Shining a light on the weekly Bible Lessons published in the Christian Science Quarterly®

Doctrine of Atonement

from the Golden Text

Proverbs 30:5

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.

Identified as “the words of Agur” (v. 1), this assertion restates II Samuel 22:31 and Psalms 18:30. Agur is assumed to have been a respected wise man and compiler of proverbs who lived around the time of Solomon. 

Sārap, the Hebrew term translated pure, refers to refined metal. A scholar interprets Agur’s initial phrase this way: “God’s words are true, sincere, with no mixture of error, certain of accomplishment.”

In the Hebrew Bible, the shield is a recurring metaphor for protection—beginning with God’s pledge to the patriarch Abram: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1).

from the Responsive Reading

Psalms 26:1, 2, 6

Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart. . . . I will wash mine hands in innocency. 

Integrity (Hebrew, tōm) expresses completeness or perfection. In this passage it describes hearts and motives that are earnest and truthful. Proverbs 10:9 has, “He that walketh uprightly [tōm] walketh surely.” Psalms 101:2 promises, “I will walk within my house with a perfect [tōm] heart.”

Reins (Hebrew, kilyâ) signifies internal organs, an example of the belief that the body was the seat of the emotions or conscience. “My reins and my heart” is rendered “my heart and mind” by most modern translators.

Hand washing represented both outward and inward purity. In Mosaic law it was associated mainly with priests (see Exodus 30:17–21). But rabbinical tradition applied this demand to everyone, and over time it became a regular practice. Here the Psalmist uses the image to affirm his devotion to upright thought and action.

Proverbs 4:26

Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. 

Ponder is translated from the Hebrew verb pālas, meaning to make smooth or level. As one weighs objects by making the two sides of a scale even, pālas came to be used as a metaphor for weighing or pondering ideas. In this verse it connotes removing mental obstacles to uprightness and godliness. “To walk in the way of wisdom,” writes a commentator, “. . . requires constant vigilance, self-discipline, and singleness of mind and purpose.” 

The author of Hebrews echoes this admonition centuries later: “Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed” (12:13).

ponder: think about carefully

from Section 1

1 | Psalms 24:3–5 

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 

Translation

Who may climb the mountain of the LORD? 
       Who may stand in his holy place? 
Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, 
       who do not worship idols
       and never tell lies. 
They will receive the LORD’s blessing 
       and have a right relationship with God their savior.

—New Living Translation

2 | Psalms 119:140 

Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.

Translation

Your promises have been thoroughly tested, 
       and your servant loves them.

—New International Version

3 | Psalms 19:7, 8

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

Having portrayed the glory of God’s creation (see vv. 1–6), the Psalmist now celebrates God’s law, using tightly organized poetry. In Hebrew, each of the six clauses in verses 7–9 follows a singular pattern—the same number of words, a reference to the law, and a characteristic of it. The clauses in verses 7 and 8 conclude with an uplifting or healing effect of the law.

In its larger sense, the law stands for all divinely revealed doctrine and counsel. One source notes: “The law is no mass of lifeless ordinances, but a living expression of the totality of God’s will. To obey it is to have one’s life renewed.”

4 | Matthew 4:17

Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Preach, as translated from the Greek kēryssō, depicts the proclaiming or publishing activity of a herald. A commentator points out three qualities or standards of a herald’s announcement: It was certain; it carried authority; and it originated from a source beyond the messenger. Christ Jesus opens his public ministry with these heralding words from God, delivered with certainty and authority. 

Also spoken by John the Baptist (see 3:1, 2), Jesus’ call to repent (Greek, metanoeō) demands a profound change of heart and commitment to regeneration. 

5 | Matthew 18:3

Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Christ Jesus is answering the disciples’ question “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). His response must have been surprising. Children were among the lowest in social standing in ancient cultures, and most people viewed religious leaders, political rulers, and military heroes as the greatest. Now Jesus charges his followers to turn from pride and pretension to the meek trustfulness of a child.

converted: transformed; adapted to a new or different purpose

from Section 2

7 | John 8:1–12

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Under Roman rule, Jews were not allowed to execute anyone. At the same time, Hebrew law called for the death penalty in many cases of adultery (see Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). No matter how Jesus answers, the synagogue leaders expect to be able to charge him with a serious infraction of Roman or Hebrew statutes. And if he supports one of these laws, he will contradict his own teachings about either the law or forgiveness (see Matthew 5:17, 18; 6:14, 15).

When the Master first replies, he speaks from the knowledge that Jews considered no one free of sin. His command “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” acknowledges the stoning requirement, thus avoiding the appearance of disrespect for the law. At the same time, he exposes the rulers’ hypocrisy, halts their own manipulation of the law, and challenges them to reexamine their lives. 

Jesus’ writing on the ground has prompted questions about what he wrote. Yet it is the act itself that is significant. A Bible authority explains, “In the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ time, such an act of writing would have been recognized as an act of refusal and disengagement.” When he resumes writing, Jesus is unmistakably dismissing the elders’ attempts to entrap him. Yet he judges neither the men gathered nor the woman, but replaces condemnation with reformation.

adultery: unfaithfulness to marriage
convicted: declared guilty; made aware of one’s own guilt
conscience: inner sense of what is right or wrong
condemned: judged and declared to be guilty

8 | Psalms 139:23, 24

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139 begins and ends with God’s searching of man (see also v. 1). Search here doesn’t signify ignorance of His creation, but rather a focused attention that brings guidance and spiritual renewal. A commentary remarks, “There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there never will be a moment in which we shall be beyond his observation.”

God’s active knowing of His creation is recorded by Jeremiah as well: “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways” (Jeremiah 17:10). And the Apostle Paul asserts, “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I Corinthians 2:10).

from Section 3

9 | Luke 4: 40 

Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.

divers: various; different

10 | John 7:16

My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

Translation

. . . “The things I teach are not my own. My teaching comes from him who sent me.”

—International Children’s Bible

11 | John 10:27, 29, 30

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: . . . My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.

Translation

“My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me, . . . My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than everyone else, and no one can tear them away from my Father. The Father and I are one.”

—GOD’S WORD Translation

Christ Jesus chooses familiar images to portray his tender care of his followers. Shepherds often protected their sheep in wilderness areas at night by sleeping at the entrance or “door” of the sheepfold. In towns, paid gatekeepers guarded multiple flocks. Though mingled with other sheep, each flock responded immediately to its own shepherd’s voice. As the “good shepherd” (vv. 11, 14), Jesus is known by the faithful, who hear and follow him. 

In the Savior’s announcement of his oneness with God, the Jews hear a blasphemous profession that he himself is God. They had objected to this before, and Jesus had answered with strong affirmations of God as his Father and himself as God’s Son (see 5:17–23). One scholar clarifies the concept of oneness: “The two are one in essence or nature, will and purpose, but they are not identical persons. This great truth is what warrants Jesus’ ‘I am’ declarations . . . .”

12 | John 12:49, 50

I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting.

Translation

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; . . .”

—New Living Translation

According to the Gospel of John, these statements mark the end of Jesus’ public ministry. His final days will be spent with his disciples; his final act will be the proof of “life everlasting.”

from Section 4

14 | Matthew 16:24 

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Translation

Then Jesus said to his followers, “If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing even to give up their lives to follow me.”

—New Century Version

16 | I Peter 1:3–5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Translation

Blessed [gratefully praised and adored] be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant and boundless mercy has caused us to be born again [that is, to be reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose] to an ever-living hope and confident assurance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [born anew] into an inheritance which is imperishable [beyond the reach of change] and undefiled and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who are being protected and shielded by the power of God through your faith for salvation that is ready to be revealed [for you] in the last time.

—Amplified® Bible

Early Christian writers encouraged believers over and over, grounding their hope for salvation in Christ Jesus’ resurrection. The Master’s triumph was a guarantee of their own victory over death. A scriptural authority suggests, “Hope here does not imply a wishfulness but rather a dynamic confidence that does not end with this life but continues throughout eternity.”

17 | Ephesians 2:1, 6

You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; . . . and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Translation

In the past you were spiritually dead because of your sins and the things you did against God. . . . And he raised us up with Christ and gave us a seat with him in the heavens.

—New Century Version

The Greek words translated trespasses (paraptōma) and sins (hamartia) are nearly synonymous. Paraptōma refers to inadvertent failure; hamartia can refer to conscious negligence as well.

from Section 5

19 | Acts 2:1, 2, 4–8

When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

Israel had been conquered several times over the centuries, and Jews were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond (see vv. 9–11). To varying degrees they had assimilated into their new homes and typically spoke their neighbors’ languages—sometimes instead of Aramaic, the language commonly spoken by Jews in Palestine. When congregating in Jerusalem, these visiting Jews frequently needed to find a common language in order to communicate. In this instance, the descent of the Holy Ghost erased that barrier. 

The period following Jesus’ ascension was rich in evidence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the apostles. In addition to the event on the Day of Pentecost, a gathering of the faithful with Peter and John is reported: “When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (4:31).

After Peter was led to preach to the Gentiles, many were astounded “because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (10:45, 46). And when Paul baptized some disciples at Ephesus, “the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (19:6).

noised abroad: widely reported
confounded: confused

from Section 6

20 | Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

A cornerstone of early Christianity was the inclusion of all believers. Those of Jewish heritage generally scorned “Greeks,” a term that had come to mean all non-Jews, as impure—and often as bitter enemies of the Hebrew people. Even for Christians of Gentile backgrounds, different treatment according to status, race, and gender was prevalent. But the teaching of unity in Christ (also conveyed in I Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11) brought with it the demand to accept every Christian as “Abraham’s seed” (Galatians 3:29).

As Paul’s message hints, slavery was a widespread practice, especially in the Roman Empire. Hebrew society, however, didn’t rely as heavily on enslaved people for labor—and its customs placed greater restraints on slave owners than did Roman law. In declaring equality for all followers of Christ, Christianity took a momentous step forward. (Although Paul never formally called for the abolition of slavery, he emphasizes in this verse and in his other letters that everyone is free in the sight of God.)

21 | I Corinthians 1:9, 10 

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 

Translation

God faithfully keeps his promises. He called you to be partners with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Brothers and sisters, I encourage all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to agree with each other and not to split into opposing groups. I want you to be united in your understanding and opinions.

—GOD’S WORD Translation

fellowship: friendly companionship based on a shared purpose

23 | I Peter 1:22

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.

Translation

As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly.

—Common English Bible

References to love increase dramatically from the Old to the New Testament, reflecting its importance to the Christians’ new understanding of God. Two Greek words rendered love in this passage are familiar to most readers: phileō (in the phrase “unfeigned love”) and agapaō (in “love one another”). Popular definitions of these terms—loving fraternally and spiritually—have been discredited by modern scholarship. Research has yielded nuances not only between the words but within usage of each term in ancient times. (Eros, alluding to physical desire, does not appear in the New Testament.)

Agapeō can imply the deep, constant affection expressed between dear friends—as in Jesus’ charges “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) and “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And it may show high respect or allegiance as well as love, perhaps implied in Jesus’ instruction about the two great commandments (see Matthew 22:37–39). Phileō often conveys personal emotion or human adoration. It occurs in Jesus’ caution to his disciples “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). 

“Unfeigned love” has a parallel in Paul’s injunction “Let love be without dissimulation” (Romans 12:9). And the book of James says that the wisdom from above is “without hypocrisy” (3:17). All three instances employ the Greek adjective anypokritos to describe genuineness and sincerity.


Read a related editorial, “Rectifying mistakes” by Geoffrey J. Barratt.

The Bible Lessons serve as weekly study guides as well as the sermon in every Christian Science Sunday church service. Learn more at BibleLesson.com

Resources quoted in this issue

GT: Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice, Joseph S. Exell, and Edward Mark Deems, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. London, 1880–1909. Also available at biblehub.com/commentaries.

RR: Barton, John, and John Muddiman, eds. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Cit. 3: Laymon, Charles M. The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 

Cit. 4: Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1955. Revised and updated by Saint Andrew, 2001. Reprinted as The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001–04.

Cit. 7: Keck, Leander E., et al., eds. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 8, Luke, John. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015.

Cit. 8: Spurgeon, Charles H. The Treasury of David. 7 vols. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1882–86. Also available at biblestudytools.com/commentaries.

Cit. 11: Barker, Kenneth, et al., eds. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Cit. 16: Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House. The NKJV Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

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