Christian theologians have a method of interpretation known as the grammatical-historical method. If we want to draw an application from a passage, we need to ensure that we understand it in both the literary context and the historical context. If Paul writes a letter, we need to keep it in the forefront of our minds that we are reading somebody else’s mail. If we read the psalms, we need to keep it in the forefront of our minds that we are reading poetry. So when we draw an application from the text, we need to be very careful lest we remove it from its’ context. But many of us notice that Paul the apostle was not so concerned with this methodology. He seems to violently handle the text in a way that would appall the contemporary theologian. Muslims and atheists have used this is an argument against the authority of Paul. So that raises the question, did Paul take verses out of context?
In Romans 4, Paul is explaining that Christians are saved by faith alone to the exclusion of works or water baptism. The example that he uses is Abraham. He cites Genesis 15:6, which says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. But in context, this would not be the moment of salvation. Abraham put his faith in God back in Genesis 12:1. Paul took it out of context. In 2nd Corinthians 6:2, Paul took a verse that was explicitly a promise for the release of the Babylonian Captivity and applied it to salvation from sin. It is quite clear that Paul did not use the grammatical-historical method. He had quite a different approach to Scripture. Did Paul take verses out of context? He certainly did.
It was cultural. That is just the nature of ancient writing. It was not viewed as taking it out of context. That is just our modern and scientific minds applying standards to Scripture that just would not exist to the ancient mind. Israelite scholars would routinely re-tell old stories to convey new meanings that applied to what was going on in that day. That is not to say that they were looking for proof-texts and citing old Scripture to find that. That is the last thing that was on their minds, and that is the last thing that was on Paul’s mind when he wrote in this manner. Rather, they were transforming the text to apply to modern circumstances. This is a process known as “inner biblical interpretation.”
Michael Fishbane published a volume on this process known as Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. When Hosea spoke of Isaac an Esau, that is an example of inner biblical interpretation. The relationship between Isaiah 2:2-4 to Joel 3:10 and Micah 4:1-3 are examples of inner biblical interpretation. The practice of intertextuality does not view each text as one independent of the other. Rather, they are all part of one tradition. As such, it is appropriate to apply the same phrases or even transform them in a way that the original author would not have intended. They are part of the same tradition. They correspond to one another. But that is not to say that they are proof-texting or appealing to Scripture in the same way that we do.
Is Paul taking verses out of context? Yes, he did. But it is because he is using a process that we are just not familiar with. But when an ancient Israelite audience read his work, they would think that it was a normal element of their tradition. We see it is a misinterpretation solely because of our contemporary mindset and the manner in which we interpret the Bible. But considering the principle of intertextuality and inner biblical interpretation, the problem instantly evaporates.
The recipients were familiar with the Scripture. Those to whom Paul was writing were familiar with their Scripture. If he did violently take a verse out of context, among a group of religious scholars, it would have voided his credibility. They would have examined what he was saying and he would have been instantly exposed, if they were using the same standards and criteria that we use today. When Paul quoted Isaiah, they knew that it was referring to the Babylonian Captivity. They knew that it would be out of context if he was applying it to the salvation of the Christian. The problem is when we assume that everybody in the ancient world is operating on the same framework as we are.
Further, Paul even re-worded some of these passages to make his point. In Ephesians 5:14, he quotes Isaiah, writing, “Arise, O sleeper, and Christ will shine on you.” The verse that he is quoting in Isaiah 51:17 reads, “Awake, awake! Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes people stagger.” This is clearly Paul’s effort to transform the text and make a new message that the author never intended. Did Paul take verses out of context? Yes, he did. He intended to take it out of context. He intended to convey a new meaning. He intended to dress tradition in Christian robes. He intended to present Christian theology in the language of his ancestors. He did this to because Christ was the fulfillment of the Jewish Scripture and the Jewish tradition. So he relayed that divine truth in the same way his ancestors and culture did: by applying intertextuality. He taught this reality by transforming the text.
Non-trinitarians object that the doctrine of the trinity is a post-apostolic phenomenon. It was developed in the latter stages of the development of the early church, but it has no real roots in the beliefs of the apostles, much less the prophets of old. The YHWH of the Old Testament, they will say, was inescapably unitarian. However we do see a certain plurality within the Godhead when we begin talking about this issue of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord is a figure who is identified with YHWH and yet is made distinct from YHWH. So this raises the question: is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? I think he is. I think that the angel of the Lord is Jesus himself, the eternal Son who existed with the Father.
Of course, that is not to say that there is more than one God, or than Jesus is a God beside the Father. The trinity states unequivocally that there is only one God. The trinitarian abhors tri-theism as condemnable heresy. The trinitarian maintains that if you think that there are three gods, you have not only denied the trinity, but also, that you have denied the Christian faith. So when the trinitarian answers the question “is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity?” we are not saying that there are three gods. We are saying that within the one God, there are three distinct persons. We see evidence of this in this business about the angel of the Lord.
The angel of the Lord is YHWH. Many Christians are trained to make distinctions between angels and God. That would be a distinction on the level of creature and Creator. When John worshipped the an angel in the book of Revelation, the angel rebuked him and assured him that he was just a created being, like him. But in the case of the angel of the Lord, it is different. The title angel is not one that describes his nature as much as it describes his office. Just because he is describes as the angel of the Lord does not mean that he is merely an angel or an archangel. From the way this term is used, it becomes clear that the angel of the Lord is YHWH himself. The angel of the Lord is God.
Exodus 3:2 has to be the clearest example. When Moses encountered the burning bush, the text says, “The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush.” So the Burning Bush is probably the clearest example of an encounter with God. We derive God’s eternal name, YHWH, from verse 14, which reads, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.” He goes on to command Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’”
Thus it seems beyond question that the angel of the Lord is not merely an angel. He is YHWH. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? Well we are beginning to establish that. At this point, we may say that he is God.
The angel of the Lord is distinct from YHWH. That is not to say that the angel of the Lord is not YHWH. It means that there is a second YHWH. We see YHWH making pleas to YHWH. Zechariah 1:12 reads, “Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” So we have this character, who we have established as YHWH, making a plea, to YHWH, to have mercy on Jerusalem. Thus, there is a second YHWH.
This is emphasized again in Isaiah 44:6, and I am going to quote the Tanakh just so you know that this translation is not a product of Christian bias. “So said the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer the Lord of Hosts.” Isaiah draws a distinction between YHWH the King of Israel, and YHWH the Redeemer (the word Lord replaced YHWH).
This becomes even more powerful a few chapters later. Isaiah talked about the Holy Spirit in another verse. In Isaiah 48:16, YHWH the Redeemer is talking, and he says, “Now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.” So is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? There certainly seems to be a plurality or a distinction of YHWH’s. We see then that the angel of the Lord is one person of the trinity.
Jesus claims to be the angel of the Lord. We can know that the angel of the Lord is the second person of the trinity because Jesus claimed to be the angel of the Lord. The most famous occurrence of this is in the eighth chapter of John. Jesus is conversing with the Jews and he tells them, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58). This is a clear reference to God’s name back in Exodus 3:14. The Jews knew exactly what he meant. So they picked up their stones to stone him to death (v. 59). Jesus claimed to be the angel of the Lord. He said earlier in the conversation, “Unless you believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” (v. 24). We see other claims to be the I Am throughout the Bible.
So is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? Since Jesus is the second person of the trinity (John 1:1-2, Matthew 28:19, Hebrews 1:8), and Jesus is the angel of the Lord, it follows that the angel of the Lord is the second person of the trinity. Perhaps keep it in mind now that every time the angel of the Lord is speaking, that is Jesus speaking.
Should William Lane Craig debate other Christians? To preface this a little, William Lane Craig is one of the foremost Christian philosophers in the Unites States today. Known for his debates on secular university campuses with atheist professors, Craig has helped many struggling Christians come into a deeper understanding of why they believe what they believe. He has equipped the Christian to overcome their doubts and really provide good answers to difficult questions. He has gained the respect of many atheist academics and many consider him to be a very rigorous debate opponent.
However, Doctor Craig has refused to engage in debates with other Christians with whom he might disagree. He has decided to represent what CS Lewis called Mere Christianity, which are the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith that unite us all. He will defend Mere Christianity, but is typically not interested in debating distinct nuances of doctrine. In some sense, I think that we can sympathize with Craig’s position. We do not want to argue with each other when we should be bringing the world to Christ, which is the focus of Doctor Craig’s ministry. However, I disagree with his position. Should William Lane Craig debate other Christians? Yes, I think so.
We could learn a lot from a debate. Doctor Craig has pointed out that students gain a lot from debates as opposed to lectures. In a lecture, the audience may find the arguments persuasive, but they are still left wondering how they opposition would represent their side, and how they would interact with the arguments. So, Craig ventures onto university campuses to debate atheist professors. Well, in exactly the same way, we could gain a lot from a debate between Doctor Craig and other Christian scholars. Craig may be able to provide a defense of his view of various doctrinal positions, but the question is, how do others interact with these views and arguments? We see a great example of his in his debate with the Calvinist scholar Paul Helm.
James White and Michael Brown have both given lectures on their respective views of election and free will. The audience may gain a lot from that, but they gain much more when these men are interacting with one another. Likewise, if Doctor Craig went into the public arena to defend Molinism, or the tenets of Protetantism against the Roman Catholics, we could all gain a lot from these interactions. Should William Lane Craig debate other Christians? If he did, this would add a new flavor to Craig’s ministry, and would add an intellectual pursuit for the follower of Craig. We could all learn more about the Bible that we all believe in.
Craig’s current stance makes light of theology. When Doctor Craig engages with atheist or Muslim professors on university campuses, he is saying something about the importance of Christian apologetics and philosophy of religion. He is declaring that these issues are critical. People need to know that God exists and that he has revealed himself decisively in Jesus Christ. When he takes the task of promoting this reality in the public arena, he is saying that these are important enough for him to engage in such an endeavor. I agree that they are important.
But suppose somebody has a further question that they would pose to Craig. Suppose they ask what it means to be saved. Suppose they ask what Christ did on the cross. Suppose they ask about the trinity. Suppose they ask about the authority of the papacy. Suppose they ask any number of doctrinal questions. Craig will answer them, but it will never be in a debate setting. Doctor Craig affirms that the Bible is central to the Christian faith, the inspired word of God, and sufficient to answer these questions. But when he does not take these central questions of the Christian faith into the debate arena, he is saying that they are not as important. They do not need to be answered to the extent that philosophical questions about God need to be answered.
Should William Lane Craig debate other Christians? A lecture or a Sunday school class will only get so many listeners. A debate will generate much more traffic. By refusing to take these issues into the debate arena, he seems to be saying that theology is just not important enough for him to do that.
Craig challenges positions in other contexts. Consider the atheist professors for a moment who give lectures to their class about the Christian faith. The students accept the professors authority and never see him challenged. So Doctor Craig comes on the scene like some knight in shining armor to the Christian audience, and he displays the strength of the Christian worldview. Well, it seems that we might say that Craig’s refusal to debate could be akin to an atheist professor who refused to debate, because Craig actually challenges other positions.
If you browse ReasonableFaith.org, and listen to his Defender’s Class, or listen to his podcast, you will find that he will speak about the nuances of Christian theology. He will speak about Calvinism and offer refutations of it. He will speak about the trinity. He will speak about eschatology. He will speak about water baptism. He speaks authoritatively about these issues. Further, if you listen to his class, often the students disagree, and it turns into a sort of debate, in the class. If Doctor Craig is willing to debate his students, why is he unwilling to debate his fellow Christian scholars? Should William Lane Craig debate other Christians? He is putting his content out there. He should be willing to have it challenged and also to engage the challengers.
People offer to debate him. Recall Craig’s tour in the UK a few years ago, wherein he did a number of debates with atheists at eminent university campuses. During that tour, he was scheduled to debate Richard Dawkins. But Dawkins did not show up. He has always utterly refused to debate Doctor Craig. Yet, at the same time, he has said things like, “I want to have a dialogue with you, and I will win the argument.” He furnishes material about philosophy of religion, and is unwilling to consults experts in the field of philosophy of religion. William Lane Craig has a standing offer to debate Richard Dawkins, and many have conjectured out of cowardice, Richard Dawkins refuses.
Likewise, James White, an eminent American theologian, has a standing offer to debate William Lane Craig on various issues. In a recent tweet, Doctor White told me that he has offered multiple times and that he stands ready. People hear the content that Doctor Craig is putting out there, and they want to challenge him on it. With that in mind, it seems strange that Craig would turn it down. Doctor White is a very intelligent Calvinist and presuppositionalist, and certainly there could be a very productive and engaging conversation between the two of them. Doctor White could be one of Doctor Craig’s most armed opponent, much like Doctor Craig is Richard Dawkins most armed opponent. Should William Lane Craig debate other Christians? Yes. Other Christians see what Craig is putting out and they want a piece of him.
People sometimes think that if mankind really did evolve from a single-celled organism, that there would not be room for the God of the Bible. They suggest that the story of Adam and Eve would have been proven false, and in turn, the Bible would go with it. But of course, I am not one to say that natural science has the capacity to prove the Bible false. So I render the question as such: Do Adam and Eve disprove evolution? Since the Bible is the ultimate authority of the Christian, one would ask that question. Natural science has no capacity to disprove any element of the Bible. However, I do think that God created the natural world. As such, we can learn things about it that can lend to a certain interpretation of Scripture. If natural science tells us that the earth is round or that the earth rotates the sun, then we interpret Scripture in light of that reality. But Scripture is still our foundation.
Likewise, when we find a theistic evolutionist, we needn’t think that they are using the Bible as a secondary source (though many do). In fact, Basil the Great seemed to think that there was some sort of connection between birds and fish. He thought that they were related in some way. Augustine thought that God created the world with certain potencies that unfolded through time. These men wrote their treatments of Genesis thousands of years before Darwin. The theistic evolutionist is just one who thinks that Genesis is open to different interpretations, and will read natural science accordingly.
The story of Adam and Eve is one of the stories for which the theistic evolutionist has a bit of explaining to do. So then, do Adam and Eve disprove evolution?
Were Adam And Eve The First Two People? The significant challenge to the theistic evolutionist would be that on evolution, mankind did not originate from a single couple. It did not begin with two people and move on from there. There were not an original two. Rather, in the evolutionary model there were hoards of people that slowly developed from lower primates. Mankind did not start from an original two, but rather, around the world, people everywhere slowly developed until they were fully formed homo-sapiens. If that is the evolutionary model, then the story of Adam and Eve should utterly disprove it. So do Adam and Eve disprove evolution?
I do not think so. Rather, when God created the world, it was “very good,” but not perfect. It was not perfect because it was a tooth and claw world. But with that, there was a manageable ecosystem, and so, God created a world that was very good. However, it was dangerous for homo-sapiens. So, the theistic evolutionist might say, at some point in the evolutionary history of man, God chose to specially create Adam and Eve, from the dust of the ground, and isolate them from the world, putting them in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are then the first that are created in the image of God, and he bestows that image upon all of humanity after that.
But where does that leave original sin? At this, we might rejoin that if we did not all inherit original sin from Adam and the Fall, then where did it come from? Were we all born perfect? Do we all suffer our own Fall? Do we all have the capacity for perfection? Not at all. The psalmist testifies, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5). Everybody has a fallen nature. So then, God must have created mankind with a fallen nature pre-loaded into them.
This would be because we are all under the Federal Headship of Adam. When Adam fell, God judged the entire human race with him. As 1st Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” To that, we might object that it is not really fair for God to judge us for Adam’s sin. But God knew that Adam could properly represent the entire human race, and there is no human being who would have been more righteous than he was. Do Adam and Eve disprove evolution? Does original sin pose a significant problem to the theistic evolutionary model? Not at all. We all have original sin under the Federal Headship of Adam. God created us with this fallen human nature preloaded because he knows that we would fall just as Adam did.
Does that mean that there was death before sin? Of course there was death before sin. Adam ate fruit and the cells died when he chomped into it. There certainly was death. Of this issue, Romans 5:12 clarifies, “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Death spread to all men because of sin. Everybody sinned and everybody received the same condemnation under the Federal Headship of Adam: death. Everybody receives the penalty that they rightly deserve.
But what about those who lived before Adam? If human beings evolved, and God chose homo-sapiens at a certain point in their evolutionary history, did those homo-sapiens who lived before Adam die? Yes. But they were not made in the image of God. The image of God began with Adam and Eve. Before Adam and Eve, homo-sapiens were akin to animals. Do Adam and Eve disprove evolution? Well I think that Romans 5:12 maintains even in the face of animal death prior to the Fall. It maintains even upon the knowledge of the death of homo-sapiens, assuming that those homo-sapiens were not made in the image of God.
Do Adam and Eve disprove evolution? I do not think so. In fact, it might even be argued that an evolutionary model makes more sense of Genesis 4 when we ask where Cain got his wife or who all of those people were. But I think that the common problems that people have with an evolutionary model of Genesis are not really problems. Of course, none of this proves that evolution occurred. It just demonstrates that there really is no theological quagmire in the theory of evolution. The Christian is free to follow the evidence where it leads.
In a stroke of irony, Christians deny the very evidence that we spent centuries arguing for. We proclaimed over and against the atheists and the Greek philosophers that the universe was not eternal in the past. There was an absolute beginning, God being the transcendent cause. Thus the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). The Christian position was vindicated throughout the 20th century as the Big Bang was proposed and gained credibility, and finally was established as good science. The Big Bang, as Doctor P.C.W. Davies explains, is “literally the coming into being of all physical things from nothing.” It is precisely what the Christians have been looking for. But they deny it. They deny it because it contradicts their commitment to a young earth. So this raises the question of whether this is a biblical commitment. Where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old?
As a Christian, I believe that the earth is much older. I take Genesis literally, and I believe that the earth is older. But how do I do this? After all, we may trace the genealogy all the way back through the creation week. A few thousand years plus the six day week, right? This would be a typical young earth model. Some have a little big of wiggle room and might concede that the earth 100K years old. But if the scientific record tells a different story, then what are we to do with the biblical data? Is this the story that the Bible tells? Where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old?
Well, it never mentions the age of the earth. There are several approaches that Christians have taken throughout the centuries.
The Day-Age Model The proponent of the day-age model would suggest that the days in Genesis 1 are not 24 hour periods. Rather, they are long but finite periods of time. There are several literal definitions of the word translated into day. One of those definitions is a long but finite period of time. We determine which definition is applied by its’ usage. We see the same thing in the English language. An old geezer may say, “Back in my day…” In this context, the word day is not being used to refer to a 24 hour period. Likewise, the Bible may say, “in the day of the Lord.” But how are the days used in Genesis 1? Are they 24 hour periods or long but finite periods of time? Where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old? Well, if the days in Genesis 1 are 24 hour periods, it will be hard to shake the Bible of a recent creation.
But the proponent of the day-age model will indicate significant evidence for their usage of the word day. First of all, 24 hour days were created during the fourth day (Genesis 1:14). If 24 hour days are created during day four, then obviously the days cannot be 24 hour periods. Secondly, there is no close to the seventh creation day. Hebrews 4 informs us that this is because we are still in the seventh day. If we are still in the seventh day, then obviously, the seventh day is a long but finite period of time. So where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old? It does not. In fact, the day-age advocate would argue that the Bible is very vulnerable to following the scientific evidence where it leads.
The Framework Hypothesis The Framework hypothesis points out that Genesis 1 needs to be understood in its’ proper literary framework. We need to investigate the historical context of the writing of Genesis. When Genesis was written, the Jews were surrounded by Paganism. The Pagans believed that the world was created by an ensemble of deities, one was the god of the water, another a god of the son, gods begetting each other and rivaling one another. In this storm of confusion, the Bible utterly declares monotheism. It declares that God is the Creator of the universe, and that there is only one God.
So when the Bible was written, it was in an era of Paganism. God was telling us that he alone is the Creator. He went through the various elements within the universe and told us that he alone brought them into being. But in this way, since it would just be a metaphor for his creation, the days in Genesis 1 would not be literal days. Genesis 1 would be less of a chronology and more of a statement of monotheism. Where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old? We are still left searching for the first indication of that. We are left instead with the indication that God alone is our Creator.
The Gap Theory Many advocates of the Gap Theory willingly concede that the days in Genesis 1 are 24 hour periods. But, it is still a form of old earth creationism. It denies that the earth is 6000 years old. When they read Genesis 1:1-3, they see a significant gap between these verses. They would argue that there is a good amount of time between verse one and verse three. They argue that the earth was formless and void because something made it that way. God created life on the earth and there was a massive extinction event, thus rendering the earth formless and void.
The Gap Theory draws philosophical support from the nature of God. Since God would not create an earth that is “formless and void,” we are left to conclude that the earth was perfect when God created it. So the argument goes. It would also draw support from Psalm 104:30 which tells us that Holy Spirit “renewed” the face of the earth. Where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old? It does not. Even if the days are 24 hour period, the Gap Theory offers flexibility.
The Genealogy Report When people argue that the earth is 6000 years old, from where did they get that figure? The Bible never says that the earth is 6000 years old. So from where do they get it? What they will do is follow the genealogy reports in the Old Testament and counts the years that are recorded. Upon doing this, they are able to count out 6000 years. After counting the years in the genealogy report, they add 6 days to it and conclude that the earth is only 6000 years old.
However, many young earth creationists deny that model. This is because there is no indication that the genealogy reports are exhaustive. There could have been other people who lived that were not mentioned in the genealogy report. In fact, even if you look at the accounts in Matthew and Luke, you will find that they are different. One has more content than the other. We have to understand the nature of a Jewish genealogy report. Rather than being exhaustive, that is, recording every single individual, it is recording the important individuals in the Jewish families. In this way, there is some room in the Bible for additional years. Some young earth creationists even push the creation back one hundred thousand years. Where does the Bible say that the earth is 6000 years old? It does not. There is no indication whatsoever that the earth is 6000 years old.
Often when a good Protestant wants to expound upon soteriology, they will appeal to the letters of Paul. Paul explain his model of salvation within his letters, in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, et cetera. Most commonly, we will appeal to these to prove the doctrine of faith alone. Salvation comes by putting your trust in Jesus Christ, believing in his death and resurrection unto your salvation. This model of salvation comes to the exclusion of works and water baptism (even though works and baptism come later). In contrast, those who deny the doctrine of faith alone will usually feature the book of Acts in their arguments. They will say that faith is only part of the equation, and one needs to rely upon the entirety of Scripture to render a proper model of salvation. Typically, they will appeal to Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 to show that salvation is not by faith alone and that water baptism is included. But is this a good way to approach the topic? Can Acts disprove faith alone?
Acts is a historical narrative. Both Acts and the gospels are historical narratives. This means that when a character from one of these books is speaking, they talking to a particular person. When Jesus tells Judas, “what you are going to do, do quickly,” we cannot, in any sense, apply that verse to our lives. When the apostles rolled dice to welcome Stephen into the fold, we cannot apply it to our lives. This is a difference between what is prescriptive and what is descriptive. In a historical narrative, everything is descriptive. It is describing a story about what happened. Of course, there is some overlap between these categories. When Jesus said that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of God, one can see clearly that this applies to everyone, because he excludes from the kingdom of God anybody who has not been born again. This is prescriptive. This is a very obvious example.
But there are many cases where it is just not obvious. When the apostles say something to a particular group, how are we to understand the applicability to our lives? Well, God has given us the answer. He used Paul to relay his plan of salvation to his people. The difference between the epistles and the narratives are that the epistles are didactic. The epistles are teachings. Paul is explicitly teaching us about the plan of salvation. If somebody is said in a historical narrative that is unclear, we must interpret that through the lens of the more clear narratives. We must interpret it through the lens of the didactic letters.
The very purpose of the didactic letters is to answer this question. But the purpose of Acts is to teach us about the rise of the early church. The purpose of the gospels is to teach us about Jesus. Neither expound fully upon God’s plan of salvation. While they may touch on salvation, when they do, they have to be interpreted through the lens of the didactic letters. We interpret unclear passages, whose primary purpose is not to teach salvation, through the lens of clear passages, whose explicit purpose is to teach salvation. Can Acts disprove faith alone? No, it does not have that capacity. It is a historical narrative, and when it touches on salvation, it needs to be understood through the lens of those letters whose purpose is to teach on salvation.
So what do we do with those passages in Acts? Acts 2:38 is probably the strongest statement in favor of the view known as baptismal regeneration. Baptismal regeneration states that regeneration, or salvation, occurs at the moment of water baptism. It reads, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” But, Paul’s letters teach that salvation comes by faith alone to the exclusion of water baptism. So what are to do with this verse? Is the Scripture contradicting itself?
What people tend to do at this juncture is to interpret Paul’s letters in light of Acts 2:38. But that is backwards. To interpret Paul’s explicit teachings on salvation in light of Peter’s statement within a historical narrative is backwards. We are to interpret Acts and the gospels in light of the epistles. So upon doing so, scholars have noticed a few interesting things about this verse. 1 – Repent and for the remission of sins are grammatically connected. Repent, and each of you be baptized. So repentance is plural, baptism is singular, and remission of sins is plural. So that would disconnect baptism with the remission of sins. 2 – Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. The word for has a few literal meanings. One would be “unto,” or “leading to,” which is what the baptismal regeneration advocate wants to maintain. The other would be “because of.” Repent and be baptized because of the remission of sins. Since you have received the remission of sins, you should be baptized. While both of these responses are mutually exclusive, both are pretty strong.
What about Acts 22:16? Acts 22:16 reads, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” What we see here is that water baptism and the washing away of sins are in different categories. He is saying to do both of these things. Wash away your sins. How? By calling on his name. The baptismal regeneration advocate will usually phrase this improperly, as though it said, “be baptized, washing away your sins.” But that is not what it says. It says, “wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
These are very strong responses to Acts 2:38 and 22:16 and are consistent with the Pauline model of salvation. But if both of these are unconvincing to you, if you really think that Peter is saying that water baptism leads to the remission of sins, I would just point this out. Peter says to do X for the remission of sins. But he does not say that X is necessary for the remission of sins. In this way, water baptism would be a sufficient cause, but not a necessary condition. Salvation would come by faith alone, and many people may have faith at the moment of water baptism. Since Paul’s letters explicitly teach that salvation comes by faith alone to the exclusion of water baptism, we are left with these conclusions. Can Acts disprove faith alone? No, it does not have capacity, nor do these verses raise serious challenges to the doctrine of faith alone.
What does Romans 9 teach about election? Well to preface this question a tad: common in evangelical churches today is the Arminian view of election. This view states God elects people based on their free choice to be saved. That is to say that God chooses to save people because he knew that they would choose to be saved. In this way, salvation is a cooperative effort. This is known as synergism. Man and God are working cooperatively. In contrast, the Calvinist view of election states that God alone brings a person into salvation. God works in the heart of the sinner to turn him to faith and salvation. This is known as monergism. There is no cooperation. It is solely the work of God.
Synergism has pervaded and been popularized throughout post-reformation church history, even in Protestantism and evangelicalism, despite that the Protestant Reformers and the Puritans were staunch Calvinists. Of course, today, there has been something of a resurgence of Calvinism in recent decades. However, people tend to be appalled at the implications of Calvinist theology. It implies that God does not save everybody, even though he could. Since monergism does not require mans’ cooperation, there is nothing to prevent man from salvation, aside from the choice of God. This is typically seen as unthinkable among many Christians.
But the question that is before us is not what is appealing to us, but what the Bible says. One of the key passages is Romans 9. So then, what does Romans 9 teach about election?
The argument that Paul is making is in regard to the election of nations. Paul begins by saying that his heart is torn for his countrymen (v. 2). He would prefer to be cut off from Christ if that meant that the Jews could be restored (v. 3). But, he takes solace in the knowledge that not everyone who is Israel who was descended from Israel (v. 6). That is, Israel includes everybody who is a child of the promise of God. Thus, Paul argues, today’s church is Israel. God is not a tribal warlord over the Jews only. He is the God of the Jews and the Gentiles alike. Believe it or not, this was a radical message to the ear of the Jew. He said that when Isaiah spoke that message, it required great courage (Romans 10:20). It was a radical message.
So then, Paul’s message, receiving much protest from the Jews, was that the election of God was being expanded to include the Gentile nations. Indeed, it always included and was open to the Gentile nations. He offers the example of Jacob and Esau, who were representative of the nations who descended from these individuals (v. 12). The text says that the older would serve the younger. But with regard to the individuals, the older did not serve the younger. It must be referring to the nations. This statement, “the older will serve the younger,” flows logically as a consequence of Paul’s reasoning that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” (v. 6-7). Secondly, Paul cites Hosea, which says, “I will call those who were not my people, my people.” This is clearly an election of people, not individuals. What does Romans 9 teach about election? The primary teaching is corporate election.
But, and this is important, nations are made up of individuals. So the election and the implications that Paul speaks of extend to individuals.
Paul extends the election to the individual. While this is, overall, a teaching about the election of the Gentiles, and the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s salvation, the honest exegete cannot ignore the implications for the individual. Paul certainly does not. He brings the election down from plural to singular, as he says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (v. 16). Notice the singular noun, “man.” It does not depend on the man who wills. Yet recall the synergistic view of election. It depends on the cooperation of man to, in his free will, accept the salvation of God. Paul says here that it does not depend on the man who wills, which seems to refute synergism. Paul goes on to write, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (v. 18).
This is where the synergist will recoil that it would be immoral for God to do such a thing. But the very fact that the synergist is raising that objection seems to correlate with Paul’s line of reasoning. He anticipated that response. He writes, “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (v. 19) which is precisely what the synergist will say. Paul responds, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?” (v. 20). What does Romans 9 teach about election? The secondary teaching is individual election. Then until verse 20-23, he repeats this sort of reasoning until verse 24, when he makes his way back to corporate election.
Paul’s argument is that while there is monergistic election, God is not unjust. He is the Creator, and we are the creatures. He is more righteous and more loving than we are. We cannot, as many do, assume to stand in judgment over God and assume to say that he is behaving immorally. He is more loving and more righteous than we are. God is the judge. We are not the judge over God. Whether we hope to retain our free of the will or a conception of election that we are comfortable with, we need to follow the text where it leads. We need to interpret our desires through the text, not the text through our desires. That is why Jesus said, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
What does Romans 9 teach about election? Paul’s argument is that the Jews and the Gentiles alike are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (v. 31-32). He is explaining that the salvation of God includes the Gentiles. But further, as an aside, as a secondary note, Paul does expound upon the implications of the individual. He seems to teach individual election. He seems to teach monergism and he seems to refute synergism.
Religious people are often found describing atheistic stances in ways that seem overwhelmingly uncharitable. They will summarize the atheistic position in a way that no atheist would agree with. It is sort of the cartoon version of the belief. Of course, atheists do the same to Christians, and this happens frequently when people disagree with each other. What I have always tried to do is to represent their views fairly, but also indicate that atheism leads one to certain views that are absurd. But in this article, I would like to approach from a different angle. Rather than laboring to show what atheists should believe, as a consequence of their atheism, I would like to answer the question: if I were an atheist, what would I believe?
Note well that the question is not, “what do all atheists believe?” because that is sort of like asking, “what do all Danes believe?” So I am not trying to caricature atheism or place a heavy yoke upon the shoulders of atheists. I am not even saying that atheists should believe these things. I am just saying, if I were an atheist, these are the stances that I would take.
I would disassociate myself with the New Atheists. For those of you who do not know, the New Atheists are contemporary atheists who are known for their ardent campaigning against religion. They are those who would be guilty of caricaturing religion, demeaning religious people and accepting the commission of Professor Richard Dawkins at the Atheist Reason Rally, in which he said, “Mock [the religious]. Ridicule them in public.” The New Atheists are the crowd that, in their atheism, has found an outlet for their anger toward religious people and an outlet for asserting the intellectual superiority that they know they have.
To that end, Professor Dawkins has suggested that atheists should style themselves “brights.” The implication is obvious. They are bright, by virtue of rejecting religious dogma. They congratulate themselves when they pose easily answered questions, like Who Created God? This self-aggrandizing behavior is the height of repellent to anyone with respect for people independently of their religious views. If I were an atheist, what would I believe? I would labor to ensure that I distanced myself from the New Atheists.
Of course, as a Christian, I sometimes have to dissolve assumptions that people make about me. When people learn that I am a Christian, they may instantly think that I am a young earth creationist. They may instantly associate me with every Christian they have ever met. If I were an atheist, I would also separate myself from the New Atheist movement, and I would be highly critical of them.
I would believe that the universe is just a brute fact, and came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. One of the arguments that I have defended for the existence of God is the Cosmological Argument. The Cosmological Argument suggests that everything that exists requires an explanation of its’ existence. It is unthinkable to hold the position that the universe just popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing. It must have an explanation of its’ existence. As the cause of nature, space, and time, it must be supernatural, spaceless, and timeless. (I offered a fuller treatment of this argument in my article Why Does Anything At All Exist?)
With regard to this argument, if I were an atheist, what would I believe? As an atheist, I would probably have to deny that premise. I would have to deny that everything needs an explanation of its’ existence. As Bertrand Russell argued, the universe is just a brute fact. It just exists, and that’s all. When faced with the fact that the universe has not always existed, that is, it had an absolute beginning, I would be forced into the position, in the words of the atheist Quintin Smith, “the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” When confronted with the absurdity of that statement, I would comfort myself with the notion that sophisticated academics hold this view. I would underline it with the reality that the human brain was not evolved to grasp deep philosophical truths. It was not evolved to understand the mysteries of the universe. It was evolved to survive.
Now the problem with this view is that it is, essentially, nihilism. If not, then it is just a step or two away from it. If the alternative to belief in the existence of God is that the universe just popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing, then I struggle to see how it is that the atheistic view would be more intellectually satisfying. If I saw a turtle sitting on a fence, I would not be compelled by the idea that it is “just there,” a “brute fact.” I would take no solace in the idea that a sophisticated academic thought that. In short, I would win the debate with the atheist version of myself over the Cosmological Argument for God’s existence.
I would believe that the value that human beings give each other was just a product of human evolution. As human beings evolved, solely for the propagation of DNA, they realized that it would usher their species into longevity if they cooperated with each other. If they developed these communities, worked together, and treated each other nicely, they would flourish and they would survive. With that cooperation came the concept of human value. We value human beings over and against the other members of the animal kingdom, not because we are inherently more valuable, but because we have it ingrained within us to cooperate with our own species. But today, the contemporary man is enlightened. He is aware of his roots. He is aware of why he values his fellow man.
If I were an atheist, what would I believe? I would be aware of why I value my fellow man. If I were an atheist, I would have preferred to be ignorant of this reality. I would prefer to think that human beings do have value, and just not think about why that is. But I imagine that the atheistic version of myself would scarcely be able to remain in such philosophical ignorance. I would want to know why I value other human beings. I would question these things. But since human morality evolved in precisely the same way as the goat, the sheep, and the chicken, I would be left in despair, and following my beliefs to its’ logical and necessary conclusion, I would become a moral nihilist. I would deny that human beings really had any value at all. But I would live as if they did, and tell myself that I did that for the sake of my sanity.
I would believe that the Bible could not be investigated historically. Often to justify our faith, we apologists will argue that the resurrection of Jesus can be investigated on a historical basis. We can look through the corridors of history and exclaim that there are some things that just cannot be explained naturally. The empty tomb narrative, the burial account of Jesus, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and the belief of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, all serve as a good inductive argument that in fact, Jesus had risen from the dead. Since a good historical argument can be made for all of these, there is little that remains that the atheist can say.
If I were an atheist, what would I believe? How would I escape this? What I might indicate is that a miracle claim is not something that can be investigated historically. What scientists and historians adopt is what is known as methodological naturalism. This is the adoption of a process of investigating the natural world via natural means. We do not invoke the supernatural in our scientific exploration because that would be too unordinary and really, could be invoked anywhere. We might resolve the historical quagmire of the fall of Rome by saying that demons made Rome fall. We might look on any number of historical events and invoke God or demons or some other supernatural shenanigans. While it may be the case, it is just not a very useful resource when examining the natural world. If I were an atheist, what would I believe? I would believe that the Bible was not receptive to this sort of scrutiny.
As a Christian, I think that this is a very heavy argument that has been made. Yet at the same time, that does nothing to answer the data that we have. It seems to suggest that we must answer the evidence within a naturalistic paradigm. But if there is not a naturalistic answer, then none of our answers will make sense. As an atheist, I would have to assume that the disciples hallucinated Jesus. But as I pointed out in my article, Several Reasons The Disciples Did Not Hallucinate Jesus, that just would not work. I think that I would win the debate with the atheist version of myself just by going back to the evidence.
I would deny that the universe was finely tuned for life. Many atheistic scientists have come to believe in some sort of design on the basis of the existence of the anthropic constants. An anthropic constant is something which, if it were altered even a little, then life could not exist. If gravity were altered, planets could not form. There are 122 anthropic constants. This discovery has converted atheists, such as Anthony Flew, to believe in design. It has jettisoned the Intelligent Design movement and has led scientists to say things like, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggest that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics.” (Fred Hoyle).
Now, the atheist has may resources on this topic available to him. But it is probably the most convincing argument, in the eyes of the scientist, to believe in God. If I were an atheist, what would I believe? How would I resolve this? There would be a few ideas that I would toy around with. First, I might consider that this universe was just very lucky. But ultimately, I would reject that. That is sort of like saying that there is a pile of a billion white balls, and one black one, and when I reached in to grab one randomly, I pulled out the black ball. I could say that I was just “very lucky,” or I could say that somebody placed the ball in such a way that I would find it. Rather than saying that the fine-tuning was due to chance, as I said, I would deny that the universe was finely tuned for life. I would deny that the anthropic constants exist at all. I would say that in another sector of the universe, different factors could exist to allow for another life form.
If I were to encounter my atheist counterpart, I would indicate to him that these constants are not anthropocentric. The force of gravity, for instance, if it were altered, would prevent planets from being formed. Most scientists that I am aware of affirm the existence of fine-tuning. What he would need to wrestle with was how he was going to interpret the fine-tuning.
I would find the gospel message offensive. If you will permit me, I will preface this a little by explaining the message of the gospel. Human beings are fallen creatures. Humans are criminals in the eyes of God. We have all sinned against him. Since God is good, he must punish those who are guilty. If he were to let a single sin go, he would no longer be a good judge. He would be akin to the corrupt judge who takes bribes and lets the guilty go. But since God is good, he must punish guilty. Since we are all guilty, we all await God’s judgment. But God became a man, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the human image of the invisible God. He lived a life without ever sinning. When he was murdered, all of the wrath of God that we deserve was placed upon him. It pleased the Lord to crush him. Our unrighteousness was put on him so that his righteousness could be put upon us. Three days later, he was raised from the dead. Now we need only put our trust in him for our salvation, and the moment we do that, we will be given the free gift of eternal life.
If I were an atheist, and somebody told me of this, how would I react? If I were an atheist, what would I believe? I suggest that I would be offended. I would say that it was monstrous. I would say that a person is sent to prison, not because they are being punished for their crimes, but so that they can be rehabilitated. The Christian conception of justice seems primitive. It is akin to whipping criminals in the courts. But to the modern mind, we have advanced to the level that we now know that the penal system is only for rehabilitation.
The problem with this is that the penal system is not only for rehabilitation. Criminals do deserve to be punished. Suppose for a moment that there were a man who wanted to rape a child, only once. He wanted to get it out of his system. So he did it, and then he was done. In fact, he felt guilty. He repented of it. He was instantly changed and instantly regretted it. If the penal system is only for rehabilitation, then my atheist counterpart would have to concede that this man should just be instantly released. But that is patently ridiculous. Secondly, I would argue that my atheist counterpart was making moral judgments that he had no right to. He believes that human beings do not have intrinsic moral value, but he lives as if they do. This is radically inconsistent. I think that on this front, I would win the debate with my atheist counterpart.
I would be a mean-spirited, sarcastic and self-aggrandizing. Again I indicate that I am not talking about all atheists. Some atheists really are kind people, charitable people who are humble and easy to talk to. Everybody has different personality demerits. This is a self-analysis. Apart from the grace of God, I would be a mean-spirited, selfish and arrogant individual. I would not indulge in the pursuits of the New Atheists, of being mean to the religious, but I would be a mean person, just because, that is what I am, apart from the grace of God.
If I were an atheist, what would I believe? Well, as an atheist, I would not be regenerate, born again by the power of God. If I were not born again, I would have to just follow my genetics where they lead and dance to my DNA. I would see no point to restrain it. As an enlightened atheist, I would know that the reason that I feel the desire to cooperate with people is just for survival. But if I do not care about survival as much as I care about my own personal triumph and happiness, then there would just be nothing to stop me from behaving any way that I want. Of course, I would not rape, murder, or steal. I would do what I want. I have no desire in me to rape, murder, or steal. But I would treat people just as my unrestrained nature tells me to treat them. As Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “the heart of man is wicked an deceitful above all things.”
If I were an atheist, what would I believe? The reason that I wrote this was, again, not to say that this is what all atheists believe, or what atheists must believe. I wrote this as a thought experiment about what I think that I would believe if I were an atheist. Of course, I am not an atheist. I am a Christian, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But if I were not an atheist, this is what I would believe and how I would behave.
Christians are sometimes found saying that in the Old Testament, we see works, while in the New Testament, we see grace. In this way, the Jews were saved by the works of the Law that they performed. On this view, when Jesus came on the scene, he undid the Law, hence, also undoing the need for works of the Law. So now, a person is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Of course, I agree that this is the formula for salvation. But the question is, is that the Jews’ formula for salvation? Were the Jews saved by works or by faith alone?
Now I am not denying that many Jews believed that they were saved by their works. People believe heretical things all of the time. There are contemporary heretics who say that one is saved by works rather than faith alone. So there were certainly sects of Judaism, or perhaps even mainstream orthodoxy, who maintained that one is saved by the works of the Law. With that being the case, the message of Paul must have been quite radical. But the message of Paul was not an adjustment of the message of salvation. The alternation was only that the Messiah had come. God in human flesh came, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and three days later he rose from the dead. But the way that a person is saved remains the same. Were the Jews saved by works or by faith alone? I maintain that they were saved by faith alone.
The Law and the Prophets witness to faith alone. Romans 3:21-22 reads, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ…” Paul’s task was not to abolish the Law (Romans 3:31) but rather to offer a teaching about it. He was not saying that the Law is being destroyed, and that grace was replacing it. Rather, Paul was expounding upon what the Law already teaches. Paul argues here that the Law and the Prophets were witnesses to the doctrine of faith alone apart from the Law.
At this juncture, the heretic may rejoin, “Where? Where do the Law and the Prophets teach that?” But if Paul says that they teach it, and we regard Paul’s letters as Scripture, then the objection instantly vanishes. Although, in the next section, I will briefly expound upon a few examples of Old Testament saints who taught and were saved by faith alone. But for the Christian who believes in the New Testament, it is enough to indicate what Paul had to say about the Law and the Prophets. Were the Jews saved by works or by faith alone? Paul seems to argue that the Law and the Prophets testify to the doctrine of faith alone.
Abraham and David were saved by faith alone. One proof-text that Paul frequently appealed to was Genesis 15:6, which reads that Abraham “he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” So the moment that Abraham put his trust in the Lord, his faith was credited as righteousness. In Romans 4:2-3, Paul says of Abraham, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.‘ First Paul denies that Abraham was justified by works, and then says that his faith was credited as righteousness.
Paul makes the same exposition of David’s teachings. Paul argues here that David taught the doctrine of faith alone. He writes in Romans 4:6, “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.'” First Paul offers his interpretation, that David believed that those of whom David spoke were justified by faith alone (for their faith was credited as righteousness), and then he cites the passage. Were the Jews justified by works or by faith? Both Abraham and David were justified by faith alone and taught that others would be justified by faith alone.
Israel did not attain righteousness, because they sought it as though it were works. In Romans 9:31-32, Paul writes, “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” The reason that orthodoxy strayed off was not that their traditions were wrong. It is not that they did not keep the passover nor that they neglected circumcision. It was not that they fell into idolatry. It was not that they denied the Scripture. Orthodoxy had a long history of falling into idolatry and being corrected. Their sin that kept them from righteousness was not that they kept idols.
What kept Israel from righteousness was that they were pursuing righteousness as though it were works. They were putting their trust in themselves. They were putting their trust in their own ability to keep the Law, so Paul says. But if they pursued righteousness by faith, they would have found it, so Paul argues. Their faith would have been credited as righteousness. Were the Jews saved by works or by faith alone? Paul’s argument seems to be that the Jews tried to be saved by works, but they failed. They needed to pursue righteousness by faith.
Were the Jews saved by works or by faith alone? God has never accepted a salvation of works. Anybody who has ever put their trust in themselves would have fallen short. As Isaiah 64:6 says our works are like filthy rags. The only mechanism for salvation, throughout the history of God’s people, has been grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
One of the signature moves of the pro-choice apologist is to align the choice to have an abortion with women’s rights. So then if somebody is campaigning upon the basis of women’s rights, we expect that they are in favor of abortion. If a politician make the bare statement, “my opponent is opposed to women’s rights,” we have the expectation that the opponent is opposed to the practice and the right to abortion. However, if I were to suggest an alternative, I would say that the philosophy of abortion devastates women’s rights. The freedom of abortion undercuts the foundation on which women’s rights rests. That is how abortion destroys women’s rights.
This issue has become so intertwined with women’s rights that many make the startling claim that a man ought not to speak on the issue of abortion. Since it is an issue of women’s rights, then only women can speak on the issue of abortion. If that were the case, then that very premise would undercut Roe Vs Wade, in which the decision was made by men. Further, it seems sort of like saying a white man cannot speak against racism. Finally, no matter where the argument comes from, the reasoning still needs to be assessed univocally. One cannot say that just because I am a man, that therefore my reasoning is invalid. So then, how abortion destroys women’s rights: let’s get into it.
Human beings have intrinsic moral value. When I say intrinsic moral value, I mean that in and of themselves, human beings have value. This is to be contrasted against extrinsic value, which is to say that under certain conditions, human beings are valuable. Cash has extrinsic value, but not intrinsic value. In and of itself, it is just paper. If I find a suitcase full of cash, then it will be valuable to me. But if I brought that suitcase to a tribe in the Brazilian rainforest, they would thank me for bringing them some paper to build their fire. It is just paper. Its’ value is extrinsic.
But we all recognize that the value that human beings have is different. If I were to run over a squirrel, and keep driving, nobody would be offended. But if I ran over a human being, and kept driving, I would go to prison and all would be morally appalled at my actions. If Adolph Hitler killed a few thousand pigeons, he would be esteemed as a master hunter. But since he killed a few thousand human beings, he is guilty of genocide. As Doctor Bill Craig pointed out, if a lion kills a zebra, it kills it, but it does not murder it. Animals are intrinsically different than human beings. That is why soldiers will routinely from war with PTSD, but scarcely a man from hunting deer. The intrinsic value of human beings is something that we all recognize. How abortion destroys women’s rights? Work with me. I am building a case, so pay attention.
Women’s rights depend upon intrinsic moral value. In nature, whatever is, is right. There is no right. If a mother cat kills its’ young, we do not object that she did not have the right to do that. It is just part of nature. It is what happens. For us to speak of human rights is to speak absurdly. They are just useful fictions. In the words of Michael Ruse, “I appreciate that when someone says, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such references are truly without foundation. Ethics are an aid to survival and reproduction. But any deeper meaning is illusory.”
So when we say that women have rights, what are we really saying? What does it even mean? As humans, we never make the comparison between the animal kingdom and the kingdom of mankind. Natural selection dictates that the male is the dominate member of the species. What right do women have to resist that, anymore than a female goat, a sheep, or a chicken, have the right to resist that? In the absence of intrinsic human value, women do not have any rights, anymore than a pack of kittens has a right, anymore than a goat has a right. Nature is what is right, and nobody can stand in the face of nature and offer correction.
Nonetheless, we all assume this idea of human rights, and it comes solely from a philosophy of theism. Human beings are made in the image of God. Hence, they have intrinsic moral value. We believe in women’s rights because we believe that women have intrinsic moral value. In and of themselves, women are valuable. They are to be loved and adored. They are not to be treated as subjects or slaves of their male partner. They are human beings and as such, they have intrinsic moral value. I believe that as firmly as I believe anything else.
Abortion undercuts intrinsic moral value. We should pose the question of what a woman is doing when she gets an abortion. She is terminating her pregnancy. She is ending the life of the fetus inside of her. However, extensive embryological research of the last few decades has revealed that the fetus is human. A fetus is a human being in the earliest stages of development. It is quite curious to say that a human being is not really a human being just because they are underdeveloped. (Take care, by that reasoning, the next person who is more developed than you, has the right to kill you.)
78% of women who see their ultrasound will reject an abortion. That is because upon seeing the actual image, it is very difficult to maintain that the fetus is not actually human. The other day I watched a very disturbing video of post-abortion procedure. The doctors were handling the severed arms and legs, wrapping them up. They wrapped up a bloody fetus the size of my hand and was identical to a baby. Any honest interpretation of the ultrasound leads one to believe that the fetus is human.
I am surprised to report that at this juncture, the abortionist will agree that the fetus is human. They concede that point. But what they will do is say that because the human fetus is inside of their body, that therefore, they have the right to terminate the pregnancy. It is still their own personal choice because the fetus is dependent upon them.
But wait a moment… is that intrinsic moral value? Intrinsic moral value is the view that in and of themselves, human beings have value. Extrinsic value means that under some conditions, human beings have value. What the abortionist has done is said that under this particular condition, human beings do not have value. But that is extrinsic value. That is not intrinsic moral value. That is how abortion destroys women’s rights.
How abortion destroys women’s rights: Women’s rights are contingent upon intrinsic moral value. If there were no intrinsic moral value in human beings, then there would be no reason to grant a point to women’s rights any more than we do to female goats, sheep, or chickens. Women’s rights presuppose intrinsic human value. It relies upon it. But abortionist philosophy states that under certain conditions, it is acceptable to kill a human beings. That defies intrinsic human value, and necessarily, it defies women’s rights. It defies the right to choose anything. That is how abortion destroy’s women’s rights. Abortion defies intrinsic human value. It cuts its’ own throat.
Does Romans 2 teach salvation by works? To preface this question a little, one of the fundamental dividing lines or measuring sticks of a true Christian denomination is their stance on faith and works. If they teach that salvation comes by works in any capacity, then they are not a true Christian church and have distorted the gospel that saves. Any church that teaches that salvation comes by works or faith plus works is apostate. They are putting their trust in themselves and not in Christ. Salvation is either by faith or not at all. Yet some will look at Romans 2 and try to argue that Paul the apostle was teaching that salvation comes by works.
I urge you to read the relevant verses. Romans 2:12-14 “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves…” If one just takes this cluster of verses, the case for salvation by works seems challenging. But context kills heresy. Does Romans 2 teach salvation by works?
Paul is talking about the Torah, and in the very next chapter, he says that we are not justified by the works of the Torah. If I were to make an argument from Romans 3-5, that Paul clearly spells out salvation by faith to the exclusion of works, the heretic would suggest that Paul was delineating between works of the Law and just plain old works (A view that I refuted in my article Does Romans 3-5 Exclude All Works Or Just Works Of The Law?). So then the concession is that Paul is excluding works of the Law. The problem is that this cuts to the heart of their interpretation of Romans 2.
Paul is talking particularly about the works of the Law. He says, “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” He is talking about the works of the Law. Yet in the very next chapter, he says, “God is the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what sort of law? By a law of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:26-28). Again Paul says that the righteousness of God has been manifested being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus (3:21-22). Does Romans 2 teach salvation by works? According to 3:21-22, the Law itself testifies that a man is justified by faith in Jesus apart from the Law. Even the proponent of works salvation will hastily admit that this does exclude works of the Law. So then where does this leave their interpretation? What is Paul saying?
Those who are justified by faith will do good works. You will notice that in Romans 2:12-14, Paul does not say that the works of the Law is what justifies them. He says that those who do the Law will be justified. That is a very important distinction. If he said that the works of the Law justifies a man, then the works-salvation proponent would have a good argument. But instead, Paul said that those who do the Law will be justified.
Think of it like this. Assume with me for a moment that a man is justified by faith. They put their trust in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, and are saved. If they do that, they will be born again, made a new creature and striving to do righteousness (2nd Corinthians 5:17). So they will do the Law. They will keep the Law. It is not keeping the Law that saves them, but those who are saved will keep the Law. If we say that keeping the Law is what saves us, then we put the cart before the horse. That seems to be the mistake of Israel that Paul pointed out in Romans 9:31-32. He writes, “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” The very error that Paul spells out here is what the modern heretics have plunged into. Does Romans 2 teach salvation by works?
Paul is condemning everyone. Romans 2:1 reads, “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same thing.” Note well how wide of a condemnation this is. Paul tells the people that if they are judgmental of another person, they will quickly discover that they will not meet their own standard. He is not talking to a few individuals. He is talking to everyone who judges, according to the text. This leads one to his later principle in Romans 3:9-10, which reads, “We have charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, as it is written, ‘there is none righteous, not even one.'” Paul is teaching that nobody can meet the standards of the Law.
That is why most advocates of salvation by works will ignore 2:17-23, in which Paul holds the judger to his own standard. You who say that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that you shall not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law? The question is rhetorical and the answer is yes. Does Romans 2 teach salvation by works? Everybody has broken the Law. We all fall short. That is why we need a Savior.
Does Romans 2 Teach Salvation By Works? Even the man who believes in salvation by works will be forced to concede that it does not. The man who believes in salvation by works denies salvation by works of the Law. But Romans 2 is specifically talking about works of the Law. If you want to be saved, put your faith in Christ alone, not in yourself. Then you will be a doer of the Law, righteous in the sight of God, justified by faith. For the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteous (Romans 4:5). Faith is credited as righteousness. Faith is credited as righteousness. Faith is credited as righteousness.
With the terrorist slayings in France in recent weeks, there has been a storm of controversy, questions about freedom of speech and respect for religion. Moderate Muslims contest that while the slayings should not have happened, westerners still should be respectful of Islam and their Prophet. After all, they argue, the west finds entertainment at the expense of offending Muslims, yet at the same time, is very sensitive about antisemitism. A good conservative Christian, then, will be caught between their Christian faith and conservative ideals. They want to be kind to people, but at the same time, they want to maintain freedom of speech. A Christian might feel compelled to draw Muhammad, just to show that they can draw Muhammad. What is the proper Christian stance? Should Christians draw Muhammad?
First of all, I indicate that there are boundaries for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech ends abruptly where hate speech begins. The defining clause within hate speech is that it may incite violence. But that is not to say that people will respond to it, and get angry, as with the depictions of Muhammad. Rather, it is to say that the speech would have to say something like, “Hunt down those Muslims!” That would be hate speech. But if I write an article criticizing Islam, and a Muslim murders me, I am not guilty of hate speech. So the question is, should there be a boundary with drawing Muhammad? Should we be restricted against making fun of Muhammad?
Muhammad murdered people for making fun of him.
Just as a brief aside, let me point out that if we made fun of Muhammad when he was alive, he would have us murdered, according to the earliest biography of his life. Okay, so what is the Christian stance? Should Christians draw pictures of Muhammad?
What would drawing pictures of Muhammad accomplish? It would be unconstitutional to restrict against drawings of Muhammad. But, it seems to me that the point of depicting Muhammad is precisely to show that we can depict Muhammad. We have freedom of speech and freedom of expression to depict Muhammad. But are there not better ways to use your liberties? If I draw a picture of Muhammad, the only thing that I have done is offend Muslims, to prove that I am allowed to offend Muslims. But if I write an article like my Was Muhammad A Sexual Deviant? or David Wood’s Who Killed Muhammad? then we render a two-fold effect. We establish our freedom of speech, and we give Muslims something to consider, because, after all, we want them to come to Christ.
If we dig into the Islamic sources and recite facts about Muhammad’s life, then, of course, many will be offended, because there is offensive material in the Islamic sources. But, the reason that they will be offended, is not that we drew some stupid cartoon. It is that we are lights shining in the darkness. We are exposing Satan. We are showing the world who Muhammad was and the core of the religion that he left behind. Should Christians draw pictures of Muhammad? I just do not see a point. There are better ways for us to spend our time than intentionally offending Muslims. We can give them something to think about. In his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus that is what Nabeel Qureshi explained. He was brought to faith in Christ after forced to wrestle with these difficult questions after being raised a devout Muslim.
We should love our enemies. If all of our freedom is taken away, if we are living under Shari’a Law, if we are forced to pay the jizya, we are still called to love our enemies. Jesus was a Jew living under Roman rule, and nonetheless, he told his countrymen that when the Romans force you to walk one mile, walk two with them (Matthew 5:41). If anyone strikes your left cheek, offer your right (v. 39). He commanded, (v. 43-44) “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
If your purpose is to offend people, then I would have to ask if you are really living up to that. If you are actively trying to love Muslims, then I suspect that you will not draw cartoons of Muhammad. You can talk to them about Muhammad, and some of that material might be offensive. But you add a superfluous stumbling block when that conversation begins in the form of a cartoon. Should Christians draw pictures of Muhammad? I argue that this is not love for your enemies nor love for your neighbor. It is entertainment at the expense of your enemies and neighbors.
What is more likely to help your Muslim friend come to Christ? If your Muslim neighbor asks you what you did today, how will you reply? Will you tell them that you drew a cartoon of his beloved prophet? Or will you tell them that you read the gospel of Mark? Will you tell them that you read something interesting about Muhammad’s life? I suppose I am thinking evangelistically and in a manner that is oriented toward preaching the gospel. That is how Christians should be thinking. When we look at Muslims, I do not think that we should snarl in disgust and mentally accuse them of terrorism. We should not think so much about our differences. We should think, “there is a person who is in desperate need of God’s grace. If not for that grace, I, too, would be a Muslim.” Where then is boasting? It is excluded.
Should Christians draw pictures of Muhammad? As we interact and even debate with our Muslims friends, I suggest that it ought to be with the end of sharing the gospel with them. The Word became flesh. Learn about Jesus’s claims to be God. He died on the cross for their sins, in their place. The unrighteousness of man was put on Christ so that the righteousness of Christ was put on man. Learn about the historical evidence for the crucifixion. He rose again, he defeated death. Learn about the evidence for the resurrection.
Subscribe to David Wood’s YouTube Channel. Read James’ White’s book What Every Christian Needs To Know About The Qur’an. Do something useful with your freedom of speech.
The book of Romans is the masterpiece of the apostle Paul. He exposits Genesis 15:6 and applies it to the modern Christian, seemingly shattering the distinction between the old and the new covenant. The way that a person is justified before God is by faith, to the exclusion of all works. His teaching is inescapable. However, every group that wants to add works into the plan of salvation will rejoin that Paul is excluding works of the Jewish Law, the Torah. But he is allowing for salvation by works. Is that what Paul is saying? Does Romans 3-5 exclude all works or just works of the Law?
Of course it ought to be pointed out that Paul encouraged that men do good works. He encouraged that men live a righteous lifestyle. He encouraged that we walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:1-8). He urged that if we are baptized by the Holy Spirit, then we are baptized into the death of Christ, and so we are no longer to walk in sin. I utterly admit this. But Paul’s teaching on salvation was that it was by faith, and has always been by faith to the exclusion of works and to the exclusion of water baptism.
We maintain that a man is justified by faith… (Romans 3:28) Faith is credited as righteousness (4:5). When a heretic comes to this text, they usually only respond to the bit about “works of the law,” and rejoin, as I said, that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but by works. But Paul is not merely excluding a salvation of works. He is expounding upon a justification by faith. He writes, “God is the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26). If God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus, where does that leave works with respect to salvation? They are already justified by faith. He poses the rhetorical question, “By what sort of law? By a law of works?” If there were any law of works, he would have written it here. He wrote against this sort of law. The sort of law that is a law of works. This categorically refutes all forms of salvation by works. He continues, “No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Not only does he exclude works of the law, but he also writes that a man is justified by faith.
Paul presses the point further, writing that “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). This means that the moment that a person has faith, their faith is credited as righteousness. If salvation comes at a different point, or salvation requires some other work, then it follows by irresistible logic that faith is not credited as righteousness. Does Romans 3-5 exclude all works or just works of the Law? If faith is credited as righteousness, then salvation is to the exclusion of works, works of the Law, water baptism, sacraments, the eucharist, et cetera. Faith is credited as righteousness.
Paul makes a logical argument that applies to all works. He argues in Romans 4:4, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” Paul’s argument is that works are meritorious with regard to salvation, hence, the reward for those words would not be a free gift. But the salvation of God is a free gift (Romans 6:23). Thus, we can only throw himself on the mercy of God. But this reasoning would cut just as deeply to every form of salvation by works. Hence, a salvation of works cannot stand against Paul’s reasoning. Does Romans 3-5 exclude all works or just works of the Law? If salvation were by any works, it would no longer be a free gift, according to Paul’s argument.
The Jews were justified by faith. I say again, the way in which anybody has ever been justified before God has been by faith alone to the exclusion of works. The Jews were never justified by works of the Law. Paul writes, “But Israel, pursuing a Law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” (Romans 9:31-32). This again seems to break the divide between the old and the new covenant. People have always been justified before God from faith to faith. They strived to be justified by works of the Law, and always fell short. They could not attain righteousness precisely because they sought a righteousness of works, rather than a righteousness of faith. Does Romans 3-5 exclude all works or just works of the Law? God’s justification has always been by faith.
If salvation came by works, why wouldn’t it be works of the Law? If salvation came by works, why would it not be by the works of the Law? Of the Law, Paul writes, “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12). By what works, then? It seems to me that if Paul was teaching that there was an alternative law to follow, he would have been more clear. If he just meant that they can be saved by following their conscience, the mind boggles as I consider that this just leaves us with moral relativism. So God undid the Law of Moses, holy, righteous, and good, just so that men could be saved by following their unguided conscience. Does Romans 3-5 exclude all works or just works of the Law? I find that neither persuasive nor faithful to the text.
Does Romans 3-5 exclude all works or just works of the Law? There is no question in my mind that when Paul was writing, he was writing to the exclusion of all works. Justification by faith ensures that. If a man is justified by faith, that necessarily excludes all works. Paul exposes the demerits of all models of salvation by works, arguing that it gives man something to boast about before God. That is why, Paul says, God’s people are, and always have been, justified by faith. But despite that, the Law is righteous, good, and holy. Yet we are still not justified by it. We are justified by faith. From faith, good works follow.
Those who want to take water baptism as a sacrament (a line on a checklist that one must fulfill as a precondition to salvation) will equivocate between the baptism of water, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A baptism in water symbolizes the Living Water (John 4:14) of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. So when a person is “born again,” that is not a matter of water baptism, as some will allege, but rather, it is to literally be made anew by the power of God (2nd Corinthians 5:17). Since there are multiple things that a person can be baptized into, some will equivocate between the kinds of baptism. One can be baptized in oil, or in water, or in the Holy Spirit. So then, does Romans 6:3-5 refer to water baptism? I think that would be to use the word baptism equivocally.
I might indicate first that in Paul’s masterpiece, the book of Romans, he ardently argues for salvation by faith alone to the exclusion of works. God is the just and the justifier of he who has faith in Jesus (3:26). But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (4:5). He refers to salvation as a free gift (Romans 5:15). Since faith is credited as righteousness, and assuming that faith happens before baptism, it follows that salvation comes to the exclusion of baptism. I scarcely consider the idea that Paul contradicted himself one chapter later.
First a moment to read through the text. Romans 6:3-5: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…”
The baptism of the Holy Spirit initiates a person into the body of Christ, In my article, Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation? I pointed out that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what initiates a person into the body of Christ. Paul writes in First Corinthians 12:13, “We were all baptized by one spirit, into one body… we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Thus the baptism that initiates a person in the body of Christ is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If that is the case, it follows that when Paul refers to baptism in a salvific sense, he must be referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Now the one who believes that baptism is a necessary precondition to salvation might recoil that baptism of the Holy Spirit is simultaneous with water baptism. While that may be true in some cases, the overwhelming historical record in the book of Acts indicates time and again that the two baptisms come at different times (Acts 10:47). If the model is that they come at different times, then water baptism is excluded for regeneration. Does Romans 6:3-5 refer to water baptism? It cannot be. Salvation must come to the exclusion of water baptism.
Thus, when we read Romans 6:3-5, we ought to have it in our forefront that water baptism does not initiate a person into the body of Christ. Since the baptism in this passage is highly salvific, it cannot be referring to baptism in water.
The interpretation of water baptism does not align with what Paul is saying. Paul begins this chapter by asking, “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” He goes on to contrast a life of sin with baptism. We have been baptized i to Christ Jesus and into his death, for the glory of the Father, and now we walk in the newness of life (v. 4-5). We are no longer slaves to sin. We have been set free from sin. We are made new creatures by the power of God and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. That is the baptism to which Paul is referring. That is precisely the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
If it were referring to water, then it follows that one could have undergone the baptism in Romans 6:3-5 without first receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A person may be water baptized and not yet receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation (John 3:5), then the water in Romans 6:3-5 has the capacity to be a baptism for unbelievers! A person is baptized into Christ Jesus, into his death, walks in the newness of life, but does not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? But that is precisely what this view entails, because there are multiple occurrences in Acts in which the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes at a different time than water baptism.
Further, a person who does not have the Holy Spirit is incapable of walking in the newness of life. First Corinthians 2:14 reads, “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Does Romans 6:3-5 refer to water baptism? Since those in Romans 6:3-5 are leaving their life of sin behind, walking in the newness of life, united with Christ, dead to sin, it follows necessarily that these people must have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is no water in Romans 6:3-5. There is Living Water. In John 7:38, the Lord said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”
The gospel of John is perhaps the most important biography of Jesus, with regard to our understanding of who Jesus was. John wrote his prologue (1:1-18) knowing that it was the lens through which one reads the rest of his gospel. One must consider the teachings in the prologue when they read any other passage in the gospel of John. This article is going to zoom in on the first verse, which reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I am not sure there are many other sentences with as much latitude. There is so much behind it. There is so much that John wanted us to derive from this line. What is it? What does John 1:1 mean?
The Word Is Eternal. Most notice the parallel between the first few verses of Genesis and the first few verses of the prologue of John. In the beginning, God. Note the parallel. The same era, “the beginning,” and the same character, God. God created the heavens and the earth, parallels “all things were created through him.” But how did God create? Through the spoken word. Genesis 1:3 “Then God said, let there be light.” This comes to life in John, for the Word was in the beginning with God (John 1:2). We see the parallel concepts in darkness and light in the next few verses. This is significant because the beginning was made a parallel to Genesis and John. This means that the beginning that Genesis was referring to is the same beginning that John is referring to.
What does John 1:1 mean? The Word was there in the beginning. The Jehovah’s Witness might reply that the Word was there in the beginning because that was when God created him. But the grammar does not permit that interpretation. The tense of the word “was” demands continues action in the past. Since we are referring to “the beginning,” we are led irrevocably to the conclusion that the Word existed in eternity past. Thus the New Living Translations is vindicated. “In the beginning, the Word already existed.” But this raises a theological question. How could another exist alongside God from eternity past?
The Word Was With God. If I tell you that I am with a friend of mine, the assumption will be that I am face to face with that person. That is what the word translated into with expresses. It literally means face to face with. In fact, Paul used the same word in 1st Corinthians 13:12, which reads, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Since with literally may be translated face to face, it follows that John is expressing that the Word was face to face with God.
It might surprise you to know that this is a point of contention. Since some people want to say that Jesus is the person of the Father, they will deny the plain reading of this verse. Rather than being face to face with the Father, the Oneness Pentecostals will say that Jesus was a plan or a forethought in the mind of God. But the text seems to disconfirm this interpretation. The last line of the John’s prologue seems to deal the death blow to this verse. It reads, “No one has seen God at any time. But the only begotten God, in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.” (v. 18). What does John 1:1 mean? The same as John 1:18. Jesus is the only begotten God, and he is in the bosom of the Father. It would be a challenge for anybody to maintain that Jesus is the Father if their view is based solely on the text.
The Word Was God. This raises the question about the authority of Scripture. Since this author assumes that the Scripture is true, and John assumed that the Scripture is true, we need to keep another truth in mind as we interpret this passage. There is only one God and there is no one beside him (Isaiah 43:11). The gods of the nations are idols (Psalm 96:5). So if John is saying that the Word is God, we cannot allow our interpretation of that to extend beyond that truth. There is only one God. Yet the Word was God. He could not be a god, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses will render this verse.
But of course, doctrine does not render translations. The words do. So the reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses think that this should be rendered, “and the word was a god,” is that there is no article before the word ‘God,’ while there is one before ‘Word.’ However, I would object to that, the presence of the article only goes to show that the Word is the subject of the sentence. John could have put an article in front of God, the verse could have been rendered, ‘God was the Word.’ Thus rendering God and Word interchangeable, hence, teaching modalism. But John was not teaching modalism. What does John 1:1 mean? He put the article exclusively in front of Word because that was the best way to express that the Word was God. 
What does John 1:1 mean? John wrote his gospel about the nature of Jesus Christ. He utterly refutes the various heresies that sprung up throughout the centuries. Whatever Jesus says, we need to interpret it through the lens of this prologue. Jesus already existed when the beginning arrived. He was never created. He was with God the Father, and he was God. In this, we have a powerful case for the trinitarian nature of God. There is one God who is eternally present in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John 1:1 refutes the view that Jesus is the Father and it refutes the view that the Word is merely a god.
A good Sunni Muslim will affirm two sources of authority for tradition and beliefs. First and primarily, there is the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the Qur’an was literally dictated, word-for-word, by God. As such, it is without any human corruption or burden. It is without human context. It is an eternal book, many Muslims believe that it is eternally existent beside God. Never written. The other source of authority is the hadith literature. The hadith literature is a compilation of teachings and traditions of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. This article will ignore the question of the Qur’an and focus only on the hadith. So then, can we trust the hadith?
I would first indicate that this is not only a challenge that Christians raise. Many Muslims will answer that we cannot trust the hadith. There is not only one hadith. There are several. If a Muslim encounters something that they find challenging in the hadith, they will bring it to their Imam, and their Imam will tell them to discard that hadith. It is untrustwothy. But what about the canonical Islamic hadith? What about Sahih Bukhari, the most important hadith to Islamic tradition? Can we trust the hadith? If we discard this hadith, we discard a good deal of Islamic tradition.
The Chain of Transmission. Since Islam is founded upon a culture that relies heavily on tradition, and respect for elders, and those of noble birth, the chain of transmissions were born. Since the hadith were written so long after Muhammad’s life, the traditions were not from first hand-witnesses. But, the first-hand witnesses told their friend. That friend told someone else, and that someone told another. If each of these people are reliable, then this is a reliable chain of transmission. Thus, we can have an accurate characterization of the deeds of Muhammad in the transmission. If Richard tells Bill, and Bill tells John, and John tells Steve, and Steve tells you, and all of these people are reliable, then you can trust what is transmitted to you. This is how the information in the hadith is passed down through the generations.
With that in mind, can we trust the hadith? Well, I think that if somebody writes down a chain of transmission, it would raise the second question, how do we know that the chain of transmission is authentic? How do we know that they did not forge it? I could write out a chain of transmission right now, citing reliable Muslims, esteemed in the community, going all the way back to Aisha. Anybody could just write a chain of transmission. But there are no good reasons to think that this chain is not a forgery. Secondly, even if we assume that the chain was utterly authentic, it does not follow that the information passed down was true. Good and reliable people sometimes make mistakes. It is subject to human error. Perhaps Aisha misremembered what Muhammad said. This sort of thing happens all of the time. So then, can we trust the hadith? I am afraid that the manner in which the hadith cites its’ information is not valuable.
The hadith paints a morally inadequate picture of Muhammad. The Qur’an teaches that Muhammad was the ideal man, set apart by God as the exemplar Muslim. If one wants to know how to live as a Muslim, they need to follow Muhammad’s example. However, if we can trust the hadith, we are left with a picture of Muhammad that would make a good western Muslim grimace in disgust. Can we trust the hadith? Not if one wants to follow the example of Muhammad. The hadith paints a picture of Muhammad that is both sexually immoral and suicidal.
After an extended period without receiving revelation, Muhammad attempted to commit suicide (Bukhari 6982). Now, in response, one might argue that this does not instantly discount him a prophet. That is true. Even prophets make mistakes. But it counteracts the doctrine that Muhammad was the ideal man. Muhammad is the example that we need to follow, and he attempted suicide? I think that this should raise an eyebrow of even the most devout Muslim. Secondly, the hadith offers a sexually immoral picture of Muhammad. I made this point (and expounded upon it thoroughly) in my article “Was Muhammad A Sexual Deviant?” I made six points citing the hadith. 1 – Muhammad married and had sex with a girl who still played with dolls. 2 – Muhammad stole wives from other men, sometimes after murdering their husbands. 3 – Muhammad permitted his followers to rape widows and married women. 4 – Muhammad allowed prostitution. 5 – Muhammad took more wives than his own revelation allowed. 6 -Muhammad’s conception of Paradise entails having sex with lots of young virgins.
Can we trust the hadith? Not if we want retain the view that Muhammad was the ideal exemplar of Islam.
The hadith has Muhammad saying things that are plainly false. If Muhammad received his revelation from God, then, of course, he would be without mistakes. As the Messenger of God, then on his authority, we know that what he is saying is true. The problem is that in the hadith, Muhammad says things that are not only false, but embarrassingly false and dangerous.
Muhammad told his followers that if a fly falls into your drink, one need not discard it. Rather, they need only to lift it out and dip the other wing in it. For while one wing of the fly has the disease, the other wing of the fly has the cure of the disease (Bukhari 7:71:673). This may have been beyond investigation in the pre-scientific era, but today, we know that this is mystical nonsense. If a person wants to maintain a proper Islamic view of Muhammad, they cannot believe this hadith. Secondly, Muhammad told his followers that it was safe to drink water from a pond polluted by a dead donkey. The people were complaining that this water had used tampons and dead animals. Muhammad replied, “Verily water is pure and is not defiled by anything.” (Sunan Abu Dawud 67).
Behold, nothing makes water impure.
Can we trust the hadith? There may be some historical fact somewhere in the hadith. But absent a rigorous historical investigation (if there is even enough data), we have no idea which hadith to trust. We cannot trust Bukhari as a whole, because it contains statements that are patently false. It paints a picture of Muhammad that contradicts the Qur’an. But if we discard the hadith, especially Bukhari, virtually all sacred Islamic traditions will go with it. Can we trust the hadith? If you want to be a Muslim, you must trust the hadith. Yet, if you want to be intellectually honest with yourself, you must not trust the hadith.
Some have adopted what is known as the metaphorical approach of interpreting the Bible. That is, rather than looking at certain stories with miraculous overtones as actual history, they look at them as mere metaphors, symbols of what actually happened. Consequently, the resurrection of Jesus (the center of the Christian faith) would be rendered a myth. It was a metaphor for his ascending into Heaven. All Christians will find this view to be abominable, and it is only represented by a few of the radical Jesus Seminar, who are known for liberal theology, the followers of the Baha’i faith, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But what does the Bible say? Was Jesus’ resurrection only spiritual?
I would point out firstly that this is a central issue. It is not something that brothers in Christ will debate, like creationism, or free will. As Paul recited the four-line oral tradition, calling it, “the gospel… by which, you are saved.” (1st Corinthians 15:1-2), he speaks of Jesus’s death for the sins of the world, his burial, his resurrection and his appearances to many (v. 3-8). Paul tops the argument off as he says, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (v. 14). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, the Christian faith is in vain. Those who take this stance are just as those who say that salvation comes by works, or deny the deity of Christ. So then the question becomes, what does the Bible mean when it says that Christ is raised from the dead? Was Jesus’ resurrection only spiritual? Or a physical, and bodily resurrection?
After the resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples that he has a physical body. Luke 24:39: “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” So when Jesus was raised from the dead, he approached his disciples, and at first, they did not recognize him (either because Jesus had died and they were not expecting him, or God simply veiled their eyes). In direct response to the doctrine that he was merely a ghost, or a spirit, Jesus tells them to feel his hands and his feet. Was Jesus’ resurrection only spiritual? He denies that he is a spirit, and the reasoning behind that is that he has a physical body.
In response to this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will say that God gave Jesus a different body, in which he appeared to them. But that does not really align with Jesus’s reasoning. He tells his disciples to see “that it is I myself.” By examining his body, the disciples were to come to the conclusion that it really was Jesus in the flesh. If Jesus had a different body, they would not come to that conclusion. They would come to the conclusion that he was somebody else. His claim that “it is I, myself,” would not follow from “see my hands and my feet… touch me and see…” Thus the plain reading of the text seems to prevail.
The tomb of Jesus was empty. When the Jewish Sanhedrin heard that the disciples were proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead, why did they not just point to the body of Jesus? By parading his body in the streets, the Christian movement would have instantly died, and the claims that he was risen subsumed in that reality. But instead, the Sanhedrin said that the disciples had stolen Jesus’s body. This response presupposes the empty tomb and aligns with the biblical narrative of the empty tomb (John 20:1-18). But if the resurrection was merely a spiritual resurrection, one would expect the tomb of Jesus to be occupied by Jesus, since he never physically rose.
Scrambling desperately to explain away the empty tomb, Jehovah’s Witnesses will say God zapped the body of Jesus and disintegrated it or made it disappear. If God did do that, then in fact, it was God who fooled the world into believing that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. After all, if one has an empty tomb, and disciples declaring that Jesus is risen, then one can hardly be blamed for thinking that the resurrection is physical and bodily. Was Jesus’ resurrection only spiritual? If it is, then it was God who was ultimately responsible for propagating a lie, and deceiving the world into being Christians, when they should have become Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Jewish belief about the resurrection. Jesus’s resurrection was a picture of the resurrection of all of mankind. He was “the first fruits of those who are asleep,” (1st Corinthians 15:20) and “the firstborn from the dead.” (Colossians 1:18). Jesus rose from the dead just as we will also rise from the dead. But when the Bible offers a picture of the resurrection, it is always a physical resurrection, the dead literally getting up out of their graves. That is the Jewish belief about the resurrection. Was Jesus’ resurrection only spiritual? Since Jesus’s resurrection corresponds to our resurrection, it follows that his resurrection must have been bodily.
Isaiah 26:19: “Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.” Daniel 12:2 “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” 1st Samuel 2:6 “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.” Ezekiel 37:5-6 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
Christians often might be confused about the distinction between God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. After all, does the Bible not refer to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10:20). It refers to him also as the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). Now in my article Is Jesus The Holy Spirit? I refuted the modalistic idea that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were the same person. I turn my guns now to the separate question: are the Father and the Holy Spirit the same person? Is the Holy Spirit just the spirit-mode of the Father? What does the Bible say?
I should first point out that the Father himself is a spirit (John 4:24). So we cannot say that the Holy Spirit is just the spiritual version of the Father, because the Father is a spirit himself. But then, perhaps these are just different titles that one applies to the same person. Perhaps in the same way that a man can be a father and a son, so also God is the Father and the Holy Spirit. I will defend the trinitarian position: There is one God who is eternally present in three persons, the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This article will zoom in on the Scripture relevant to the question: are the Father and the Holy Spirit the same person?
The Father will send the Holy Spirit. Suppose a father tells his children, “I will not leave you alone. I will send a babysitter when I go out.” Then the father showed up that night. What will the children think? Where is the babysitter? Then the father tells us, “Oh, I am the babysitter.” We would think that his actions were incoherent. One does not say that they are going to send another, if they are the one who is coming. But that is precisely what Jesus said of the Father.
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) He will ask the Father, and the Father will send the Holy Spirit. The modalist is forced to the conclusion that Jesus will ask himself, and then he will send himself. This is clearly and patently incoherent. When Jesus said that the Father will send another, he meant that he will send another. He went on to say, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (v. 26). We see the same theme in Isaiah 48:16, which says, “and now the Lord God has sent me and his Spirit.”
Any attempt to say that the Father is the person of the Holy Spirit will rely on fancy hermeneutical footwork. That interpretation forbids us from reading the plain meaning of the passage. The person who wants to think that the Father is the Holy Spirit must read between the lines of this passage and draw an interpretation that the original disciples never would have.
We have access to the Father through the Holy Spirit. When a person wants to be saved, they must put their trust in Christ for their salvation, in the same way that one will trust in a parachute before they jump out of a helicopter (Ephesians 2:8-9). The second they do that, they are instantly granted the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16) and instantly born again by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). So the role of the Holy Spirit is regeneration. We are born again through the Holy Spirit.
This is where we find the distinction of persons. Through Christ, we have access in one Spirit, to God the Father (Ephesians 2:18). This raises a distinction beyond duty, because according to the plain reading of the text, we have access to the Father as the Holy Spirit presents us to him. We are welcome into the Father’s house because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Any attempt to make the Father and the Holy Spirit in this context would, again, rely on shunning the text and elevating ones’ own preconceived ideas and traditions above it.
Are the Father and the Holy Spirit the same person? No, just as there is a distinction of persons between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and Jesus and the Father, so also there is a distinction of person between the Father and the Holy Spirit. If the Father were the Holy Spirit, the text that we have reviewed would not make sense. We have Jesus asking permission of the Father, and then upon receiving that permission, sending the Holy Spirit. If the Father were the Holy Spirit, this event would be reduced to absurdity.
Is abortion okay if the girl was raped? One of the more powerful arguments for abortion would be the reality of molestation. Pregnancy is not always of the free choice of the woman, nor does it always come as a product of her choice to have sex. Sometimes, in great trauma, men force themselves on women. Women are raped, and sometimes, when they are raped, they get pregnant. So the argument goes that if abortion is not permitted in this case, she would have to endure a living reminder that she was raped, rather than being free to move on. In this way, if a pro-life advocate and a pro-choice advocate were both to talk to a teenager who was raped, it might often seem that the pro-choice advocate was more sympathetic and loving and compassionate.
While the pro-choice advocate may have sincerity in their hearts and even while they have the purest of intentions, they are severely misguided. Is abortion okay if the girl was raped? Not at all. I maintain that they are offering a solution comparable to suicide: it may seem easier and it may seem to have a lighter load, but it devalues human life and is built on a foundation of false compassion.
What if the girl made the choice to keep the baby, but changed her mind after birth? Suppose for a moment that this rape victim made the decision to keep her child and to give birth. After the baby emerges, she sees the physical resemblances that it has to her rapist. Every time she looks in the babies’ eyes, she sees the face of her rapist staring up at her. Yet she has already decided to keep the baby. However, if we apply the very same reasoning as the abortionist, we are led inevitably and irrevocably to the practice of infanticide. This girl is forced to have a living reminder of her rapist, and who are we to say otherwise?
Suppose again that the same rape victim is pregnant, she has a few days before she delivers the baby. She changes her mind at this point and decides that she does not want a living reminder of her rape. Is abortion okay if the girl was raped? I think most will say not. But suppose that same baby was born prematurely, eight months early. Twenty-eight days after the birth of the baby, she decides that she does not want a living reminder of her rape. Is abortion okay if the girl was raped? It is the same baby and the same girl and the same time. The only difference is that the baby is outside of the uterus rather than inside of it. It seems to me then, that if we take rape as a vindication for abortion, we are guilty of reductio ad absurdum. Identical reasoning can be applied to the murder of infants or toddlers.
Abortion is a further burden to put on the girl. Imagine that a veteran of war went to a group therapy session, and admitted all of the things that he did in the war. He said that he could not shake the memories. The leading therapist decided to subscribe that he should go and kill somebody else. A civilian. Just walk up to them on the street and choke them out. That will help. Right? Or would it be adding a further burden to his already heavy heart and weary memory?
That is precisely what abortion does to the girl who just wants to shake the memory of her rapist. She has this one trauma to deal with, and in response, we tell a girl that she can commit murder, and this will lighten the load. But later, she will find that her conscience cannot bear the unnecessary burden that we have put on her. Not only have we encouraged her to take the life of another human being, but to take the life of her own child. Who can live with such a reality? Is abortion okay if the girl is raped? To put such a heavy burden on the girl should be far from our thoughts.
Why would we punish the baby for the crime of the father? Something that is important to emphasize is that the fetus is an actual biological human being. I argue that since it is immoral to kill a biological human being, and since the unborn is a biological human being, by irresistible logic, we conclude that it is immoral to kill the unborn. The baby is an actual human being. That is why the illustration of the infant or the toddler is so crucial. We do not commit murder just because that human being happens to be inconvenient to us. That philosophy of life is nothing short of sociopathy.
In response to this, the abortionist might raise the arbitrary distinction of a biological human being and a human person. But, one asks, what is the difference? After all, that distinction has been raised to justify homicide on a cataclysmic scale throughout the ages. The Jews were not persons, but were merely human beings, and so the Holocaust commenced. The blacks were not persons, and so slavery found its’ home. This is an arbitrary distinction that is meant only to justify murder. Is abortion okay if the girl is raped? No, that does not make sense, because the baby is still a human being.
Is abortion okay if the girl was raped? This seems to me to be a comparable question to, “is suicide okay if the girl was raped?” Do we encourage suicide, just because we do not want the girl to live with such a thing? After all, it is her body, and so it is her choice. We do not tell people to kill babies when they have something terrible weighing on their conscience. We do not place a greater yoke on the shoulders of rape victims. We do not devalue human beings. That is not progress. That is regression. That is stupidity.
Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? When my 2013 article 5 Popular Christian Teachers To Avoid went viral, there were a number of reactions. Some people wanted to know what I meant by what I said, and whether I condemned them as sinners going to Hell. The answers to that would be that I do not. My message was simply that these are ministries that have propagated false information, and they should be avoided. Another common question was why it was that more people were not included. Among the names, the most common was Mark Driscoll. Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? Is he outside the body of Christ, worthy of our condemnation?
It seems like any popular level teacher, no matter how gentle and godly and humble and loving he is, will receive some sort of backlash. People will always find a reason to condemn them. One could name any popular teacher among Christians and they will be pleased to offer their unsolicited and unrestrained opinion. Perhaps Driscoll has just been thrown under the bus as a popular teacher. Perhaps there is no merit at all to the indictments that people have against him. Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? This question is under consideration.
Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? He believes and teaches the true gospel. If I go as far to call somebody a heretic, it is because they have abandoned the faith in some fundamental way. They are not a true Christian and they have not been born again (John 3:3). They have denied the deity of Christ (John 8:24), or denied the incarnation (John 1:14). They have denied that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world (1st John 2:2). They have denied that he rose bodily from the dead (Luke 24:39). They have denied that one is saved by putting their trust in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). That is a heretic. Other issues are secondary. We may disagree, but still are brothers in Christ. As Saint Augustine said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Mark Driscoll affirms the gospel. He affirms everything that I said above. So then, I think that with that in mind, we may still have criticisms of him, but these criticisms should be from one brother in Christ to another. We should be careful lest we condemn and attack our own brother. We may be frustrated with him or even think that he should not be teaching. But if that is the case, then we need to remember that he is still a brother in Christ. Beyond that, if you want to say that he is not truly born again, I think that is a hard question for an outside who does not know the man to answer.
Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? Does he mock the Bible? One of the complaints that I have heard of Driscoll is that he mocks the Bible in his books. He ridicules it and ridicules the Lord. In pages 43-44 of his book Vintage Jesus, he explains the first chapter of Mark in a way that seems less than charitable to the person of Jesus. He compares the Lord to “a wingnut who holds billboards… he tells people to shut up… he picks a fight… he breaks into a church… he ignores his mother.” You get the idea. The accusation is that he is not portraying Jesus as the glorious Lord.
However I wonder what Driscoll’s goal in writing this way was. Perhaps he had in mind the old pithy proverb, “what would Jesus do?” People often do not realize how radical of a man Jesus was. So he was communicating that to his audience. Further, his audience is something else to consider. Perhaps some of his fans find that abrasive style of writing to be easier to read and more entertaining than scholarly literature. One might indict Driscoll for this chapter. I could conceive of it. It is not as flattering as I would depict the Lord. But I think it is important to ask the question of what he has to say. Why did he write it like this? Perhaps he was (whether successfully or unsuccessfully) attempting to adhere to the philosophy of ministry of the apostle Paul, namely, “I have become all things to all people so that by all means, I may save some.” (1st Corinthians 9:22). It could just be a method of communicating a truth. Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? I do not think that we can condemn him as one for this reason.
Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? The comments about sex. Driscoll has, admittedly, made some strange comments about the Songs of Solomon, and whether it is okay for people to masturbate. While I think that his intention was to communicate truth, some of the things that he preached over the pulpit, to put it mildly, were very inappropriate. He says of the Songs of Solomon, ‘They will say that it is an allegory between Jesus and his bride the church. Which if true, is weird. Because Jesus is having sex with me and puts his hand up my shirt. And that feels weird. I love Jesus, but not in that way.’ Bad joke, Mark. I am not prone to let Mark off the hook for this. This was a foolish this for somebody in his position to say. There were several other similar remarks. In fact, John MacArthur replied with a three part sermon series called The Rape of Solomon’s Songs.
I say again, I am not letting him off the hook for anything. He made a mistake. But my understanding is that he was ashamed of this sermon. He made a point to wipe it off the internet and does not want anybody to know about it. But he said it (and not only that) and people have the right to know that. Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? No, I do not think that this makes him a heretic. I think this proves that he is a sinner and did not think about what he was going to say as much as he should have.
Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? No, but teachers are judged harshly. James tells us that not many people should become teachers, because teachers are judged harshly (James 3:1). If somebody is going to lead people, they need to be beyond rebuke. They need to be respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money, and I draw your attention to this: And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church. (1st Timothy 3:1-7). Is Mark Driscoll a heretic? No. But he should not be a teacher or a leader in a congregation.