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Pesky Passages

Rationale and disclaimers:

These passages are picked for various reasons.

Some have a meaning that is not particularly transparent. (That's what makes them pesky!)

Some contain practical lessons or important teachings that deserve to be highlighted. (Not all these are pesky.)

For many of these passages, I’ve heard wrong explanations promoted which furthers bad Bible study (which is worse than pesky).

I've heard in Bible classes such weak statements as, "It means what it says, and it says what it means" and "It doesn't affect our soul's salvation." Both of these dodges have sadly sometimes been used to avoid close study. If a teacher doesn't know how to explain a passage, s/he should simply say, "I don't really know how to put that in my own words," or "I don't know which is the better way to understand the passage,” or "Why don't we study that more later?"

I’ve tried to identify what’s “at stake,” in other words, the consequences of (mis)understanding the passage in question.
This highlights larger points that are related to the particular study.

This is a work in progress; please help by submitting questions or other verses to add to this list (with an explanation and/or comments, if you prefer).



List of verses addressed

Genesis 3:16 - “Your desire shall be for your husband"

Genesis 9:18-27 - Ham "saw the nakedness of his father”

Genesis 15:13-14 - The time line of Israel's future

Judges 7:1-8 - Gideon's 300 hand-picked men

Mark 2:9 - "Which is easier to say?"

Romans 9:13 - "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

Romans 9:14-18 - Pharaoh: "Whom He (God) wills He hardens."

Romans 9:19-23 - "Vessels of wrath prepared for destruction"

Romans 11:26 - "All Israel will be saved"

1 Timothy 2:14-15 - The woman shall be “saved in childbearing”

Hebrews 10:25 - “…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”

Your turn! Submit a worthy passage


Genesis 3:16 - “Your desire shall be for your husband"

At stake: Understanding the relationship between men and women

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.” (God to Eve, Genesis 3:16, NKJV)

Notes on translations: The ESV renders Genesis 3:16b, "Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you." However, it includes a footnote "toward your husband" and actually references 4:7. Note that the precise list of curses earlier in the verse also varies by the English translation. The degree of variation among translations makes it understandable why this would appear on my list of "missed" passages.

God's curse on the woman to multiply her "sorrow, conception, and pain in childbearing" apparently involved biological changes to women's anatomy, in the same way that cursing the serpent to "go on his belly" would have involved a change in the serpent's anatomy. We don't have further detail from the text.

However, the statement that really catches my attention is "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16, NKJV, NIV) I have heard some suggest that a woman would newly have some kind of natural affinity for her husband, taking "desire for/toward" in the sense of wanting (closeness with) him. However, note that the context (verses 14-19) is that of curses.

The key to understanding how this phrase is a curse actually comes from the next chapter. In Genesis 4:7 God warns Cain: "Sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." The same phrase is used here as is used when addressing Eve. In Cain’s case, the "desire" by sin (personified) was clearly a desire for dominance or mastery or rule. (The NIV renders it, "Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.") With this in mind, returning to Genesis 3:16, we indeed see a curse: God instituted (to an unspecified degree) an innate battle of wills, with the woman desiring to dominate/rule, but God granting rule in the household to the man.

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Genesis 9:18-27 - Ham "saw the nakedness of his father” and, his son was cursed.

At stake: Understanding one aspect of God's choosing of Abraham, through Shem's lineage.
(These comments appear in the Bible Class Materials on “Genesis” at MyPreachingPen.com.)

:21 (Noah) became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. (Genesis 9:21-22)

My understanding is that Ham, one of Noah’s three sons, took a perverse pleasure in seeing his father’s nakedness, to the extent that he announced it to his brothers. The two brothers showed respect for their father and were careful not only to avoid seeing him in his shameful condition, but also to cover him. So Noah realized when he awoke that someone had covered him, and then found out who had seen him and how word of his condition had spread (inferred from 9:24, “knew what his younger son had done to him”).

The phrase that is a bit enigmatic is "saw the nakedness of his father.” Jewish rabbis apparently speculated about it meaning everything from castration to homosexuality to lying with Noah’s wife. It is true that lying with someone – or even with his or her spouse! – in the sex act is synonymous with uncovering his or her nakedness in Leviticus 20:17-21, but that doesn’t seem to be what happened in this case. These rabbinical explanations

1) Don't fit the context of Genesis 9:22.
2) Don't clear up the passage’s meaning. And
3) Don't explain how Shem's and Japheth’s actions would have been an appropriate response. 

The key to understanding what Ham did comes from reading about what his brothers did. Verse 23 uses the same language when it says of Shem and Japheth, "Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (emphasis added). Because the same phrase is used in the two verses (saw the nakedness/did not see the nakedness), we learn that Shem and Japheth avoided doing what Ham had done. They even undid this (countered it, kept it from happening again) when they “covered” Noah’s nakedness. Clearly verse 23 refers to Shem and Japheth avoiding simply seeing Noah’s nakedness with their eyes, so apparently simply seeing Noah is what Ham had done in verse 22.

Not surprisingly, Noah pronounced a curse because of how he had been treated. Surprisingly, though, he cursed Ham’s son, Canaan, to be “a servant of servants … to his brethren” (9:25). Canaan’s servitude was also mentioned in each of the blessings for Shem and Japheth, while the relationship between Shem and Japheth was specifically blessed (i.e., the mention of them dwelling in each other’s tents).

Perhaps another factor that makes the passage difficult is the severity of the curse that Noah pronounces. The strong curse might seem to us to be more fitting if Ham had committed some sexual abomination, rather than simply looking at Noah in his exposed condition (and talking about it instead of helping). But cultural differences frequently seem strange to us, and we may simply not appreciate the seriousness of violating one’s honor like Ham apparently did.

Noah’s pronouncement of a curse and blessings are the only utterances from Noah recorded in the Bible. As such, the statements take on a greater, even a prophetic, significance. We read in Genesis 10 that Japheth’s descendants eventually inhabited Asia and Europe, Shem’s family settled in Arabia and the upper part of the fertile crescent (not Canaan or Egypt), and Ham’s children moved into Canaan, Egypt and Africa. The Canaanites would later become the object of God’s wrath because of their ungodliness and shameful practices.

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Genesis 15:13-14 - The timeline of Israel's future

At stake: Clarifying the Bible's timeline for Old Testament history and harmonizing Bible passages by two writers.
(These comments appear in the Bible Class Materials on “Galatians” at MyPreachingPen.com.)

“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. . . . And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.” (Galatians 3:16-17)

This passage dates the Law of Moses 430 years after the promise to Abraham. Unfortunately, this makes for an apparent contradiction with a passage in Genesis, which suggests that the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt lasted 400 years. (There were many more than 30 years from Abraham to the start of the captivity, so the time spans do not add up.)

“Then [God] said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.’” (Genesis 15:13-14)

There are several difficulties inherent in sorting out Old Testament chronology, especially before the Exodus, given the fact the writer of Genesis does not always give us specific reference points. So it doesn’t help to be dogmatic, but it is always helpful to see how Bible passages can be reconciled, particularly in the face of apparent contradictions.

There are two key points which yield a shorter captivity and reconcile the accounts:

1) Punctuation was not used in the original documents of the Old Testament. By simply adding a dash, the “400 years” of Genesis 15:13-14 would cover the time from Abram to the captivity, rather than the captivity itself:

“… Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them – four hundred years….’”

Or by moving a period, the passage gives the same meaning:

“…Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them. Four hundred years, and also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.’”

2) An alternate reading: In the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint (two of the three major texts from which we get our Old Testament books), Exodus 12:40-41 reads as follows, which fits perfectly with Paul’s statement in Galatians:

“Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt and Canaan was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” (Most English Bibles omit “and Canaan.”)

So God’s prediction in Genesis 15:13-14 probably means 400 years from Abraham to the captivity. This rounded number is consistent with Paul’s “430 years later” in Galatians 3. One final clue suggesting this same idea comes from that same passage in Genesis, two verses later:

“But in the fourth generation they shall return here….” (Genesis 15:16)

There were more than four generations between Abram and Moses, so “the fourth generation” that God refers to here must mean the fourth to live in Egypt.

(For a complete discussion, including charts of the genealogies from Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and 1 Chronicles, see the Appendix of “A Simplified Summary of Old Testament Events” by Vicki Copeland, available on Amazon.)

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Judges 7:1-8 - Gideon's 300 hand-picked men

At stake: Giving God full credit for His works

This is a classic story where God effects a victory for His people, the nation of Israel, against all odds and contrary to human expectations. Israel was being oppressed because of their spiritual unfaithfulness, but God sent them a deliverer, a judge. (Reference the cycle in chapter 2 in the class notes on “Judges and Ruth”.) Judges 6:5 says that the Midianites were “as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it.” God calls Gideon to deal with these bullies, and Gideon rallies fighters from four tribes of Israel.

The story continues in chapter 7, and even though the Israelite army is already tiny in comparison to that of the Midianites, God directs Gideon to pare down his army and ends up using only 300 men to accomplish the victory. (Apparently at least some in the enemy camp were already on edge, interpreting a dream to be predicting their defeat at the hands of Gideon. Perhaps this was an isolated event which only happened for Gideon’s benefit, but the surprise tactics in the middle of the night caused such confusion that the enemy forces started battling each other.)

But let’s focus on the number of Israelite fighters. They started with 32,000, but 22,000 were allowed to leave because they were afraid. (Gideon was afraid, too, but was called by God to do battle, and was then reassured by God using the above-mentioned dream.) The remaining 10,000 were reduced to 300 based on what position they got in to drink water apparently from a stream or river.

Now comes the test of our Bible interpretation skills. I’ve heard people try to explain that the drinking position of the 300 showed that they were more watchful and thus were better qualified to be soldiers. This suggests that God is selecting the best fighters, an elite corps of black ops specialists, if you will. The New King James Version online (at BibleGateway.com) even adds a title for this section, “Gideon’s Valiant Three Hundred”. But this totally misses the point of the passage and even contradicts God’s stated purpose. Read Judges 7:2 where God says of the 32,000,

The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

Then He dismissed those who were afraid. Of the remaining 10,000, God said, “The people are still too many…

So the point of reducing their numbers was so that no one could give credit for the victory to any man, any human power. And the 300 were selected, not because they drank in a special way and had some special valor or tactical advantage, but because there were fewer who drank that way!!

Let’s always be careful to avoid reading into passages thoughts spawned by human reasoning. God wanted full credit for that victory, so let’s give it Him!

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Mark 2:9 - "Which is easier to say?"

At stake: Honoring Jesus for His full power

Jesus often asked questions as part of His teaching (i.e., rhetorical questions), and in order to understand His teaching, we must be sure of the answers. In Mark 2, Jesus pronounces forgiveness of sins on a lame man. (Verse 5) He is accused of blasphemy, so defends himself in the following way:

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?

So let’s be clear: It’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” because no one can really see the person’s guilt or their forgiveness when it takes place. Therefore, pronouncing forgiveness is "easy" in the sense that no one can really prove or disprove that it happened. In the account, Jesus had already said the easy thing. Some people disputed His authority to forgive sins, so to prove that He could truly do that “easy” thing, He proceeded to say the “hard” thing:

10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

Jesus’ many miracles proved that He had power (authority) on earth to forgive sins. When we feel so guilty that we are tempted to doubt that God can ever forgive us, let’s remember the lame man here in Mark 2. The account also shows that Jesus is ready and willing to forgive people who act in faith, like the lame man did. In fact, forgiveness seemed to be Jesus’ priority for the man; it was the first thing Jesus offered him! As the Scripture says elsewhere, “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and the Lord “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

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Romans 9:13 - "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

At stake: Understanding God's free, sovereign will to bestow blessings

Esau. Notice in the context (verse 11) that the different destinies of Jacob and Esau were determined by God before those twins were born, before they had done good or evil.

First, God only judges us based on what we do (the actions with moral implications - "good or evil" - over which we have responsibility and control).

2 Corinthians 5:10 We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.
Ezekiel 18 (the whole chapter)

Hated. Second, "hate" is a strong word, but it has a context. Jesus taught,

Matthew 19:19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

So when He taught,

Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple,"

we understand that "hating" our parents and even ourselves is only in contrast to the love that we have for the Lord. We can gain some clarity from the parallel passage,

Matthew 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

So God "hated" Esau only in the sense that he "loved" Jacob more and decided to give Jacob special blessings.

Blessings. If you think this passage is referring to the eternal destinies of the boys or their descendants, you are mistaken. Out of all the families on earth, God chose Jacob's family, so in a sense, He "hated" every other family! But a major point of the passage is that God is sovereign and can therefore show mercy (i.e., grant special blessings) to whomever he wishes. He chose Jacob's family to receive many blessings, blessings which Paul had listed at the beginning of the context:

Romans 9:4 the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.

But even these great blessings did not speak to (much less guarantee!) the Jews' salvation (as is seen in reading through Romans chapter 11). And the lack of these blessings did not speak to the condemnation of Esau. These blessings gave the Jews great advantages, but were temporal blessings which were replaced by a better adoption, greater glory, a new covenant, the law of liberty, a new and better priesthood, and greater promises in Christ Jesus. That new set of blessings is offered to people from all the families of the earth.

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Romans 9:14-18 - Pharaoh: "Whom He (God) wills He hardens."

At stake: Understanding our free will to make moral choices

What is it to "harden" something? Hardening pottery is taking a vessel and making it more solid. It does NOT involve changing its shape. Hardening a heart is NOT changing the nature of that heart. Hardening a heart is taking a heart as it is, with its desires, and making it more determined to fulfill those desires. It's like nudging someone who is already leaning. You're not overriding that tilt and making the person go the other way, you're simply encouraging the person to do what they're already doing, only more. Compare how God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1).

Who did the hardening? The Scriptures say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (e.g., Exodus 7:3; 9:12; 10:1) and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (e.g., Exodus 8:32; 1 Samuel 6:6).

How did the hardening happen? Notice how God hardened Pharaoh. 

By granting relief from the plagues. Ironic, isn't it? The plagues made Pharaoh more likely to let the Israelites go; stopping them made him less likely to let them go. You can sure tell which way Pharaoh was leaning!

Exodus 8:15 When Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.

Exodus 9:34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken by Moses.

By guiding the Israelites' travels. In Exodus 14:1-4, the Israelites were heading out of Egypt. Then God had them "turn" and head into an apparent dead end. God said, "Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them." The movements of the Israelites gave Pharaoh the hope of recapturing his exiting slaves.

Summary: Pharaoh had free will. Pharaoh was leaning toward evil. God “nudged” him by changing external circumstances.

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Romans 9:19-23 - "Vessels of wrath prepared for destruction"

At stake: Understanding whether or not we have any control over our eternal destiny

The overriding theme of Romans chapter 9 is the sovereignty of God. He can do as He pleases. He can choose whomever He wants to receive His mercy. In this context, Paul writes,

Romans 9:21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

God can assign glory to one person and destruction to another (verses 22 and 23), and He selected for glory a remnant of the Jews (not all of them, verses 27-29) and the believing non-Jews, the believing Gentiles (verses 24-26). All these chosen ones would have something in common. This was not a selection of individuals so much as it was a selection of a type of person.

Can we choose? The question remains whether a person has any way to decide what type of person to be, which group to belong to. Notice that the groups are not defined by physical race, over which we have no control, but by spiritual identity, which has, from the days of Eve in the Garden, been defined by our choices. Paul emphasizes the accessibility of the gospel and everyone's ability to believe in Romans 10:6-13 which ends with "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." In the next verses, Romans 10:14-17, Paul points out that Israel had heard, but did not believe. As a result, they did not obey the gospel.

In chapter 11, he uses a great analogy of olive trees and their branches to teach that anyone can be cut off (verse 21) and that anyone can be grafted in (verses 23-24). It's all about personal choice. Referring to the unbelieving Jews, Paul writes,

Romans 11:23 If they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Paul changed his figure from vessels to trees. In case that's hard to follow, notice that in a letter to Timothy Paul uses the same illustration of "vessels" which he used in Romans 9.

2 Timothy 2:20 In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.

We can cleanse ourselves from dishonor. You can make choices about your own behavior, and thereby choose what type of vessel to be! (Paul is not denying our need for grace; he even mentions "the grace that is in Christ Jesus" in verse 1.) The fact that we can choose is in keeping with Paul's exhortation in verse 19:

2 Timothy 2:19 Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

We can choose to name the name of Christ, and we can choose to depart from iniquity. By the grace of God, we can choose to be a vessel for honor.

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Romans 11:26 - "All Israel will be saved"

At stake: Recognizing that small differences in translations can make for big differences in understanding; also, strong implications for Israel's future, the false teachings of premillennialism, Zionism, and international politics

Romans 11:26 says (in numerous English versions) “So all Israel will be saved.” Taken at face value (and out of context), that sounds like a point of conclusion, stating as a fact that all the Jews will be saved. Some translations go so far as to replace “so” with “then.”

But notice that the ESV and many other versions render the passage, “And in this way all Israel will be saved”, which sounds quite different. Which is the better translation?

In this case, a study of the Greek clarifies the passage. The conjunction that is used is hoútō(s) <οὕτω(ς)> which means “in this manner, thus.” It has only that one meaning! The problem here is that our English word “so” can have several meanings. We use it as a conclusion: “All dogs are animals. Fluffy is a dog. So Fluffy is an animal.” But we also use it to explain a process: “Here, watch. Do it like so.” Unfortunately, English versions that use “so” in Romans 11:26 have taken an unambiguous Greek word (a word with only one meaning) and have translated it with an ambiguous English word (a word with multiple meanings), thereby causing the confusion.

So (as in "therefore") the precise translation is “In this way all Israel will be saved” which begs for the question, “In what way?” For the answer, we must return to the context, which is always a good practice. {:-) We see the reference to the Jews (the “natural branches” in the analogy in verses 16-21) and learn that they, “if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (verse 23).

God does not plan to unconditionally save all Jews. Jews must meet the same conditions as the non-Jews in order to be grafted in to the olive tree, namely, believe that Jesus is God’s anointed, the Savior of the world and Lord of Lords. This is in keeping with the main point of the book of Romans, that the gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

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1 Timothy 2:14 - The woman shall be “saved in childbearing”

At stake: Understanding women’s position before God.

1 Timothy 2:14 (NKJV) The woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

The verb for “saved” is sozo <σώζω>. It means “saved” and is often — but not always — translated that way. The word is used both with reference to spiritual “salvation” and physical “salvation”, such as … save from drowning (Matthew 8:25, Matthew 14:30), “whoever would save his life” (Matthew 16:25), saving life on the Sabbath (Mark 3:4), saving people in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:13, 22), people seeking healing from Jesus (Mark 5:23, Jairus; Mark 5:28, the woman with the flow of blood), etc.

We actually use the English word “saved” in the same two ways. (And the same happens in Spanish.) So it seems that context determines which meaning is being used.

Let’s look at a couple of other passages that use the word. It’s my opinion that the Philippian jailer did *not* have his soul in mind when asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) I think he was talking about preserving his physical life. Similarly, I see a play on the word in Acts 4. Peter references “healing” the lame man (in verse 9 - same word, but almost every translation says “healed” or “made whole” or whatever, based on the context) then says, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (v. 12, same word again).

Back to 1 Timothy 2. I see that "she" will be "saved" if "they" continue well. The “salvation” under discussion seems to relate to 1) the act of having children, and 2) the faithfulness of those children, so it makes more sense to me that it would be physical. She will have fulfilled one of her highest purposes in life - and her legacy will be preserved - if she has godly children. 

I know that spiritual salvation does not depend on either biology or the faithfulness of others, so I reject the idea that 1 Timothy 2:15 refers to a woman’s spiritual salvation. 

That said, the translations vary considerably, and I can't explain all the reasons for this. Some translations (ASV, KJV, NKJV, even the NIV) read as above, but some say "she" will be saved if "she" continues faithful (i.e., spiritual salvation, dependent on her own choices) and some say that "women" will be saved if "they" continue faithful. By making the pronouns equivalent in number (she:she or women/they:they), the translators seem to suggest, or at least leave room for, the spiritual salvation of the woman.

The NASB italicizes “women”, indicating a word supplied by the translators, and makes the pronouns match in number (“women”… “they”), but translates “sozo” as “preserved”, clearly leading the reader to think more of physical preservation than spiritual salvation.

The Textus Receptus has 3rd person singular at the beginning of the verse and 3rd person plural at the end of the verse, so I conclude that the pronouns should *not* match in number, and I favor the notion of her physical preservation. A woman will be preserved if her children continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. Seeing your children live faithfully is a public and lasting validation and repayment for the countless hours spent raising, caring for, and training them in the path of righteousness. Their faithfulness brings immeasurable joy and is a priceless heritage and blessing. In the context, men take the lead in public teaching, but women have a different and special path to honor.

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Hebrews 10:25 - "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”

At stake: The importance of church attendance (and our right to demand it of others)

Let’s get the facts about the key terms:

assembling - ἐπισυναγωγή episynagōgḗ - Strong’s number G1997, “a complete collection; especially a Christian meeting (for worship); - assembling (gathering) together.”

This word is used in the New Testament only here and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where it refers to the final gathering of the saved to be with Jesus forever. (Cp. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.) The word seems to be a gerund (“a form that is derived from a verb but that functions as a noun”). In other word, it refers to an action, a gathering together. From the two occurrences in the Bible, it can be a one-time gathering, such as in 2 Thess. 2:1, or a recurring action, as with church meetings.

forsaking - ἐγκαταλείπω enkataleípō - Strong’s number G1459, “to leave behind in some place, i.e. (in a good sense) let remain over, or (in a bad sense) to desert.” According to Vine, “to forsake, abandon, leave in straits, or helpless.” The word is usually used in the context of forsaking a person, such as when Jesus asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”, or when various people forsook Paul (2 Timothy 4:10, 16).
Notice its use in Acts 2:

Acts 2:27 (NKJV) “For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”

God did allow Jesus to go to Hades, but did not leave Him there. Instead, He raised Him from the dead.

The passage under consideration, Hebrews 10:25, refers to abandoning the action of assembling together. The context is Hebrews 10:24-25: “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.”

We see that the responsibility of a Christian is (partially) to encourage others (consider how to stir up, exhort). This can’t be done if we don’t meet together.

The force of the example of the apostle Paul in Acts 20 shows the importance of meeting with the saints on Sunday. He was hurrying to reach Jerusalem by a certain deadline, but he waited seven days and met with the disciples on the first day of the week before leaving the next morning. (verses 6, 7, 16)

The fact is that some people wish for God to draw us clear lines to regulate our behavior, leaving no room for differences in maturity, or for weakness, or for growth. Sometimes, though, the Scriptures do not offer us such an easy “recipe.”

Actually, the passage’s exhortation is clear and easy: Go to church! But as is often the case, Christians who are weak and semi-committed make us ask to what extent to take the passage. If someone assembles with Christians every time the doors are open, they have no issue with the passage. Only in cases where people are inconsistent in their attendance does this require further study.

Christians should assemble with their local congregation every chance they have 1) in order to comply with the commands to consider one another and exhort one another (and avoid running afoul of the prohibition against forsaking the assembling of ourselves together), and 2) in order to benefit their spiritual growth, their influence, and their reputation. There is wisdom in making certain choices, and skipping church once often leads to skipping church more and more. Practice breeds habit, whether for good or for bad.

Conclusion:

People who are inconsistent in their church attendance have not completely abandoned the activity (which is the focus of the prohibition in Hebrews 10:25), but they do not prioritize it as they should. They fail to consider others at every opportunity to stir them up to love and good works, and they are heading down a path of weakness, bad influence, and a temptation to continue (or increase) skipping church.

In the spirit of the passage, though, Christians who are regular in their attendance need to be very careful how to approach those who are not. We, also, must consider how to stir up our fellow Christians to love and good works and we must exhort them. We should take a similar approach to how we deal with spiritual weakness or lack of commitment manifested in other failures to meet God’s high expectations for us.

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