Day Twenty: Biblical Literacy Regarding the Orphan

We are in an age of biblical illiteracy. We simply, as a people (with exceptions, of course) don’t know what God’s word says. We use phrases frequently that aren’t found in the Bible and we defer to pop-culture depictions of Bible stories for our truth. When we actually dig into God’s Word, we find, for example, that:

  • “God helps those that help themselves” isn’t in the Bible
  • “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” isn’t in the Bible
  • The Bible does not teach that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Jonah 1:17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah…” (ESV)
  • The Bible does not say that Adam and Eve ate an apple. The type of fruit is not specified.
  • Three gifts were given to Christ after His birth; the Bible does not say they were from three magi. It simply says “magi” came from the east. It well could have been more than three.

This doesn’t begin to cover the theological intelligence we’ve lost about how God actually teaches us to live. It also doesn’t cover some of our assumptions due to what we know as normal. As an example, we have built orphanages all over the world…perhaps never stopping to consider that orphanages aren’t found in the Bible. This method of orphan care has become normal to us. I would argue that it doesn’t mean that the work of building orphanages isn’t good and worthy work. Getting children off the streets and into a safe place is a good thing to do. However, this isn’t God’s model. It’s ours.

I think we also have lost the imperatives in scripture regarding orphan care. We default the popular James 1:27 – “Pure and undefiled religion in the spirit of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress.” Did you know that the verse goes on? James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the spirit of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Pure and undefiled religion also includes keeping oneself unstained by the world. This covers a multitude of things, and as much as I hear this verse quoted I wonder how many believers do not know that the verse has a second part.

One notable thing about this verse is that it isn’t an imperative. If you want to exercise pure and undefiled religion, you will do what the verse says. You don’t have to, but you can and it is clearly important to God.

The Bible, however, offers much more about the fatherless. In Exodus, God prohibits wrongdoing to the orphan or widow, and promises His anger toward those that don’t heed this warning. (Ex.22:21-23) Deuteronomy has references to the sojourner, widow, and orphan being filled and protected. Zechariah 7:10 again prohibits oppression of the widow and orphan. In Psalms God is referred to as Father to the fatherless. I find it interesting that throughout much of the Old Testament the text warns us about what not to do, and God refers to Himself as the Father of the fatherless. However, that changes as we approach the Psalms, Isaiah, and on through the Bible. Rather than being commanded to refrain from something, we are now commanded to take action. In Psalm 82:3 we are commanded to “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless,” and Isaiah 1:27 commands that we “Learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” God watches over the orphan and is the Father to the fatherless, but we are to take action. It’s not an option. It is required for believers. This is happening. Orphan and adoption ministries are taking hold in churches. We need to recover biblical literacy in this area, and I’m thanking for Johnny Carr and the work God is doing through him; this is definitely evidence of God at work. Listen to what he found as he looked into God’s word as it pertains to orphanages:


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