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John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-3:17, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
1/28/2013 / Bible Studies

We will continue this verse-by-verse study of John 1:1-18 here in Part 2, starting with John 1:12.

(12) But as many as received Him [They received Him by submitting to Him with repentance and faith.], to them He gave the right to become children of God [[John is speaking here, as verse 13 shows, of becoming BORN AGAIN children of God. The new birth wasn't available under the old covenant because the sin, spiritual death, Satan, darkness problem that had existed since the fall of Adam and Eve wasn't solved until God dethroned these enemies through the atoning death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. Being born again (or, born from above) by the Spirit of God is a major feature of new-covenant salvation (cf. John 3:1-8). The Spirit of life (the Holy Spirit) dwells in every true Christian from the time they become born-again Christians; He sets them free from the law of sin and death and enables them to live in the righteousness and holiness of God (see Rom. 8:1-17 [These verses are discussed on pages 116-123 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atoning Death."]; cf., e.g., Ezek. 36:26, 27; John 6:63; 7:37-39; Acts 2:33; Rom. 7:6; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 3:26; and 5:16-25).]], even to those who believe in His name [["He who believes in Him is not judged [condemned]; he who does not believe has been judged [condemned] already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten [unique, only one of His kind] Son of God" (John 3:18). "This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ..." (1 John 3:23). "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). To believe in the name of "the unique Son of God," "His Son Jesus Christ," "the Son of God," "the Word," "the Light," "the Lord Jesus Christ" means a whole lot more than giving mental assent to the existence of that Person. It includes being committed from the heart, in faith, to that Person, and to all that has been revealed about Him (His name includes all that has been revealed about Him). Furthermore, it is impossible to be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith without being committed to the One who sent Him, to the Spirit of God, to the word of God, with some emphasis on the gospel of new covenant salvation.]], (13) who were born, not of blood [["Lit. bloods (margin of NASB)." The BAGD Greek Lexicon (third edition, 2000, page 26; under "haima, haimatos") lists this verse under the heading "blood as basic component of an organism," and regarding John 1:13 says to be born of bloods means "owe one's descent to the physical nature." The NIV has, "children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will."]] nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man [[I had a footnote: The Greek noun behind "man" here ("aner, andros") is used for the "adult human male, man, husband" (BAGD Greek Lexicon, page 79). The word "flesh" in the preceding prepositional phrase ("the will of the flesh") speaks of man in the flesh (man separated from God by sin, in spiritual death, without the Holy Spirit of life), including male and female.]], but of God. [[Compare John 3:3-8; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23; and 1 John 2:29; 3:9. The primary point of this verse (verse 13) is that we become "children of God" (John 1:12) through a birth that comes from God (from heaven) and is wrought by Him (by the Spirit of life). It does not come from man in the flesh, whether of/from "bloods," of/from the "will of the flesh," of/from the "will of man," or from man any other way. I'll quote a few sentences from what D. A. Carson says here ("Gospel According to John" [Eerdmans, 1991], page 126). " '...they are born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God' [using the NIV]. The prologue thus introduces us to the 'new birth' theme of ch. 3. ... 'Natural descent' (lit. 'of bloods,' i.e. a blood relationship, on the assumption that natural procreation involves the mixing of bloods) avails nothing - which means that heritage and race, even the Jewish race, are irrelevant to spiritual birth. ... Spiritual birth is not the product of sexual desire, 'the will of the flesh,' here rendered 'of human decision'.... ...."]] (14) And the Word [Greek "Ho Logos" (see verse 1)] became flesh, and dwelt among us [[Compare Matt. 1:1-25; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-38; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:7, 8; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 1:1, 2; 4:2; and 2 John 1:7. God hasn't revealed all the details, but it is clear that God the Son became a man, but not just a man - He became the God-man. From the time of His incarnation, He was one Person with two natures, divine and human. He temporarily set aside some of the prerogatives of deity and glory when He became a man (cf., e.g., John 17:1-5; Phil. 2:7, 8), but He never ceased being deity, and He will be worshipped forever with God the Father (cf., e.g., Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:11-14; 21:21, 22; 22:1-21). Jesus Christ was not spiritually dead, as all men have been since the fall, and, even though He was tempted, He never sinned (cf. Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:14-16). Hebrews 4:16b speaks of His "[having been] tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."]], and we saw His glory [[Throughout His life on earth His glory was manifested to some extent, and especially after He was anointed by the Spirit to become the Anointed One/the Messiah/the Christ (cf. John 2:11, "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory..."), through who He was and the things that He said and did. The apostles Peter, James, and John were privileged to see His glory in a special sense at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36; John 2:11; 2 Pet. 1:16-18; and 1 John 1:1, 2). Many, especially the apostles, saw His glory after He was resurrected.]], glory as of the only begotten from [unique Son, or One, of] the Father [[The KJV; NKJV also translate "the only begotten." I don't believe this translation communicates God's intended meaning. Furthermore, this translation lends itself to serious misunderstanding. Some have understood these words in an unorthodox (heretical) way. They have understood these words to mean that there was a time when God the Son did not exist and that He was begotten by the Father before the world was created. But that is not what orthodox Christians have meant by the words "only begotten." Orthodox Christians who have used these words have understood them to mean that God the Son has always existed with the Father, being "eternally generated/begotten" by the Father.

Although "eternal generation" can be understood in an orthodox way, I don't believe it is a helpful idea or that God intended to reveal that doctrine to us. I believe that the note in the margin of the NASB gives the intended meaning, "Or 'unique, only one of His kind' " instead of "only begotten." The NIV translates "the One and Only" and in the margin has, "Or the Only Begotten." The translation "only Son," which is acceptable, is common, including in the New American Bible; Jerusalem Bible; NEB; and RSV. One problem with the translation "only begotten Son" is that the New Testament teaches that we (all true Christians) have been begotten (born) of God (and that we are sons of God); John 1:13, for example, speaks of our being "born [Greek verb "gennao"]...of God." (Also see 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; and 5:1; these verses all use gennao.) The angels are sons of God too (Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7).

The Greek adjective (monogenes) should, I believe, be translated "unique One," "unique Son" here, or the equivalent, not "only begotten." The word for Son (huios) isn't included with monogenes in the Greek here, but both words are included in John 3:16, 18; and 1 John 4:9; and probably in John 1:18 (see under that verse). I'll quote several paragraphs from what James Oliver Buswell ("Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion," Vol. 1 (Zondervan, 1963), pages 110, 111. Dr. Buswell was a founding theologian of Covenant Theological Seminary. I graduated from there.) says under the heading "The Meaning of 'Only Begotten.' " What he says here also applies to John 1:18; 3:16, 18; and 1 John 4:9. "It seems that the church fathers of the fourth century, in the heat of the Arian controversy (Buswell has a footnote, "Arianism, the doctrine that the Second Person of the Trinity was not eternal, but was the first and greatest of all created beings, was condemned by the councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381). Arius, for whom the movement was named, died 356 A.D."), took this word [monogenes] as somehow connected with the root of the verb "gennao," which means generate or beget. Thus our English words, 'only begotten,' are derived from fourth century usage. When the orthodox church fathers were challenged by the Arians, who said that Christ was a created being and who pointed to the word "monogenes" for their evidence, the orthodox fathers did not have the facilities to prove that the word has nothing to do with begetting, but they knew that in the light of other Scriptures, Christ was not created; 'There never was a time in which He was not.' They therefore accepted the word 'begotten' but added the words 'not created.' ((I had a footnote: Buswell is referring (at least in part) to the wording of the Nicene Creed. I'll quote the key words of this creed from an appendix in the back of Grudem's "Systematic Theology," page 1169. "I one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, BEGOTTEN, NOT MADE [my emphasis]...."))

The notion that the Son was begotten by the Father in eternity past, not as an event, but as an inexplicable relationship [a relationship between the Father and the Son that has always existed], has been accepted and carried along in Christian theology since the fourth century. Charles Hodge, the greatest of systematic theologians, in discussing the historical doctrine of 'the eternal generations of the Son' takes this for granted. He says ("Systematic Theology," Vol. 1, p. 468), '...the Son is begotten of the Father; he is declared to be the only begotten Son of God. The relationship, therefore, of the Second Person to the First is that of filiation or Sonship. But what is meant of the term [only begotten], neither the Bible nor the ancient creeds explain.'

Careful lexicographical studies prove beyond a question that the word "monogenes" is not derived from the root "gennao," to beget or generate, but is derived from "genos," kind or class. The word therefore means 'in a class by himself,' 'the only one of his kind,' or in other words 'unique.' ... ...we can say with confidence that the Bible has nothing to say about 'begetting' as an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. ...."

I'll also quote a footnote from Leon Morris that deals with this topic ("Gospel According to John" [Eerdmans, 1971], page 105). "It should not be overlooked that 'monogenes' is derived from 'ginomai' not 'gennao' (one 'n' not two). [I should point out that the Greek noun "genos," which was mentioned in the preceding paragraph and is mentioned in the following quotation, was derived from the verb "ginomai."] Etymologically it is not connected with begetting. See further the note by D. Moody, BT, 10, 1959, pp. 145-7." And I'll quote a sentence from Merrill C. Tenney ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 9 [Zondervan, 1981], page 33). "The 'one and only Son' represents the Greek 'monogenes,' which is derived from 'genos,' which means 'literally "one of a kind," "only," "unique" (unicus), not "only-begotten." ...' (MM, pp. 416, 417)."

After writing the preceding paragraphs dealing with the meaning of "monogenes," I came across the newly published commentary titled "The Gospel of John" by Craig S. Keener (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2003). He has some four pages, with many footnotes, dealing with the meaning of this word. He is in essential agreement with what has been said above. I'll quote several sentences from what he says here (pages 412-416). "Commentators dispute the significance of 'monogenes'; some follow the traditional translation 'only begotten' [Keener has a footnote: "Dahms, 'Monogenes.' "], whereas others object that this is not even a sound etymological reading of the term. [Keener has a footnote: "Cf., e.g., Manson, 'Paul and John,' 133; Du Plessis, 'Only Begotten" '; Morris, "John," 105; Roberts, ' "Only Begotten" '; Pendrick, 'Monogenes; cf. Westcott, 'Epistles,' 169-172."] 'Only Begotten' fails the etymology test, as it would require a different word, monogennetos; monogenes derives instead from a different root, genos, leading to the meaning 'one of a kind.' [Keener has a footnote: "Roberts, 'Only Begotten,' 4; also Harrison, 'John 1:14,' 32."] This observation hardly settles the Johannine sense of the term, since usage rather than etymology determines word meanings in practice; but further analysis confirms the conclusion based on the term's derivation.

Many patristic writers read the term as 'only begotten' [Keener has a footnote: "Cf. Dahms...."], but this may say more about second-century Christology than about the semantic presuppositions shared between John and his original audience. ... 'Only begotten' came into vogue through church councils and the rendering of the Latin Vulgate. [Keener has a footnote: "(Roberts), 10-12.") Other writers contemporary with John clearly used 'monogenes' to indicate uniqueness rather than procreation; Plutarch, for instance.... Although the LXX [Septuagint; the Hebrew Old Testament translated to Greek] attests that the term applies well to an only child (Judg 11:34; Tob 3:15; 6:11; 8:17), it applies also to other unique things (Ps 21:21; 24:16; 34:17 LXX) ...

[After continuing for four paragraphs, Keener concludes this discussion with the following paragraph:] Christians, like Israel, are called God's children ([John] 1:10-12), but Jesus is the special Son, the 'only one of his kind.' [Keener has a footnote: "See Harris, 'Jesus as God,' 84-87, also noting that the issue is not Jesus being 'begotten' but being the only one of his kind."]."]], full of grace and truth [See John 1:17; cf., e.g., Rom. 5:21; 6:14.]. (15) John [John the Baptist] testified about Him [cf. John 1:7] and cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, "He who comes after me [Jesus Christ came after John the Baptist in that He was born some six months after him (cf. Luke 1:36) and in that John's ministry began earlier and prepared the way for His ministry.] has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me [cf. Matt. 3:11; John 1:27, 30]." ' [These words show that John the Baptist understood quite a bit about the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 1:5-80, especially verses 27, 31-35, 41-43; John 1:19-36).] (16) For of His fullness we have all received [cf. Eph. 1:23; 3:19; 4:13; Col. 1:19; and 2:9], and grace upon grace. [[Every aspect of new-covenant salvation that we receive in/through the Lord Jesus (which includes everything we could ever need now and forever, including truth, knowledge, wisdom, redemption, forgiveness, righteousness, holiness, provision for our daily needs in this world, glorification, having a place in God's eternal kingdom, and reigning with Him and the Lord Jesus Christ forever) comes to us by the all-sufficient, super-abundant grace upon grace of God in Christ Jesus. We did not and could not earn/merit these things.]] (17) For the Law was given through Moses [Jesus said, "Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?" (John 7:19)]; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. [[The Law, which was the foundation for the old covenant, was given through Moses. The Mosaic Law was from God, it was good, it was "true," and some "grace" accompanied that covenant, but God didn't give the old covenant to solve the sin, spiritual death, darkness, Satan problem. God's plan, from before the foundation of the world, was to send His Son to die for our sins and to fully solve the sin, spiritual death, Satan, darkness problem.

The all-sufficient grace of God in Christ - the "grace upon grace" spoken of in verse 17 - avails to fully save us and to totally remove sin, spiritual death, darkness, Satan and all who continue to follow him in his rebellion against God from His kingdom forever. The Mosaic Law was true, but the full, complete "truth" was not manifested until Jesus Christ, who is the "truth," was manifested. As verse 14 says, He was "full of grace and truth." Compare John 8:32; 14:6; and 18:37.]] (18) No one has seen God at any time [Compare Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16; and 1 John 4:12. No man has seen God the Father at any time, not in any full, direct sense. After we are glorified we will see Him as He is (cf. 1 John 3:2) and face to face (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 22:4).]; the only begotten [[The Greek behind "only begotten" is "monogenes," the adjective that we discussed in some detail under verse 14. Here, as in verse 14, I believe a meaning like "unique" was intended. The interpretation of this verse is complicated by the fact that many ancient Greek manuscripts have the word for "Son" (huios) following monogenes instead of the word for "God" (theos). Quite a few translations have followed the Greek text that has the word for "Son," including the KJV ("the only begotten Son"); the NKJV ("the only begotten Son"); the RSV ("the only Son"); the NEB ("God's only Son"); and the Jerusalem Bible ("the only Son"). If the original reading was monogenes followed by huios (and I favor this reading), I would translate "the unique Son" or the equivalent. The NIV has, "but God the One and only," but in the margin has, "Some manuscripts 'but the only (or only begotten) Son."

The United Bible Societies' "Greek New Testament Fourth revised edition, 1983) gives a B rating to the word for "God" (instead of the word for "Son") as the word that follows "monogenes." That rating means that they believe "there is some degree of doubt" regarding the reading "God," but that it is the preferred reading. Bruce M. Metzger in "A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament" (second edition), which is a companion volume for the "Greek New Testament" just mentioned, points out that "A majority of the Committee regarded the reading 'monogenes huios,' which undoubtedly is easier than 'monogenes theos,' to be the result of scribal assimilation to John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9." All three of the verses just cited use monogenes with huios. That fact demonstrates that it would be quite reasonable for these two words to be used together here in John 1:18 too, and, as I mentioned, I favor that viewpoint.

I'll quote part of what David J. Ellis says here ("New Layman's Bible Commentary" [Zondervan, 1979], page 1302). "God is now seen in the incarnate Word, 'the only Son.' There is a variant here, viz., 'God only-begotten,' which is supported by a number of important manuscripts, and by some of the earliest patristic commentaries. It would be quite in accordance with what John elsewhere records concerning the deity of Christ (cf. [John 1:1-4;] 20:28; 1 John 5:20). [The words "the unique/only Son" fit the deity of Christ too, but His deity is more forcefully stated with the reading theos.] Yet acceptance of the usual reading [huios, instead of theos] seems preferable since this also accords well with John's writing (cf. 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). Christ dwells 'in the bosom of the Father,' an expression denoting a relationship of love and perfect understanding."

I'll also quote part of what Frederick Louis Godet says here ("Commentary on the Gospel of John" [Zondervan, 1969 reprint of the 1893 edition], page 281). Godet's comments are dated. He wrote this commentary more than a hundred years ago, and we have a lot more information available today regarding the ancient New Testament manuscripts and the art of textual criticism. But I believe he was right to opt for the reading "Son" instead of "God." "As to internal reasons [By "internal reasons" Godet apparently speaks of "reasons" an ancient scribe could have had to change the reading theos (God) to the reading huios (Son) in an attempt to correct the manuscript he was working on.] stress may be laid upon its [monogenes theos] unique and wholly strange character; for it is said to be more [probable (The book has "improbable" but Godet undoubtedly meant "probable.")] that it should be replaced by the received reading [monogenes huios], which has a more simple and common character, than that the contrary could have taken place. [In textual criticism the harder reading is to be favored. This does not mean, however, that the harder reading always represents the correct (original) reading.] But it may be asked whether a reading [monogenes theos] which does not find its counterpart in any writing of the New Testament, and in any passage of John himself, does not become by reason of this fact very suspicious. To account for its [the reading theos] rejection it is enough that an explanation be given as to how it [the reading theos] may have originated and been introduced, and Abbot does this by reminding us how early readings like the following were originated: 'the Logos-God,' which is found in the second century in Melito and Clement of Alexandria, and the epithet 'theotokos, mother of God,' given to Mary. [[There can be no doubting the fact that the early Christians felt a need to contend for the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. His deity is of crucial importance, and there was no shortage of those who fought against His deity from the beginning, including the non-Christian Jews. Such conflicts often lead to overreactions and overstatements (like some calling Mary the "mother of God"). We desperately need the balanced truth.]] ... It would be difficult, on the other hand, to explain the dogmatic reason which could have substituted here the word 'Son' for 'God.' [That is, orthodox Christians would have been very reluctant to substitute the word "Son" for "God," and especially in a day when the deity of Christ was being challenged, if the original reading was God.] ...."

It is possible that 'God' (instead of 'Son') was the original reading (but I rather strongly favor the reading "Son"). If so I would understand this verse in the sense given by D. A. Carson (and quite a few others). "...the unique and beloved one [the following ( ) and [ ] are Carson's] (the term is 'monogenes'...), [himself] God, has made him known. That is probably the correct text [with the reading "God" instead of "Son"] .... What it means is that the beloved Son, the incarnate Word (1:14), himself God ["God" in the sense of deity, as in verse 1] while being at the Father's side - just as in v. 1 the Word was simultaneously God [God the Son] and with God [with God the Father] ...." ((I had a footnote: "Gospel According to John" [Eerdmans, 1991], page 134. Bruce Metzger ("A Textual Commentary"), in a footnote mentions four scholars who take this viewpoint. I'll quote what Metzger says regarding this viewpoint, "Some modern commentators take 'monogenes' as a noun and punctuate so as to have three distinct designations of him who makes God known...[the three distinct designations are 'monogenes,' the word for 'God,' and the words for 'the One being in the bosom of the Father']." George R. Beasley-Murray ("John" [Word, Inc., 1987] page 2) translates, "God no one has ever seen. The only Son, by nature God...."))]] God who is in the bosom ["In the bosom of" is a Hebrew idiom expressing the intimate relationship of child and parent, and of friend and friend (cf. [John] 13:23)" (R. V. G. Tasker, "Gospel According to St. John" [Eerdmans, 1969], page 49).] of the Father, He has explained Him." [["has made him known" NIV; "has revealed him" New American Bible. The Lord Jesus Christ (God the Son) was the perfect Person to reveal/make known God the Father (and the triune God). He was/is deity with the Father; He became a man (the God-man), which permitted Him to dwell with men and communicate with mankind in their dimension; He was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit; He had the same attitudes, motives, and priorities as the Father, and He spoke the words that the Father wanted Him to speak and did the works the Father wanted Him to do (cf. e.g., John 5:19; 10:37, 38; 12:49; and 14:8-10).]]


Colossians 1:9-14, which are important verses on holiness and victory over sin and the kingdom of Satan, are discussed on pages 146-151 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ."

(15) [Many believe the apostle Paul was quoting a hymn that was already known in the Christian church in verses 15-20.] "He [literally, "who" (referring to Christ Jesus)] is the image of the invisible God [["...Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4); "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature..." (Heb. 1:3); "Phillip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Phillip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; How can you say, "Show us the Father"? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves' " (John 14:8-11).

Orthodox Christianity (based on what the Bible teaches) has always recognized that God the Son is not the same Person as God the Father (the Father sent His Son [His Son who always existed with Him and the Holy Spirit] into the world; the Son talks to the Father and about the Father, and vice versa; the Son went back to the Father and sits at His right hand; both Persons are on the throne in new Jerusalem; etc.), but the two Persons (three Persons with the Holy Spirit; one God, three Persons, the Trinity) are united in a way that it would not be biblical or accurate to speak of three Gods (one God, three Persons, with each Person having His role).

((I had a three-paragraph footnote: When the Old Testament spoke of God being "one," as it did, for example, in Deut. 6:4, "Hear, O Israel! the LORD [Yahweh] is our God, the LORD [Yahweh] is one!" there was no contradiction with the subsequent revelation regarding the three Persons of the Trinity. As the margin of the NIV shows, the last words of this verse could also be translated, "The LORD alone." The NRSV has, "Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone"; the NAB is essentially the same, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone"; and the Amplified Bible is similar, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord - the only Lord."

We will continue this three paragraph footnote under Col. 1:15 in Part 3 of this paper.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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