Context, Conclusion and Bibliography for Isaiah 6

Names of Isaiah’s Children and Future Hope

It is important to scan the immediate context right after Isaiah six also to gain even more understanding of this chapter. Along with the foretelling of future prophecies, Isaiah also forthtold and preached about the past and of God’s already established Word. Isaiah seven begins a narrative, where Isaiah acts upon God’s calling. Isaiah is told to visit King Ahaz and speak against him. For King Ahaz trusted in man, worse is the fact that King Ahaz refused Isaiah’s warnings.

In this story Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, is mentioned. His name signifies "the remnant shall return.” Shear-jashub went with Isaiah to visit Ahaz. For Ahaz the name of Isaiah’s son would have meant that the threat in Judah would be reduced to a remnant and that small remnant would eventually leave and ‘return home.’ But in the much larger picture, Shear-jashub was meant to convey the promise of a remnant returning to Israel out of captivity.[1]

Later in chapter seven, verse fourteen there is the infamous mention of Isaiah’s second son, “Immanuel.” The name means “God with us.” This verse is used out of context a lot in order to refer to Christ. While it does seem to have a double Christological meaning this is not what Isaiah originally was speaking of. The meaning is not “God (Jesus) is with us,” rather “God with us.”[2] During the Assyrian conquest, God was with Judah.[3] Hezekiah had trusted God and God protected Jerusalem. The verse reads in English “a virgin” will give the birth of Immanuel. In Hebrew the word simply means, “young woman.”[4] This is not the same as the virgin (woman who has never had intercourse) – Mary- giving birth to Christ. This is a different word completely.

Isaiah’s third child was also a sign. His name was “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:3). It signified “Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey” as Isaiah eight verse one clarifies. Similarly to “God with us,” The child’s named was referring to the Assyrian threat. They would soon (swiftly) be gone and destroyed. For the Angel of the Lord would destroy them.

Isaiah 6 in New Testament

Isaiah chapter six has even more meaning when examined within the broad context of the entire book of Isaiah as a whole. (This paper will not examine that full context.) Isaiah’s call to become a prophet is an essential to all of that follows in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah continues his story narrative. The teaching and foretelling of Isaiah builds on the actual history that takes place. A simple example is that of the naming of his sons, as mentioned above. God told Isaiah to name his sons those particular names for those particular reasons!

Also, as mentioned above Isaiah is one of the most quoted books from the Old Testament into the New Testament with sixty-six direct quotations and nineteen allusions to Isaiah.[5] (Again, this paper will be unable to examine all of the references and contexts of Isaiah in the New Testament.)

One of the most famous quotations from Isaiah six in the New Testament is that of Mark chapter four, where Jesus is speaking. Jesus was teaching parables and the disciples asked him what the purposes of these parables were. Jesus quotes Isaiah six , verse nine. Jesus says basically that the Pharisees have hardened their hearts and cannot understand the parables.[6] In fact, Jesus tells the disciples that the parables are intentionally ‘mysterious” to those outside (Pharisees, etc) “in order that” they may not understand.[7] Those who are not willing to repent will not be forgiven. This is a universal truth from Isaiah that applies in the New Testament and even in modern day.

Imagine for a second, Jesus probably felt like Isaiah, teaching things directly to people who were hearing but not understanding and seeing but not perceiving. Even the disciples themselves did not understand completely. Jesus had an amazing understanding of the Old Testament. He dedicated a lot of His time to understanding it.

Conclusion and Application for Today

Starting with the more obvious things, Isaiah teaches that sin has consequences. God is displayed as Holy. God is Holy. This has not changed. God is Holy and cannot have anything to do with sin. Sin is rebellion against God. If man hardens their hearts against God in rebellion. God will continue to harden man’s heart. He is Holy and cannot put up with man’s sin. Not only will God continue to harden man’s heart in the direction of rebellion, but also He must deal with this sin in judgment and punishment. However if man repents of this sin and rebellion, God is there to accept man. God desires to see man repent! Isaiah himself is the model for Israel to repent. Few men followed this model. Hezekiah was one who did and God temporary secured Jerusalem from Judgment because of Hezekiah and Isaiah’s faiths. Although later Babylonian and Roman judgment would follow because men continued to reject God. God is Sovereign, Holy and Good.

When one has tasted redemption and holiness, it is his duty to carry the word of God to the people around who have ears but do not ear, and have eyes but do not see. As mentioned above the inability of people to move from perception to comprehension exists today, also. The call of Isaiah to preach this message exists today, except for modern Christians; this message is in a new light: The light of Jesus Christ. Our message of sin and rebellion is followed with the hope of salvation in Christ, not in being the remnant of Israel, but the remnant of Heaven.


Constable, Thomas. “Notes on Isaiah.” Sonic Light, 2008.


Copeland, Mark. Ministering Spirits.(2006.) Retreived from
http://www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/angel/angel_04.htm on 2/13/09.

Evans, Craig. Isa. 6:9-13 in the context of Isaiah’s Theology. JETS 29/2 (June 1986)

Evans, Craig. The Function of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mark and John. Novum
Tcstamentum XXIV, 2 (1982)

Gill, John. John Gill exposition of the Bible. Public Domain. 1809.

Harvey, Barry. On Seeing: Isaiah 6:1-12 Review and Expositor, 97 (2000).

Hendriksen, William and Kistemaker, Simon. Baker’s New Testament Commentary, 12
Volume. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Publishing Group. 2001.

Henry, M. Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged
in one volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996.


SIX HOMILIES ON ISAIAH 6. St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 47:3-4 (2003) 307-22

6.2 (1993) 207-22

Kirby, Peter. "Ascension of Isaiah." Early Christian Writings. 2006. 2 Feb. 2006

Hebrew Union College Annual, 1954

LOVE, JULIAN. The Call of Isaiah: An Exposition of Isaiah 6 Interpretation magazine,

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 3, “Isaiah,” Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville,

TN 1982, p. 185.

New American Standard Bible (NASB). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

Ortlund, Raymond C., Jr. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Preaching the Word series.

Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Books, 2005.

STEINMETZ, David. John Calvin on Isaiah 6: A Problem in the History of Exegesis. The
Divinity School Duke University

Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville:
Thomas Nelson, 1995.

The NET Bible, New English Translation Bible (1996).

The New International Version Bible (NIV), International Bible Society, 1984.

Dillard, Raymond B., and Longman, Tremper III. An Introduction to the Old Testament

(2nd ed.) Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. ISBN: 9780310263417.

Klein, William, Blomberg, Craig, and Hubbard Jr, Robert. Introduction to Biblical
Dallas, Tx : Word Publishing, 1993.

[1] Evans. Isa. 6:9-13 in the context of Isaiah’s Theology

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Strong.

[5] McGee.

[6] Hendriksen, William and Kistemaker, Simon. Baker’s New Testament Commentary

[7] Evans. The Function of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mark and John


Literary and Theological treatment of Isaiah 6

The Holiness of a Sovereign God

The Holy Lord upon His throne

Isaiah was able to peak into the throne of God! There is debate by scholars as to what temple Isaiah is referring to. Was Isaiah in an actual temple while this vision is occurring or is this literally the temple of God in Isaiah’s vision? If he was in a temple, does that mean he is already a priest before this episode? Also more questions come up. Is Uzziah’s death significant to the question of the temple and of Isaiah’s becoming a prophet? For example, Calvin explains that Isaiah was a prophet before this vision. In Isaiah 6 he is in an earthly temple, as prophets are allowed to be. Accordingly, the passage is not a call to ministry, rather Isaiah was so over-whelmed by this event he wrote about it.[1]

Other theories suggest that Isaiah was a ministering priest during Uzziah’s reign and that there was a ‘curse’ of sorts on Judah until his passing. Once Uzziah died, then Isaiah was more able to minister.[2] There are a lot of assumptions to these arguments and it may be best to use common sense when reading and interpreting this verse, instead of holding so many assumptions that do not have much evidence. The best most natural understanding is that Isaiah’s vision takes place in Heaven, not an earthly temple and that it is Isaiah’s call to ministry. If Isaiah is already in an earthly temple while this vision is occurring than that would add to the emphasis of the vision, but this is more unlikely.[3]

Peaking into the throne of Heaven, Isaiah sees some amazing and glorious things. The Hebrew word for Lord is “Adonay” which translates to “Sovereign Master.”[4] There are no English equivalents (or even Hebrew words) that suffice in explaining the word “glory” in verse three. It is almost impossible to imagine the splendor of the King on His throne! It is indescribable. The temple is trembling, the angels are worshiping, smoke is rising, and just the train or the hem of His [Almighty’s] robe fills the entire room with glory! Isaiah makes no mention of seeing anything else, no face or body part, but just the hem of His robe is so holy and glorious!

The Heavenly Seraphim around His throne

An interesting note about the differences between Seraphim (singular is ‘Seraph’) in Isaiah six and Cherubim mentioned in other places. The Seraphim serve as the caretakers of God's throne and continuously sing praises[5]: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. All the earth is filled with His Glory."[6] The term ‘Seraphim’ means "the burning ones." This is reflective of God’s glory. They have six wings. Two wings cover their face, two cover their feet, and two are used to fly. The Cherubim (singular "Cherub") are the guardians of light and of the stars.[7] They have four faces: one of each a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. The ox-face is considered the "true face" in Ezekiel chapter ten[8]. Cherubim have four conjoined wings covered with eyes, and they have ox's feet.

It is quite necessary that the Seraphim cover their eyes and face. The glory and light of God’s glory is so bright, the angels are protecting themselves. They could not successfully see God if they tried. They are covering their legs and feet demonstrating humility and their proper place subordinate to God. The last two wings for flying are also necessary so that the angels can physically fly near God and worship Him.[9] The Seraphim were designed purposefully by God in this way.

The Seraphim describe God as “Holy, Holy, Holy.” This is the only attribute of God in the third degree. It is not a mere attribute of God, but rather it is the essence of God. He is Holy![10][11] He can have nothing to do with anything that is not Holy.[12] God desires to see Israel become holy again. This is why it is absolute that God punishes Israel. Also the awesome Holiness of God is what breaks Isaiah down immediately, “Woe is me.”

The depravity of a sinful man

The Unclean Lips of the Prophet

An interesting observation is noted that the first pronouncement Isaiah makes even before being commissioned as a prophet is not against any nation or even against Israel, but is against himself. In verse five, Isaiah, in the presence of the Lord realizes that he is a sinful man and unworthy. He cries out, “Woe is me.” Gill acknowledges that “There's no woe to a good man, all woes are to the wicked…”[13] Isaiah is admitting that he is nothing more than a sinful, imperfect man.

This is the first shift in the story. Isaiah had been writing about God and His holiness. Isaiah enters the vision and immediately compares himself to the holiness of God. Isaiah uses both repetition and cause and effect to make his point clear. First, “woe is me.” Second, “I am ruined.” Thirdly, “my lips are unclean!” The cause is “woe is me…I am unclean.” The effect, “woe is me…I am ruined!” I am in the sight of the Lord and I am unclean, this cannot be good! The key to this verse is that Isaiah admits his sin.

Some scholars contend that Isaiah’s continual mention of “lips” in particular is because he struggled with sins dealing with lips, like foul mouth, gossip, etc. It is best to assume that Isaiah is speaking of being “unholy” and “unclean” in a general sense. The context gives no further knowledge regarding the particular sins.[14]

The Unclean people around the prophet

Realize for a moment that Isaiah acknowledged his own uncleanness first. He did not blame others or even begin by mentioning how unclean the entire nation was, but instead he dealt with his own sin first. Second recognize that Isaiah groups himself in with the unclean people. He understood that he was not exempt or special, he belong with the other sinful people. Isaiah really molds the correct attitude and actions for Israel and the future remnant of Israel.[15] If any of these unclean people repent as Isaiah did, they shall be forgiven and cleansed as Isaiah also.

The purification of a penitent prophet

A Seraph then comes over to Isaiah, after he admits his sin, with a hot coal pulled with tongs from the alter. Next the act of touching the coal to Isaiah’s mouth and lips is the turning point of this story. This act is significant in many ways. First it is important to identify what this means. This act is a cleansing not a punishment. God has heard Isaiah’s repentance and not only forgives but cleanses him of his “unclean lips” and sins. The coal had come from the alter, a place of sacrifice and atonement and forgiveness. The Seraph used tongs to pick up the coal not only because it was hot, but it was a ‘holy thing.’[16] “It does not hurt him [Isaiah], it heals him."[17] God cleanses Isaiah.

Also this event is significant because it reveals the character of God. God heard Isaiah’s plea. Isaiah admitted his sin and God forgave. God desires to forgive. God wants to save and redeem His children and the rest of Israel. But also God is holy. God will forgive when Israel repents. If they do not repent they will be purged. God will cleanse them the “hard way.” Third, this event is the turning point of Isaiah and the story. He has been made right and clean, now he is ready to serve. Finally, in a way the purification of Isaiah foreshadows the purification of Israel. Although Israel could have been purified and cleansed like Isaiah the “easy way” had they repented. They did not repent. Just as God purified Isaiah, God will still purify and purge Israel. God is Holy.

The commission of a sanctified prophet

The Submission of the consecrated prophet

The final shift in Isaiah six is a dialogue between God and Isaiah. Isaiah saw God in His holiness and majesty in the first section. The second section Isaiah entered the story and was cleansed. In the last section Isaiah is given a task by God. God asks who He should send, Isaiah responds saying, “Here am I. Send me!” Then God explains the details of Isaiah’s task and Isaiah asks God how long must he preach. God then responds. There are many comparisons to Israel’s desolation and the cutting and burning of the oak tree. Also an interesting compare and contrast observation is noting that verse one starts the chapter referring to a death, while verse thirteen the last verse, ends with seed of life.

After Isaiah is cleansed, God asks “whom shall I send and who shall go for Us?” Isaiah replies, “Here am I. Send me!” Note the balance between God’s sovereignty and human will and choice. [18] God needs and will send someone, but that someone needed to be willing to go. Another example, Isaiah repented, but God did the cleansing. There is this constant balance between these two factors.

Another note from this verse is the use of repetition. God asks in two ways, “who shall I send” and again “who will go for Us?” Then Isaiah responds similarly, “Here am I” and “Send me.” The repetition stresses both the importance of God’s sovereignty in the call and man’s choice in response. Both the question and answer were serious and not fickle.

The use of singular and plural forms of God in verse eight brings up a curious question. Is this a verse proving the “”Trinity” or is God is referring to Himself and the “angelic host community?” Many scholars decide on the latter because Septuagint and Arabic versions for this verse read, “unto this people.” This phrase possibly refers to the “angelic” people.

Other scholars use this verse to support the Trinity. The singular speaker, God, refers to Himself in plural. Logically, that would seem to refer to the Trinity. The original writer, Isaiah, would not have been familiar with any Trinitarian concept. Although Isaiah did not originally directly give this meaning to this verse, upon further study of God in Genesis and with evidence of other “Trinitarian” scripture, it is still a valid second meaning.

The Message of the sent prophet

The rest of this section, God lays out the details of Isaiah’s mission. God tells Isaiah what he is to say and what will become of the people. God told Isaiah that the people would keep listening but not understand. They would keep looking but not perceive. God hardened their hearts in response to their own hardening of their hearts. Instead of repenting, like Isaiah, the people of Israel hardened their hearts. Isaiah was to preach until they would “return and be healed.” Although it is clear, this is not going to happen.

God was going to punish an unrepentant nation. Although God used other nations (Assyria, Babylon, and Rome) to do his work, He claims the work of punishment. A remnant would be saved through which the seed of salvation was to be brought into the world. As history proves, God would have mercy and bring some of the Jews in Diaspora (because of the Babylonian conquer)[19] back from their captivity to live in the land of promise again. This is the meaning of the Lord removing men far away in verse twelve.

Upon this depressing news, Isaiah asks, “how long [shall I preach]?” If it were already not bad enough, Isaiah receives the devastating answer that he must continue on his course until all the cities of Judah are laid waste without inhabitant. So in other words, Isaiah is to preach until the full judgment of God is completed. This leaves many questions about what God’s judgment looks like, why God would do such a thing, and about remnant theories especially in relation to the seed and hope of verse thirteen.

What will God’s judgment look like? It is clear that God will destroy all of Judah according to verse eleven. While some scholars want to change the meaning, it is not possible. God did not want to have anything to do with the survivors living in Judah after the Babylonian conquer. God wanted to bring back the captive, authentic Jews and save them.[20] They are God’s true remnant not the survivors in Jerusalem.

Why did God allow for this kind of punishment? Why did God allow for total destruction? Why is Isaiah to preach that Judah cannot believe? Is this productive to God’s purposes and will? The people of Judah refused God. They hardened their hearts. God is holy and cannot have anything to do with these sinful, stubborn people who refuse Him. Yes, this fits God’s plan and purposes. An observation of verse ten is the structure. It is in the form of a Jewish poem. The form for such a poem is A, B, C, C, B, A. A is for the heart, B is for the ears, and C is for the eyes.

Tree Metaphor

Finally, the chapter ends on the note of hope. What exactly is the “tenth” referring to? Some scholars originally thought this was referring to the number of kings (ten) before being completely destroyed and ruined by Babylon.[21] But upon further study of history, it is believed that literary only one out of ten Jews would return from Babylonian captivity. It is possible that only one out of ten would return from not only Babylonian captivity but Roman captivity (much later) in history. Although, Roman attack could also be the “burning.” In any case, there is still a remnant, a stump, this “holy seed” who will survive all the enemies.

The NIV translation is a much clearer reading, “And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” [22] The land will again be laid waste, by the Romans. The analogy is beautiful one because despite Babylonian and Roman conquers, God still allows a stump. The holy seed is the stump. Holy seed refers to the righteous Jewish offspring who remain faithful to God.[23] Isaiah continues talking about this future hope and judgments from both Babylon and Rome through-out the rest of Isaiah. Isaiah is able to see very far into the future as God provides him with prophecies.

[1] Steinmetz. John Calvin on Isaiah 6

[2] Ibid.

[3] Love. The Call of Isaiah

[4] Strong. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[5] Copeland. Ministering Spirits.

[6] Isaiah 6:3 NASB

[7] Copeland.

[8] Eze. 10: 12-19 NASB


[10] Lev. 11:44

[11] Love.

[12] Hab. 3:11

[13] Gill. exposition of the Bible

[14] Henry. Commentary on the Bible

[15] Harvey. On Seeing: Isaiah 6:1-12

[16] Ortlund. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners

[17] Ibid

[18] Constable. Notes on Isaiah.

[19] Longman. Pg. 311-314

[20] Ibid

[21] Gill.

[22] Isa. 6:13 NIV

[23] House.

Religious pluralism in the United States Armed Forces

Religious pluralism in the United States Armed Forces is an essential element to Constitutional Religious Freedom. “Pluralism” is a thorny, fully-loaded, jam-packed word. In its most basic form, pluralism is, “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.[1]” Specific to “religious pluralism,” what it boils down to is the mutual respect, understanding and freedom to express any religious view freely within the community of people. I say “community of people” because the United States Armed Forces believes in and enforces religious pluralism beyond the bounds of a geographic region. Since members of the US Armed Forces are not always in the USA, I changed the terminology from “within a region” to “a community of people,” wherever they might be, in America or fighting a war in the Middle East the policy applies. No matter where the Armed Forces go, the policy of religious pluralism goes with them.

The topic of religious pluralism is tricky for a number of reasons, yet it is also necessary for a number of reasons. Religious pluralism can be over defined and over examined. One of the overkill definitions for the term is “living among others with different religious views and adapting their practices.” Basically a blending of beliefs or “syncretism.” Syncretism is, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.[2]

Christian thinkers, as well as thinkers of other faiths, challenge this kind of pluralism. It is one thing to “co-exist” peacefully by respecting and allowing participation from all religions but it is quite another thing to adapt, blend and participate in all religions. It is honestly contradictory and actually disrespects all religions when the definition of tolerance equates to syncretism. This is because not all religions are true and equal. Not every tenant, fact and belief of all of the major religions (and minor cults) can possibly be true because there would be so many contradictions. They are not all flexible enough to co-operate even theologically. One religion says one thing about God, while another says something entirely in opposition. It is not fair to put all religions into one basket and agree with all of them equally. Something has to give. Not all roads lead to Heaven.

This idea of syncretism for all religions has been spurred on by liberalism in the past century, especially in Europe and in America. The post-modernism movement has changed the definition of respect and tolerance to mean co-operation and participation. Here is an example of the post-modern liberalism. This is the mission statement of the “Universal Life Church”: “Universal Life Church is the only interfaith ministry worldwide that opens its doors to all who seek to become an ordained minister or wedding officiate. We enable all faiths; Christians, Jew, Mormon, Pagan, Baptists and Atheist to join our church. We are a non-denominational congregation of children from the same universe. We need you.[3]” (Simply Disturbing!!).

Fortunately this is not the line the Armed Forces are holding. They believe in religious pluralism but only at the basic level, not the extreme view of syncretism, as described above. The US Armed Forces offers religious pluralism so that they can offer all soldiers serving in the military the same Constitutional liberty of religious freedom civilians enjoy. This is to say that all soldiers in the military are free to participate in any religion they choose, but they do not have to participate in all and/or any. The line of thought comes from the US Constitution and the history of our nation. We moved to found this country because we wanted political and religious reform and liberties. We wanted freedom from the forced (and corrupt) Roman Catholic faith and British monarchy.

This is where the chaplain comes into play. In order to offer all military men fair and equal religious freedoms, the Armed Forces have two options (all or nothing): eliminate all chaplains from serving all together and make soldiers fend for themselves spiritually or bring in chaplains who represent all faith groups and also require all chaplains, despite their own faith group, to serve all soldiers of all faith groups. Pentagon policy acknowledges that these days Americans practice a wider variety of religions than ever before. Prior to becoming an Army chaplain, a candidate must certify that he or she is “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members, and civilians who work for the Army.”[4]

While the Army is vague on its exact definition of ‘pluralism’, it does provide some conceptual guidance. A requirement of entry to the Army Chaplain Corps is a signed Memorandum for Record (MFR) that reads in part,

While remaining faithful to my denominational beliefs and practices, I understand that, as a chaplain [or chaplain candidate], I must be sensitive to religious pluralism and will provide for the free exercise of religion by military personnel, their families, and other authorized personnel served by the Army. I further understand that, while the Army places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions, accommodation is based on military need and cannot be guaranteed at all times and in all places.

I also recognize the importance of a diverse Army Chaplaincy representing all faiths, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. I fully support the diversity of the Corps that enables the branch to minister to the plurality of America’s Soldier [5]

In addition to the MFR for entry, Army Regulation 165-1, 3-3a states, “The Army recognizes that religion is constitutionally protected and does not favor one form of religious expression over another. Accordingly, all religious denominations are viewed as distinctive faith groups and all soldiers are entitled to chaplain services and support.[6]” And the chaplain is required under 4-4b of the same regulation to, “...minister to the personnel of the unit and facilitate the ‘free-exercise’ rights of all personnel, regardless of religious affiliation of either the chaplain or the unit member.[7] And the The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution AKA the Bill of Rights. reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances[8]."

The question on pluralism comes down to “how far do we take it?” This question comes into play for all angles of the debate….how far should a chaplain go out of his way to serve soldiers of other faith groups? Will/should he be forced to deny the values of his own religion and his own religious freedom?....how far should a chaplain go in serving the nation? Should he sacrifice the Lordship of Christ by valuing the nation and the soldiers over Jesus Christ? …How far should the commanding officers go in enforcing and allowing the chaplains to also have religious liberties? ….should a chaplain be able to evangelize? Should a chaplain be forced to be marginalized to merely be an administrative officer instead of a spiritual health advocate? How far does the military take pluralism? How are all religions treated? Equally and separate? As one spiritual mess? Or how?

The Armed Forces in America play it safe and smart. They treat all religions equally. They allow chaplains to specialize and branch out to people of their faith, but they must be willing to work with people of other faith groups and serve them equally when opportunity rises. The armed forced do not require a Baptist to lead a worship serve with Muslims to Allah, but the armed forces also do not allow proselytizing either. The Armed Forces on a whole cannot show favor to any one religion or denomination. All must be equal for their system to work. These are controls that would not work in civilian life, but this is not civilian life, this is a government-run job paid with tax-payer money! For example, Rabbi Max Wall recalls learning from Roman Catholic chaplains at Chaplain School the Roman Catholic final prayer in case he needed to minster to a dying Roman Catholic during WWII.[9]

Chaplain Joseph F. O’Donnell, C.S.C writes, “As a chaplain, I must realize that no matter how firm I feel about my own approach to God, I cannot have the last word for anyone else.” There is some rich meat here. No matter how zealous we are for our faith and for evangelism, still the other person must make his own decision on matters of faith. Let the soldiers come to you. Let the Holy Spirit work. Keep them in prayer!

What about the “serving two masters: God and the state” argument that we should not have taxpayer-funded chaplains in the military or anywhere else.” He objects, “As a Protestant,” to “tax dollars being paid to a Roman Catholic priest to conduct mass in an army barracks, a naval vessel, or a military chapel.” He adds, “Jews, Muslims, Mormons, agnostics, and atheists – if they are really serious about their religion or non-religion – should be in opposition also.”

From a biblical standpoint, are Christians prohibited from military service? No. John the Baptist told soldiers “not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). In Matthew 8:5-13 when a soldier approached him for healing, the Lord did not rebuke his military service. The Apostle Paul notes the “governing authorities” exist “from God” and “have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). St. Paul adds, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad…. for he is God’s servant for your good…. for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:3-4). The sword includes not only the power to carry out capital punishment, but also the authority to carry out war. [10]

My final word of thought on this topic comes from 1 Cor. 9:19-23 where Paul writes out his strategy of becoming all things to all people. We live in a culture of war. As Americans fighting against terror, our nation needs chaplains. The soldiers need Jesus too!

What is a military chaplain but a minister who becomes a soldier that he might win soldiers? To understand and minister to soldiers, the chaplain must become one of them. Isn’t that what Christ did in the incarnation, become one of us? As John 1:14 declares, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Therefore, Christ and Paul are our great examples for a Christian in the ministry of the military chaplain. We might be displaying and living out the only characteristics of Jesus that some of the soldiers have ever seen. [11]

In this sense, the U.S. military is both a congregation and a mission field that requires many well-trained workers to meet the needs it presents. The First Amendment allows Christians to minister in the military. However, we also have to accept that this same amendment also allows other religions and cults to enter. We must recognize that if we are there, others will be there too. How should we respond to this reality? Here are some suggestions for assisting Christian chaplains and military personnel to deal with the pluralistic environment in which they work.

The U.S. Military Chaplaincy has been around as long as our country, and it has grown to reflect the religious makeup of our country. The First Amendment, the foundation of the chaplaincy, cuts both ways: while the Christian faith is well represented in the military, other religions and cults are as well. The answer to this problem isn’t withdrawal from the military or complaining about the military and chaplains, but embracing the fact that the military needs good ministers of the gospel. Only if we as a Church educate our people in doctrine and discernment, send qualified ministers into the military, and train our young people who enlist in the military to be spiritually mature will we effectively counter the non-Christian influences present in the military.

My P.S. note is this: (I am not sure if it is sort of a prophecy or Satan trying to get to me or a lucid imagination or what…)

I have been having dreams or visions of me becoming a chaplain and then getting kicked out for being more faithful to Jesus then to Army. I imagine then to “live is Christ and to die is gain.” I think that me being kicked out for evangelizing my faith over-zealously is “for the glory of Christ” and that it is a witness for Christ. If a situation came up where my religious values where at odds with what the commanding officer asks, I honestly would choose the former. I am not saying that now I plan on or desire to get kicked out of the Army for the glory of God but I am honestly dealing with the issues of this paper in my own mind and in real life I have not even decided to join! Any thoughts/advise?


Bergen, Doris L, E, The Sword of The Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty

First Century. Notre Dame, In: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009.

Malin, Don. “Military Chaplains and Religious Pluralism” http://www.wfial.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=artGeneral.article_6

Galyon, James. “military chaplaincy.”(2010). http://drjamesgalyon.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/military-chaplaincy/#comment-4074

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “pluralism,” http://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/pluralism accessed April 15, 2010.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “syncretism,” http://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/syncretism accessed April 15, 2010.

Navy Chaplain Discharged After Prayer Fight. Church & State; Apr2007, Vol. 60 Issue 4, p3-3, 1/5p

Blackwell, Steve CH (CPT). 2008 Sample MFR.

Headquarters of the Department of the Army. 2004. Army Regulation 165-1: Chaplain Activities
in the United States Army (March, 25). By Order of the Secretary of the Army, Peter J. Schoomaker.

The Constitution of the United States," Amendment 1

[1] Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “pluralism,” http://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/pluralism (accessed April 15, 2010.)

[2] Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “syncretism,” http://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/syncretism (accessed April 15, 2010.)

[4] Navy Chaplain Discharged After Prayer Fight.(Church & State; Apr2007, Vol. 60 Issue 4), p3-3, 1/5p

[5] Steve Blackwell, CH (CPT). 2008 Sample MFR.

[6] Headquarters of the Department of the Army. 2004. Army Regulation 165-1: Chaplain Activities
in the United States Army (March, 25). By Order of the Secretary of the Army, Peter J.

[7] Ibid

[8] The Constitution of the United States," Amendment 1

[9] Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First
Century. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004.), 190.

[11]Don Malin. “Military Chaplains and Religious Pluralism” http://www.wfial.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=artGeneral.article_6