 15:20, II Samuel 6:14). In Ecclesiastes 3:4 and Psalm 30:11 it is seen as the opposite of mourning.

Here again we need to consider the culture of ancient Israel and not let our modern actions creep into our understanding of Scripture. The dancing of the Jewish people is folk dancing. It is very different than modern or popular dances today. The emphasis is on communal activity and not individuals. It is to be participated in by a group of people and not for performance. It is also not so sexually charged as much of today’s dance is.

The question is not whether the Jewish people danced, but rather did they dance as an act of worship. There is little evidence from Scripture to suggest they did. The Mosaic Law has no mention of it. There are two commonly cited references that we need to discuss.

The first is the example of David, who danced when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:14-16, I Chronicles 15:29). If seen through the lens of Jewish culture, this appears to be a celebratory folk dance like those following the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 15:20 or Goliath’s defeat in I Samuel 18:6. If it is an act of worship, it is the only record of such. Frankly, there is no indication this David’s dance is an example for us to follow.

The second is the final two Psalms. Those who defend the use of dancing say that these Psalms detail how we should worship and praise God because they begin with commands to “sing… his praise in the congregation of saints” (Psalm 149:1) and “praise God in his sanctuary” (Psalm 150:1). They will often claim this is descriptive of Temple worship.

However, Psalms 149 and 150 are not exclusively about Temple worship. They are the grand climax of the Psalms that extol all people at all times in all places to praise God. Psalm 149 is clear on this. Vs. 5 talks about praise in the nighttime – “let them sing aloud upon their beds.” Vs. 6 and following talks about praise in battle – “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged word in their hand.” To be consistent, if you claim 149:3 commands or commends dance in worship then you should also see the same emphasis on using beds and swords.

Another issue with using Psalms 149 and 150 is the artistic language of the Hebrew poetry. Many well-meaning people misinterpret Hebrew poetry by taking it too literally or doing so inconsistently. Psalm 150 is a great example of this. It is not commanding us to praise God only with trumpets, psalteries, harps, timbrels, dances, stringed instruments, organs, and symbols. It is not even saying we must use those means. It is poetically imploring us to joyfully praise God with any proper means at our disposal. It is like the famous Winston Churchill quote about defending Britain from Nazi invasion: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Churchill is not saying that beaches, landing grounds, fields, streets, and hills are the only places they would fight. He is artistically stating that they will fight the foe on any ground.

Why?

I have attempted to be honest and open-minded in approaching the subject of physical expression in worship. I cannot find a good Scriptural basis for the promotion of it as we see so much of today. However, I cannot find clear prohibitions against it.

Like I said in the opening of this chapter, we are dealing with a subject that is largely governed by Christian liberty. To each his own, right? Sort of.

The biggest issue is why would we encourage physical expression in worship. This question is often overlooked in the discussion as we chase down verses and definitions and such. We must address why to clear up the entire debate.

Some will claim that the why is an attempt to be obedient to the clear teaching of Scripture. I think I have demonstrated in this chapter that this is not the case.

Some will claim the why is an attempt to restore a true means of worship that has been forgotten or lost. I highly doubt God would let His people forget how to properly worship Him for over two thousand years.
Some will claim the why is breaking down barriers in our hearts so that we can experience unbridled worship. This is New Age philosophy and not Bible doctrine. We are nowhere commanded to “follow our hearts” because our fallen and depraved nature is untrustworthy (Jeremiah 17:9).

Some will claim the why is to allow the Holy Spirit to move believers. This creates something like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are promoting actions that you think the Holy Spirit would do, then you are also promoting people perform those actions as proof of the Holy Spirit’s working. You are getting what you expect and denying what you do not.

I think the why is that people are not satisfied with what God has already given them as means to worship. They want to worship God on their own terms. It is the same motivation as Caan’s offering in Genesis 4. It is the same motivation that led to the creation of the golden calf in Exodus 32. It is the same motivation that led Peter to want to build three tabernacles in Luke 9:33. It is the same motivation that led many early believers to be burdened with the customs of the Mosaic Law. All these thought they too had found a better, newer, more effective way of worshipping God.

Christian Maturity

Careful study of the Scriptures will show that it is not unbridled passion or exuberant praise that marks a mature believer. It is the opposite: temperance, sobriety, and soundness of mind. Note the following verses and the underlined words and phrases:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” – I Timothy 3:8-9

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” – II Timothy 1:7

“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” – Titus 1:7-9

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” – Titus 2:1-2

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” – Titus 2:11-14

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” – I Peter 5:8-9

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” – II Peter 1:5-7

It is clear that a spiritually mature believer is not marked by reckless abandoning themselves in uninhibited worship. If anything, that description would apply to the weak or immature believer. These need to be encouraged “to put away childish things” and grow into richer and deeper understanding of worship.

Book Review – “Worship and the Ear of God”

Rarely do I read a book and immediately feel the need to review it. That is just what has happened as I finished “Worship and the Ear of God” by Dave Hardy, published in 2017 by The Global Baptist Times. The book is quick read at 87 total pages, 70 of which are to be read (the body and first appendix).

As I have been studying on worship during the past couple of years, I have been saddened that not very many books on the subject are written by Independent Baptists or even conservatives for that matter. I had heard mention of Bro. Hardy but had not taken the opportunity to buy and read his book until now. I hoped it may finally be a book from someone of my stripe that addressed worship in a meaningful way.

I was disappointed to say the least.

The major flaw of Bro. Hardy’s book is its fundamental premise: that worship and physically bowing are intrinsically connected. That overemphasis on a physical expression of worship influences every chapter and every argument made.

Much of Bro. Hardy’s vigor comes from the Greek and Hebrew words and their definitions. He is correct in highlighting the bowing aspect in both shachah and proskeneo. I cannot think of another author though that so stringently applies to us today the idea of bowing to the physical. Every author or resource I can recall highlights the idea of bowing as humbling oneself before God. The common approach is similar to the way we handle the ceremonial and sacrificial laws; that is, that we are not literally bound to obey them but there are principles we can learn from them.

I was taught that if you come up with an idea that no one else has had, be very careful. But I wanted to give this author the benefit of the doubt and see if he could back up this position. The entire book hangs on the assumption that to worship we need to physically bow. If that argument fails, the rest of the book has not foundation.

Yet, the argument fails.

First, the no clear argument is made for physical bowing outside of the Greek and Hebrew definitions. On p. 17: “Since the idea of bowing is inherent in the translation of the word worship, there should be no need for additional encouragement.” This fails to understand that one of the basic tenets of language is words can have ideas, pictures, or actions attached to them that are literally part of their meaning. The word qavah in Isaiah 40:31 is translated and understood to mean “wait”, yet Strong’s definition is: “to bind together (perhaps by twisting), that is, collect; (figuratively) to expect: – gather (together), look, patiently, tarry, wait (for, on, upon).” To follow the author’s logic, we should be twisting threads and winding rope as we wait on God, and if we are not twisting and winding we must not be truly waiting.

Why settle on bowing? He mentions being prostrate a few times, but wouldn’t that be better? What about the aspect of proskeneo that is related to a dog licking his master’s hand? Should we be licking in worship? How can we choose only one expression of these words?

Second, it is simply assumed the argument is correct. On p. 11: “The fact that so few Christians kneel in worship on Sunday during a service labeled as such suggest a lack of understanding of the primary application of the word.”

Third, the author continually undermines his own argument. On p. 15, he gives the Strong’s definition of proskeneo as “to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand; to fawn or crouch to; to literally or figuratively prostrate oneself in homage; to do reverence to; to adore.” [emphasis added]. This definition contradicts his assertion by acknowledging a figurative bowing/humbling is possible.

On p. 27: “I have heard a pastor or song leader say, ‘Let us worship the Lord in song, in our giving, in our praise, and in our prayers.’ I have no problem with worshipping the Lord in any or all of these ways…” This acknowledges there are many ways to worship besides bowing.

Fourth, the author acknowledges the novelty of his own approach: On p. 17, “Nevertheless, I confess to placing a greater emphasis on the physical act of bowing than most I have read so far.”

Fifth, the author states that worship is more than physically bowing, yet continues to focus on that aspect. On p. 17: “I have previously stated that I clearly understand that worship involves more than bowing the knee…”

Sixth, the author argues from the Bible’s silence to support his position. On p. 17: “…but I fail to see good reason in the Bible not to bow the knee.”

Seventh, the author does not consistently apply his approach to words other than worship. On p. 22: “The physical posture for praise is not as specifically articulated as it is for worship.” A lot of charismatics would argue otherwise. He argues against a straw man on p. 27 that inconsistently does word studies on baptize and not worship. I and many others have done both and are consistent in our approaches.

Eighth, the author acknowledges worship still occurred without bowing. On p. 25: “Did we never worship the Lord all those Sundays for sixteen years? I am convinced that we did worship, but with less than full understanding. I am also convinced that our Heavenly Father accepted and reveled in our worship.” So what does the bowing do? (I’ll answer that later).

Ninth, the author inserts his beliefs into the silence of Scripture. On p. 31: “That vision hit Isaiah like a stroke, and as some commentators suggest, he groveled in the dust of his unworthiness.”

Tenth, the author inconsistently identifies the first mention of worship in Scripture. On p. 9, he acknowledges the first appearance of the Hebrew word shachah in Genesis 18:2. On p. 35 when speaking of the “Law of First Mention”, he acknowledges the first appearance of the English word worship in the KJV.

Eleventh, the author downplays the act of bowing when it is not convenient. On p. 40 describing his feelings while on a plane: “I cannot bow during those times, though I prefer to, but there is definitely a connection with my Maker.” You cannot claim its importance and apply it at convenience.

Twelfth, the author appeals to pragmatic results. On p. 43: “After preaching on worship at our church and incorporating it into the Sunday morning service, I began to notice an increase in the number of people coming to the altar during invitation time at the close of our service.” I would argue for a practical reason for this: you expected and encouraged physical reaction and it took form outside of bowing in worship.

Thirteenth, the author appeals to a flawed illustration. On p. 46-47, we have the illustration of aliens visiting earth and not thinking what most Baptists do is worship. To be honest, I have used a similar illustration in the past. However, there is no impartiality of the aliens in his version. He says: “We will further assume that they have acquainted themselves with our theological jargon, which would give them an understanding of worship. They know that the original words mean to bow before their sovereign – their king.” So, if the aliens believed as the author did, they too would assume the same as him that our worship is flawed. Also in that scenario, he appeals to the example of Islamic practices of bowing as closer to true worship than most Baptists churches. That comparison is fraught with issues.

Fourteenth, the author claims that England has a better understand of worship because they have a king and they bow to him. On p. 49: “The point is, the people of England, under King James and later, understood the term worship.” I think I know what he is getting at, that Americans typically treat leaders more as equals, but that intent is lost in the content. (A) Why start with James? They didn’t understand it before him? Could anyone before 1611? (B) Back on p. 10, the author argues that our understanding of worship in English is flawed because of the word’s etymology. Is that not true in England? Did worship have a different’ etymology in 1611?

Fifteenth, all of chapter thirteen, “Worship and Revival” is based on misappropriating II Chronicles 7:14 to us instead of Israel. I have commented on that before.


Worship and the of God suffers from the same problems that most books on worship have that are written by charismatics.

First, it offers some new and exciting take on old and tired worship that somehow Christianity missed for a couple of millennia.

Second, it equates worship with physical action, even if the author denies it.

Third, it relies on flawed Greek and Hebrew word studies.

Fourth, it promotes “experiential” worship and feeling over substance.

Fifth, it downplays other forms of worship. I would argue that singing a hymn, giving an offering, praying, and listening to a sermon can all be acts of worship.

Sixth, it begs the slippery slope comparison. I recognize the weakness of this argument, but once you go down the path of physically expressive worship where do you stop? On p. 62 he endorses raising hands in praise while discussing Nehemiah 8:6. My careful study of that verse leads me to believe the raised hands were as part of an oath, not praise. The correlation between raising of hands and praise is a charismatic development.


I can not recommend this book. The few good parts are not worth it. Independent Baptists both deserve and need a better treatment of worship that this.

I Have A Book!!!!

Paperback – Amazon.com

Kindle – Amazon.com

I cannot tell you what a dream come true this is! Huge thanks to Jason Mann for encouraging and aiding me on this journey.

My first (see what I did there?) book is a collection of fourteen sermons preached at Faith Baptist Church in Decatur, Texas. I have preached quite a bit from Psalms recently, so much so that my kids act shocked when I announce a text not in Psalms. I have greatly enjoyed digging into the practical and spiritual lessons from the structure and poetry of Psalms.

I have become much more of a manuscript preacher over the last few years, and these sermons are rewritten directly from my sermon notes. I think it made for a good first foray into publishing. I am already working on two more books based on some Wednesday evening Bible studies.

Below are the fourteen sermon titles, the Psalms they are based on, and links to recordings of the original sermons.

  • Don’t Break Your Harp! – Psalm 137 – Audio
  • Our Duty to the Next Generation – Psalm 78 – Audio
  • From Worry to Worship – Psalm 77 – Audio
  • Three Foundations for Prayer – Psalm 86 – Audio
  • Faith, Fools, Foes – Psalm 73 – Audio
  • Praying for a Higher Place – Psalm 61 – Audio
  • A New Song – Psalm 40 – Audio
  • Shadows of the Savior – Psalm 40 – Audio
  • Praise in 3/4 Time – Psalm 96 – Audio
  • The Heart of Righteousness – Psalm 26 – Audio
  • The Power of God’s Presence – Psalm 114 – *Sorry, no audio due to technical issues*
  • Our Heavenly Father – Psalm 103 – Audio
  • A Hymn of Hope – Psalm 3 – Audio
  • Handholds of Hope – Psalm 34 – Audio

Return of Podcasts!

Thanks to some encouragement from a friend, I am working on setting up podcasts again.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

When I first started recording, I did not even know what podcasting was! When it started becoming popular, I realized that was essentially what I had been doing already. I don’t recall when I first started uploading recordings, but I think it was 2008 or 2009. The original recordings I did were for Baptist Basics University, which I had intended to become essentially a free online Bible college. At that time I wanted to listen to lessons or lectures about the Bible or ministry, but could not find any. So, I started doing them myself. It looks like I build my first RSS feed in April 2010. I think the last true podcast I uploaded was in October 2013.

Now, here I am 15 years later (and after almost 8 years of inactivity) getting ready to jump in again. I have two goals right now to begin: (1) rebuild podcast feeds for the previously recorded material, and (2) post audio from sermons. I hope to get some new material in the future.

Below are the podcast feeds that I am working on now. It is very much a work in progress, and as more work is done I plan on getting the feeds listed on the popular podcast sites.

Maybe once I get caught up on those I can get some new material created and uploaded.

Is “Tyrant” Missing From The KJV?

From time to time I hear a claim that King James I interfered with the translation of the Bible he sponsored by demanding words or phrases not be used. There is no evidence of this ever occurring. The only directions we are aware of are fifteen guidelines for the translation process.

Today, I came across a claim on Twitter (original video above) that James did not want the word tyrant used in his translation. That video claims, “But King James didn’t like this word, so he took it out and replaced it with something different.” James was an advocate of the divine right of monarchy to rule (and wrote about it), and so it is claimed that he would be sensitive to criticism of a such a monarchy as “tyranny”.

Translation Comparison

The primary comparison used is KJV with the Geneva Bible, with some attention paid to other earlier translations like the Bishop’s Bible or the Coverdale Bible. Using BibleHub and BibleGateway, here are the relevant verses compared:

  • Job 3:17
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H7267
    • Geneva Bible – “The wicked have there ceased from their tyranny, and there they that labored valiantly, are at rest.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale.
    • KJV – “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.”
    • Other translations use words like “trouble” or “raging”
  • Job 6:23
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “And deliver me from the enemy’s hand, or ransom me out of the hand of tyrants?”
      • In Bishops but not Coverdale
    • KJV – “Or, Deliver me from the enemy’s hand? or, Redeem me from the hand of the mighty?”
    • Other translations use “ruthless, except the NASB which does use tyrant”.
  • Job 15:20
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “The wicked man is continually as one that travaileth of child, and the number of years is hid from the tyrant.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor.”
    • Other translations are mainly “ruthless”
  • Job 27:13
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of tyrants, which they shall receive of the Almighty.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of oppressors, which they shall receive of the Almighty.”
    • Other translations: NASB has “tyrants” while others vary.
  • Psalm 54:3
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “For strangers are risen up against me, and tyrants seek my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah.”
      • In Bishops but not Coverdale.
    • KJV – “For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah.”
    • Other translations mainly have “ruthless” or “violent men”
  • Isaiah 13:11
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “And I will visit the wickedness upon the world, and their iniquity upon the wicked, and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will cast down the pride of tyrants.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”
    • Other translations have a mix of words like “tyrant” or “ruthless”
  • Isaiah 49:25
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “But thus saith the Lord, Even the captivity of the mighty shall be taken away: and the prey of the tyrant shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children,”
      • Not in Bishops or Coverdale
    • KJV – “But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.”
    • Most other translations have “tyrant”.
  • Jeremiah 15:21
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the tyrants.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.”
    • Other translations mostly have “cruel”, “ruthless” or “violent”, but a few do have “tyrant”.
  • James 2:6
    • Not found in Greek.
    • Geneva Bible – “But ye have despised the poor. Do not the rich oppress you by tyranny, and do they not draw you before the judgment seats?”
      • Also in Bishops, but not Coverdale or Tyndale.
    • KJV – “But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?”
    • Most other translations do not have a parallel, a few have “exploit”

Regarding the Geneva Bible

The Geneva Bible was a tremendous achievement. It is essentially the world’s first “study Bible”, with notes, maps, and other features found in most Bible printed today. It did a great job of translation and was the primary Bible of English Protestantism for almost a century.

However, the downfall of the Geneva Bible is likely attributed to the added notes, in which are found many strong political statements. Remember that the Reformation was not just religious, it was political. For example of political commentary is found in a note in Daniel 11:36 states “So long the tyrants shall prevail as God hath appointed to punish his people: but he showeth that it is but for a time.” Simply put, the Geneva Bible was a politically disruptive force.

Historical Language Analysis

Today word tyrant might mean “an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution” or “a ruler who exercises absolute power oppressively or brutally”.

In the ancient world it was a little different. The word tyrant comes from Greek, where it described opportunists that seized power with little or no right to do so. Originally it did have any connotation, good or bad, but developed a bad one over time.

As Western society progressed into the Enlightenment, tyranny became something to be despised. John Locke described it as “the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to; and this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage.”

Old Testament Language Analysis

Because of the Greek heritage of the word and idea behind a tyrant, there really is not clear equivalent in ancient Hebrew.

Hebrew – Strong’s H7267

The Geneva Bible translated this word as “tyrant” only in Job 3:17.

Strong’s defines as “commotion, restlessness (of a horse), crash (of thunder), disquiet, anger — fear, noise, rage, trouble(-ing), wrath.”

Conclusion – Tyranny is probably not the best word here. It is describing the actions of the wicked as being turbulent, nothing inherently tyrannical here.

Hebrew – Strong’s H6184

This word is translated 7x in the Geneva Bible as “tyrant”. It occurs 20x overall

Strong’s defines as “fearful, i.e. Powerful or tyrannical — mighty, oppressor, in great power, strong, terrible, violent.”

Conclusion – Tyrant is not a bad translation of this word, but it is one application of a broader idea, which is “something to be feared that is mighty and oppressive”. Some appearances like Proverbs 11:16 or Jeremiah 20:11 do not contain the idea of being a tyrant. Again, “tyrant” is not an inaccurate translation in some cases but it is definitely not an equivalent for the Hebrew word.

New Testament Language Analysis

As we saw above, the only appearance of “tyrant” in the Geneva Bible’s New Testament in James 2:6 does not appear to have a textual basis. I’ll leave figuring that out to someone else, but I will show you the one time “tyrant” appears in the Greek New Testament: Acts 19:9. Yes, the name Tyrannus (Strong’s G5181) literally means “tyrant”.

Conclusion

So, according to the argument presented in the beginning, King James I did not like the word tyrant because it could be thought of as critical of his monarchy. He then supposedly directed the translators of the KJV to not use the word “tyrant”. We cited the references in the Geneva Bible (and others) that use the word tyrant where the KJV does not.

Case closed, right?

No, because the presented argument is critically flawed.

All we must do to utterly destroy the argument is show that the KJV does include the word tyrant. This completely undermines the foundation for the argument.

But didn’t we admit that the KJV does not contain the word tyrant? Yes and no.

What we proved above is that tyrant is not found in the Old or New Testaments of the KJV.

Here is the fatal flaw: no one that presents this argument bothered to look in the Apocrypha of the original KJV. If anyone had bothered to do so, you will quickly find that the word tyrant appears 3x in the KJV Apocrypha:

  • Wisdom of Solomon 12:14 – “Neither shall king or tyrant be able to set his face against thee for any whom thou hast punished.”
  • II Maccabees 4:25 – “So he came with the king’s mandate, bringing nothing worthy the high priesthood, but having the fury of a cruel tyrant, and the rage of a savage beast.”
  • II Maccabees 7:27 – “But she bowing herself toward him, laughing the cruel tyrant to scorn, spake in her country language on this manner; O my son, have pity upon me that bare thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee such three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age, and endured the troubles of education.”

It should not be a surprise that Wisdom of Solomon and II Maccabees were originally written in Greek. The original writes used the Greek term for tyrant and the English translators used the English equivalent.

So, to counter the original argument:

  • King James could not have forbidden the use of the word tyrant because it does appear in the work of the translators within the Apocrypha.
  • The Greek etymology and heritage of tyrant makes it anachronistic to use in ancient Hebrew, meaning there is not equivalent that must be translated as such.

Oh, and I guess since the word “pudding” isn’t used in the KJV that James must have directed the translators to not talk about British desserts.

Acts 9:31 – “Church” or “Churches”?

Why do some Bible translations use “church” and others “churches in Acts 9:31? Which is the correct reading?

Photo by Dan Mall on Unsplash

I recently came across a difference between Bible translations that I feel greatly affects what the Bible teaches about the nature of the church. I found very little information regarding this, so I thought I would share what I have found so far in studying it.

Background Context

The first 3/4s of Acts chapter 9 is the record of Saul’s conversion. Saul of Tarsus had menaced the church at Jerusalem after Stephen’s death, causing many believers to flee from Jerusalem to surrounding areas. But God had greater plans for Saul, and through a divine encounter on the road to Damascus Saul was wondrously converted.

Saul proved to be a controversial convert. Many Christians feared him because he had so recently persecuted them. He also proved zealous to the extreme, preaching so boldly that twice his enemies sought to kill him. He is sent back to his home in Tarsus to escape these threats.

This brings us to verse 31, which tells that state of the believers. The believers that had been centered in Jerusalem are now found throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Their faith and numbers continued to grow through the blessings of the Lord.

Singular or Plural?

When comparing different English translations of the New Testament, there is a marked difference in the opening words of Acts 9:31.

VersionText
King James VersionThen had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria…
New International VersionThen the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria…
New Living TranslationThe church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
English Standard VersionSo the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…
New American Standard BibleSo the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
Legacy Standard BibleSo the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…
Christian Standard BibleSo the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
American Standard VersionSo the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…
New Revised Standard VersionMeanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
Geneva Bible (1587)Then had the Churches rest through all Iudea, and Galile, and Samaria…
Coverdale Bible (1535)So the congregacions had rest thorow out all Iewry, and Galile, and Samaria…
Tyndale Bible (1526)Then had ye congregacios rest thorowoute all Iewry and galile and Samary…
Douay-Rheims BibleNow the church had peace throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria…
Source – BibleHub

While the King James Version and other older translations have a plurality of churches/congregations, almost all recent translations have a singular church.

The issue also appears when comparing the various Greek texts.

Greek TextGreek WordSingular/Plural
Beza (1598)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Stephanus Textus Receptus (1550)ἐκκλησίαιPlural
Scrivener’s Textus Receptus (1894)ἐκκλησίαιPlural
Tischendorf (1872)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Greek Orthodox (1904)ἐκκλησίαιPlural
Westcott and Hort (1881)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Nestle (1904)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Source – BibleHub

Commentaries

In my opinion, most commentaries that touch the subject do very poorly, as seen in this roundup of those found on BibleHub:

  • Ellicott’s Commentary – “The better MSS. have ‘the Church’ in the singular.”
  • Meyer’s NT Commentary – “Observe, moreover, with the correct reading ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία κ.τ.λ. the aspect of unity, under which Luke, surveying the whole domain of Christendom, comprehends the churches which had been already formed (Galatians 1:22), and were in course of formation (comp. Acts 16:5).”
  • Expositor’s Greek Testament – “αἱ ἐκκλησίαι—if we read the singular ἡ ἐκκλ. with the great MS. the word shows us that the Church, though manifestly assuming a wider range, is still one: Hort, Ecclesia, p. 55, thinks that here the term in the singular corresponds by the three modern representative districts named, viz., Judæa, Galilee, Samaria, to the ancient Ecclesia, which had its home in the whole land of Israel; but however this may be, the term is used here markedly of the unified Church, and in accordance with St. Paul’s own later usage of the word; see especially Ramsay, St. Paul, pp. 126, 127, and also p. 124.”
  • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges – “In the best texts the noun and all the verbs agreeing with it are in the singular number, and what is meant is the whole Christian body, not the various congregations.”
  • Vincent’s Word Studies – “The best texts read the church; embracing all the different churches throughout the three provinces of Palestine.”
  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown – “Then had all the churches rest—rather, ‘the Church,’ according to the best manuscripts and versions.”
  • Gill’s Exposition – “The Alexandrian copy, and some others, the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions, read in the singular number, ‘the church’: but the several countries hereafter mentioned shows that more are designed…”

Lange’s Commentary has this footnote (note – the bracketed sections are in the original, not added by me):

  • “Acts 9:31. H—ἐκκλησία—ἐπληθύνετο; this is the reading of A. B. C., and. as it has recently appeared, also of Cod. Sin. as well as of many manuscripts of the second rank, of the majority of the Oriental versions, and also of the Vulgate, and of Dionysius of Alex. On the other hand, the plural [text. rec.], (αἱ—ἐκκλησίαι (πᾶσαι E.) ει̇͂χον .. ἐπληθύνοντο) is found in E. G. H. and some other manuscripts. As the latter generally belong to a later period, and as most of the ancient versions exhibit the singular, this is far better attested than the plural, and has been preferred by Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf and Bornemann [Stier and Theile, and Alford, with whom de Wette concurs. Meyer had, in earlier editions, espoused the opposite view, but in the last edition of his Commentary (3d, 1861) unhesitatingly adopts the singular as the original reading, and as ‘expressive of the apostolical conception of the unity of the Church.’—TR.]. The plural is to be regarded as an explanation. [The word ἐκκλῃσία, in the singular, used for the whole body of Christians, or the Church universal, occurs, e. g., in Matth. 16:18; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 10:32; 12:28; Eph. 1:22.—TR.]”

William Kelly has this footnote:

  • “The singular is read by ABC Vulg. Syr. Pst., Sah. Cop. Arm. Æthiop, Erp Arab., et al., as against the plural of the Text. Rec. HLP Syr. Hcl (and E, ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι).”

Better/Best Manuscripts?

As you can see, many of the commentaries above support the singular church in Acts 9:31 on the basis of it being in the “better” or “best” manuscripts. This level of hubris is common after the rise of Higher Criticism in the 18th and 19th centuries. It assumes that the Bible texts used by Protestant and other non-Catholic groups (basically the Majority Text) since the earliest days of Christendom was seriously flawed with various corruptions and errors. It assumes that variant readings are superior to the historically accepted ones if their source document is (a) older or (b) deemed more trustworthy through various factors. Thus new Critical/Eclectic Greek texts are produced incorporating the textual changes.

Certain problems arise. First: there is a general assumption of doubt as to the reliability of the word of the traditional textual readings. Second: much of the criteria for determining alternative readings has openings for error. For example, the rule of “older is better” assumes the older document is less corrupt based on age, with little regard to any possibility that it could be more corrupt and less trustworthy. Three: the final authority shifted from the text itself to the opinions of scholars. Four: the temptation to achieve notoriety and prestige pushes scholars to seek corrections even when not warranted instead of supporting an established text.

The support for a singular church in Acts 9:31 comes primarily from accepting the “older is better” argument. It is argued that older manuscripts like the Vaticanus (4th century) or older translations like the Vulgate (4th century) contain the singular church. It further ignores other “old” manuscripts that support a plural churches, as in the Laudianus (6th century):

Source (see fol. 78)

Since there are both “old” manuscripts that attest to a plural churches and a centuries-long tradition of interpreting the verse as such, it is disingenuous to ignore that there is a case to be made for its acceptability.

If the textual evidence is inconclusive, then let us look at the theology.

Usage of Ecclesia in Acts

Luke is an astute and careful chronicler of history. Time after time the language he uses has been tested and proven correct. I would contend that the same goes for his uses of the church or churches.

The chart below shows every use of ecclesia in the Book of Acts according the the Textus Receptus. I am including notes to show that each singular use of ecclesia refers to singular church, while each plural use of ecclesia refers to a plurality of churches. I also am including the references for ecclesia that do nor refer to the Christian church.

ReferencesGreekSingular/PluralNote
Acts 2:47εκκλησιαSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 5:11εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 7:38εκκλησιαSingularThe singular nation of Israel.
Acts 8:1εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 8:3εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 9:31εκκλησιαιPluralThe plural churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria
Acts 11:22εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 11:26εκκλησιαSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 12:1εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 12:5εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 13:1εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 14:23εκκλησιανSingular“each church” – churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe
Acts 14:27εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 15:3εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 15:4εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 15:22εκκλησιαSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 15:41εκκλησιαςPluralThe plural churches of Syria and Cilicia
Acts 16:5εκκλησιαιPluralThe plural churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Asia Minor
Acts 18:22εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Caesarea.
Acts 19:32εκκλησιαSingularThe singular political assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 19:39εκκλησιαSingularThe singular political assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 19:41εκκλησιανSingularThe singular political assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 20:17εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Ephesus.
Acts 20:28εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Ephesus.

I contend that Luke’s use of the singular or plural ecclesia is instructive. When he refers to a singular church there is a singular local church to be the object. When he refers to plural churches there is a region or multiple cities containing many churches.

Excluding Acts 9:31, there is not a single other reference where a singular church refers to a anything but a singular local church. Acts 15:41 and 16:5 prove that a plural usage is acceptable and appropriate, and there appears to be no debate as to whether or no those be plural.

Acts 15 clearly shows that the singular ecclesia should refer to a local church and not a universal church. The church at Antioch is upset by the teaching of some visitors from the church at Jerusalem. In vs. 3, Paul and Barnabas are sent by the church at Antioch to the church at Jerusalem and stop and visit with other believers along the way. This shows at least two distinct churches, with other churches or gatherings along the way. In vs. 4, the church at Jerusalem welcomes Paul and Barnabas. In vs. 22, the church at Jerusalem decides to send men back to the church at Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. In vs. 41, Paul and Silas visit multiple churches in the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

So then, when the Book of Acts is examined as a whole it is clear that Luke purposefully and appropriately uses the singular and plural forms of ecclesia. When referring to a singular church in a singular city, he uses the singular. When referring to a plurality of churches in a region or groups of cities, he uses the plural.

Why then would he break from this consistency to use a singular church in Acts 9:31 to refer to many assemblies of believers in a region? Because he does not. Our survey shows that the plural churches must be the correct word based on how Luke uses it.

Theological Implications

The traditional Baptist interpretation of the Scriptures holds that there a many local assemblies of believers that a called churches. It holds that each is autonomous in government. It rejects the ideas of a “universal” or “invisible” church as being incompatible with how the Bible describes the local assemblies.

If Acts 9:31 does indeed have a singular church, then it would stand against the idea of local congregations being individual churches. It would go against how Paul writes about to and about churches. It would go against how Christ deals with the Seven Churches in Revelation. It would open the door to ecclesiastical hierarchy. It would stand against autonomous governance of local assemblies.

If you are unfamiliar with the idea of ecclesia and church referring to local congregations and not a larger conglomeration of congregations, then I would challenge you to study how the Bible describes churches. If there are plural churches, there cannot be one universal church.

Final Thoughts

We are left to assume that an error has crept into Biblical texts. Where it came from we do not know but surely it came very early.

The question is whether church or churches is the mistake in Acts 9:31. The two are incompatible so one must be correct and the other false.

Yes, a case can be made from extent Biblical manuscripts that church is correct. Yet, that case is not as sure as it is presented. If there is logically an error that has been introduced, why not conclude that these manuscripts contain error? Can you conclusively prove otherwise?

I realize much will come down to opinion. Someone will read this and mock me as being foolish and ignorant regarding textual criticism and its intricacies. Yet, the nature of that field of study at its highest levels assumes that everything must be continually questioned. Why not question which word is appropriate in Acts 9:31?

My basis for accepting the plural churches in Acts 9:31 are as follows:

  • There is a reasonable case to be made that it is the correct word based on textual history.
  • It has been the standard interpretation for much of Christianity for much of the time.
  • It is the correct word based on Luke’s consistent usage of it.
  • It is consistent with the usage in the rest of the New Testament.
  • There is more to gain by purposefully altering the word from plural to singular than vice versa.