The Whole Counsel of God
And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:25-28, NKJV.)
The apostle Paul especially addressed the above-quoted valedictory testimony to leaders of the Church of God, assembled at Ephesus, in New Testament times. Although said many centuries ago, Paul’s words are vital, to anyone who professes to preach the Word of God, in order not to bring the blood of all men upon oneself — to cause men to go in the path of death instead of life! Paul’s exhortation particularly concerns the church leaders’ responsibility in teaching those who have become true Christians — those whom Christ has “purchased with His own blood” — true believers in Christ. Because many preachers — both in the Church of God and outside — have failed to follow Paul’s example, many people have been led astray in their understanding of God’s Word and the true way to salvation — the way to obtaining or entering the kingdom of God.
Christ warned: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin [KJV, "...whoso shall offend (or cause to stumble) one of these little ones..."], it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes” (Matthew 18:6-7)!
What it comes down to
Erroneous teachings about the Bible — even heresies — more often than not arise from focusing on one or two similar passages of the Bible, and building a whole doctrine from just those few verses, while disregarding or ignoring other passages that may clarify the doctrine and bring out the whole truth about the matter. Often a Bible passage used in teaching a doctrine may be a bit vague and may lend itself to various interpretations. Unless the teaching is validated by other Scripture passages — especially the plain ones — an erroneous conclusion will be reached.
Many Bible scholars have observed that the “plain things” in the Bible are most often the “main [or major] things,” and “the main things are the plain things.” Nevertheless, there are “secrets” or “mysteries” — “the deep things of God” – which most of the humanly wise in this world do not, and cannot, understand, but which God reveals and makes plain to His chosen servants through His Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), in His own time. [See: Predestination.]
In Psalm 25:14 Israel’s king David, well known as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), was inspired by God to write: “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” A red flag should go up when one hears someone who professes to know God’s secrets and presumes to teach about God’s covenants, but who believes and teaches against the proper fear of God! [See: Can We Fear and Love God at the Same Time?]
Proverbs 26:7 compares the teaching of one who misrepresents what the Bible truly reveals, to the legs of a lame person “that hang limp” or “are not equal” (KJV). The teaching does not add up to the Bible’s overall testimony! The teaching does not stand truly vertical! Cast against the “whole counsel of God,” the teaching would lean to the left or right like a misaligned post or wall stands shy of a plumb line’s 90 degrees (Amos 7:7-8). Eventually that teaching will collapse — become desolate and be laid waste (Verse 9).
To put it in terms which theologians have used: thinking from an “either/or” perspective, instead of “both/and,” often results from shunning “to declare the whole counsel of God!” One can get locked into a particular Scripture passage, build a doctrine from it, and then marshal all other passages that support (or seem to support) the doctrine. Some have called this “proof-texting.”
It is quite all right to quote Bible texts as proof to support a point of doctrine, but for the doctrine to be sound, it must not make God’s Word contradictory or inconsistent. Otherwise that would break the integrity of the Bible. Jesus assures: “…the Scripture [the Bible] cannot be broken” (John 10:35), by any alleged discrepancy.
“God is not the author of confusion,” assures 1 Corinthians 14:33. There is so much confusion in religion today, and it is not of God’s doing, although He allows it to happen. Behind all the confusion is Satan the devil. Jesus calls him the father of lies and liars (John 8:44). Satan has his human instruments that perpetuate the lies he has held from the beginning (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). [See: Where Did the Devil Come from? "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!' Beware of False Prophets, and Are We All God's Children?]
As a result, none of the wicked among men understand (Daniel 12:10) the “deep things of God.” “But the wise shall understand” (same verse). The wise are those who have the fear of God as the beginning of their wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, etc.).
In this article I will cite several common erroneous teachings supposedly from the Bible, and refer you to pertinent articles on this website and elsewhere, for further details and explanations that consider “the whole counsel of God.”
The basic doctrine of salvation
To cite an example: there is the oft-debated doctrine, based on Galatians 2:8-9 (“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”). This is the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone — not by works; a person’s works cannot save and are therefore unnecessary for salvation. Thus the polarization of Christians on the issue of “grace versus law” — resulting in a harsh divide between those who believe in salvation by grace alone and those who believe in grace plus law or works.
By the nature of his intellectual and religious background, the letters of the apostle Paul have posed some difficulties in understanding and interpretation. As the apostle Peter admitted, Paul’s letters contain “some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Such is the difficulty Galatians 2:8-9 presents. Taken by itself, it seems apparent that here Paul is teaching that only grace and faith are required for salvation; no works are necessary. One could then cite Galatians 5:4-6, where Paul writes: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
Paul wrote about how Abraham was justified by faith, not by works, when he believed what God promised him (Romans 4:1-4). As Paul explains further, Abraham was “justified” — made just or righteous — when he received the blessing of God forgiving him of his “lawless deeds” [sins] (Verses 5-8). Abraham was justified by his faith, not by his works or obedience to God’s law.
This gave rise to the tenet forged by the German rebel-priest Martin Luther, the acknowledged founder of Protestantism: “sola fide” or “faith alone.” Luther especially reacted forcefully to the apostle James’ apparent contradiction to Paul’s perceived “faith alone” teaching, so much so that Luther is said to have suggested that the letter of James should not be included in the New Testament. While Paul teaches that we are justified by faith alone, James talks about a different aspect of justification — what genuine faith leads to: doing works that fulfill God’s Word and thus make faith perfect (James 2:17-24; 1:22-25).
For example, Abraham was on his way to offer his promised son Isaac in sacrifice as God commanded (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham did so because he believed God. What did he believe? Paul [see: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?] writes that Abraham concluded, and so believed, “…that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead, from which he [Abraham] also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:17-19). The faith of Abraham led him to obey God’s command.
The same may be said of Abraham’s faith when God first promised Abraham (then still named Abram): “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). That promise was predicated on Abraham doing what God told him to do: “Get out of your country [then somewhere in Chaldea], from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Verse 1). Abraham believed [had faith in] God and His promise, and so he did what God told him to (Verse 4). [See: The Children of Abraham.]
Failing to understand what Paul means in places where he writes about “law,” many Bible students have come to the mistaken conclusion that Paul teaches non-obedience to God’s law in general, or that keeping God’s law is some kind of bondage (Galatians 5:1-4). But if we turn to his other writings (Romans 3:31; 6:1; 7:12; 1 Corinthians 7:19. etc.) we find that Paul teaches obedience to or observance of the law of God. He writes: “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13). As a result, some have judged that perhaps Paul was a confused “muddle-head.” But that is not the case!
To help you understand Paul’s teaching on this and other subjects from the true Biblical perspective, see: Freed From Bondage, Transgressions Under the First Covenant, Law Added to Law Transgressed, The Law of Christ, Moses and Jesus — Are they Contraries? Being and Doing, and Saved for Good Works.] Also, see this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets,” and scroll down to the booklet titled “What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?”
The Sabbath question
Another doctrine believed in by many who profess to be Christians is that concerning the Sabbath. Many grab hold of the declaration of Jesus about Himself: “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). In fact, Jesus had earlier mentioned about how the law [of God] allows “that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless” (Verse 5). Jesus also said: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Verses 11-12). Jesus healed the sick and did other acts of mercy on the Sabbath day.
Thus many have come to conclude that it is now all right to “profane” [that is, to not keep holy] the Sabbath — the seventh day of the week (called “Saturday” in the common calendar) that, at creation, God made holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11). The view has therefore given Romans 14:5-6 the spin that everyone now has the freedom to decide which day to make holy and on which to worship.
The priests in the temple “profaned” the Sabbath in the sense that God’s Sabbath command includes doing no work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). However, the priests’ work in the temple was necessary in the worship of God on the Sabbath. Back in Old Testament days the priests were charged with the duty of offering their and the people’s animal and other sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7, etc.). That entailed a lot of back-breaking work! And yet the priests were held “blameless” as they were merely carrying out God’s instructions on the Sabbath.
Failing to consider “the whole counsel of God,” many have now profaned the Sabbath wrongly by doing all sorts of everyday labor and work. They have, in fact, substituted other days of the week for worship! God tells the rulers of Israel, and all mankind as well: “You have despised My holy things and profaned My Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 22:6, 8). Because of this, God poured out His indignation on Israel (Verse 31; Nehemiah 13:17-18) — and will again do so to Israel and the rest of mankind, at Jesus’ return (Romans 2:8-9).
For a lengthy discussion on the Sabbath question, see: What If the Sabbath Is Still Holy?
The holy days question
Many have seized upon Isaiah 1:14, where God says to His people Israel, “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.” There, they say, God hates the feasts of the Jews — the feasts or holy days which the Jews observe as listed in Leviticus 23.
With this premise, many have applied what Paul wrote, about observing “days and months and seasons and years” as a part of “the weak and beggarly elements” (Galatians 4:10), to God’s holy days or feasts. God’s holy days “weak” and “beggarly?” How can the true holy days of a great and Almighty God be such? Rather it is those holidays or festivities that the Galatian Christians used to observe as part of their former pagan beliefs and practices that were weak and beggarly. They were more a part of what Paul also wrote about in Colossians 2:20-22 — “the basic principles of the world...according to the commandments and doctrines of men,” and not of God.
When we take “the whole counsel of God” we will come to a different conclusion regarding God’s holy days!
The New Testament has ample evidence that Jesus Christ and His disciples and Christians after them observed God’s holy days or feasts (Matthew 26:17-29; Acts 2:1-4, etc.; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Zechariah 14:16-19 shows that, when Christ will have returned to earth and established God’s kingdom here, God will require all nations to observe His Feast of Tabernacles, or else suffer dire consequence for failing to do that. Jesus Himself said that He will observe the Passover again with His disciples in that kingdom (Matthew 26:27-29).
To learn more about the meaning of God’s holy days or feasts, and how they all picture the work of Jesus Christ in saving sinful mankind, see: God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers — or to Be Observed? God’s Feasts and Israel – Part 1, God’s Feasts and Israel – Part 2, God’s Feasts and Israel — Part 3, and Two Goats Together.
The Holy Spirit a “person?”
Most people in what has been considered “Christendom” believe in the doctrine of the “trinity,” in which the Holy Spirit is held as the third “Person” in that trinity, in addition to God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ). A quick look at the account about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is used by many to prove that the Holy Spirit is also God, and therefore a distinct “Person.”
Rather than devoting space here to explain this, let me refer you to a lengthy discussion on the subject in: The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered. It’s amazing how, by taking “the whole counsel of God” a doctrine like that on the true nature of God which has mystified, puzzled and confused most people, becomes defined clearly, accurately, and consistently!
Lately the buzzword has been “inclusivity.” And that has come out of the understanding that God’s mercy is without limit (Psalm 136) and therefore God, in His sovereignty, will somehow save every single human being He has ever created. Not a single one will be excluded. Many have come to this conclusion by merely taking several Scripture verses at face value, without checking with what other — and plain — Bible passages declare.
For instance, there is 2 Peter 3:9, which says that “The Lord…is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The apostle Paul adds that God “…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And Ezekiel 18:23 declares, rhetorically, that God has no “…pleasure at all that the wicked should die.”
However, “the whole counsel of God” through the plain testimony of God’s Word will clarify that, while God is willing and desires that all men should be saved, there will be some (hopefully only a very few) who will choose not to believe in God and in Christ and who will thus end up in the “lake of fire” to suffer the “second death” (Revelation 21:8; 20:14-15).
All foods cleansed?
Many who call themselves “Christians” eat all kinds of meats, regardless of what the Bible teaches about meats God forbids (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). They base their belief and practice on Jesus’ words in Mark 7:15, 19 — “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him…because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods.”
This is then tied in with Acts 10:9-16, which relates about a vision God gave the apostle Peter. Here God showed him a vision of all kinds of four-footed animals (including what Peter learned from the Bible to be “unclean”). God told Peter to “kill and eat.” At this Peter protested that he had never eaten anything “common or unclean.” God then told him: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”
When we take “the whole counsel of God,” however, we will come to a vastly different conclusion and understanding. See this explained in: Did Christ Cleanse All Meats?
Several decades ago a movement arose within the ranks of the Church of God which proposed that God’s people use only the “sacred name” of the Divine Being. Otherwise, the movement’s proponents say, it would be a sin to use any other name. The movement has risen and waned and has seemed to stage a comeback whenever it reaches its last gasps! Adherents to this movement use various Scripture passages to prove that God’s name or names in the Hebrew language only are to be used in writing, speaking or praying. For instance, there is Acts 4:12, which tells us: “…let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man [the lame man healed in Jesus' name as Peter commanded him to "rise up and walk" (Acts 3:1-10)] stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).
Adherents to this movement teach that, Peter being a Jew as was the lame man, he must surely have mentioned Jesus’ name in the original Hebrew — Yeshua (some spell it Yahshua or Yehoshua). By some reasoning, these adherents believe and teach that the original Hebrew name of Jesus and of God (the YHWH Elohim of the Old Testament) are “sacred” and must not be changed or translated, or transliterated into other languages. However, we see clearly that the inspired manuscripts of the New Testament are written mostly in the Greek language, and partly only in Aramaic. The Greek texts clearly translate or transliterate the original Hebrew Yeshua/Yahshua or Yehoshua to the Greek Iesous and the Hebrew Elohim to the Greek Theos.
What Bible or historical proof is there that, when the Jews in Jerusalem heard the disciples of Jesus speak in different tongues (listed in Acts 2:9-11) about “the wonderful works of God,” the name “God” had to be in Hebrew (Elohim)? Is God’s name (its spelling and pronunciation) so sacred that it cannot be translated in order that it can be understood in whatever language? If, as Paul declares in Romans 1:20 (that the “invisible attributes” — “His eternal power and Godhead” can be “understood by the things that are made”), can we not understand how God regards His name as we humans regard ours?
For example, as one “made” by God, I have been called by various names — but all meaning the same. My name is from the Spanish “Pedro” (meaning “stone,” derived from the word piedra). [In my elementary and high school days some of my classmates called me by the common Visayan nickname for Pedro -- Endong; other Philippine languages use Indò, Idru, etc.] The Greek name is Petros – also meaning stone or “pebble.” The Italian equivalent is Pietro [I was fondly called that by a colleague in office], the French is Pierre, and the English is Peter [I have also been called that, and nicknamed "Pete"]. They all sound similar, and mean the same.
But what if we were to translate my name in our Tagalog or Visayan? It would be Bató (I have also been called a few times “Pedro-Bató!”) — still meaning “stone.” What a jump “Bató” is from “Pedro” but the meaning remains the same. Whatever names or nicknames I’ve been called deriving from my given name, they all refer to me as my own unique person [of course, the family name and the middle name (my mom's family name) help in identifying me].
So is the jump from the Hebrew Elohim to the Greek Theos (Spanish, Diós; French Dieu; Italian Deo; German Gott, and English God) — different in some ways, but they all mean the same: a Supreme Being who rules the whole of creation. In our Philippine languages God is called Ginoo, Maykapal, Maylalang, Magbabaya, etc. Would God turn a deaf ear to one who sincerely prays to Him using another name than Elohim or Yahweh? Most likely not!
To shed Biblical light, and “the whole counsel of God” on this subject of God’s names, several articles can be accessed through this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE , select “Good News (1951-1989),” then the issues of 1970-1979 and scroll down to the issue of November-December 1972. On pages 1-6, 32-33 is the lead article “The Plain Truth About the ‘Sacred Name’.” You may also find these other articles, in the same issue, instructive: “Is There Magic in the NAME?” (page 7); “The Unknown God” (pages 8-13, 30-31); and “Did Christ or the Apostles Use the Name YAHWEH?” (pages 17-20, 31).
Until God restores to all humanity “a pure language, [so] that [people] may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord” (Zephaniah 3:9), God obviously allows us to address Him in the various names He has revealed in His Word. That includes the Hebrew names of God, of course, but God doesn’t exclude the others of His names that He allows. God will, in fact, have new names given Him in the future (Revelation 3:12).
To fear or not to fear God
A whole doctrine has been preached by many that Christians should only love God and not fear Him, because “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). However, this does not square with Revelation 14:6-7, where an angel is seen “having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth.” And the gospel? “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
For more on “the whole counsel of God” on this subject, see: Can We Fear and Love God at the Same Time?
Heaven home of the saved?
The apostle Paul wrote about the “country” to which Christians truly belong: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Thus Christians are merely “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). As such they are to be “ambassadors for Christ” while on this earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). That is why many believe that when they die they are simply “going home to be with the Lord.” That, too, is what Paul said after all: he had “a desire to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:24).
Again, not fully understanding the difficult writings of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16), many have come to believe that, at death, a Christian “passes on” to a conscious, eternal “afterlife” in heaven. Paul declared that he learned everything which he taught, directly from the resurrected Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12; Acts 26:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7). And Jesus, who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), taught that “No one has ascended [bodily] to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man [Jesus]” (John 3:13). Peter well understood that Israel’s righteous King David “did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:34).
Paul did understand that what goes to heaven when a Christian dies is the man’s “spirit” (Hebrews 12:23). Christians are “citizens” of heaven in the sense that they have been registered in God’s “Book of Life.” That heavenly “country,” that “city,” that “homeland,” will eventually come down to this renewed earth when God the Father Himself descends here with the “holy city” — the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of the saved (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16; Revelation 21:1-22:5). [See: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? What Happens to Man After Death? The Book of Life and God's Kingdom and Israel. Also, check out this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select "Books & Booklets" and scroll down to the booklet titled "What Is the Reward of the Saved?"]
Don’t be like Job’s “friends”
When God severely tried His servant Job as Satan requested, some of Job’s relatives and friends came to, at first, commiserate with him and ended up accusing him wrongfully in their effort to be God’s “advocates.” You can read for yourself the profound yet abundantly instructive Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible. But take note especially of how the story ends up.
Job admits his puny knowledge and wisdom compared with God’s, and repents of his sin of ignorantly questioning God’s sovereignty. God then blesses Job twice as much as He had blessed him before. And as for Job’s “friends,” God told the senior one among them, Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
Job’s “friends” saw only a small facet of God’s Word and failed to consider “the whole counsel of God!” May those who presume to teach the Word of God take a lesson — and warning — from Job’s “friends.”
True teachers of God’s Word
While there are seemingly more who preach wrong things about God and His Word, God has not left this world without a true witness. He has genuine and faithful servants preaching His Word accurately and truthfully! That preaching will culminate, in this present age, in the ministry of God’s “two witnesses.” Revelation 11:1-13 tells about those two servants of God, on whom He will place His power so they can speak truly and boldly for God in the midst of a faithless world just before Jesus returns to earth (Luke 18:8).
The Church of God, which is now sadly and shamefully divided as never before, will eventually rally behind those two witnesses, to be purged and purified of all erroneous beliefs and practices (Daniel 12:9-10). These witnesses will be the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 4:3, 11-14. They will be the “two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.”
They will help the Church of God make herself ready as “the bride of Christ” at His return (Revelation 19:7). How? By teaching “the whole counsel of God” that will produce in the Church members true righteousness — the “righteousness of the Holy One” (Jesus Christ, as Verse 8 is better translated). [See: Peter Knew "The Holy One" and The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
These are the saints who, having proven themselves worthy in Christ, will help Him teach all of mankind about His perfect ways when He returns to set up God’s kingdom here on earth. Then made perfect and glorious through a resurrection or change into immortality (1 Corinthians 15:22-23, 51-55), they will serve as “kings and priests” in that kingdom (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:4, 6; Malachi 2:7).
With the arch-deceiver Satan and his demons put away, with all false preachers and false teachers (Revelation 20:1-4; Jude 6; Zechariah 13:2-5), only God’s truth — and “the whole counsel of God” — will be taught to all of mankind in that kingdom. As a result of this teaching, “…the earth shall be full of the [true] knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
I invite you, our dear readers, to continue to read and study every article on this website, and those yet to come, as we strive to present “the whole counsel of God” on vital issues concerning eternal life. God bless you richly as you do!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.