Q&A: Biblical Reliability and Hebrews 6:4-8

This article was originally posted at https://bellatorchristi.com/2018/03/05/qa-biblical-reliability-and-hebrews-64-6/ Please go there to leave any comments or questions.

By: Brian G. Chilton | March 5, 2018.

The following is a question submitted to Bellator Christi.com. If you would like to submit a question, fill out the form at https://bellatorchristi.com/submit-a-question-to-bellator-christi/ and your question may be featured on a future article or podcast.


Dear Brian,

“I have a question that has been deeply troubling me for a while now, and I would like to ask someone with a better understanding of God and the Bible. I read on crossexamined.org that when you were “called into the gospel ministry at 16 years of age” but “left the faith in 2000 due to personal issues and doubts that he had pertaining to the reliability of the faith”. You also said that you “did not completely become an atheist, [but you] did become what [you call] a “theist-leaning-agnostic”. The link to the article I am quoting is https://crossexamined.org/7-reasons-came-back-christian-faith/ . This spoke directly to me because I found myself in a similar situation recently. You see, I was having a lot of doubt about the reliability of the Gospels (mainly, I was concerned that they could have been a myth) and for a couple of days, I called myself an agnostic (I said things along the lines of “I can’t know whether or not the Bible is true!” and “I don’t trust the Bible!” even though I desperately wanted to believe that Christianity was true). After I found that there was a book that dealt with this specific doubt, I immediately wanted to call myself a Christian again. Then I read Hebrews 6:4-6, however, I became afraid that this is impossible. Could you please explain to me the meaning of this passage and tell me whether or not you dealt with this specific problem and, if you did, how?”




Thank you for your question. I would like to respond to your question in two parts. First, you are correct. I was in the camp of a theist-leaning-agnostic for some time. I was negatively impacted by the work of the Jesus Seminar, particularly their book The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. Most troubling was the fact that no one could seem to offer a reasonable response to the Seminar’s charges.

However, I later came to realize that there was good historical basis for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. Many documents outside the Bible (both from the Christian community and the non-Christian community) verify the core details of Jesus’s life. Liberty University professor extraordinaire Gary Habermas has argued that five minimal facts of Jesus’s life can be proven: 1) Jesus died by crucifixion (verified by i) Josephus, Jewish Historian Antiquities 18, chapter 3; ii) Tacitus, Roman Historian Annals 15.44; iii) Lucian of Samsota, Greek satirical writer, The Works of Lucian, Vol. IV “The Death of Peregrin” (scroll down to 11); iv) Mara Bar-Serapion, A Letter of Mara, Son of Serapion (scroll down to just after footnote 19); v) and the Talmud); 2) the disciples had real experiences with whom they though was the risen Jesus; 3) the lives of the apostles were radically transformed; 4) the core gospel message was taught very early after Jesus’s crucifixion; 5) and that James and Paul were radically transformed after Jesus’s resurrection even though they were formerly skeptics.

From there, I learned that due to the over 24,000 documents of the NT, with over 5,000 of them dating between the first three centuries, and numerous citations from early Christian writers, the NT can be verified with a certainty greater than 99.5%. Couple this with notion that the church had no power to gain, no money to make, and advocated sexual purity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage in lieu of the fact that these devout Jewish believers would leave behind certain aspects of their former way of living, there are no reasons why the early church would want to make this stuff up. They literally had nothing to gain on this side of eternity. So, in my opinion, the evidence is clear cut. The NT is reliable.

Second, you mentioned some confusion over Hebrews 6:4-6. Let me first quote the passage before engaging it. The writer of Hebrews notes that “it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away. This is because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6, CSB).

The writer of Hebrews is directing this letter to Jewish Christians who are thinking about adopting their former ways of life within Judaism. They were not necessarily going to reject Christ. Rather, they were tempted to add regulations to their own Christian beliefs. Others may have been tempted to reject their faith altogether. There are at least four interpretations to these verses as they are quite controversial.

1. The fallen were disingenuous Christians who had rejected Jesus and reverted to Judaism.

2. The fallen were individuals who had heard the gospel but had not become true believers.

3. The fallen were those who were not progressing towards maturity, addressing sanctification rather than justification.

4. The fallen teaching is a rhetorical device describing the possibility rather than the reality. 

The first interpretation does not seem to hold because of the confidence that the writer holds in salvation (Heb. 6:9). The second likewise does not seem to hold because the language of “those who were once enlightened” indicates those who were saved. Likewise, the third does not hold because the writer is describing the salvific experience. Therefore, of the views presented, it seems like the writer of Hebrews is using a rhetorical device as he describes a possible scenario, but not one found in reality. The writer of Hebrews, whomever it was, was a person of great intellectual prowess. In the end, Hebrews is actually arguing for a person’s assurance of salvation. Just as it would be impossible for a person to recrucify Christ, it is impossible to “renew to repentance those who were once enlightened” because the person has already been enlightened.

To summarize, Rachel, I would say that if you placed your faith and trust in Christ and have received his salvation, making him the Lord of your life, then you are saved. We all have moments of doubt, even John the Baptist did (Matt. 11:3). But, Christ will take us, doubts and all, and shape us into the person he wants us to be by his marvelous grace. Rest in his assurance and find peace in his promises.




Brian G. Chilton

About the Author

Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian is full member of the International Society of Christian Apologetics and the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as the pastor of Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.


© 2018. BellatorChristi.com.


Are Religious Discussions Important?

This article was originally posted at https://bellatorchristi.com. Please go to https://bellatorchristi.com/2018/01/29/are-religious-discussions-important/ to leave a comment.

By: Brian G. Chilton | January 29, 2018

An old adage claims that the two worst conversations to have with a person involve religion and politics. Since people hold deep emotional feelings pertaining to these two issues, the logic of the cliché claims that the two topics must be avoided. However, these two topics are arguably the most important topics that one could discuss. I will leave the issue of politics with the pundits. Nevertheless, political policy affects everyone in the nation to which it is given. On a larger scale, religion is an issue that deals with life’s most important questions. Does God exist? Is there an afterlife? How does one get to heaven? Did Jesus of Nazareth exist? Did Jesus rise from the dead on Easter Sunday?

I have heard people make the claim that religious conversations should be avoided because they are worthless. Statements such as “All people want to do when talking religion is to force their opinions on others” indicate a disdain for the topic. For some, it could include a disregard for religion itself. So, is the discussion of religion important? Let’s consider three aspects that religion covers.

1. Religious conversations are important as they discuss critical shapers of a worldview.

Why does it matter what a person believes, that is, accepts as truth? It actually matters a great deal. Everyone has a religion of some sort. The person’s religion may or may not be part of an organized religious system of thought. But, the person still has a religion because the term religion is understood as a systematized, personal belief. How one views God, the world, and humanity becomes part of that person’s religious belief. These beliefs are actually shapers of the person’s worldview.

Individuals have been moved to do great good by their religious beliefs. Countless individuals have given of themselves, sometimes even their lives, to serve other people because of their belief that God loves all people and wants to love all people. Consider missionary Jim Elliot who gave his life to share the gospel with the Huaorani people of Ecuador. Why did he share gifts and his beliefs with the Huaorani? Because he believed that God loves everyone. Elliot’s worldview was shaped by the religious shapers of his belief system.

In stark contrast, others such as Adolf Hitler[1]—who was influenced by a bizarre conflation of New Age ideology, mixed with the beliefs of atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche[2], and the biology of Charles Darwin—and Joseph Stalin—who was influenced Karl Marx and his atheism—were led to do great harm because of their worldview. Hitler and Stalin’s worldview were shaped by their religious beliefs. Ideas truly matter!

2. Religious conversations are important as they diagnose claims of truth.

Everyone has an opinion, but is every opinion based on truth? Do we take seriously the claims of the Flat Earthers in that the world is flat, and that the population’s acceptance of a round earth is part of a greater conspiracy? It seems that there are conspiracy theories for everything nowadays. While it is important to respect each person, it is not wise to accept all opinions as truth.

Some people reject the idea of a spiritual existence beyond the scope of the body that awaits the return of Christ. However, if a person accepts the authority of the Bible and Jesus’s teachings, then it is difficult to accept his teachings to Martha after Lazarus’s death, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26a).[3] How could this be true if there is no survival of the soul after death? Or, what of Jesus’s promise to the criminal on the cross where he says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (John 11:43). If Jesus is true, then ideas of soul death or soul sleep cannot. Intellectual discussions of religious belief, when done properly, can diagnose truth claims according to theological, philosophical, historical, and biblical evidences.

3. Religious conversations are important as they dissect conversational spiritual status.

Not all religious conversations will end with good results. Nevertheless, a person can gauge one’s spiritual status during conversations of religion. I heard the story of a pastor who spoke with a young man who took a lax view of sin and theology. The pastor asked the young man if he and his girlfriend were engaged in premarital sexual relations. The young man admitted that they were. The young man’s rejection of ethical and theological standards said more about his spiritual state than the veracity of the ethical and theological truths being discussed. Religious conversations may lead to deep discussions, or it may lead to revealing spiritual conditions. If a person is found to be in a lost or spiritually weak state, one knows how to pray for the person in question.


If God exists, Jesus is risen, the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, and if salvation is found in Christ’s work on the cross; then religious discussions are the most important conversations that we can have. In the end, I really don’t think that people who accuse religion as being unimportant truly mean what they say. I feel that the people making this claim do not desire to be obtrusive or combative. However, it has been my experience that with proper training and in-depth contemplation, religious conversations do not need to be hostile or combative. Hot-button issues only become hostile if we allow it. Emotional outbursts do more to show the shallowness of a person’s worldview than to dismiss logical and evidential claims. Sometimes, all one needs to do is, as Greg Koukl suggests, leave a stone in someone’s shoe.

About the Author

Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian is full member of the International Society of Christian Apologetics and the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as the pastor of Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.


[1] See an interesting expose on Hitler’s anti-Christian sentiments at Ray Comfort, “Was Adolf Hitler a Christian?,” CBN.com, http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/churchhistory/godandhitler/.

[2] See “Michael Kalish, “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Influence on Hitler’s Mein Kampf,” UCSB.edu (2004),  http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/133p/133p04papers/MKalishNietzNazi046.htm.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2017).


© 2018. BellatorChristi.com.

Will There Only Be 144,000 People in Heaven?

From Bellator Christi.com. To respond to this article, please go to https://bellatorchristi.com/2018/01/22/will-there-only-be-144000-people-in-heaven/

By: Brian G. Chilton | January 22, 2018

Allison Mathews

At our church, we recently began a new series of messages on heaven. After the service, I received a wonderful question from one of our members, Allison Mathews. Allison said that she had heard that only 144,000 people would be in heaven, and wondered if that was true. Some groups, especially among the Jehovah Witnesses, have espoused that only a select group of individuals (that is, 144,000) throughout all of history will be in heaven. Ironically, more than 144,000 Jehovah Witnesses attend Watchtower Bible studies worldwide, so someone is in trouble. While that is said tongue-in-cheek, the number of 144,000 has brought great interest to individuals wondering whom John is referencing, and how many people will be in heaven. This article will identify the 144,000 and discuss the number of people that one can expect to find in heaven as given in the book of Revelation.

Who are the 144,000?

The concept of the 144,000 comes from Revelation 7. John mentions the 144,000 after describing the Lamb of God (i.e., Jesus) opening up a scroll of which no one else is found worthy (Rev. 5:8-14). When the Lamb opens the seven seals of the scroll, a series of judgments come from the unsealing of the scroll, including the infamous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6:1-8), a group of martyred souls awaiting their vengeance (Rev. 6:9-11), and a massive earthquake (Rev. 12:9-17).

After all these events have completed, four angels stand at the four corners of the earth (symbolically speaking), and the angels hold back the judgments until 144,000 are sealed on the earth. The 144,000 are identified in verse four as those “sealed from every tribe of the Israelites.”[1] There are two primary options for identifying this group.

Metaphorical: The number 12 is symbolic of God’s government (e.g., 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples). 12,000 x 12 = 144,000. In this case, some hold that 144,000 symbolically represents the entire church, but would not hold a precise numerical value as to the number of individuals in heaven.

Literal: In this view, the 144,000 are redeemed Israelites who are saved during the time of global tribulation after the church has been resurrected. This view is the most plausible and relates best to the text at hand. Therefore, the 144,000 are Jewish individuals who are saved during the time of tribulation and not the number of all heavenly citizens.

How Many People Will Be in Heaven?

If the 144,000 is not a representation of the number of heavenly citizens, then how many people will be in heaven? Interestingly, the number of heavenly citizens is given in the verses following the description of the 144,000. John looks and sees a “vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10).

So, how many people will be in heaven? Only God knows. It is a number greater than any person could count. The citizenship of heaven will include men and women who are white and black, Jews and Arabs, Americans and Russians, Iraqis and Iranians, North and South Americans, Africans and Asians, Europeans and Oceanians. Heavenly citizens will transcend from points across time itself! As Cordie Bridgewater poetically wrote in her classic hymn, “How beautiful heaven must be, sweet home of the happy and free; fair heaven of rest for the weary, how beautiful heaven must be.”[2]

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2017).

[2] Cordie Bridgewater, How Beautiful Heaven Must Be, https://hymnary.org/text/we_read_of_a_place_thats_called_heaven, retrieved January 22, 2018.

About the Author 

Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently a student of the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian is full member of the International Society of Christian Apologetics and the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Brian has been in the ministry for over 14 years and serves as the pastor of Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.


© 2018. BellatorChristi.com.

Who is This Babe Lying in a Manger?

Who is this babe lying in a manger? Mark Lowry famously quipped, “Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.”[1] Who is this most celebrated baby? Why all the fuss? This child was special in many ways. In fact, the Child is in fact God come to earth. How do we know this and why is this still controversial?

            I have confronted a few people who still hold to the idea that the divinity of Christ was a concept developed by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD.[2] Such an idea is not rooted in history but a false assumption based upon the edict of the Nicene Council in 325 AD to condemn the ideas of Arius and uphold the ideas of Athanasius.[3] Constantine simply ordered that the church solve the Arian controversy as it was causing great ecclesiastical problems which could cause societal fragmentation.

Arius taught that Jesus was merely a human person and the eternal God. His greatest concern “was the premise that God is an undifferentiated whole. On this basis he argued that the Logos or Son is a creature and therefore must have had a beginning.”[4] Thus, Arius held that Jesus held a position higher than humanity, but lower than God the Father.

Athanasius argued that Jesus was fully divine in all aspects. Athanasius stated that “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.”[5] By “made divine,” Athanasius was noting the relationship that humanity held with the divine, being elevated to the level of eternity and perfected in God’s sinlessness. Based upon the Scriptures, the Council declared,

But to those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation, or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a different hypostasis or ousia, or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.[6]

But what basis did the Council use to uphold Athanasius’ teaching and condemn Arius’? They used the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. How do we know this Babe lying in a manger was in fact divine?

The Divine Nature of The Babe Lying in a Manger was Prophesied.

            I recently delivered a message on Zechariah 12. I noticed something that stood out to me that had not in my previous readings. The chapter begins with the words “Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him…” (Zechariah 12:1b).[7] Throughout the chapter, first-person language is employed indicating that the speaker is referencing himself. God is the speaker and later says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). Remember, God is speaking and he uses first-person language. Thus, God is claiming that he would come to earth and would be pierced for the transgressions of mankind. John the apostle understands this prophecy to have been fulfilled in Christ when, after referring to Christ’s crucifixion, he writes, “And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Again in Revelation, this prophecy is referenced when Christ returns, stating, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Another element of Jesus’ divine nature is seen in addition to prophecy.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Professed.

Jesus himself understood himself to be divine. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who had access to the Ancient of Days[8] (see Daniel 7:10) in Mark 8:38. Again, the “I am” of Jesus indicates the knowledge that he was in fact God come in the flesh.[9] Several other passages could be offered, but space does not allow such treatment.

John the apostle clearly understood Jesus to be co-eternal with the Father when he denotes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). As C. S. Lewis notes,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[10]

Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God as he claimed a divine status. But Jesus not only claimed to be divine, he demonstrated his divine nature in another fashion.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Proven.

One of the coolest things about Jesus is the fact that he did not just say something about himself, he proved it. Jesus would prove his divine nature by the miracles that he performed (e.g., Mark 2:1-12). He proved his divine nature by casting out demons by his mere word (e.g., Luke 8:26-39). He proved his divine nature by performing supernatural works over nature (e.g., Luke 8:22-25). Jesus proved his divine nature by raising the dead (e.g., John 11:38-44). Finally, Jesus’ divine nature was proven by his own resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; and John 20:1-21:25).


This Christmas, we celebrate a most marvelous birth. It is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the Son of Almighty God. How amazing the incarnation truly is! Ponder about the amazing nature of this event. Mary would give birth to the One who gave her life. Mary would bring forth the One who would save her soul. The most powerful Being in all the universe would humble himself to be born in a humble manger.

While we often stress ourselves trying to find the perfect gift for our loved ones, it is helpful to understand that the greatest gift has already been given. The perfect gift was, is, and forever will be Jesus. This Child, as Paul notes,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

May we continue to remember, as the cliché goes, that Jesus truly is the reason for this celebratory season.

© December 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.


[1] Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Mary Did You Know, 1991.

[2] Constantine converted to Christianity. After his conversion, Constantine allowed the free exercise of Christian worship in the Roman Empire beginning in the 4th century.

[3] Saint Nicolas is said to have attended this conference. Nicolas is linked with the popular Santa Claus figure. Saint Nicolas was an ardent defender of orthodox Christianity. It is said that Nicolas smacked Arius due to his heretical concepts.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 248.

[5] Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54, in Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans. (New York: Oxford, 1969), 293.

[6] “The Creed of Nicea,” in The Creeds of the Churches, 3rd ed, John H. Leith, ed (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 31.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007).

[8] That is, God.

[9] See John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1; 18:5-6.

[10] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillian, 1943, 1952), 41.

The Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation

The Gospel of John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).[1] Incomprehensible! Often at Christmas time, we are lost in the imagery of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. One may picture angels overhead with Mary and Joseph seated near the Child, surrounding by shepherds, wisemen,[2] and onlooking animals. But does one contemplate the great complexity of it all? John notes that the eternal Word, the Logos,[3] came to earth and became a human being. God became one of us. How does one understand this complex doctrine? Early in Christian history, two schools sought to develop and understanding on how it was that God came to earth. One developed in Alexandria, Egypt, a center of high intellectualism and which housed one of the largest libraries in human history—known as the Alexandrian school. Another developed in Antioch located in Asia Minor (around modern Turkey)—known as the Antiochene school.

The Alexandrian School of Understanding

The Alexandrian school was home to some powerful Christian thinkers including the great apologist Justin Martyr. Athanasius, the man who defeated the ancient Arian heresy,[4] came from this school of thought as well as Cyril of Alexandria and others. The Alexandrian school “focused sharply on the significance of Christ as savior.”[5] As such, the Alexandrian school focused on the divine nature of Christ and emphasized the divine Logos as He assumed a human nature. Cyril of Alexandria notes,

 “In declaring that the Word was made to ‘be incarnate’ and ‘made human,’ we do not assert that there was any change in the nature of the Word when it became flesh, or that it was transformed into an entire human being, consisting of soul and body; but we say that the Word, in an indescribable and inconceivable manner, united personally to himself flesh endowed with a rational soul, and thus became a human being and was called the Son of man. And this was not by a mere act of the will or favor, nor simply adopting a role or taking to himself a person.”[6]

Apollinarius of Laodicea (c. 310-390) took the Alexandrian understanding of the Logos assuming flesh to the point where he claimed that a human mind and soul were replaced with a divine mind and soul. The Apollinarian school thus devalued the human aspect of Christ, a concept that would be challenged by many Alexandrians and especially the Antiochenes.

The Antiochene School of Understanding

Whereas the Alexandrians focused on the salvific aspect of Christ, the Antiochene school focused on the moral aspects of Christ.[7] The Antiochene school focused on the wholeness of Christ being both divine and human. Unfortunately, like Apollinarius would for the Alexandrian school, a man name Nestorius (c. 386-451) would stretch the Antiochene understanding to the limits of heresy. Nestorius would argue that Christ held two natures: one human and one divine. Yet, Nestorius’ view led to the belief that Christ has two parts to Himself. However, a solution to this enigma would come from the Antiochene school.

The Hypostatic Union

The Antiochene school found a solution to the two natures of Christ in the term “hypostatic union.” That is, the union of the “divine and human natures in Christ—rests in the will of God.”[8] As Theodore of Mopsuestia would denote,

“The distinction between the natures does not annul the exact conjunction, nor does the exact conjunction destroy the distinction between the natures, but the natures remain in their respective existence while separated, and the conjunction remains intact because the one who was assumed is united in honor and glory with the one who assumed, according to the will of the one who assumed him…In this same way here [i.e., in the incarnation] they are two by nature and one by conjunction because the adoration offered to the one who has been assumed is not divided from that offered to the one who assumed him.”[9]

Thus, the solution is found by acknowledging that Christ was both divine and human, compiled into one person—Jesus of Nazareth. The Word became flesh. Therefore, one finds both the divine Word and a human persona in one being.


What mystery! What wonder! The babe lying in a manger was none other than God Himself! God joined the human drama. He became one of us so that He could point us back to Him. I read a story of a farmer who returned from his children’s Christmas program. He could not understand why God came to earth, or even why He would desire to do so. After he tucked his kids in bed, he checked on his animals in the barn on this cold, snowy night. Clomping through the snow and opening the doors to the barn, he heard faint chirping. He looked to find four little birds flopping in the snow. They could not yet fly and the cold snow was freezing them.

The farmer grabbed a broom, sweeping them towards the barn. The more he swept, the more frightened the little birds became. He tried to coax them inside with his voice, yet they could not comprehend his wisdom. He attempted to scoop them in his hands, only to find that the birds would flop back out. The birds were inches away from safety. The barn’s warmth would provide them shelter and warmth for the winter. Then the thought penetrated his mind, leaving him breathless with the insight of the incarnation for which he had long been longing: if he could become one of the birds, he could fix the broken relationship the birds had with the farmer. He could tell them that the farmer meant them no harm. He could lead the birds to safety, saving their lives—if only he could become a bird.

God did just that for all humanity. He lived among us, so that we could live with Him. He would eventually suffer for us, so that we could rejoice. He would die, so that we could live. What mystery! What amazing mystery! And what amazing love!

© December 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] This is an erroneous depiction as the wise men did not appear at the time of Christ’s birth, but rather appeared a few months to a couple of years after the birth of Christ.

[3] The Greek term translated “Word.” The Logos is a complex concept as it depicts the personification of divine wisdom. It was understood as the aspect of God that developed the universe.

[4] Arianism is comparable to the modern Jehovah Witness movement as it denied the divine nature of Christ.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 277.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorious IV, 3-5.

[7] See McGrath, 278.

[8] McGrath, 279.

[9] Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Catechetical Homily,” 8.13-14, Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, Alphose Mingana, trans (Cambridge, UK: Heffer, 1933), 89-90.

Christian Ethics are Derived from Christian Theology

An atheist Christian minister. That sounds like an oxymoron of illogical cohesion. Could an atheist serve as a Christian minister? According to the United Church of Canada and the Reverend Gretta Vosper, the answer is, yes. Gretta Vosper came out of the closet at her church. She came out of the closet, not as a homosexual, but rather as an atheist! Instead of firing her, the church embraced her as their Christian atheist minister. Vosper recounts,

“My congregation belongs to The United Church of Canada, probably the most progressive Christian denomination in the world. It ordained women over seventy years ago and has been ordaining openly LGBTQ leaders for decades. But theologically it remains in the closet about the human construction of religion and all its trapping. I couldn’t stay in that closet.
I came out as an atheist in 2001. After I spontaneously preached a sermon in which I completely deconstructed the idea of a god named God, rather than fire me, the congregation chose to step out on an unmarked path. With them, I’ve laboured, lamented, lost, and loved. It’s hard road but a worthy one with no finish line in sight.”[1]


How does this work? According to Vosper, she holds to the ethical standards of Christianity but dismisses the idea of a supernatural, intervening God. Thus, she holds that Christianity provides supreme ethical standards, but little things like God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, human value in God’s eyes, the resurrection, miracles, and eternity are simply defined as “archaic ideas and the prejudices trapped within them [should be] traded for contemporary knowledge and understanding.”[2] I hope you can see the sarcasm behind the previous statement. Such issues are not minor. Rather, they constitute the core fundamentals of the faith. Can one separate Christian ethics and Christian theology? I say, no. Christian theology formulates Christian ethics in at least three areas.[3]

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human value.

Why did Jesus place so much emphasis on right living in the Sermon on the Mount? It was because the Father had placed so much value on humanity. Human beings are made imagio dei (i.e., the image of God). From the opening moments of Scripture, human value is emphasized. Human value is shown to be placed in the divine value attributed to humans due to their being made in God’s image. God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Thus, while Vosper is to be commended for placing high value on the lives of her fellow human beings, her value is void without God. Life holds no value without God. The so-called “archaic view of God” is actually the glue that holds together her presuppositions of human life. Therefore, without the Christian fundamentals, Vosper’s ethics fall apart.

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human standards.

Why should a person desire to treat others ethically in the first place? If there is no God, then why does it matter how I treat another person? It may be nice to be nice. But sometimes I don’t feel so nice. I may have the tag “reverend” before my name, but I do not always feel so reverential. Why not run those Sunday drivers off the road when they are driving 20 miles under the speed limit? Why not plow through a gaggle of cyclists when they refuse to get out of the way? Why do we have to act nice?

The reason humans have standards is because of the knowledge of a supreme authority governing the universe. Atheism falls short. While atheists can be good moral people without God, their reasons for acting moral do not stand. In stark contrast, Christian theism demonstrates that there is a God who has provided a moral standard upon all humanity. This God has eyes that “are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Let me illustrate this point further.

This past Thanksgiving, our family met together for a wonderful meal. My sister and two cousins all have young toddlers about the same age. My son is about 7-years older than his younger cousins. We watched as the toddlers interacted with one another for the first time. The kids would sometimes take a toy away from another. The moms and dads said, “No! You cannot do that. It is not polite.” For the toddlers, they were being taught the proper dos and don’ts of playtime etiquette. Why? It was because they had a higher authority governing them—that is, my sister, cousins, and their spouses. Likewise, ethics without a higher governing authority collapses. Thereby, Vosper’s atheistic Christianity flounders without the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human eternity.

One of the great losses of Vosper’s atheist Christianity is the loss of hope found in eternity. How would she counsel someone who had lost a loved one? Would she say, “Well, they are not experiencing the great nothingness that comes from death. You don’t have to worry. You’ll never see them again.” What type of comfort is that, especially if they loved the person they lost?

Ethical standards carry over into eternity. God has given each person the opportunity to respond to the gospel message. A person’s decision to follow Christ or to deny Him follows through for all time. In a similar fashion, a person’s work on earth follows them also. But wait! Aren’t a person’s sins forgiven never to be remembered to any further extent? Yes and no. In one sense, a person’s sins are forgiven and washed away. Their sins will not keep them from God’s eternity. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul teaches in what is called the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is to say, every believer will be judged according to what they have done while in the body of Christ. Paul explains,

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

What will a person’s rewards mean in eternity? I don’t really know. They mean something as indicated by Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. Those without Christ will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). The unbeliever’s work will be gauged as well. The difference is that they will not have anything to atone for their sinful behaviors.

Vosper’s ethical standards mean nothing without an eternal standard. Why should people treat others nicely? Vosper’s atheistic Christianity would claim, “Because it is the nice thing to do.” Classical Christianity would exclaim, “Because there is a higher standard than yourself and you will be held accountable for what you do.” Again, Vosper’s worldview collapses as the foundations that uphold her outlook have been removed.


On November 17th, 2016, I delivered a message entitled “Signs of a False Shepherd” from Zechariah chapters 10 and 11. While I considered leaving the topic for another one, I cannot seem to leave the discussion just yet due to the infiltration of so many false teachers in our time. Simon Peter noted, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).[4] Craig Keener, in his commentary on the text, quips, “In earlier Scripture, false prophets spoke from their own imaginations rather than from divine inspiration…they often comforted people in their sin rather than speaking God’s true warning of divine judgment.”[5] Thus false prophets such as Gretta Vosper promote false doctrine in three ways.

  1. False prophets elevate opinions over truth.
  2. False prophets deny the existence of absolute truth.
  3. False prophets promote what’s popular over what’s true.

Much more could be said about this issue. Perhaps, we will address this issue in further detail here at BellatorChristi.com. Suffice to say for now, false prophets remove the foundations of the hope within them in order to be popular with society or to uphold one’s progressive stances. True prophets uphold the truth in order to be faithful to the God of all eternity.

© November 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.


[1] Gretta Vosper, “About,” GrettaVosper.ca. http://www.grettavosper.ca/about/, retrieved November 28, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This list is certainly not exhaustive.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[5] Craig S. Keener, “2 Peter,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2191.

4 Views on How God Interacts with Creation

Theologians often ponder the distinct attributes of God. God is known to be spirit, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent. Creation is finite, holds no knowledge in and of itself, is limited in power, without wisdom, holds no sense of morality,[1] and is limited to space and time. How does an all-powerful, perfect, Creator engage with a limited, imperfect, creation? I have been reading Alister McGrath’s stellar work entitled Christian Theology: An Introduction[2] and noticed four particular theories as to how God interacts with the world. I will present the four theories and will then provide which best represents the Christian tradition in the conclusion.

Deism: A Laissez-faire God.

Deism is a concept that reached its zenith of popularity in the 18th century. Deists accept the existence of God, as well as God’s involvement with the early stages of creation. However, deists do not think that God continues to involve Himself with creation. The God of deism winds up creation like a top and spins it, allowing creation to naturally spin itself out with no intervention. In deism, miracles would seem frivolous if not invalid. McGrath quips, “The Deist position can be summarized very succinctly as follows. God created the world in a rational and ordered manner, which reflected God’s own rational nature, and endowed it with the ability to develop and function without the need for any continuing divine presence or interference.”[3] That is, God developed the world, but is currently “hands-off,” or holds a laissez-faire mentality. The second position allows for more involvement by God.

Thomism: The Prime-Moving God.

Thomism is a concept developed by medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aquinas made the distinction between primary and secondary causes. That is, necessary and contingent actions. Aquinas held that God was the Prime Mover.[4] And from the Prime Mover, creation came to be. Furthermore, God’s actions resulted in secondary actions. Often, as McGrath notes, Aquinas held that “God can act indirectly, through secondary causes.”[5] Therefore, God is completely hands on, however God can serve as an indirect cause through the scope of natural law—that is, cause and effect. God is transcendently causing thing to happen, but those causes result in natural secondary actions within the space-time continuum.

This type of philosophical understanding is especially helpful in understanding how God (who can do no evil) can allow evil in a good world, but use that evil to bring out the greater good. More could be said of this concept. Suffice to say for now, this theory views God as a hands-on God, but resulting in hands-off reactions (however, the hands-off reactions are perfectly within the control of God—unlike the deist understanding). That is to say, God is a prime-moving God.

Process Theology: A Persuasive, Changing God.

Of the four theories presented by McGrath, the process theory is perhaps the most confusing. In the process theory, God is not transcendent,[6] but rather completely immanent.[7] Process theology is attributed to Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).[8] In this scheme, the universe is seen as dynamic, always changing. God acts as a persuasive agent without forcing a natural or moral agent. McGrath explains,

“Process thought argues that God cannot force nature to obey the divine will or purpose for it. God can only attempt to influence the process from within, by persuasion and attraction. Each entity enjoys a degree of freedom and creativity, which God cannot override.”[9]

The process viewpoint is so distinct from the normal understanding of divine action that McGrath notes “the God of process thought seems to bear little relation to the God described in the Old or New Testament.”[10]

While process theology is quite controversial, it is enjoined with another theory called occasionalism. This viewpoint is quite different from process theories. The next section will address occasionalism.

Occasionalism: A Dictator God.

The final theory is not covered in great detail by McGrath, but is given as a side note—that is, a bit of an afterthought. For that reason, one would tend to think that the theory is quite controversial. Islamic writer Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) presented the view often termed “occasionalism.” Al-Ghazali did not accept the existence of any natural cause. If a fire burned a forest, the fire was not responsible for burning each individual leaf, rather God was. McGrath uses the example of lightning striking the ground, causing a fire.[11] Al-Ghazali would not attribute the fire to lightning, but as a direct act of God. Thus, God does not indirectly cause anything but directly causes everything. So, which of these theories work best with the theistic Christian worldview?


There are a few considerations that must be addressed before offering a verdict. What does the Bible say of God’s attributes? What does the Bible say of creation? What does the Bible say of God’s work? The following observations are made.

God is immutable, independent, and omnipresent. Much can be said (and has been said here at BellatorChristi.com) of God’s attributes. The Bible makes it clear that God is immutable and independent of creation. God, speaking through the prophet Malachi, says, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6).[12] In Acts, it is noted that “God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). God is also shown to be omnipresent as God says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)?

From the noted attributes given above, process theology is deemed inadequate, and even possibly unbiblical. God is not manipulated by creation (while I do think that God feels emotions). Nevertheless, process theology is eliminated from possibility due to the attributes of God.

God is the Creator of all things and has established systems of operation. Nehemiah notes concerning God that “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6). In the book of Job, God responds to Job saying, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth” (Job 38:33)? Throughout God’s message, several systems are noted, demonstrating that God not only created all things, but developed systems of natural operation.

From what we can see Scripturally-speaking as it relates to the creation of all things and the order of operation of natural processes, occasionalism is void. God creates all and knows all. Certainly! But, God has given nature certain laws and functions as ordained from the halls of heaven.

God’s work within creation. If you have been taking notes, you will note that only two systems remain: Deism and Thomism. To answer which of the two find biblical precedence, one will need to discover whether God currently acts in creation. This is not difficult to answer. As one will find countless miracles throughout the Bible, it is appropriately deemed that God certainly does work in creation. Through Christ, God brought about healing to the blinded eyes, sound to the deafened ears, and life to the death-filled soul. Thus, deism is also proverbially knocked out of the competition.

So which of the four theories work? Only Thomism is a viable option. However, it should be noted that God operates more often than what was noted in McGrath’s book. God is functionally working within creation. I believe that God feels emotions and obviously hears prayers. Therefore, one should not take the Thomistic theory to extreme ends. Nevertheless, Thomism is the clear winner as it pertains to God’s operation within creation.


© November 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.


[1] Speaking of creation, not the creatures within creation.

[2] This book comes highly recommended by the Ph.D. theological department at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 212.

[4] Especially pertinent in Aquinas’ 5 ways, see the Summa Theologica.

[5] McGrath, 213.

[6] That is, beyond the scope of creation.

[7] That is, within creation.

[8] McGrath, 214.

[9] Ibid., 215.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 213.

[12] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

Demons: Their Identity and Demise

Halloween is upon us. For this week’s entry to Bellator Christi, I decided to discuss a group of beings that are often veiled in mystery and fear. Those beings are demons. Hollywood often presents demons as being entities that are nearly impossible to combat. Recently, interesting figures have been presented in music videos and films that finds parallels to some of the demonic entities found in the Bible. This article is all about demons as we ask: who are demons; how do they operate; and what is their fate? Are demons creatures to be feared? How do we combat them? Hopefully, this article will provide some answers.

Who are Demons?

Demons are angelic beings. Therefore, they are spiritual creatures. Demons are former angels who have fallen for the lies of Satan. While the Scriptures do not provide a lot of information pertaining to their fall, they are noted in Revelation 12 as being deceived by Satan, depicted as a great red dragon (Rev. 12:3), who sweeps “down a third of the stars of heaven [angels] and cast them to earth” (Revelation 12:4).[1] To my surprise, I discovered that Scripture depicts a few categories of demons.[2]


One category of demons are mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37. In Deuteronomy, Moses notes that the people had “sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known” (Deuteronomy 32:17) and that they were “unmindful of the Rock that bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:18). The psalmist notes that they “sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:36-37). These demons, in Hebrew, are called the Sedim (Sed, singular).


The Se’irim are goat-like demons. Leviticus 17:7 states that “they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.” The Se’irim are also referenced in 2 Chronicles 11:15 as goat idols. The Se’irim bear a striking resemblance to the Church of Satan’s statue Mephisto, which has been erected in several locations in the continental United States.

Statue of Mephisto from the Church of Satan. Notice the goat-like features.


Some see the “night bird” (Heb. “Lilith”) of Isaiah 34:14 as a category of demon. If so, Lilith is a female demon associated with unclean animals and desolate places.


Some see another demon known as the Azazel noted in Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26. A lot was cast by Aaron, one for Yahweh and one for Azazel (a demon). The demon Azazel represented impurity and uncleanness. The lot that fell on the goat for Yahweh was presented as a sacrifice for God. The lot that fell on the goat representing Azazel was cast into the wilderness in representation of the separation of sin from the people. In a sense, the demon was cast into the goat and cast away from the people of God. As noted in footnote 2, there is a lot of speculation concerning this demonic entity.

Evil spirits

On several occasions, evil spirits were sent to torment individuals (1 Sam. 16:15-16; 18:10). This is especially true of King Saul.


Beelzebub is noted as a prince of demons, but lower than Satan. He is often associated as the lord of the flies. Beelzebub is noted in 2 Kings 1:2-3 and 6. Ahaziah inquired of Beelzebub whether he should live instead of appealing to God. Jesus is accused by His opponents for casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Mark 3:22).

How do Demons Operate?

Demons are opposed to the working of God. They manifest themselves in various ways throughout the Scriptures. They bring the inability to speak (Matt. 9:32; 12:22); the inability to hear (Mark 9:25); the inability to see (Matt. 12:22; John 10:21); convulsions (Mark 1:26; 9:26); amazing, nearly superhuman strength to the individual they possess (Mark 5:4); and destructive habits and behaviors (Matt. 17:15). They can also bring diseases to individuals. While there are natural occurrences of the previously noted attributes, demonic presences can add or amplify those patterns.

What is the Fate of Demons?

As fearsome as demons are, it must be remembered that they are powerless compared to God. Jesus cast out demons on several occasions, even by simply issuing a command (e.g., Mark 1:25). So, how does one combat demonic presences? Quite simple, demons are defeated by faith in Christ Jesus. If a person has the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-filled individual can be annoyed by demons, but they cannot be possessed. They may be afflicted, but not overtaken. It is also important for an individual to equip themselves with the spiritual armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20).

A person needs to remember that the final outcome for demons is defeat. God will be victorious as “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). All of the demonic powers will be destroyed.


This Halloween, one will be inundated with horror films that depict demons as irresistible beings of evil. Films like Poltergeist capture the imagination and present demonic entities as fearsome beings. Rest assured, demons are fearsome and they are powerful. But their power ceases before the awesome presence of Christ. More fearsome than the demons is the One who has flames of fire, who will ride upon a white horse bringing judgment to the world. Who is this white horseman? It is Christ Jesus Himself. Before Him, all the world will bow the knee and confess with the tongue. Christ—the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace—holds authority over all. If you are afflicted by the forces of the demonic realm, turn to Jesus.

For more information, see Joe Cathey, “Demonic Possession,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, et. al., eds (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 412.


© October 31, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] It must be noted that some scholars debate whether these categories truly reference demonic beings. However, I lean towards the idea that they do, especially considering other passages that reference goats and spirit beings being demonic in nature.

ROSES Smell Better than a TULIP

I have never been a connoisseur when it comes to flowers. In fact, on one Valentine’s Day, I sought to be a good husband and bought my wife some flowers. The store where I purchased them had a great deal. So, again thinking that I was being a good husband, I bought what I thought were roses. Unfortunately, it turned out that the flowers were tulips, explaining why the store had such a great deal on the flowers. My wife and I had a good laugh over my blunder. While the tulips were nice, roses would have been much better.

Theologians like acronyms. Calvinists from the time of the Synod of Dort have contrived an acronym explaining the core concepts of Calvinism. The acronym is TULIP. TULIP stands for the following:

Total depravity: Man[1] is incapable of saving himself and is paralyzed by a sin nature.

Unconditional election: God has elected to save some and allows others to be condemned.

Limited atonement: Christ only died for the elect and not for the world.

Irresistible grace: Man does not have the ability to respond to the grace of God by himself. He needs the Holy Spirit to help him respond.

Perseverance of the saints: The elect will persevere in their faith.

The acronym holds problems with many texts of the Bible. For instance, the Bible notes that a person can resist the Spirit of God, even to the point of quenching the Spirit of God (Acts 7:51; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). In addition, there are several passages that indicate that God wishes to save all even though not all will be saved (2 Peter 3:19; Ezekiel 18:23). Also, the Bible presents the idea of a degree of human free will, something that otherwise makes the law of God seem somewhat bizarre.

Molinists, Congruists, Arminians, and even some Calvinists have adopted a better acronym to describe the truths of the Bible. Kenneth Keathley, in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, provides an acronym first presented by Timothy George.[2] The acronym is ROSES. It is interesting that George is a Calvinist and Keathley a Molinist and they both agree that ROSES is much preferable to TULIP. This brings to mind, what does the acronym ROSES indicate? ROSES represents the following:

Radical depravity: This takes the place of total depravity, the T of TULIP. Radical depravity, as Keathley notes, “more correctly emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall and renders us incapable of saving ourselves or even of wanting to be saved.”[3] Radical depravity allows for libertarian viewpoints, especially soft libertarianism as argued by Keathley, as it “contends that interaction between character and free choice is a two-way street, providing for a better model of human responsibility.”[4] The varying ideas of determinism and libertarianism will be discussed in a future article.

Overcoming grace: This doctrine takes the place of irresistible grace, the I of TULIP. Overcoming grace is the idea that God’s continual calling overcomes the wicked nature of a person to allow a free response. Keathley presents an “ambulatory model”[5] which recognizes two fundamental principles: the monergistic grace of God (that is, God is the only worker in salvation); and grace is resistible (that is, God offers grace to all, but the difference is the rebellion of the unbeliever as contrasted with the reception of the believer).[6]

Sovereign election: Sovereign election takes the place of unconditional election, the U of TULIP. This doctrine affirms that God desires the salvation of all, but provides it for a few. This is possible to the three modes of knowledge that God holds: natural knowledge, which indicates God’s knowledge of all necessary truths; God’s free knowledge, which refers to those things which will occur in the future; and God’s middle knowledge, which represents God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do in certain circumstances. Sovereign election upholds both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of mankind.

Eternal life: The doctrine of eternal life replaces the P (perseverance of the saints) of TULIP. Instead of claiming that the elect will be saved and persevere, eternal life emphasizes that believers are transformed by the grace of God and are given a faith that will remain. The former leaves one in a constant state of flux, whereas the latter provides assurance as indicated when fruits of the Spirit and the internal witness of the Spirit are observed.

Singular redemption: The last doctrine, singular redemption, replaces the L (limited atonement) of TULIP. Simply put, singular redemption holds that Christ’s death was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for the elect, those who would respond to the Spirit’s call.

ROSES is a much better acronym for the truths of Scripture than is TULIP. As noted earlier, Timothy George, the innovator of the acronym, was himself a Calvinist. The acronym provides the ability to naturally accept the two fundamental truths provided in Scripture in that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. Thus, of the array of flowery acronyms, I much prefer the smell of ROSES to that of a TULIP.

© October 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

George, Timothy. Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response. Nashville: Lifeway, 2000.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.


[1] The terms “man” and “he” are used in this article to describe individuals of both sexes.

[2] Timothy George, Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response (Nashville: Lifeway, 2000), 71-83; referenced by Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 2.

[3] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 3.

[4] Ibid., 64.

[5] Ibid., 104.

[6] Ibid., 105.

Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi

In our last post, I introduced you to a section of the Bible known as the Minor Prophets, also known as The Twelve.[1] We discussed the difference between the Major and Minor Prophets, while noting the great importance that the Minor Prophets have. The first entry also discussed the Minor Prophets Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Amos, Jonah, and Micah. This post will look into the lives of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.


Little is known about Nahum outside of the fact that he was an “Elkoshite” (Nahum 1:1).[2] Elkosh is thought by some to be around modern day Mosul, Iraq. However, the more likely identification of Elkosh is in Galilee around the Capernaum area. Even if Nahum was from Capernaum, it is apparent that he lived in Judea at the time of his writing.[3] Nahum writes to Israel during the difficult days of Assyrian oppression. Israel had allowed syncretism to sway them away from the foundations of their trust in God. While God had allowed the Assyrian take over, many Israelis began to wonder if God had completely forsaken them. Does God still love us? Nahum would answer their inquiries. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “To the suffering remnant, there was little question that God would and did punish his own covenant people,”[4] but through Nahum God would show that He would also bring other nations into judgment also. Judgment would not last forever for God’s people on earth. The people of God would be elevated and robed in righteousness. Due to the fall of Assyria to Babylon, Nahum must be dated some time before 612 B.C.[5]


Habakkuk is a unique prophet in that he does not speak for God, but rather speaks to God for the people. Habakkuk is dated around the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the hands of the Babylonians. Jerusalem was overtaken and the people were taken into exile in 586 B.C. Thus, Habakkuk must have prophesied sometime between 626 and 590 B.C. The book of Habakkuk is quite interesting. The prophet asks God, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?…Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2, 4). God answers by saying that He is “raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6). Habakkuk replies, “Lord, we’re bad, granted; but they’re worse!” God replies that He is going to judge every person and every nation for his/her actions. God says, “The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). Habakkuk provides an interesting and unique answer to the theodicy issue. That is, why does a loving and powerful God allow evil on the earth? The answer in part is due to free will. The people chose to rebel against God. Yet on the same token, God is in control. Thus, all evil will be ultimately judged by the sovereign power of God Almighty.


Zephaniah prophesies after the time of the wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. King Josiah would bring reform to the land. However, it was during this time of reform (640-609 B.C.) that Zephaniah would warn the people of impending judgment. Josiah befriended enemy nations for hope of assistance. Josiah would trust in politics over the power of God which would later prove problematic. Zephaniah’s primary focus is on a time called the “Day of the LORD.” Zephaniah used the phrase more than any other prophet. The Day of the LORD would be a time of great judgment. However, God would provide shelter and hope for those who were faithful to Him. Zephaniah looked ahead to a time where God would glorify Israel for the remnant of the faithful. Zephaniah, speaking for God, says, “On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:16-17).


The prophet Haggai is a post-exilic prophet (see the section Zechariah for more details on the post-exilic period). The exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C., thus many commentators feel that Haggai prophesies around 520 B.C.[6] Haggai is the contemporary of Zechariah. Both the prophets appeal to the exiles to take up the task of rebuilding the temple despite the opposition they face by their adversaries. Haggai’s key theme is simply put in the opening chapter, “‘Go up into the mountains and bring down the timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8).


The book of Zechariah holds tremendous importance to the New Testament Church. Zechariah is second only to Isaiah in being the most quoted Old Testament prophet by the New Testament writers. Jesus quoted Zechariah quite often (e.g. Matthew 26:31). Zechariah is different than most of the prophets in that he lived in what scholars call the post-exilic time. The post-exile refers to a period of time when Persia released the Jews from bondage and allowed them to return to Israel after having been in exile for 70 years. While Babylon was responsible for exiling the Jewish people, Persia had conquered Babylonia and was responsible for their release. Zechariah, serving as a prophetic priest, prophesies as the temple failed to be built 16 years prior. The first attempt had been squelched by Jewish enemies who convinced the Persian authorities that the Jews would become a threat if the temple were to be rebuilt. However, God taught the people through Zechariah that the temple would be finished if they trusted God and continued to do what they were called to do. Four years later, the temple was finished. Zechariah prophesied in Jerusalem from August 29th, 520 B.C. to 480 B.C.[7]  This writer agrees with Barker and Kohlenberger that “Zechariah is probably the most Messianic, apocalyptic, and eschatological of all the OT books.”[8] It is for this reason that one could call Zechariah the Old Testament Book of Revelation. Zechariah sees a time when God’s Messiah would redeem all people who trust in Him. He also seeks to encourage the people by reminding them that God ultimately holds victory over all their enemies. It is quite interesting and appropriate that Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh remembers.”


The last of the Minor Prophets also serves as the last book of the Old Testament. It is the book of Malachi. Malachi, which means “My Messenger,” most likely prophesied between 515 through 458 B.C. This would have been between the completion of the temple and the ministry of Ezra in Jerusalem. Israel would face another period of social and moral decline after the temple was completed. Ezra and Nehemiah would help correct this issue. Malachi calls out the people on several issues. The people were guilty of breaking the covenant through blemished sacrifices (Malachi 1:6-14), through a lackluster attention to marriage (Malachi 2:10-16), through injustice (Malachi 2:17-3:5), and by withholding their tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:6-12). It is in Malachi that one learns about the forerunner to the Messiah. Malachi writes, “‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare he way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 3:1).

The Minor Prophets were fantastic and bold preachers for the Lord. They all met distinct difficulties in getting their message across. All of them faced perilous times. Some may have even been martyred.[9] But through it all, the Minor Prophets remained true to the task that God had called them to accomplish. They trusted more in God Almighty than in the political powers of the day. I think the Minor Prophets poignantly direct our attention to what really matters: faithfulness and trust in God rather than trust in government and manmade traditions.

Look for a future article addressing the main themes of the Minor Prophets coming soon.

Minor Prophets Cartoon.png
From get.Bible. 


Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Walton, John H., and Craig S. Keener. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.


© September 27, 2016. Brian Chilton.


[1] Because there are 12 Minor Prophets.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1529, fn 1.1.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1482.

[5] Just for clarification: 612 B.C. is the date that Babylon conquered Assyria.

[6] Walton and Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1548.

[7] This writer holds to the unity of Zechariah as a prophetic work. Some commentators feel that two Zechariahs are responsible for the content of the book. But, this writer feels no reason to accept such a claim as the book holds literary unity.

[8] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1515.

[9] Jewish tradition holds that Zechariah was killed.

Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part One: Hosea-Micah

One of the most misunderstood sections of Scripture is the unit of the Old Testament known as the “Minor Prophets.” When a person speaks about their favorite texts of the Bible, one rarely hears Zechariah, Habakkuk, Amos, or Zephaniah mentioned. It is really a tragedy that such is the case because the twelve books that comprise the section termed the “Minor Prophets” holds significant value for the believer. But one may ask, “Who are the Minor Prophets and what segment of Scripture does one reference”?

The Minor Prophets consist of twelve prophets in the Bible beginning with Hosea and ending with Malachi (which also ends the segment Christians call the “Old Testament”). The minor prophets include: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These books are called “Minor” in contrast to the “Major Prophets” (which include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) due to the size of the writings, and thus do not address the prophets’ importance. The Minor Prophets were every bit as important as the Major ones. Since there are twelve Minor Prophets, many scholars address them simply as “The Twelve.” Some evidence suggests that since the Minor Prophets were significantly smaller than the Major Prophets, some compiled the writings of the Twelve onto one scroll to save space.

Some people have difficulty relating to the Minor Prophets. Part of the problem relates to a lack of knowledge as to who the Minor Prophets were and what their message was about. What was the message of the Minor Prophets and who were these individuals? In a future blog, we will address the message of the Twelve. But for now, let’s look at who these prophets were. It is important to note that by the time of the Minor Prophets that the kingdom of Israel had split into two sections. Rehoboam was king of the United Kingdom of Israel. He had succeeded his father Solomon. In 932 B.C., the Northern section of Israel led by Jeroboam rebelled and pulled away from Rehoboam’s reign due to Rehoboam’s heavy taxation (1 Kings 12:1ff). They established what was called the Northern Kingdom of Israel selecting Jeroboam as their ruler. The Northern Kingdom is sometimes simply called “Israel” during this time period. The Southern Kingdom, the area that was continued to be ruled by Rehoboam, is often called “Judea.” Bethel and Ai served as the border which divided the two kingdoms. Samaria was the capital of Israel and Jerusalem was the capital of Judea.



Hosea was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Sometimes he mentions Judah, however the main focus of his message is to Israel. Hosea had a long ministry dating from 753 to 715 B.C.[2] Hosea completed his ministry and prophecy before the time that Assyria invaded Israel. Hosea is best known for his message of love and compassion. God told Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman who was quite promiscuous (Hosea 1:2). Gomer’s infidelity against Hosea symbolized the peoples’ infidelity against God due to their idolatry. Hosea continued to love Gomer and eventually took her back. Hosea’s love for Gomer represented the continued love that God held for the rebellious people. Anyone who thinks that the prophets were only “gloom and doom” needs to take a serious look at the message of Hosea.


Little is known about the prophet Joel outside of the fact that he was the “son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1).[3] Joel prophesied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the days of Uzziah, a time “of unparalleled prosperity.”[4] Thus, Joel most likely prophesied sometime around 792-740B.C.). Joel demonstrates that natural disasters can serve as God’s judgment, but primarily demonstrates that God is a “God of grace and mercy (Joel 2:13, 17), of love and patience (2:13), and of justice and righteousness (1:15; 2:23; 3:1-8).”[5] Joel is best known for his prophecy pertaining to God pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-31).


Amos is quite the interesting prophet. Many prophets were professional prophets who spoke before the king’s court and had paid positions. Amos, however, is not one of those prophets. If there was ever a “country prophet,” Amos was one. Amos was a tenderer of sycamore figs in Tekoa. Tekoa was around 10 miles south of Jerusalem. So, Amos was a Judean prophet preaching to Israel. Amos was a brave and bold man, going so far as to call the elite women of the time the “cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria” (Amos 4:1). A person is brave in any time to say something like that to a woman! Amos is known for his confrontation with Amaziah. Amaziah was a professional prophet who wanted to preach a message that the people would like. Amos was called to preach a message that the people needed to hear. Such a contrast is noted in modern times also. Amos preached his message around 760-750B.C. Amos’ message was one of repentance, calling people back to their first love. Amos condemned actions that demonstrated hatred towards God and towards fellow humanity. Israel was guilty of syncretism (the practice of blending their beliefs with others). Amos called them back to the truth. Amos is a man needed in modern times as much as he was in Israel.


Obadiah is one of those difficult prophets to date, mainly because nothing much is known about him. Obadiah pronounces judgment against Edom. Edom was an area around Mount Seir located southeast of the Dead Sea. Many feel that Obadiah prophesied, although greatly debated, around the destruction that came to Edom by Nebuchadnezzar around 586 B.C. Obadiah shows that God rules from on high. Political and national entities are subject to change, but God is over all. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “The dual thrust of 1:1 indicates two levels at which human history moves. The Lord is the ultimate mover, but there is also an international political alliance, motivated only by callous self-seeking.”[6]


Jonah is perhaps the most popular of the Twelve. Jonah was the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1) from the area of Gath Hepher in Galilee.[7] Jonah was called by God to preach a message of repentance to Nineveh in Assyria. Assyria was an enemy of Israel. To say that Jonah was hesitant to preach to Nineveh is an understatement. Jonah rebelled against the calling of God, eventually landing in the belly of a “huge fish” (Jonah 1:17). Jonah was spit out of the fish (Jonah 2:10). Jonah, then, travelled to Nineveh and preached a message of repentance. To Jonah’s surprise, Nineveh listened! They were spared, albeit temporarily, from God’s judgment. Jonah presents a message of God’s love for all people. God is willing to forgive even when we are not.[8]


Micah produced a theologically rich prophecy in the 8th century B.C. Micah notes that he is from Moresheth (Micah 1:1) which was approximately six miles northeast of Lachish, twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem. Micah prophesied sometime before 722 to the end of the 8th century. Micah prophesied primarily against Judah, warning of the threat of judgment. Micah, as noted earlier, is a theologically rich work. Micah emphasizes God’s sovereignty over all nation (Micah 4:11-13), God’s immutability (Micah 7:18-20), on the remnant (Micah 4:11-13), divine redemption, and the messianic kingdom.

In the next article, we will examine the remainder of the Twelve. Be sure to look for the article “Who Were the ‘Minor Prophets’? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi.”

© September 26, 2016. Brian Chilton

Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.


[1] Wikipedia Commons. Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk) – Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10872389.

[2] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1407.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[4] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1426.

[5] Ibid., 1427.

[6] Ibid., 1455.

[7] Ibid., 1460.

[8] Scholars debate the historicity of Jonah. Is Jonah an allegory or is it historical? In my opinion, since Jesus referenced Jonah as historical (Matthew 12:38-41), then one should remain open to the historical nature of the book. While it is improbable that a person could survive being consumed by a large fish, it is not impossible. God is master even over the fish, so it is indeed possible that God could have accomplished those things attributed to Him in the book.

Does Divine Omniscience Hinder Human Freedom?

A friend and I recently discussed the impact of divine omniscience as it pertains to human freedom. Omniscience is the term used to describe the complete knowledge of God. The critical question of God’s omniscience in theological circles is whether divine omniscience hinders a person’s choice to choose x or y. If God knows with certainty that person A will choose x and person B will choose y, do persons A and B really have the freedom to choose? I argue that God’s knowledge does not impede human freedom. I would like to present four reasons why divine omniscience does not hinder human freedom.

The “Could, Would, Will” omniscient knowledge of God.

In his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, Kenneth Keathley argues that divine omniscience includes what he calls the “‘could,’ ‘would,’ and ‘will’”[1] knowledge. “Could knowledge” represents God’s natural knowledge; that is, that “God knows all possibilities.”[2] God knows all the possibilities that could take place. “Would knowledge” is more popularly known as God’s middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is a concept that is accepted in Molinist and Congruist perspectives.[3] In other words, “God knows which possibilities are feasible.”[4] Put another way, God knows what free creatures would do when placed in certain situations. Finally, “will knowledge” is God’s free knowledge in that “God exhaustively knows all things.”[5] Thus, if God knows with certainty what could happen in the potentials of the created world, and God knows the things that will happen from His knowledge of what free creatures would do in certain circumstances, then there is no reason to believe that God’s knowledge would impede human freedom in any way. Now God may place people in certain circumstances to bring about a certain reaction. But even in doing so, the free creature would still have the freedom to choose x from y.

The relationship of omniscient knowledge to future actions.

If one grants that God holds could, would, and will knowledge, some would still argue, “But now if God knows with certainty what will happen, doesn’t that still imply that a person could not have chosen differently?” This view is called theological fatalism. Is it true? Not really. The person is given an opportunity to choose and willfully does so. Knowledge holds no bearing on a person’s choice. For instance, given the model provided by Keathley, picture someone you know who is quite the hot-head. And suppose that this hot-head really steams up over liberalism. Now suppose that a hyper-liberal approaches this conservative hot-head (and by the way, the roles could easily be reversed) and tries to coerce the conservative hot-head to accept hyper-liberal philosophies. You know the result of the encounter. The hot-head will blow up and lose his cool. Did your knowledge of his reaction impede the freely chosen response by hot-head in this story? No! Knowledge is just that—knowledge. Thus, God, even given His placement of events in a person’s life to lead one to salvation, does not hinder a person’s free will by the certain knowledge of future events that will transpire.

The intimacy of omniscient knowledge.

The debate between Calvinists and Arminians often revolves around the issue of how God chooses whom to save. The Calvinist will say that God elected to save some and reject others due to God’s own will. The Arminian will say that God chose whom to save because He foreknew what people would do in advance. But why couldn’t the answer involve both? Thomists, Molinists,[6] and Congruists hold that God’s election involves His intimate knowledge of individuals. For instance, evangelical Thomist Norman Geisler notes that “whatever God fore-chooses cannot be based on what He foreknows. Nor can what He foreknows be based on what He fore-chose. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God. Thus, our moral actions are truly free, and God determined that they would be such.”[7] God’s election is greatly based on His intimate knowledge of individuals. For instance, God told Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).[8] God knew Jeremiah intimately before Jeremiah’s birth. This, however, does not mean that Jeremiah did not have a free will. Consider the issue with Pharaoh. Yahweh tells Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). But how did God harden the heart of Pharaoh? This question is answered in chapter 8 of Exodus. God had brought forth a plague of frogs. Pharaoh had asked that God would take away the frogs. Yahweh did just that. He provided His grace to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. But what did Pharaoh do? One reads that “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:15). Did Pharaoh have the opportunity to choose differently than he did? Yes. Did Yahweh know what Pharaoh would choose when He provided grace unto him? Yes!!! So, did God’s knowledge hinder Pharaoh’s freedom to choose? No, not at all. God’s omniscience as it pertains to election is based on His intimate knowledge of each individual.

The sovereign nature of omniscient knowledge.

Due to the fact that God is beyond the scope of time and creation, God is sovereign over all things. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), thus if God promises to bring about a certain thing, it is certain that the promised thing will come about. However, God has given individuals the freedom to choose how to live and how to respond to His grace. If God can be trusted in what He says about future things, then one must accept God’s complete and thorough knowledge of the past, present, and future. Yet, this knowledge does not demerit the ability of free creatures to choose. If God is sovereign, then He must know what would take place when mixing two parts hydrogen with one-part water—the creation of water. God would know what would need to take place for live to be able to exist. Thus, it should not trouble anyone to think that God would hold absolute knowledge of a person’s future choices. It is because of this thorough knowledge that we can trust in God’s amazing sovereignty while holding to a view of human freedom.


As this article has sought to demonstrate, there need not be a conflict in holding God’s sovereignty along with a healthy view of human freedom. Thomas Aquinas felt that if there were no freedom of the human will, then laws and morality made little sense.[9] I concur. Too often people think that the theologian must choose between divine sovereignty and human freedom—an either/or paradigm. Yet, when one considers the potential “could, would, will” knowledge of God; the relationship of God to future actions and outcomes; the intimate nature of divine omniscience; and the sovereign nature of omniscience; then the theologian can rest in the choice of a both/and scenario. God is sovereign AND people have freedom. Theologically speaking—it’s the best of possible worlds (pun intended).

Sources Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: Complete Edition. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

Copyright, 9/19/2016. Brian Chilton.


[1] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] It is here that Congruism parts ways with classical Thomism. Congruism accepts effectual grace which also differs from classical Molinism. Congruism is best seen as the middle path between Molinism and Thomism.

[4] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 17.

[5] Ibid.

[6] There are differences of opinions in the Molinist camp concerning this issue.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 145-146.

[8] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[9] See Thomas Aquinas, “Of Free Will (Four Articles),” Summa Theologica, Kindle.

Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?


From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.


© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

A Review of “God and Time: Four Views”

Ganssle, Gregory E., ed. God & Time: Four Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001. $24.00. 247 pages. Contributors: Paul Helm, Alan G. Padgett, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Of the issues in theology, God’s relationship to time has become one of the most complex. How does God relate to time? This question is coupled with two theories of time. A-theory (or the process theory) holds that time moves from one point to another in a unidirectional line. The B-theory of time (or the stasis theory) holds that time essentially stands still. B-theorists holds that the process of time is an allusion and time itself is rather static, or unmovable. I readily admit that I have had the book God & Time: Four Views on my shelf for quite some time and have anticipated the time when I could read it as this topic has become interesting to me. Recently, I was able to accomplish that task. Gregory Ganssle edits the book God & Time: Four Views. (Note: it is essential that the reader reads through Ganssle’s introduction. Ganssle provides a necessary background for the complex issues that lie ahead.) The book has four contributors, all holding different perspectives about how God relates to time.

 First, Paul Helm (J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.) argues for the divine timeless eternity view. That is, God is absolutely timeless and exists beyond the scope of space-time. Helm holds a version of the B-theory of time, although it could be said that there is a combination of A-theory and B-theory in his viewpoint. While Helm offers one of the most traditional views (and perhaps most biblical), Helm seems to one one hand argue that the universe is co-eternal with God, while on the other hand holding that the universe is a special creation of God coming into existence at a particular point. Elements of Helm’s argument were quite persuasive. However, I was left somewhat confused and bewildered at his explanation. It seemed that Helm argued for a beginningless, beginning for all of creation as Helm did not seem to hold to creation ex nihilo, which is quite odd.

Next, Alan G. Padgett (Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.) argues for the relative timelessness view. Padgett holds the A-theory of time. He argues that God is timeless and remains timeless despite creation. God, thus, operates in a sequence of events in eternity. Yet, God operates in time taking part of the sequential aspect of space-time. Overall, Padgett offered a compelling argument. I was left, however, unsatisfied with his argument of divine foreknowledge. Padgett argues that God knows the future. But since the future has not happened, it seemed that Padgett accepted some limitation in divine foreknowledge. (Note: I may have misunderstood Padgett in this regard.)

William Lane Craig (Research Professor, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA) holds what is called timelessness and omnitemporality view. William Lane Craig, one of the greatest Christian philosophers and apologists of our time, holds the view that God was timeless before creation began, but then became temporal (in time) when creation came into being. I was not surprised by Craig’s argument. I previously read Craig’s work Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. My major qualm with Craig’s view is that the theologian is left accepting divine immanence without transcendence. Christian theologians have accepted for the vast majority of church history the duality of God’s transcendence and immanence. In fact, theism tends to rest upon such understanding. God is not time. God is not creation. God is outside the realm of both. Plus, since God created time, this view seems to limit God by the scope of His creation, something problematic when it comes to divine omniscience and omnipotence. Therefore, while I greatly respect William Lane Craig and his work, I hold reservations with his views pertaining to God and time.

Finally, Nicholas Wolterstorff (Noah Porter Professor of Philosophy, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT) argues the unqualified divine temporality view. Wolterstorff holds that God has always been temporal, acting in time. While God is everlasting, God acts in a sequential mode. Creation takes part in that sequence of time. However, many physicists accept that time is a created thing, coming into being when the universe first started. Of all the views presented, I was least satisfied with Wolterstorff’s view.

I had waited for some time to read this book. Unfortunately, I was left largely dissatisfied. Some contributors were far better than others. It’s interesting that Thomas Aquinas was used to prove nearly all of the four viewpoints. From my reading of Aquinas, I feel he would accept Helm and Padgett’s viewpoints more than any other. Nevertheless, this reader was left wondering if there could not be a fifth view. It seems that one could posit a view where God is outside the scope of time and able to see all points of created space-time (like Helm’s argument), but operated in a sequential modus operandi (as found in Padgett’s viewpoint), and related to creation (as found in Craig and Wolterstorff’s cases). While some views seemed more reasonable than others, none seemed to capture the classic theological viewpoint that I had hoped for.

I give this book three out of four stars. I think the book is an important work. One will find, though, that the book is not an easy read. Those who have not had exposure to philosophy and the God and time debate will struggle with this read. I would suggest reading up on the issues of God and time before engaging this work. Be sure to thoroughly read Ganssle’s introduction also as it will help immensely.


Copyright, September 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1] Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.


God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.