Reasons Why One Should Accept the Traditional Authorship of the Gospels

The Four Gospels are the primary documents that describe the life and teachings of Jesus. Traditionally since the earliest times of the church, the Evangelists[1] have been ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Modern critical scholarship has been more critical of the traditional authors. Many scholars will claim either that the Gospels were pieced together by various writers, or that the writings were pseudonymous but given the names of the Four Evangelists to propel their apostolic authority.

Despite the cynicism of critical scholarship, good reasons exist to hold to the traditional view of authorship for the four canonical Gospels (that is, that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Four Evangelists). This article will provide five such reasons.

 Internal Evidence of Authorship.

 Within the four Gospels, one will find internal evidence of authorship. That is, the Gospels give clues who the writers were within the text itself. For instance, Matthew was a tax collector who was called by Jesus while sitting in the tax collector’s booth. The First Gospel notes that “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at a tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).[2] Matthew’s Gospel goes into more detail on his calling (Matthew is called Levi in the other Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel provides a great deal of monetary details. Even if Matthew did borrow material from Mark’s Gospel (which would make sense since Mark obtained his information from Simon Peter), there is no reason to deny Matthean authorship to the First Gospel.

Mark’s Gospel, who wrote down the words of Simon Peter, provides internal evidence that one who closely knew Simon Peter wrote the Second Gospel. Peter’s life experiences with Jesus is the prime focus of the Second Gospel.

Luke writes a detailed biography of Jesus in the Third Gospel. Luke was not an eyewitness as admitted in the opening verses of the Gospel. The detail and level of complexity in the Greek validates that a highly-educated man wrote the Third Gospel. Luke was a physician. Thus, it stands to reason that Luke was the author of the Third Gospel.

The Fourth Gospel provides great internal evidence that John the apostle wrote (or at least dictated to another) the text. Strewn throughout the text, one will find the beloved disciple passages. The Fourth Gospel indicates that the author was an apostle (1:14; 2:11; 19:35), one of the Twelve Disciples (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and John the son of Zebedee is associated as the beloved disciple who accompanies Peter (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23). The evidence is so strong for Johannine authorship that I feel like I am taking crazy pills when someone denies that John wrote the Fourth Gospel.

External Evidence of Authorship.

External evidence for traditional authorship is quite strong. The early church unanimously accepted traditional authorship for the Four Gospels. Matthew is accredited with the First Gospel by Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (c. A.D. 120) and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. A.D. 175). John Mark is accredited with the Second Gospel, Luke is credited with the Third, and John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Papias and preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 260-340).[3] In addition, John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies.[4] The church unanimously accepted Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors. If one is to claim otherwise, there should be a great deal of evidence.[5] No such evidence exists outside of modern skepticism.

Expense of Documents.

 Interestingly enough, documents the size of the Gospels were quite expensive in antiquity. John Walton and Craig Keener note the following:

  “Writing material was expensive; for example, a copy of the Gospel of Mark may have required the equivalent early twenty-first-century buying power of $1000-$2000 U.S…Works as large as these were major literary undertakings, requiring so much papyrus that in terms of early twenty-first century buying power the larger Gospels may have been worth thousands of dollars of U.S. dollars…Normally in antiquity readers knew who produced such major works, whether by information on the outside of the scroll or by knowledge circulated only by word of mouth. In a work this size [speaking of the Gospels, mine], authorship would be one of the last details forgotten.”[6]

If Mark is noted to have cost around $2000, then larger works like Matthew, Luke/Acts, and John were probably around $4000 (Luke and Acts could have been $6000 a piece). This would have been a major undertaking. No one is going to forget the writers of the Gospels in the early church, especially if the early leaders request the works. It should be rightfully assumed that the church must have raised the funds in order to have the canonical Gospels written.

Early Manuscript Attestation.

 It has been noted that nearly all early manuscripts would have the authors name written on the first page or the exterior of the text (see footnote #6). Thus, the authors’ names would have followed the text. There are reasons to believe that the names were associated with early manuscripts. Thus, here is another reason to hold to traditional authorship.

Oddity of the Four Writers.

 It seems somewhat bizarre that if the early church were going to make up four writers for the Gospels that the four writers that we were given were chosen. John the apostle would make sense as he was one of the inner circle disciples. Yet, John did not hold the prominence of a Simon Peter or James. Even more bizarre is the choice of Mark. Mark is an odd choice as he does not appear in the Gospel story, except for a possible odd inclusion in Mark 14:51-52. If John Mark had nothing to do with the Gospel and only served as an amanuensis, why not attribute the Gospel to Peter? The acknowledgement of Mark verifies the early church’s focus on getting the information correct.

Luke is an oddity also. For one thing, Luke was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. So, why have Luke as the author if one is merely passing authority onward? Second, it is possible that Luke could have been a Gentile, or at least half-Gentile. If this were the case, it makes it even more bizarre that the church would invent Luke as the writer of the Third Gospel.

Lastly, Matthew is an extremely bizarre choice. “Wait!,” one may postulate, “wasn’t Matthew one of the apostles? Would that not make his claim all the more probable if the church were to invent an author?” Not really. Matthew was a tax-collector. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Tax-collectors were considered the lowest of the low. In other words, they are loved as much now as they were back then. Tax-collectors were notoriously known for charging far more than what the government required so that they could pocket the additional revenue. Furthermore, Matthew is a fairly obscure disciple. He is not one of the inner circle disciples.[7] If the church were to invent an author for the First Gospel, why not accredit it with James or Andrew? Why Matthew, an obscure disciple with a former hated occupation?

Conclusion

The early claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Evangelists only make sense if in fact they were the writers of the Four Gospels. It is possible that Matthew, Luke, and John dictated their Gospels to appointed disciples (particularly John). Well and good. But that does not demerit the claim that they were the authors. If a person is going to dismiss early testimony to the authorship of the Gospels, that person had better possess strong reasons to overturn such a claim. While critical scholars have every right to believe as they wish, the data does not support their claim. This article has demonstrated five strong reasons to hold to the traditional authorship of the Four Gospels. While I appreciate the works of critical scholarship, the data strongly supports the claims of the early church. Until it can be proven otherwise, this writer will continue to adhere to the testimony of the early church as it pertains to the identity of the four canonical Evangelists.

 

© November 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] That is, the authors of the Four Gospels.

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

[3] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.14-16.

[4] See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.2.

[5] To the degree of evidence needed to overturn a touchdown in the NFL.

[6] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, “Introduction to the Gospels and Acts,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1603.

[7] That being Peter, James, John, and perhaps Andrew.

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]

Sedim

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).

Se’irim.

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.

satanstatue_1437931159040_22035430_ver1-0_640_480
Statue of Mephisto from the Church of Satan. Notice the goat-like features.

Lilith

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.

Azazel

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

 christ-riding-white-horse

© 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.

The Debate on Biblical Authority: Mohler vs. Stanley

Debates are often good. What?!? Yes, I reiterate, debates are good. Disagreements, when handled in a godly, civil fashion, can lead to a furtherance of learning and understanding. No one is perhaps better at debating than Baptists…although some Baptist debates lose their godliness and certainly their civility. In the theological world, a debate has been ensuing between Andy Stanley and Dr. R. Albert (Al) Mohler. Stanley is the son of the great Dr. Charles Stanley (pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta) and is senior pastor of North Point Community Church also in Atlanta. Dr. Al Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. The debate surrounds the comments made by Stanley in his message “The Bible Told Me So” (see link below). Stanley essentially states that the Bible is not the supreme authority–Christ is. He further goes on to note that if we are to reach individuals in this post-Christian culture, we must appeal to the evidential sources of Christianity and not the Bible alone (Stanley 2016, NorthPoint.org).

Mohler responds to Stanley’s message with a warning. He claims that another individual sought to do what Stanley is supposedly doing. That person is Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern theological liberalism. Schleiermacher, says Mohler, sought to “salvage spiritual and moral value out of Christianity while jettisoning its troublesome doctrinal claims, supernatural structure, and dependence upon the Bible. He was certain that his strategy would ‘save’ Christianity from irrelevance” (Mohler 2016, albertmohler.com).[1] Who is right? Well, without trying to straddle the fence, I do believe that both individuals bring important truths to the table.[2] Mohler and Stanley are correct in at least three areas.

mohler

Mohler is right about the authority of Scripture as it relates to the Christian’s life (2 Timothy 3:16).

If there is a serious problem plaguing the modern church, it is the rise of biblical illiteracy. Biblical illiteracy is not going to be solved by avoiding the Bible. In fact, Christian leaders must engage the Bible even more in their messages and lessons. Quick anecdotes and savvy punchlines will not improve the lack of biblical knowledge in our day. It will take in-depth expository messages to turn the tide. Mohler’s high view of Scripture is justified. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).[3] Paul was addressing the Old Testament Scriptures (also known as the Hebrew Bible). But the New Testament writings would quickly assume the same status. Paul writes to Timothy, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). The first quote comes from Deuteronomy 25:4. But the second quote is especially interesting. Paul quotes directly from Jesus as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Notice that Paul says “For the Scripture says.” Paul elevated the Gospels to the same status as the Hebrew Bible. Peter also elevates the epistles of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16 when the aged apostle quips, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Note here again that the New Testament writings are elevated to the status of Scripture. Thus, Mohler is right to be concerned with the lack of Scriptural exposition taking place in many modern churches. It is the Word of God that will bring a change in the lives of believers.

Mohler is right about the inspiration of Scripture as it relates to the final revelation of God (Titus 1:2).

I also share Mohler’s view of Scripture. I hold to the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. The logic makes sense. Paul reminds Titus, “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). God does not lie. It is not that God chooses not to lie. God cannot lie if He is absolutely holy. With this logic in place, it stands to reason that God cannot speak falsehood. Giving that the Bible is the revelation of God, then it only stands to reason that the Bible is true and cannot be false. Thus, a believer should place a high value on the written words given by God. I still remember, and will never forget, the advice given to me when I first entered the ministry. My mentors would say, “If you keep your messages between the covers of Genesis and Revelation, you’re on solid ground. If you go beyond these covers, you’re on your own.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Mohler is right about the safeguard that comes with a high view of Scripture.

I also share Mohler’s concern with the erosion that comes when the safeguard of Scripture is removed. Schleiermacher’s well-intended liberalism, which sought to spare Christianity from the flood of doubt coming its way from the times, led to one Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann, a German theologian, sought to de-mythologize the Bible by removing all its miraculous content. Bultmann, who was undoubtedly influenced by Humean philosophy,[4] led a movement that would ultimately give rise to such groups as the Jesus Seminar and the like. Liberal theology has led to the doubts of many. Liberal theology has not led to the strengthening nor the salvation of Christianity. In contrast, it has led to many towards atheism and agnosticism. Mohler is right to be concerned with the lack of biblical exposition in modern churches.

While Mohler is right on several points, I find myself in agreement with some of what Stanley says as well. I agree with Stanley on three points.

andy-stanley

Stanley is right about the authority of the Christian tradition as it relates to the final apologetic (1 Corinthians 15:3-9).

Stanley points to the authority of the pre-New Testament traditions and sources. I am surprised that Mohler takes issue with Stanley on this point. The Bible’s authenticity is strengthened by the strong evidence relating to these traditions, creeds, and formulae found in the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps the most important of all these early traditions is that which is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. Here, Paul relates to the Corinthian church what he had received a few years after Christ arose from the dead. Paul writes, “For what I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).

The Bible does not hold authority because it is the Bible. The Bible holds authority because it is the truth. The believer should not worry. Christianity is an evidential faith. Christianity has been tested and it stands on its own. Why? It is because Christ literally rose from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is not a fanciful wish or desire. Christ’s resurrection is reality.

Stanley is right about the primacy of Christ above all else (Colossians 1:15ff).

I also agree with Stanley that we must worship Christ and not the Bible. The reason the Bible is the Word of God is because of God Himself. Thus, the Bible points us to the reality of the triune God. Paul, writing to the church of Colossae, notes that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16a). While we must place great emphasis on the Bible, we cannot allow the Bible to itself become an idol. Our worship is of the risen Christ Jesus.

Stanley is right about the need to appeal to evidence to reach the current generation.

I also find myself in agreement with Stanley in the need to provide evidence for the post-Christian generation which we are trying to reach. Most people are not going to listen to what we say about the Bible until they know that there are reasons to accept the Bible as an authentic document. Apologetics is necessary to do evangelism in modern times. William Lane Craig has noted on his podcast, Reasonable Faith, that we are amid an exciting time. An apologetic renaissance has begun. This renaissance is not something to fear. Rather, it is something that Christians, including Mohler, should embrace. This website has noted the resistance that the modern church has held against apologetics, which is quite bizarre.

So, what can one draw from this debate? I think the following conclusion can be made:

Mohler is right in his strong view of Scripture and Stanley is right in his strong view on apologetics: therefore, the appropriate view consists of a blending of both.

Let me say, I respect both Al Mohler and Andy Stanley. Both have contributed greatly to the kingdom of God. However, I think Mohler and Stanley are both guilty of accepting an “either/or” mentality when they should accept a “both/and” approach to this issue. Yes, the Christian should preach and teach the truths found in the Bible. I think Stanley is guilty of taking too low a view of Scripture. 

Yes, the Christian should engage the evidences and promote apologetics. I think Mohler has taken too high a view of Scripture, bordering on the level of fideism.[5] Quite honestly, the modern preacher should seek to find a balance between Mohler and Stanley’s view. The Christian leader would do well to wholeheartedly focus on the truths of God’s Word, discipling people in the truths of the Scripture, while also standing ready to provide evidence for the faith one holds (1 Peter 3:15). Theology and apologetics are two sides of the very same coin. Both are necessary. Both should be sought. Both should be accepted.

© October 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

McKnight, Scot. “In the Beginning: The Gospel—Al Mohler vs. Andy Stanley.” Jesus Creed (October 3, 2016). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/10/03/in-the-beginning-the-gospel/?platform=hootsuite.

Mohler, R. Albert. “For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denied…Again.” AlbertMohler.com (September 26, 2016). http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/09/26/bible-tells-biblical-authority-denied/.

Stanley, Andy. “Why ‘the Bible Says So’ Is Not Enough Anymore.” Outreach Magazine (September 30, 2016). http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/19900-the-bible-says-so.html/3.

Stanley, Andy. “The Bible Told Me So.” North Point.org (August 28, 2016). http://northpoint.org/messages/who-needs-god/the-bible-told-me-so/.

Notes

[1] For full fairness on this topic and the authors involved, the links to all the writings and resources concerning this debate are posted in the “Sources Cited” section of the article.

[2] In full disclosure, I am a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Even though Mohler is part of the SBC and Stanley has connections to the SBC, I seek to examine the points of view from both participants in this debate.

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

[4] Humean philosophy comes from the atheist philosopher David Hume who rejected the miraculous and argued that it was impossible for the miraculous to take place. Furthermore, it assumed that it was impossible to prove that a miraculous event took place in history.

[5] Fideism is the view that faith alone is necessary without any evidence whatsoever. In many ways, fideism is a blind faith and ends up committing a circular reasoning fallacy.

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.

Nahum

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

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

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).

Haggai

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).

Zechariah

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.”

Malachi

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.

Notes

[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.

720px-kingdoms_of_israel_and_judah_map_830-svg[1]

Hosea

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.

Joel

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

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

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

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

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.

Notes

[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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Allow Biblical Theology to Shape Systematic Theology, Not Reverse

This week on the Bellator Christi Podcast, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Chad Thornhill. Dr. Thornhill is the Professor of New Testament Greek, the Chair of Theological Studies, and Associate Professor of Apologetics at Liberty University. Dr. Thornhill discussed his findings from his book A Chosen People: Paul, Election, and Second Temple Judaism as it pertained to the understanding of individuals in the Second Temple Judaist period.

In addition to his discussion pertaining to his research, one of the most important points made by Thornhill on the podcast related to biblical hermeneutics (that is, Bible interpretation). He said that he taught his students not to read information back into Scripture, seeking to prove a particular point. Rather, the student should interpret the Bible according to the information given by the author to his intended audience.[1] This technique is much more difficult as it must involve in-depth research by the Bible student. But the difficulty is worth the time invested as it presents a far more accurate interpretation.

Truthfully, adherents of all theological interpretations have been guilty of reading into a passage what the person wants to read. This is true for both Calvinists and Arminians, for Molinists and Thomists alike. In the end, biblical theology must shape a person’s systematic theology. What is meant by “biblical theology” and “systematic theology”?

Biblical theology is understood as the “study of the Bible that seeks to discover what the biblical writers, under divine guidance, believed, described, and taught in the context of their own times.”[2] In other words, biblical theology is the understanding of the biblical writer’s theology. What did he believe? What was he intending to communicate? What did he desire for his readers to know? What were the circumstances surrounding his message? To answer these questions, one must use exposition to find the answers; that is, to remain true to the writer’s intention. Using this method, a person will eventually see the big picture of the Bible, which leads to a true systematic theology. Now, what is “systematic theology”?

Systematic theology is understood as an articulation of “the biblical outlook in a current doctrinal or philosophical system.”[3] Systematic theology looks at the overall picture as it pertains to particular doctrines. Whereas biblical theology will seek to examine, for example, what John believed about Jesus in his Gospel and letters; systematic theology will show what the Bible teaches about the identity of Jesus. It is imperative that one possesses a strong biblical theology before one can hope to hold a strong systematic theology.

Often and unfortunate as it may be, biblical expositors will often elevate the systematic theology of John Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas, Arminius, Wesley, and Molina over that of the biblical text. When this is done, the expositor will jump through hoops in order to twist the Scripture into his/her theological system. Expositors force passages such as John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, and Romans 9 into their paradigm, while often being untrue to the nature of the text. If such a passage does not fit into one’s systematic theology, then that particular aspect of one’s systematic theology needs to be examined against the biblical text and against the overall message of the Bible itself. The great theologians such as those mentioned earlier need to be studied fervently. If perchance a person holds to a doctrine that has been rejected by the vast number of theologians throughout history, then one had better possess strong and valid reasons for accepting such a claim. Yet while Calvin, Aquinas, Wesley, Molina, and Arminius are important and extremely knowledgeable, one should take note that they are not infallible. The Scriptures are infallible. The theologians were mere mortal men trying to understand the truths of Scripture. So, we should study them with the understanding that if their teachings contradict the Scriptures, then the Scriptures should be accepted and the particular theologian’s viewpoints rejected.

Systematic theology is extremely important! My major in graduate school was in theology, particularly systematic theology, so I hold a great deal of interest in the matter. Do not misread the message of this post. I believe that systematic theology is of utmost importance. However, I do think the challenge offered by Dr. Chad Thornhill should be adhered by all students of the Bible. The Bible should shape our systematic theology, not the other way around. Such is true also for a person’s political and social beliefs. If the Bible is God’s Word (which I believe it is), then it is the final authority of truth.

© August 16, 2016. Brian Chilton. 

Sources Cited

[1]  Chad Thornhill, interviewed by Brian Chilton, Bellator Christi Podcast (August 15, 2016), podcast, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/08/15/election-from-the-perspective-of-second-temple-judaism-w-dr-chad-thornhill.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), Logos Bible Software..

[3] Ibid.

 

Jesus’ Cure to the Racial Divide

On July 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Pellew on the Bellator Christi Podcast.1 We addressed the racial divide that has plagued our nation. During our conversation, I was reminded of the lesson I shared with the kids at a local church. The children were diverse in their ethnicities ranging from white, black, to Latino. I shared with them the story found in John chapter 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

In that encounter, Jesus broke several barriers. One, Jesus broke a racial barrier that existed between Samaritans and Jews. Two, Jesus broke a gender barrier as Jewish rabbis normally did not speak to women. Three, Jesus broke the barriers of tradition. Fourth and most importantly, Jesus broke the sin barrier as He forgave the woman of her sins. But as we look at the issues of our time, we also see that Jesus’ encounter offers a cure to the divisions that ail us. Jesus’ approach serves as an excellent model to provide healing and reconciliation.

jacobs well.jpg
Actual Jacob’s well in Samaria.

Listen to the concerns of the person.

Jesus practiced good listening skills. While He was God and knew fully the situation at hand, Jesus still allowed the woman to speak. He heard her concerns and did not dismiss her. Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He listened as she timidly asked, “How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9).2 Jesus also listened to the woman as she exclaimed “Our fathers worship on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20). Listening is an activity that has greatly been lost. To provide healing, we must first listen to the problems that are on the table. Those issues may be sensitive. Those issues may make us uncomfortable. Nevertheless, when we listen to another person, even if we vehemently disagree with that person, we demonstrate respect to that person.

Create a relationship with the person.

Christianity is relationship-based. Melissa and I discussed on the podcast that people often segregate and divide because of the lack of knowledge of those who may differ from them. Melissa noted that a person should not simply befriend someone to proudly say, “I have a black friend” or “I have a white friend.” Rather, a person should desire to befriend others for the sake of the person, not for selfish pride. Jesus demonstrated such behavior with the Samaritan woman. The woman was shocked that Jesus spoke to her (John 4:9). The disciples were equally surprised that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan (John 4:27). Jesus did not think to Himself, “This person is a Samaritan. I will befriend her so that I can tell the folks back home that I have a Samaritan friend.” No! Rather, Jesus saw her for who she really was. She was a person who needed salvation, a person who had been excluded from her community. She was a woman who had a horrid past and a displeasurable present condition.

Forgive the failures of the past and present.

The Samaritan woman had a past. She was a woman who had been married five times and was currently living with a man (John 4:16-19). Coming to the well when she did demonstrates that she was an outcast as “women were more likely to come in groups to fetch water.”3 Jesus could have easily condemned her, saying, “You have a past, so I don’t want you in my kingdom.” Rather, Jesus forgave her past and transformed her present.

As a Caucasian Christian, I do not know the struggles that black Christians have faced. When I drove a school bus, I remember the friendship I had with a black Christian man. We spoke about different issues. I remember him telling me about his return from war in Vietnam only to be disallowed entrance to a restaurant in the South because of his skin color. From what he and other black Christians have told me, the struggle is real. It also must be noted that racism comes in all forms and fashions. Thus, discrimination against all whites because of what a few white people have done is just as racist as discrimination against a black person, Latino, or otherwise for what a few in the particular group has done. The same logic applies to police officers. A few bad cops do not mean that all cops are bad. By the way, such accusations are not only morally wrong, they also represent a logical fallacy–the fallacy of composition/division, i.e., judging the whole by the part.

While I have never been in the situations that my black Christian friends have faced, I do know what it is like to be hurt. I know what it is like to feel demeaned and unwanted. I know what it is like to feel like an outcast. From those experiences, I know firsthand the choice all of us face: forgiveness or bitterness. Forgiveness is extremely difficult, but for the Christian it is commanded. Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the end, a person can find healing in Christ’s forgiveness or can continue down the path of hate-driven bitterness. This is true for a person regardless of the amount of pigment one’s skin carries.

Acknowledge the present problems.

Jesus did not cower and did not waver. Jesus acknowledged the problems that the woman faced and the differences in the traditions that Samaritans and Jews held. For many, it is easier to pretend that the current problems are not real. While I did not agree with the caller on our latest show on all points that he made, I would concede that we cannot pretend that there are no current race-related problems. Like Jesus, we must not cower and waver. We must stand firm, choosing to love our neighbors as ourselves (a pretty important commandment in Matthew 22:39). As Melissa stated on our podcast, “It is time for the church to take the lead on racial matters and provide reconciliation.”4

Provide biblical answers.

Lastly, Jesus did not avoid the problems. Instead, Jesus confronted the issues that the Samaritan woman presented and provided biblical answers to those problems. As Christians we have the answers to the problems our nation faces. We know that God is sovereign and will provide justice in due time. God created all of us in His image, thus illustrating that the life of every human being matters regardless of race. The biblical worldview also incorporates the understanding that heaven will consist of all nationalities and ethnicities. John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'” (Revelation 7:9-10)!

Conclusion

For the Christian, there is no reason for us to commit to violence. Christianity’s sole message is about love and peace. We must remember that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Satan is the one who seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Therefore, the primary message of this article is found in Paul’s great word of encouragement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Let us pray for peace, love, and understanding.

© July 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Revelation 79 [widescreen]

Sources Cited

1 Melissa Pellew, interviewed by Brian Chilton, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew),” The Bellator Christi Podcast (July 18, 2016), http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/07/18/healing-the-racial-divide-with-melissa-pellew.

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

3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 217.

4 Pellew, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew), Bellator Christi Podcast.

Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

Trusting God in an Anxious World

Today, I read about the United Kingdom’s decision to pull out of the European Union. Without engaging in whether such an idea was good or bad (I’ll leave that to the political pundits), many fear that the global economy could suffer because of England’s decision.[1] It seems to me that every time I turn on the news there is something even more shocking than the day before. For many, the looming thoughts of a global World War III seem more and more like a possibility. How does the Christian remain calm and peaceable in such a tumultuous time? Let me suggest a few points.

  1. The Church has previously endured similar circumstances and survived.

Solomon notes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).[2] While technology increases in complexity, people never change—both good and bad news. The gospel message remains the same. The Church has endured the persecutions of the Roman empire. The Church made it through the dark ages. The Church has survived times when people thought that the gospel message would die.[3] Church, we will make it through by God’s grace. Yes, we may have to use different tactics and methodologies, but the message of Christ will never change.

2. God is sovereign: He knows what we do not.

God is sovereign. This means that God is in control. Grudem associates sovereignty with God’s power in noting that “God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will.”[4] When the prophet Jeremiah asked for understanding pertaining to the events of his day, God inquired, “Is anything too hard for me” (Jeremiah 32:27)? The obvious answer is, “No.” When I have questions and concerns (which I have in recent days), God keeps assuring me saying, “Trust Me! I have this under control.”

3. Jesus never promised an easy road; He just promised His presence.

The Church has largely become spoiled. This is not true of those in the Eastern church and certainly not true of those in the Southern Hemisphere. But in the Western church, false promises of an easy life have overwhelmed the message of Christ. Instead of proclaiming, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27), the Western church has proclaimed, “God wants you to be a multi-millionaire and live an easy life.” It may be that some would enjoy such pleasure, but such has not been the case for the majority of Christians throughout time. In the end, we must be reminded that Christ never promised an easy road, rather He promised His presence. For He reminds us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

4. Each day is a day closer to Christ’s return.

As a futurist, I believe that the Book of Revelation gives a description of what will take place in the end of human history. I will not speculate as to when Christ will return. It is impossible to predict Christ’s coming for He has told us, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). While it is impossible for one to postulate when Christ will appear to redeem the Church, it is with certainty that one could claim that each day is one day closer to that time. Rather than become depressed at the current status of the world, we need to remember the work that is set before us. We may not have much longer before God calls the Church home.

5. The joys of a heavenly eternity far outweigh the problems of today.

The apostle Paul reminds us that “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV).[5] The eternity that God has prepared for those who love Him far outweigh the problems that we may encounter today. If you are depressed about the events of today, focus your attention on the joys of eternity that await you. Some may argue, “Doesn’t this place less attention on the here and now?” Certainly not! When a person lives with the hope that is found in heaven, the person is able to look beyond oneself and see the larger picture.

Conclusion

The world is currently unstable. Chances are highly likely that it could become even more unstable before it gets better. Nevertheless, Christians have the opportunity to “step up to the plate.” We speak of the trust found in God. Such times allows such trust to be seen in a vivid fashion. While the world becomes an increasingly dark place, the Church has the opportunity to illuminate the light of Christ even more vividly than before. Will you succumb to the darkness of worry and anxiety or will you stand and say, “Let the floodwaters come! I will not be moved from the Rock of my foundation, the Lighthouse shining forth in an ocean of darkness—that Rock, that Lighthouse being Jesus Christ!!!” Christian, what will your response be?

Notes

[1] See Griff Witte, Karla Adam, and Dan Balz, “Britain Shocks World: Breaks with European Union, British Leader Steps Down,” MSN.com (June 24, 2016), retrieved June 24, 2016, http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/britain-shocks-world-breaks-with-european-union-british-leader-steps-down/ar-AAhznhT.

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

[3] Take for instance the proclamation of Voltaire who predicted that no one would read the Bible in 100 years. Voltaire lived in the 1700s.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 216.

[5] Scripture marked NIV comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

© June 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

10 Questions about Evil Answered by the Bible

We have been discussing over the past few weeks the documentary hosted by Morgan Freeman titled The Story of God: The Story of Us as aired on the National Geographic Channel. On Sunday, May 1st, 2016, Freeman presented the fifth episode of the series. This episode dealt with the problem of evil. I originally thought that the episode would deal with the issue that is popularly known as theodicy: that is, how can a loving and all-powerful God co-exist with a world full of evil? Rather, the episode dealt more with evil in the human sphere. How do we understand evil? Where does evil originate? This article will present 10 questions that were raised over the course of the episode. The answers to these questions are found in the pages of the Bible.

  1. Is a person wired to do evil?

We will discuss the concept of original sin and its influence on our lives (see question 2). However, we must ask, “Are some people wired to do evil?” Morgan Freeman interviewed a psychopath at a federal imprisonment facility. The psychopath had raped several women killing many of them. Let me pause and say that I have to give serious props to Freeman and the show for not publicizing the prisoner’s name and for refusing to show his face. They did not want to glorify the man or his actions.

Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist, claimed that the prisoner lacked emotions and the ability to control his impulses, something that the prisoner confessed as true. However, it is interesting that the prisoner admitted that what he did was wrong. He said that if he were released that he would probably do the same, admitting the evil of his deeds. While I admit that there are psychopathic tendencies in individuals which may stem from physical abnormalities, one still has the choice to act on one’s impulses. Later, a theologian named Kutter Calloway admitted that each of us have a little of that psychopath in us. Each of us holds the ability to do great good or great evil. The Bible gives a great point on this issue. Joshua tells the people of Israel, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).[1] Each day, we also have that decision.

  1. What is original sin?

Charles Hodge defines original sin as “The effects of Adam’s sin upon his posterity are declared in our standards to be, (1.) The guilt of his first sin. (2.) The loss of original righteousness. (3.) The corruption of our whole nature, which (i.e., which corruption), is commonly called original sin.”[2] Paul notes that “if by the transgression of the one (meaning Adam, mine), death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Paul notes in verse 18 that all are condemned as guilty because of the sin of Adam. A sin nature is passed from one generation unto the next.

  1. Are humans inherently good or inherently evil?

Freeman interviewed Kutter Calloway, a Baptist minister and theologian. Calloway said quite accurately that there is “something in us that bends itself towards death and evil.”[3] This is true. The Bible illustrates the dichotomy that exists in each human being. Humans are made in the image of God, or imagio dei (Genesis 1:27). Thus, humans have the potential to do good because of bearing the imprint of God’s image. However, humans have been incapacitated to do complete good due to the entrance of sin into the human equation. Goodness comes from God. So it stands to reason that ultimate good can be brought from those who have been regenerated by the grace of God. To answer the question, humans were made to do good, however bearing a sin nature, humans are swayed to do great evil.

  1. Is the devil real?

Calloway noted that the devil is a real being, but yet the devil is a metaphor for the inner demonic influences of a person’s life. So, to answer the question, the devil is a real entity. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat the apple in the garden (Genesis 3:4-5). The devil tested God in the instance of Job’s life (Job 1:13-22). The devil also tempted Jesus on three occasions at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil is also shown to be defeated at the end of days (Revelation 20:1-15). So yes, the devil is real.

  1. Can our ancestors influence evil behavior?

Some cultures believe that a person’s ancestors can influence a person’s behavior. In a manner of speaking, this could be true to a degree. For instance, Moses understood that a person’s sin could influence several generations in the future (i.e., Numbers 15:18). In many ways, the sins of today can lead to the problems of tomorrow. Therefore, in some degree, we are influenced by the evil of previous generations, but maybe not in the way that it was presented on the show.

  1. Can evil be purified?

Yes! Evil is purified by the Messiah. See question 8.

  1. Should we blame spiritual entities for our behavior?

While we have all heard people use the excuse, “The devil made me do it.” In reality, each person must answer for their own actions. Spiritual entities can tempt and try to persuade a person to do a particular thing. However, no one can blame the entities for their decisions. For instance, the devil tempted Adam and Eve. Yet, Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their actions.

  1. Does the purging of evil require a Messiah?

Yes! Sin stains a person thoroughly and completely. The writer of Hebrews notes that “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Thus, a perfect sacrifice was required to rid the world of evil. That perfect sacrifice was found in Christ. As Jesus himself noted, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

  1. Can faith lead us to redemption?

Absolutely! A person is made into a new creation because of the work of Christ. The old ways, attitudes, and behaviors are transformed. A person can be forgiven, learning how to forgive, and can be molded into a much better person due to the work of Christ. The resounding truth that rings through the ages is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

  1. Can people change?

Some people hold the assumption that people cannot change. Such beliefs stem from an ultra-determinist ideology that would lend the ideas of law and morality as invalid. It makes little sense to have laws and ethics if people cannot choose to do good rather than evil. In the end, one must note that there are certain things that a person cannot change. Personality traits and tendencies may follow a person for a lifetime. However, behaviors and attitudes can change! Christianity is built upon the idea that people can change. That was the purpose for which Jesus came. Jesus came to set people free. Jesus came to bring forth change! As Paul notes, a person can choose not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good an acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). People cannot change themselves necessarily, but God can change people.

Error Alert:   Did the idea of the devil originate with Zoroastrianism?

The fifth episode presented what I believe to be an error. The show seemed to picture Zoroastrianism as the father of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief in the devil and the fight between good and evil. Zoroastrianism is pinpointed to be around 3,500 years old stemming from the teacher Zoroaster. However, it does not appear that the monotheistic religions may have adopted the concept from Zoroastrianism. Rather, Zoroastrianism may have adopted said concepts from Judaism. The book of Job may be the oldest book of the Bible. Elwell and Beitzel note that “The language of the book may also point to an early date. Certain linguistic elements indicate more archaic forms of Hebrew, as preserved in the epic material from Ugarit. It may be that Job himself lived in the 2nd millennium b.c.”[4] If it is true that Moses wrote the majority of the Torah, or Pentateuch, (and remember Genesis mentions the devil), then the latest that the earliest form of these writings would have appeared would been the 13th century BC. Many scholars, and rightly so, argue for an older date for the Exodus. If so, Genesis would have appeared in the 15th century BC. This would have been much earlier than Zoroaster.

In addition, studies indicate that the writings of the Bible may be much older than previously thought. The Associated Press reports,

“Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than what some scholars think. Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BC, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works…The inscriptions themselves are not biblical texts. Instead, they detail troop movements and expenses for provisions, indicating that people throughout the military chain of command down to the fort’s deputy quartermaster were able to write. The tone of the inscriptions, which suggest they were not written by professional scribes, combined with the fortress’ remote location, indicate a wide spread of literacy at the time, according to the study. A high level of literacy would support the idea that some biblical texts had already been authored by this time. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known collection of certain biblical texts, are believed to date several centuries later.”[5]

With this in mind, it is safe to assume that Zoroastrianism was probably influenced by ancient Judaism rather than the other. This is not to say that Zoroastrianism could not have influenced Judaism during the Babylonian captivity especially with the influence of apocalyptic literature. However, I do not think that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam adopted as much from Zoroastrianism as was presented in the documentary.
 

© May 2, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 227.

[3] Kent Calloway, interviewed by Morgan Freeman, “Why Does Evil Exist?, The Story of God: The Story of Us, aired on the National Geographic Channel, Revelations Entertainment (May 1, 2016), retrieved May 1, 2016.

[4] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1169.

[5] Associated Press, “Handwriting Study Finds Clues On When Biblical Texts Written,” DailyMail (April 12, 2016), retrieved May 2, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3535745/Handwriting-study-finds-clues-biblical-texts-written.html.

The Functions of the Triune Godhead as Seen in the Baptism of Jesus

In Peter Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic, I read the tale of a man who wanted to tell his friend, a farmer, something important. However, the man approached the fence surrounding the farmer’s property and noticed a large dog barking at him from the other side of the fence. The farmer was busy putting out some hay. The man said, “Sir, I have something I need to tell you. Is it okay for me to come over your fence?” The farmer said, “Sure, come on over!” The man said, “Sir, does your dog bite?” The farmer said, “No, he is a good dog. He won’t bite.” The man began to climb over the fence and the dog barked even louder. The man said again, “Sir, are you absolutely sure your dog won’t bite?” The farmer said, “Yeah, come on over. He won’t bite you!” So the man leaped over the fence. However, the dog bit him on the leg and sent him back over the fence. The man said, “Sir, I thought you said your dog wouldn’t bite!” The farmer looked around and said, “Well, that’s not my dog.” Many times a lack of communication can lead to all sorts of problem. Throughout church history, people have mistaken the roles of the Triune God. These misunderstandings have led to various heresies. Today, we will look at the functions of the Triune God. It is my hope that this message will help everyone understand the unity that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have together. The unity of the church is stressed as we should be united together as God is united. Also, we are invited into this divine, eternal relationship through the New Covenant. God is one in three persons.

  1. The function of the FATHER as ARCHITECT (3:17).

In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father’s divine existence as he speaks from the heavens. The voice said to John, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17).[i] Barker and Kohlenberger note that “The voice from heaven was God’s own voice; it testified that God himself had broken silence and was again revealing himself to the human race—a clear sign of the dawning of the Messianic Age.”[ii] Note, God had revealed his plan. Thus, God is the architect of the entire salvation project. 

It is obvious that the Father is understood to be divine. The Father is known by his personal name Yahweh throughout the Old Testament. As we have noted previously, Yahweh means “I am” or the “self-existent One.” As he pertains to the Triune Godhead, he holds the function of the great planner or even the mastermind, if you will. Wayne Grudem writes, “So we may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and Holy Spirit.”[iii] Norman Geisler writes, “By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.”[iv] If it were not for the Father, then no plan of salvation would be offered.

2. The function of the SON as ACCOMPLISHER (3:16a).

At the baptism of Jesus, we see that Christ was obedient even in an act that was not mandatory. Jesus had committed no sin for which he had to be absolved. Yet, Jesus was obedient in his baptism and was obedient in his death. The baptism of Jesus would inaugurate his ministry on earth. The Father acknowledged his approval to his Son, in part due to the Son’s willingness to accomplish the salvation of all who would receive his atoning work. Barker and Kohlenberger denote that “These things are linked in the one utterance: at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, his Father presented him, in a veiled way, as the Davidic Messiah, the very Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant.”[v]

On several occasions, the New Testament presents Jesus as God incarnate. This is an imperative doctrine to the Christian faith. Jesus himself acknowledged himself to be God come in the flesh from eternity past (John 17:5). Jesus claimed equality with God in forgiving sins (Mark 2:5). Jesus accepted worship by a leper (Matthew 8:2), from a ruler (Matthew 9:19), from the disciples after calming a storm (Matthew 14:33), from a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:25), from the mother of James and John (Matthew 20:20), from a demoniac (Mark 5:6), and from Thomas (John 20:28). The miracles of Jesus demonstrate the divine nature of Jesus as he healed various diseases, performed supernatural works over the natural world (i.e. calming the storm, walking on water, etc.), and even raising the dead. Jesus not only claimed to be God. He proved that he was God. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated his obedience in fulfilling the plan orchestrated by the Father.

3. The function of the HOLY SPIRIT as APPLICATOR (3:16b).

There is yet another player in this Triune Godhead. The Holy Spirit plays a role. The Holy Spirit played an active role in Jesus’ baptism. Notice that in verse 16, Matthew records that the “heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (3:16b). The Spirit of God plays the role of applicator as the Spirit applies salvation to the person receiving Christ.

Craig Blomberg writes, “the Holy Spirit descends “like” a dove, which suggests that no actual bird appeared but that some visible manifestation of the Spirit led observers to recognize that God was revealing himself through those attributes regularly associated with a dove—e.g., superintending over creation (cf. Gen 1:2), offering peace (as in Gen 8:10), gentleness in contrast to the judgment of vv. 7–12, or as “the loving character of divine life itself.”[vi] The Holy Spirit led Jesus as the Father directed. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” but rather a “he.” The Holy Spirit is the personal mover at creation and is the personal applier of salvation to the repentant soul. Throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is shown to be God himself. In Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of stealing money from God, Peter said to them, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?…You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias and his wife died thereafter. Jesus even tells us that all blasphemies will be forgiven expect one: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:30-32).

People have often tried to illustrate the Triune nature of God. But most illustrations fall short. For instance, people have used the three stages of water: solid, liquid, and gas. However, this illustration fails because the water changes forms which leads to the heresy of modalism. Some have illustrated God as three links of a chain. However, the links are three different things which leads to the heresy of Tritheism. Some have used the illustration of different roles that a person plays as I am father, pastor, and husband. However, this does not quite work either since I cannot perform all three at the same time which leads to the Sabellian heresy. Are there good illustrations? Well thankfully there are. Norman Geisler provides three. 1. A Triangle is a good example of the trinity. The triangle is one shape but holds three different sides at the same time. 2. One to the Third Power. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. You have three ones which constitute one. That is a better illustration for mathematicians. My favorite is the third. 3 Love is Trifold. For love to be love, it must contain three elements: a lover, a beloved, and the spirit of love. These three are necessary for love to exist. Ultimately, we will always have to settle for a bit of mystery in our understanding of God’s Triune nature. But having a grasp on the essentials lets us know four important truths.

 

  1. God is three persons, yet one God. There will always be a bit of a mystery about the Triune nature of God. However, we can accept this truth due to the necessity of the Father’s existence, the historical nature of Jesus’ resurrection, and the historical accounts and personal experience that we have had with the Holy Spirit.
  2. God is an eternal relationship. We are invited into that relationship. When we accept Christ as the Lord of our lives, we have been ushered into the eternal relationship of God—a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  3. God has made every effort to save us. Our salvation included the architectural genius of the Father, the accomplishing obedience of the Son, and the applicating and loving presence of the Holy Spirit.
  4. God is united. So, should we. If anything, we see the great importance that God places on unity. We should strive to be united with God. We should also strive for unity with fellow Christians.

 Copyright, April 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

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

[ii] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 249.

[iv] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 549.

[v] Barker and Kohlenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 19.

[vi] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81–82.

9 Questions about the Apocalypse Answered by the Bible

On Sunday, April 10th, 2016, the National Geographic Channel presented its second installment of the series entitled The Story of God: The Story of Us hosted by Morgan Freeman. Thus far, the series has been both fascinating and well made. Thus far, the series has not been what I feared it would be: an attack on the Christian worldview. However, the second episode did purport a favored worldview according to Freeman—that of the Buddhist worldview.[1]

The second episode dealt with the issue of the apocalypse. The term apocalypse refers to an unveiling. Ultimately, the apocalypse is understood to describe those events that will take place at the end of days. Freeman evaluated the apocalypse from several different worldviews: Jewish, Christian, Muslim,[2] Mayan, and Buddhist. From his episode, I was left with nine questions pertaining to the apocalypse, that is the end of days. What does the Bible say concerning these issues?

  1. Did the Jews of Jesus’ day expect a human Messiah who would redeem the land?

Yoram Hazony, an expert in the politics and religion of Judaism, said that in Judaism, “Jews invented the Messiah. But, it’s not the same Messiah that everyone thinks about because when Christians think of the Messiah, they think of someone who is divine. What we have for a Messiah is a man, a king of this earth who will bring peace among the nations. He will not be divine.”[3] Students of the Bible should not be surprised by Hazony’s comments. In fact, Jews of Jesus’ day were not by and large expecting a divine Messiah either. However, does this correspond with the writings of the Hebrew Bible? In fact—no. Let us say two things concerning this issue.

First, it should be noted that Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth fulfilled over 350 prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible.[4] One must also consider Isaiah 53 which most explicitly refers to one like Jesus of Nazareth. The disciples on several occasions desired Jesus to bring about the new kingdom on earth in a militaristic campaign, yet Jesus refused (e.g. Thomas’ misunderstanding in John 11:16). Jesus even met the timeframe given in the 70 Weeks Prophecy in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). So, if Jesus is not the Messiah, there won’t be a Messiah.

Second, it should be noted that the Hebrew Bible[5] calls for a Messiah who is divine-like. For instance, consider Daniel’s presentation of the Son of Man. Daniel writes, “behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).[6] Much more could be said concerning this issue, but we must digress.

  1. Will the Jewish Temple be rebuilt?

Yes. Yoram Hazony also notes that orthodox Jews desire the rebuilding of the Temple but they are not yet ready.[7] The Bible makes reference to the idea that the Temple would be rebuilt at the end of days. The prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel chapters 40-48) provides an idea about an eschatological temple that would be built at the end of days—a third Temple if you will. This view is also held in Haggai 2:1-9 as well as the apocalyptic work 1 Enoch 90:29; 91:3. For premillennialists like myself, there is an anticipation that Christ will return and establish a millennial reign upon earth. It will be from this new temple that Christ will rule and reign for a period of time. During this period, there will be peace on earth—a fulfillment to Yoram Hazony’s objection.

  1. Did the “Mark of the Beast” refer to Nero?

During the show, Kim Haines-Eitzen noted that the Mark of the Beast referenced the Caesar Nero. The mark of the beast, as it is popularly known, is the number 666. It was noted on Freeman’s show that Hebrew and Greek letters hold numerical values. This is, in fact, true. The use of letters as numbers is known as gematria. Gematria is “the use of the total numerical value of the letters of a Hebrew word to arrive at a hidden meaning of the word.”[8] As previously noted, it was said that the number 666, or 616 in some ancient texts, could refer to Nero. This is also true. Yet, Nero was dead by the time John wrote his apocalypse. Thus, this seems to refer to some future political leader—a leader who will lead a global campaign against Christ and his followers. Thus, the antichrist is a political leader of some sorts. Perhaps, the antichrist is the leader of what is often thought to be the new world order (NWO), a global governmental organization that is thought to be developed at the end of time.

Paige Patterson also notes concerning the mark of the beast in Revelation 13:18 the following: “Here the text makes clear that this second beast is indeed one human being. But just as six falls short of the ideal number “seven,” this false prophet who deceives the whole earth in this way is hopelessly compromised; and the repetition of the “six” in its trifold form 666 is clearly intended to underscore the intrinsic evil bound up in this individual. At this point some of the saints are killed, others taken into captivity, and all the earth is forced into an economic circumstance allowing only those faithfully serving the purposes of the beast to enact trade. Thus, the pressure and tribulation descending on the saints afflicts them in every conceivable way. The unholy trinity of the dragon, the political beast, and the false prophet are now fully revealed to John and through him to his readers.”[9]

  1. Is it possible to know the exact date of the end of time?

No. Jesus said that no one knows the coming of the Son of Man, except the Father alone (Matt. 24:36; Luke 10:22). Therefore, it is useless to speculate.

  1. Will the end come?

Most certainly! Not only is the end predicted in Revelation, the end is also predicted by Jesus and Peter. Simon Peter notes that “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8-10). The end will most certainly come. The end of the universe is something not only accepted by faithful believers, but also scientists. The universe will eventually run out of usable energy. The day of the Lord is a certainty. While this may cause dread for many, for the believer the day will ultimately lead to great good and peace.

  1. Should we anticipate the end?

Yes and no. Yes, we should anticipate the end in that we look for Christ to return at any moment. We do not want to be caught unaware (Luke 12:35-40; 12:41-48). This level of anticipation helps us to remain grounded and faithful to the task that Christ has given to us. Yet, we should not be overwhelmed with eschatology in making the end-times our primary focus.

  1. Where should we expect the final battle to take place?

The Middle East will be the area where the final showdown will take place. The epic Battle of Armageddon is slated to take place at the valley of Megiddo.[10] For more information concerning the Battle of Armageddon, see Revelation 16:16 and following.

  1. Is the end-time linear or circular?

This may seem like a bizarre topic for the apocalypse. However, the documentary mentioned the idea of linear vs. circular time. The issue of God and time is a most difficult issue. For me, God continually exists atemporally (beyond the scope of time) and temporally (working in time). While God is atemporal in that he can see all points of time equally, he created time (as we know time) when he created the universe. This issue deserves much more focus than what we can provide in this particular article. However, one should note that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning and we operate in a sequential time-order, then we should expect a linear end to come to the universe.

  1. What does the apocalypse tell us about God?

According to some ideologies, right and wrong are not judged. One pays for their sins in the next life. Yet, the payment of right and wrong in the next life involves the idea of objective morality. Objective morality points directly to the existence of God himself. The fact that an apocalypse is going to take place assures us that God is holy. God will right the wrongs that take place here on earth. Evildoers will not escape.

Many people relish in their own deceptiveness. People like this feel that they can pull the wool over other individuals’ eyes. When they get away with great acts of immorality, they feel nearly invincible. Such people become wise in their own eyes. Yet, God is not mocked. You can fool some of the people, some of the time, or even most of the people for a brief time. However, you can never fool God any time. The apocalypse demonstrates most vividly that “the eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Pay day is coming someday. That day may be closer than any of us thinks.

 

© April 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Freeman’s favorability of this worldview is seen from his emphasis of the Buddhist worldview to the pastor in New Orleans and also due to his generally favorable commentary throughout the episode concerning the worldview, especially towards the end of the broadcast.

[2] While we will not address much of the Islamic section of Freeman’s second episode, I do think he and Maajid Nawaz  did well to describe the difference between Islam and Islamism–Islam representing the religion and Islamism representing the small, radicalized versions of Islam.

[3] Yoram Hazony, interviewed by Morgan Freeman, “Apocalypse (Season 1, Episode 2),” The Story of God: The Story of Us, on National Geographic Channel (2016).

[4] A good chart of these prophecies and their fulfillments is found at http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html.

[5] The Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament are one and the same.

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

[7] Hazony, interview, The Story of God: The Story of Us.

[8] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 192.

[9] Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 282.

[10] Armaggedon literally translates to “har-mountain; Megiddo” or the mountain of Megiddo.

6 Questions about Death Answered by the Bible

On the National Geographic Channel, Morgan Freeman hosts a documentary called The Story of God: The Story of Us. I must say that I did not know what to expect going into this series. Would this documentary serve as an attack on the Christian faith? Would the documentary serve a hidden agenda? While I do believe that the documentary (like any documentary, show, book, or movie) does hold to a particular worldview that it holds in place, I was pleasantly surprised that the first installment of the show was well done and not confrontational towards the Christian faith. Over the next few weeks, I wish to evaluate the topics presented on the show from a Christian worldview.

The first episode of The Story of God confronted the idea of death. Freeman’s documentary brought six questions to mind. This article will provide those six questions and brief answers. For each of these questions, we could devote an entire article to each. Thus, to say that these answers are abbreviated is indeed an understatement.

Question 1: Why do people die?

Death is defined as the cessation of life. Human death (Heb. “mawet;” Gk. “Thanatos”) is a direct result of sin. Solomon writes, “The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death” (Proverbs 10:16).[1] The apostle Paul states more explicitly that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Paul also states that “just as sin entered the world through one man (referring to Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The Bible also acknowledges two kinds of death: physical death (Romans 5:12) and spiritual death, or “second death” (Rev. 20:14). The second death refers to an eternal existence in an abode apart from the eternal presence of God (Rev. 20:14-15; Mark 9:47-48), otherwise known as hell.

Question 2: How did Jewish believers up to the time of Christ view life after death?

In Freeman’s documentary, it was noted that the Jews of Jesus’ day did not hold a clear perception of what happened after death. However, this is not necessarily true. Whereas Old Testament is not as explicit concerning the afterlife as is the New Testament, the lack of the OT’s explicit nature of the afterlife does not indicate the absence of any teachings on the matter. The OT describes the afterlife as a shadowy place called Sheol. It is not non-existence, but it is not the same as life on earth either. Many scholars hold that the Jewish people in the OT and of the time of Second Temple Judaism[2] held to a two-tiered view of Sheol. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). However, this view did not originate with Jesus. The commentators of the Faithlife Study Bible denote that “The ot more broadly contains definite hints of a hope beyond sheol for the righteous.”[3] Asaph notes in Psalm 73 that God will “guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory” (Psalm 73:24). N. T. Wright also suggests that the Pharisees of the Second Temple Judaism period “held to a belief in resurrection in this period…had also developed regular ways of describing the intermediate state.[4] In that world, nobody supposed the dead were already raised; resurrection, as we have seen, describes new bodily life after a present mode of ‘life after death’.”[5]

It appears that there may have been an idea of a type of heavenly and hellish existence compartmentalized in the Sheol concept. Wayne Grudem states that “it seems likely that Old Testament believers also entered immediately into heaven and enjoyed a time of fellowship with God upon their death. However, it may well have been true that additional rich blessings and much greater rejoicing came to them when Christ returned to heaven at his ascension.”[6] In my estimation, while I do feel that the believers of the OT period entered into a paradise (a conscious existence with God), I do not feel that they had full access that would have been available until after Christ’s death.

Question 3: Does the Bible teach reincarnation?

No. Reincarnation finds its home in pantheistic (Buddhist) and panentheistic (Hinduism) worldviews. Reincarnation is the view that a soul passes from an earthly mode of existence to another mode of earthly existence until one becomes pure energy (like God). If a person lives a bad life, they may come back as a rodent in the next life. If someone lives a righteous life, they may continue to escalate the human experience until they exit the wheel of reincarnation and enter into the abode of God (pure energy). In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Question 4: What does the Bible teach will happen to a person after they die?

The NT expounds upon the base work given in the OT concerning the intermediate state and the resurrection. The Bible teaches that once a person dies he or she will be taken into the presence of God in what is called an intermediate state. Evidence of this doctrine is found in Jesus’ promise to the repentant crucified victim (Luke 23:43) as well as Paul’s teaching that one who leaves the body goes to the direct presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8). After the intermediate state, God will resurrect all people at the end of human history. Some will be resurrected to eternal life with God (Rev. 20:6) and some will be resurrected with bodies to face eternal punishment (Rev. 20:11-14).

Question 5: Does the Bible teach the doctrine of purgatory?

The issue of purgatory was not examined in Freeman’s documentary; however, purgatory is a doctrine held in some Christian denominations. Purgatory is the idea that righteous individuals will have to face a period of time in fire for unconfessed sins. Those in purgatory serve their time and then are ushered into heaven. But, is there any biblical evidence for such a view?

No. The only comparable teaching that is similar to the doctrine of purgatory is that of the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). While one’s deeds are tested by fire, it does not appear that the person is in the fire (1 Cor. 3:13), rather one’s deeds are tested. Good deeds are offered as rewards. Bad deeds are destroyed by the fire. Thus, one can assume that purgatory does not hold a biblical basis, whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ does.

Question 6: What is the resurrection and why is it necessary?

Resurrection is the final reunification of soul and body. The body will be a glorified body which will never more die (1 Cor. 15:35ff). While the Bible teaches a duality of soul and body, it is clear that both soul and body are meant to be unified in a holistic fashion.[7] Therefore, while the soul is saved and the mind transformed, the body will be the last to be redeemed. The body will be redeemed at the resurrection of the dead.

This article has examined some of the questions that arose from watching Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us. Each of these questions deserve greater examination which we may do in future articles.

 

(c) April 4, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture for this post comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

[2] The time leading up to the first century AD.

[3] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

[4] That is, the period between death and the final resurrection.

[5] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 133.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 822.

[7] Norman Geisler calls this view “hylomorphism” which “holds that there is a form/matter unity between soul and body.” Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 736. This does not mean that there is not some form of dualism between soul and body and neither does it negate the existence of a conscious existence in the intermediate state. Rather, it holds that the soul and body are meant to be unified and will in its complete recreation.

God’s Big Plan Found in the Hymn of Christ (Philippians 2:6-11)

I have, among many other issues, a medical problem. I have what is called “myopia.” Myopia is the technical term for “near-sightedness.” I can see close up, but I cannot see far off. I grew up in foothills of North Carolina, close to the Virginia border. It’s an area where the mountains are nearly always in view. When I was about seven or eight years old, I began to notice that the mountains began to look fuzzy. At some times, it appeared that there were two sets of mountains when in reality only one existed. The ophthalmologist helped my problem by prescribing glasses for me. To this day, I have to wear either glasses or my contact lenses to see properly. Otherwise, I cannot see except for things nearest to me.

Often, we suffer from spiritual myopia. We see things that are closest to us and those things taking place in the world. Such a focus may leave us feeling overwhelmed. When we feel such emotions, we know it is time to put on our spiritual lenses. This Easter, we need a special reminder of God’s really big plan found in and through the life of Christ. Today, Paul provides to us an ancient hymn. The majority of scholars believe that this hymn predates the writing of the New Testament. The hymn, popularly called “The Hymn of Christ,” dates back to the earliest church. Along with other early confessions (Romans 10:9) and creeds (1 Corinthians 15:3-7), Paul likely received the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 in AD 35 when he met with the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18), particularly Simon Peter and James the brother of Jesus, to confirm the gospel message that he was preaching.[1] What do we find of God’s big plan found in Christ? We find a five-point plan.

 1. Christ’s PREEXISTENCE is evidence of God’s ETERNAL plan (2:6).

Paul first notes that Christ was in the form of God. Though Christ “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:6).[2] In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus was divine. Jesus existed before he was born. This is a tough concept to imagine. However, Paul further shows that Christ did not use his divinity as a means of praise or adulation. Rather, Christ humbly left the throne of heaven to fulfill the Father’s plan. Due to God’s omniscience, God realized that if he made individuals with free will that eventually humanity would choose wrong. Why allow humanity to choose? It was to allow for perfect love to be exemplified. The sheer logic of it all dictates a salvific plan. God chose from the foundation of the world to save you! Writing of God’s salvific plan, Paul notes that “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:11-12).

 2. Christ’s HUMANITY is evidence of God’s HUMBLE plan (2:7).

The hymn goes on to say that Christ did not use his divinity to escape any of the human attributes he possessed. While Jesus was 100% God, he was also 100% human. Christ left the portals of heaven to be born in a manger with stinky animals. Jesus could have chosen to have been born to a ritzy, flashy family. Rather, he was born into a family of faith: Joseph and his precious mother Mary. Jesus could have used his divinity to override his humanity. The Gospels note that there were times where Jesus could not perform miracles due to the lack of faith by the people (Mark 6:5). Jesus could have overridden their faith, could have chosen to not be tempted by Satan, and could have called down legions of angels for protection from the cross (Matthew 26:53); however, Jesus never did so because he chose to humbly fulfill the Father’s plan. Some commentators have noted that there is a distinct difference between Adam and Christ. Adam was the first created human being who desired to be God for his own glory. In stark contrast, Christ is God who became human in order to save humanity for the Father’s glory.

 3. Christ’s SACRIFICE is evidence of God’s SALFIVIC plan (2:8).

The hymn goes even further with God’s plan. God’s Messiah would leave the portals of heaven, would humbly take on flesh, and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Richard Melick writes, “The impact of crucifixion on the Philippians would be great. No Roman could be subjected to such a death, and the Jews took it as a sign that the victim was cursed (Gal 3:13).[3] Christ chose to die on the cross out of his great love for you and out of his great obedience unto God the Father. He could have chosen any other means of death, yet Christ chose to die one of the most excruciating deaths possible to demonstrate his great love towards you. But why did Jesus choose the cross? Fleming Rutledge, I think accurately, states that “The horrible death envisioned for the Suffering Servant and the horrific death suffered by Jesus Christ respond to the gravity of sin.”[4] But I think Christ’s sacrifice also demonstrates another reality: that good people must sometimes suffer. Without the cross, there is not a crown.

 4. Christ’s RESURRECTION is evidence of God’s EXALTING plan (2:9).

In verse 9, the hymn alludes to Christ’s resurrection by the phrase “highly exalted” (2:9). By the resurrection, Christ was given a name that is above all others. G. Walter Hansen notes four ways we can understand Christ’s exaltation.

First, the hymn does not view the reward as the motive for Christ’s obedience. Thus, Christ’s obedience does not exemplify obeying in order to deserve a reward. Second, the hymn does not present the reward as redemption from sin…The reward given to Christ was vindication by God: God vindicated Christ’s death on a cross by exalting him to the highest place. Third, the hymn views the reward as a gracious gift. God gave the name above every name not as compensation for Christ’s work, but as proof of divine approval of his work. Fourth, the hymn views the reward as divine confirmation of Christ’s true identity, not as an acquisition of a new position. The true identity of the one existing in the form of God and equal to God was hidden by the humiliation of death on a cross, but was revealed by God’s act of exalting him and giving him the name of Lord. As long as these four qualifications of the concept of reward are kept in mind, God’s exaltation of Christ may be properly understood as God’s way of graciously rewarding Christ by vindicating him after his death on a cross and by revealing his divine nature after his humiliation.”[5]

 In other words, the resurrection reveals to the world Christ’s divine nature and his plan. Without the resurrection of Christ, people would have thought that Christ’s death was merely a tragedy. The resurrection of Christ reveals that our sins had been atoned and that death had been defeated. The resurrection shows the object through which salvation has been given.

 5. Christ’s ASCENSION is evidence of God’s VICTORIOUS plan (2:10-11).

In verses 10 and 11 of “The Hymn of Christ,” the hymn notes that eventually “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 God the Father” (2:10-11). This passage of Scripture indicates that at some point in time every person will acknowledge the identity of Jesus Christ. In ancient times, divine names were given to the Roman Caesars as it was believed that they ruled over all the land. However, this hymn notes that the true ruler of all is Christ Jesus the Lord. Isaiah writes speaking for God, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee will bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:23). Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father after appearing to the disciples multiple times over a 40 day period…once even appearing to more than 500 people at one time (more likely 1,500 to 2000). As Christ has gone, Christ will return. While things may seem chaotic, understand that Christ rules supremely.

 A few weeks ago, my wife went on a business trip to Orlando, Florida. The week was awful while she was gone. I came down with the flu. My son had to stay out of school one day of the week. I had to take him to the doctor. We were so glad when Mommy came back home. We kept anticipating her arrival. We missed her motherly instinct. Most of all, we missed her! We tracked her flight as she was heading home. As she flew overhead, my son and I went outside to wave at her as her jet passed by our home. My son jumped up and down saying, “Mommy’s home!” Mommy’s home!” As the world gets crazier and crazier, I think it is like tracking the flight plan of King Jesus. We know that these signs tell us that soon we will be shouting, “Jesus is taking us home! Jesus is taking us home!” It’s all part of God’s big plan!

 

So here are a few principles we can take home.

  1. God’s plan is much bigger than our perceptions. Many people mistook what the Messiah would do. God’s plan was far bigger than what anyone expected. You may not understand what God is doing today, but understand his plan is far better for your ultimate and eternal future.
  2. God’s plan included the utmost humility. Live humble lives. Christ took on the humblest role than anyone could. Can we think that we can live any differently? In a world of self-entitlement, self-gratification, and self-promotion, the Christian should step back and remember that Christ did not choose to be born in Herod’s palace, but rather a manger to faithful people living in poverty.
  3. God’s plan included suffering for the Messiah. Our lives may include suffering for the glory of God. As mentioned earlier, we live in a self-entitlement generation. However, we should understand that there is often a cross before a crown. If the perfect Son of God had to suffer in this life, what makes us think that we are any different?
  4. God’s plan includes an end result that is far greater than anything that occurs here on earth. Christ’s resurrection and ascension assures us that his promises are true and steadfast. There is a life far greater than anyone can ever imagine awaiting those who are in Christ Jesus. The pains of this body will be replaced by the ultimate glorified body in the resurrection. It is a body that “is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, NIV).[6]

 

Keep working for Christ! God’s plan is far greater than the problems of this life.

 

© March 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] If one accepts the later dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 3, 33AD) and resurrection (April 5, 33AD), Paul would have received this information a mere 3 years after the actual crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (that is if one accepts that the term “year” used of Paul in Gal. 1:18 refers to parts of years). Even if one accepts the earlier dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 5, 30AD) and resurrection (April 7, 30AD), we are still only speaking of 5 years after the events of Christ took place. The information found in these early creeds, confessions, and hymns make up the bedrock of the earliest church’s belief system.

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

[3] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 105.

[4] Fleming Rutledge, interviewed by Mark Galli, “Why Did Jesus Choose the Cross? The reason he died a bloody, horrible death.” ChristianityToday.com (March 25, 2016), accessed March 25, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march/why-did-jesus-choose-cross.html.

[5] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 161.

[6] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).