What Is Wrong With The Oneness View Of God?

oneness 1Who is God? What can we know about the nature of God? Christians have classically said that there is only one God who is eternally present in three persons. However, at the Council of Nicea, which arose in response to the Arian heresy (the view that Jesus is merely a creature), there were a few oneness representatives. They held to a modalist conception of God. This entails that there is one God who is one person. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit do not represent different persons within the Godhead, but rather, there are different modes that God takes. They are different roles that he takes in the world. Just as a man can be a father, a son, and an employee, so also God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Modalism erupts today in what is known as Oneness Pentecostalism. What is wrong with the oneness view of God? That is what this article seeks to explore.

oneness 2I should begin by outlining or summarizing some of the corollary beliefs of Oneness Pentecostalism. This group vociferously criticizes trinitarians, arguing that if one is to be saved, they cannot believe in the trinity. Thus, if you have been baptized in a trinitarian formula, you must be re-baptized into a oneness formula. Similarly if you do not speak in tongues, then you have not been filled with the Holy Spirit and consequently are not saved. If you would like to read a critique of some of these corollary views, I invite you to browse my series Oneness Pentecostal Heresy. For the purpose of this article, I aim at the core of the oneness doctrine. So what is wrong with the oneness view of God?

oneness 3Did the Father die on the cross? This known as patripassionism and it is the pervasive view among many Oneness Pentecostals. Since they believe that Jesus was, and is, the Father, then when he took a drink, the Father was thirsty. When he ate, the Father was hungry. The Father was tempted. The Father even died on the cross and rose from the dead. If you were to encounter a normal Oneness Pentecostal, this is probably the view that they would advocate. However, a few seconds of reflection or perusing the gospels will reveal the problem with this view. To whom was the Father praying? Was he praying to himself? If so, why? When Jesus said, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46), what in the world was he talking about, if in fact, he is the Father? Jesus said, “I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” (John 8:18). Jesus said that the Father is greater than he is (John 14:28). What do these things mean?

oneness 4This is not a novel objection to the oneness view of God. Rather, in the dawn of its’ history, it received no small criticism from Tertullian. In his masterful critique of patripassionism, Against Praxeas Tertullian wrote, Quoting Psalm 110:3 “If you want me to believe Him to be both the Father and the Son, show me some other passage where it is declared, ‘The Lord said unto Himself, I am my own Son, today I have begotten myself.'” The relationship and communication between the Father and the Son become incoherent if we say that Jesus is identical with the Father. What is wrong with the oneness view of God? Well, if you say that the Father died on the cross, you are led instantly into absurdity. Jesus could be seen not as the Lord of Glory, but as an asinine individual with serious mental deficiencies, for if he is the Father, it comes unthinkable that he would say, “The Father is greater than I.”

The human nature is the Son, and the divine nature is the Father. The objections to patripassionism are far too obvious. Anybody reading the gospels will see that there is some sort of distinction between Jesus and the Father. Thus sophisticated Oneness Pentecostals have honed their theology so as it assuage these critiques. While most parishioners are unaware of this, the leading Oneness Pentecostal organization, the United Pentecostal Church International, denies patripassionism. They deny that the Father died on the cross. On pages 98-99 of The Oneness of God by Doctor David Bernard, he writes, “[God the Son] is not a correct term because the Son of God refers to the humanity of Jesus Christ. The Bible defines the Son of God as the child born of Mary, not as the eternal Spirit of God (Luke 1:35).” One page 87, he says that it is the Son who died, but not the Father.

Thus he appeals to the distinct natures within Jesus. Jesus had a totally human nature and a totally divine nature. But what is interesting is that these two natures are both conscious entities. The Father in Heaven is one nature, and the Son on earth is another nature. But if the Father is a conscious being and the Son is a conscious being and they are distinct from one another, then in what sense can it be said that they are truly one? Doctor Bernard is merely propounding that the consciousness of the Father was duplicated into the person of the Son, and hence, on page 99, he argues that the Son can be thought of as God in one sense because he is the human image of the invisible God. Pay attention to my reasoning, because this is important. If the Father and the Son are both God, distinct and conscious entities with their own nature (divine and human, respectively), then this logically entails polytheism. What is wrong with the Oneness view of God? As formulated by Doctor Bernard, it logically entails that there are two Gods.

The eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. The Oneness Pentecostal would agree with Arius who said that “there was a time when the Son was not.” The central difference is that they do not deny the deity of Christ but rather affirm that Jesus is the Father from eternity and took on the extrinsic property of sonship. This would mean that there was no relationship between the Father and the Son from eternity, for there was a time when the Son was not. But this makes little sense of the biblical data concerning the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, such as the messianic statements in the psalms, like “God, your God has anointed you.” (Psalm 45:7). However when the Oneness Pentecostal see messianic statements in the Psalms that seem to regard the Son as existing presently, they are viewed as prophetic. That is to say that they are telling future events. The Father is relaying that he will say these things to the Son in the future.

But as I pointed out in my article, Was There A Time When The Son Was Not? the interpretation of the psalms given by the author of Hebrews seems to disconfirm any insight that would suggest the finitude of the Son. In Hebrews 1:10, the author quotes Psalm 102:25, and says that this is an example of the Father talking to the Son. The text reads, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” In context, this psalm is clearly referring to YHWH (v. 1). But the author suggests that this psalm is referring to Jesus. He said that it is an example of the Father communicating with the Son. It is the Father who said to the Son, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.” But just so the reader will understand his theological meaning, the author of Hebrews adds the word, LORD (taken to indicate YHWH) into the sentence so as to underline the point. It reads, “You, LORD, In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.” What is wrong with the oneness view of God? The author of Hebrews clearly applied this creation psalm intended for YHWH to the Son, and even added the word YHWH so that there would be no misunderstandings. Therefore, the Son created the universe and existed alongside the Father.

The name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What is the proper name of God? What are we to call him? Often when engaging in dialogue with a Oneness Pentecostal, they will refer to God in every context in the Old Testament as Jesus. Any time God says something, it is Jesus speaking. The trinitarian would object to that on the basis that sometimes the Father is talking, others the Son is talking, and others the Holy Spirit is talking. But it would be a mistake to say that it is always Jesus who is speaking. The Oneness Pentecostal believes that Jesus is the proper name of God, something like the name Jehovah or YHWH. This is derived from Matthew 28:19 which reads that we should baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They argue that this was fulfilled in Acts 2:38, which says that Peter baptized in the name of Jesus. This entails that the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is Jesus. Father, Son, and Spirit are mere titles, while Jesus is the name.

I would like to suggest that what the Oneness Pentecostal has misunderstood is that a title is a name. In Isaiah 9:6, we read that the name of the messiah will be everlasting father, mighty God, wonderful counselor, prince of peace. The text says that these are names. Yet they are clearly titles. Similarly, Isaiah 7:14 says that his name shall be Immanuel. But his name was not Immanuel. It was Jesus. Solomon’s name was Jedidiah (2 Samuel 12:25). This is because in Jewish thought, a title and a name are inextricably linked. We have lost this link because in our culture, people just name their children whatever sounds good but they do not give any attention to what the name means. But in the Bible, a name is definitional. This means that the name of Jesus is Immanuel, Son, everlasting father, prince of peace, wonderful counselor, mighty God, and YHWH. This means that when Jesus commands his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the name in this formula is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This will raise the question of why Peter and the apostles baptized in the name of Jesus. It should be noted that the phrase “in the name of,” is an idiom for power and authority. When the apostles were on trial, the Jewish court asked them, “by what power, or in what name do you do this?” (Acts 4:7). If you act in somebody’s name, you are acting under their authority. It is something like an executioner acting in the name of the king. We might pull our cars over for a police officer in the name of the law. This is an idiom for power and authority that Jesus used. So when he told his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he was telling them to baptize under their authority and power. He was not establishing a baptismal formula. Hence, there is just no contradiction when Peter baptizes in the name of Jesus because it is the same authority. What is wrong with the oneness view of God? It is based upon a misunderstanding of Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38.

“Hear, O Israel, The Lord Our God Is One.” Deuteronomy 6:4 In an attempt to establish the oneness view of God, Oneness Pentecostals will often appeal to passages that prove that there is one God. They think that since the Bible clearly teaches that there is only one God, this would be a challenge to the doctrine of the trinity. I am afraid that this emanates from a misunderstanding of trinitarian theology. The trinity declares that there is only one God. The trinitarian will recite the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” The trinitarian believes that. The trinitarian believes that there is only one God. Indeed, if you were to deny that there is one God, then you have effectively denied the doctrine of the trinity. The trinity declares that there is one being (God) and three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

This means that when God says in Isaiah 43:10 “There is no other God–there never has been, and there never will be,” God the Trinity is talking. The Trinity is saying, “There is no other God beside me.” The Trinity is the one God in existence. God the Trinity is the only God worthy of worship. That is how the trinitarian will understand these passages. But there is nothing about these passages that refutes or challenges the trinity. The first premise of the trinity is that “there is only one God.” What is wrong with the oneness view of God? It is based upon a faulty conception of the trinity.

“In Christ, the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Who is the Son? Is he only part of the Godhead? Is he but one-third, 33% of God? Oneness Pentecostals often mistakenly think that this is what the doctrine of the trinity represents. Jesus is just part of God. But Colossians 2:9 says that in Christ, the fullness of deity dwells bodily. If Jesus is the fullness of deity, it follows that he is not 33% of God. He is totally God.

There are two responses to this worth noting. First, trinitarians do not believe that in the Son resides 33% of God. Jesus is totally God. He is absolutely divine, possessing an absolutely uncompromised divine nature. He possesses all divine attributes. He is totally God. Similarly, the Father is totally God and the Spirit is totally God. This verse, then, would be expressing that Jesus is totally God, not that Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Second, it might be said that as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the exact representation of the Father’s nature (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus was the human image of the trinity. He was the full expression of the trinity. If you want to know who the trinity is, you look to Jesus. That is why John 1:18 says that he explains the Father. That is why John 14:9 says that “Once you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Jesus is the expression of God. If you want to know who God is, you look to Jesus. That is because he is totally divine. But that is not to say that he is the totality of divinity. What is wrong with the oneness view of God? It is based on a misapplication of Colossians 2:9.

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5 Reasons Women (Or Men) Should Not Have Absolute Authority Over Their Bodies

women body 1The concept of human rights has been utterly mangled such that people have no idea what it means. Many will appeal to human rights as a bastion of their precious political stances, but what they are really doing is misusing human rights. They are applying a truncated version of human rights. In the Declaration of Independence, it was said that everybody has the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and this was granted to us by our Creator. However, today, we are fond of extending these rights such that they mean that we can do literally anything that we want to do. Anybody who tells you that you are behaving in a way that is immoral or not right is labeled a bigot and an abuser of human rights. But the very concept of human rights presupposes that there will be limitations to your own rights. That is why there are at least 5 reasons women (or men) should not have absolute authority over their bodies. women body 2

It is not so much that women’s rights ought to be denied. On the contrary, if we are to maintain a proper conception of women’s rights, we need to recognize their extent and their limitations. If we fail to recognize the limitations of human rights, then we will uproot human rights altogether. I submit that the most effervescent advocate of women’s rights will propound that there are at least 5 reasons women should not have absolute authority over their bodies.

1 – If women had absolute authority over their bodies, women’s rights would be compromised. If human beings intrinsically possess these rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then by the very nature of the case, that would entail that there were limits upon these rights. For you are not the only person who has human rights and human value. If it would make you happy to punch another person in the face, or steal their wallet, or tear their limbs off, it does not follow that you have this right. That is why we are often found telling immoral people, “You do not have the right to do that!” For while people have freedom, they do not have absolute freedom. Similarly, if a woman wants to maneuver her body in such a way that it strikes an innocent human being or brings another person to harm, they are not properly applying their rights. They do not have the right to do that. Therefore, they do not have absolute authority over their own body. They must tame their body, even if they have a certain inclination, to tailor to the rights of other people.

If a women finds herself in a situation wherein it would be convenient to kill another person, then what she has done is to say that under certain circumstances, it is acceptable to kill an innocent person, then she has undermined the very foundation of human rights. She has testified that people do not really have rights. But if people do not have rights, her rights are also consigned. Therefore, the destruction of women’s rights would prevail. If women have absolute authority over their bodies, then they have the authority to harm other people. But that entails that other people do not have human rights. If people do not have human rights, then you do not have human rights. If you do not have human rights, then the very foundation for your absolute monarchy over your body self-destructs. This is the first of 5 reasons women (or men) should not have absolute authority over their bodies.

2 – It logically entails anarchy. This should not be taken as predictive. I am not charging that there will be no laws and there will be no order. I am charging that if women have absolute control over their bodies, it logically entails that there would be no laws. For people would be free to bring others to harm, doing anything that they want with their own bodies. You may reply that you have no desire to bring others to harm. Well, that is great to hear. But other people do have the desire to bring others to harm. Therefore if people have absolute authority to do anything that they want with their own bodies, anarchy would follow. Obviously we do not live in a society wherein people have absolute authority over their own bodies. If the overriding precept for our society was that “people have absolute authority over their bodies,” there would no foundation to arrest criminals that want to use their bodies for criminal activity. This is one of 5 reasons women (or men) should not have absolute authority over their bodies.

3 – It is illegal for women to do anything they want with their own bodies. There is a preponderance of liberal-minded people who think that prostitution should be legal, for they are taken in by the idea that a woman should be able to do anything that she wants with her own body. She should be allowed to use her body for mercantile purposes if she so chooses. But at present, this behavior is illegal. Hence, it is illegal for women to do anything that they want with their bodies. Those who have respect for the law will acknowledge that this is one of 5 reasons women (or men) should not have absolute authority over their bodies.

4 – It harms society. The mandate of women to have absolute authority over their bodies suggests that there is no moral restraint upon their actions. Nobody call tell them what is right or what is wrong. It is stringently subject to their exclusive judgment. This means that if a woman (or a man) wants to have sexual partners outside of the context of marriage, she is free to do that, and this is what we see in our society today. But when a woman sleeps with a man who is not committed to her, and she gets pregnant, this often leads a situation wherein she has a baby and the father simply abandons them. This contributes to the vices of a fatherless home and poverty. Even if the couple stays together, they will feel compelled to drop out of college and get a minimum wage job to care for this baby that they were not prepared for, thus contributing to poverty and harming society. (I suppose there is also the resolution of smashing the toddlers’ head with a hammer and then going to college, or suctioning the baby out of the mothers’ womb limb by limb so you do not have to get a minimum wage job, but both of these options would be defeasible in that they fall victim to first point of this article.) Since the woman (and the man) has exercised the freedom to do anything that she wants with her body, she is contributing to poverty and fatherless homes. Therefore, we may consider this one of 5 reasons women (or men) should not have absolute authority over their bodies.

5 – It harms the women. Many people are going through difficult times in their lives and they feel compelled to combat their emotional pain by putting their body through physical pain. Since they have the authority to do anything that they want with their bodies, they will take a knife and make an incision in their wrists, and many will testify that it feels good and that it helps. This will become an addiction for many people. Any time they endure something difficult, they will turn to the knife. Similarly, people become addicted to drugs and ruin their lives. But this practice of cutting oneself and drug use are within the perimeter of having absolute authority over their own bodies. Indeed, if concerned family members were to begin an intervention, calling their family member away from this reckless behavior, they should be seen as bigoted. For they are telling this girl how to live her life. They are trying to control her. They are forcing her to concede her bodily autonomy to other people. She has absolute authority over her body. How can we tell her what to do? While this is a scarce manifestation of this precept, this is what is logically entailed. Therefore it should be seen as absurd that women (or anybody) would have absolute authority over their bodies.

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5 Things Christians Can Do About Abortion

christians abortion 1Christians have willingly accepted a subterfuge. We have accepted that we do not need to do anything or that there is nothing that we can do. I think there are at least 5 things Christians can do about abortion. Yet as citizens in a free nation, we walk through our lives with an unguarded semblance of peace. People will fall in love, hold hands, and laugh together. They will connect with one another and grow together. People will attend church and learn about Christ. Bonds of friendship begin to grow as we ride bicycles together, discuss literature and drink wine, watch sports, and play games. We may enjoy watching the sun peeking over the horizon as we go for a peaceful walk in the morning, or overlook the valleys and the distant mountains. Our world as Americans may be at peace and we may feel as though everything is at peace.

christians abortion 2But as we are sipping coffee and enjoying the breeze, something is going on behind closed doors, almost surreptitiously. Babies are being suctioned out of their mothers, limb by limb, piece by piece, and their organs are harvested for profit. In some unique cases, the aborted baby will still be alive outside of the womb, and the doctor will bellow the chilling command, “Retrieve the heart.” Darkness seizes this baby as the knife pierces its’ body. That baby is cut into small pieces, its’ mangled body placed in a cloth and wrapped up as the doctors acknowledge that they have done a day’s work. Then they merge into the community and enjoy the peaceful serenity that the rest of the world has. I have juxtaposed these realities because Christians have acquiesced. They know what is going on behind closed doors and they choose to do nothing about it. Well, with the advent of the Center For Medical Progress’s sting videos, the time for apathy has passed. There are at least 5 things Christians can do about abortion.

1 – Do something. People are prone to close their eyes and pretend that nothing is going on in the world. They will turn off their television because their soft heart cannot handle the piercing news. Christians do not want to hear about abortion. They do not want to be reminded about what is going on behind closed doors. Thus their hearts become cold toward it. They forget about what is happening and they forget the emotional rage and the righteous indignation that is rightly theirs. They ossify spiritually and emotionally and just allow indifference to set in. I would like to suggest that if you allow yourself to be overcome by this state of mind, then you are comparable to the doctor in the clinic that is cutting their heart out. You are allowing it to happen because you know that it is happening and you do not care. You do not want to care. You have acquiesced. You have forfeited to them. In the last few weeks, an proverbial fire has been ignited in the hearts of the Americans as the Center For Medical Progress has exposed one of the leading abortion distributors in the world as peddlers of human brains. But it is not enough to be emotional. It is not enough to have that state of mind. I can be emotional about slavery, but if I am not doing anything, then what does it matter that I am emotional? Thus one of the 5 things Christians can do about abortion is to do something.

2 – Vote for politicians who abhor the prochoice ethic. As a society of thinking men and women, there is a desire to be balanced. There is a desire to find that politician who cares about all of the things that you care about. He agrees with your stance on foreign policy, immigration, gun control and all of the various issues. He might compromise a little on abortion, but that is okay because he said that he is anti-abortion but prochoice. Let me tell you something. That is utter nonsense. There is no such thing as anti-abortion and prochoice. If somebody is anti-abortion, it means that they recognize that the process of abortion is the murder of biological human beings. But they think that people should be allowed to do it anyway? These stances cannot be rationally aligned. There are things going on this country that take precedent. When babies are suctioned out of their mothers’ womb limb by limb and sold on the black market by a government-funded institution, there is no compromise that can be made. That is why one of the 5 things Christians can do about abortion is to give your vote exclusively to politicians that abhor abortion.

11889457_10155890522655307_266952743292389841_n3 – Attend peaceful protests. I can understand why you would not want to attend a protest. People who attend them often do so with a mean disposition. They are only interested in shouting people down and proving that they are right. They are not interested in being loving, kind and open. There certainly are people like that. But there are also people who write books that misrepresent the views of others and smear good people. Does this mean that we should never write books? Certainly not. It means that we have to ensure that we maintain proper behavior. Civil and peaceful protests have been effective in the past to relay the message that We, The People have voices that deserve to be heard and that we know what is going on. We know what is going on and we assiduously declare that will not stand for it. If not for peaceful protests, social revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr would not be enthroned in the halls of memory. Peaceful protests are part of the mechanism to inspired change.

4 – Be intelligent and understand the issues. Why do the abortionists believe what they believe? What sort of argumentation would they employ? Most of them are not malevolently laughing as babies are torn to pieces (even though some are pleased with that development as they can use it for mercantile purposes). Instead, most people have been engulfed by propaganda to the extent that they think it is acceptable to kill a baby. Many do not even realize that it is a baby because of the propaganda that is out there. When we talk to our prochoice friends, we need to understand the reasons that they believe what they believe. We need to engage with their reasoning and expose their errors intelligently. Read related books, such as Scott Klusendorf’s The Case For Life, which aims to equip Christians to defend the pro-life cause.

5 – Allow your love to be your seat at the table. It is not enough to be intelligent. While disconnected logical reasoning will impact some people, that is a minority of people. People often will not allow you affect them if they do not hold your moral opinion in high regard. They will just think, “Who is this person to tell me about my life? They neither know me nor care about me.” Many of us behave this way. We will not allow strangers to dictate our moral stances. Just think of the people in your life who are permitted to dictate moral stances to you. I would guess that this number of quite limited. If we want to gain a high moral repute among these individuals, we need to care for them and serve them and be friends with them. When we are friends with them, then we are inside of the house, at the table, discussing issues that matter. But when we are not friends with them, then we are pounding on the door, holding signs and screaming irrelevancies. Thus, one of the most significant of the 5 things Christians can do about abortion is to allow your love to be your seat at the table.

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7 Ways To Tell If An Atheist Is Not Worth Your Time

worth time 1Christians sometimes find themselves engaging in dialogue with people identify as atheists. Often, these conversations will amount to nothing more than intellectual sparring or preaching. The atheist is only looking for a platform to recite the latest one-liner that they read in a meme. Yet the conversation persists out of pride. The Christian does not know when to back away from the conversation because they may not have a lot of experience with atheists. One needs to realize that congruence is unlikely. There are times when continuing in the conversation with an atheist is no longer prudent or helpful. Hence, we should withdraw when the conversation seems to reach its’ capacity (with atheists, this capacity is often quite limited). I would like to suggest that there are 7 ways to tell if an atheist is not worth your time.

worth time 21 – They tell you what you believe. Atheists often come from a Christian background wherein they were taught certain precepts. Upon investigation, these precepts were found to be lacking and this led to the eventual abandonment of the Christian faith. Now, when this atheist encounters Christians, he assumes that they all believe exactly what he did. It is unthinkable that there is a more robust version of Christian theology. For if the breed of Christianity that you represent is less defeasible, it follows that they could have been wrong about their criticisms of Christian belief and will have to re-evaluate the system and question their atheism. This means that many atheists will accuse you of believing certain things and will not listen what you summarize your views in a different way. This is one of 7 ways to tell if an atheist is no longer worth your time. Why should you bother talking to somebody who thinks that they already know what you are going to say?

2 – Both of you are trying to have the last word. Discussions between people who disagree are often perennial and lead to frustration because neither party is willing to end the discussion. If they do not have the last word, then they think that they have left a particular point hanging in the air and have conceded the entire debate to them. But when you are at a point wherein you are just trying to have the last word, then it is likely that you are just repeating earlier content. That is just unnecessary and it makes you look foolish. Rather, if you already outlined or summarized your case, and you feel confident in your arguments and counter-arguments, there is no need to repeat it again. Even if the atheist brushes passed your arguments and repeats their original point, or summarizes your argument in an unsympathetic way, you should not feel inclined to repeat yourself. If their last word is pathetic and unimpressive, rest in the confidence in the arguments that you already made.

3 – They start talking about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This would also apply to Santa Claus, fairies, leprechauns and other nonsense. If they start comparing your belief in the existence of God to that sort of thing, then this individual obviously has no respect for you and they are not worth engaging. For nobody comes to believe in Santa Claus as an adult. There are no adult conversions to belief in Santa Claus. There are no scientists who come to believe in Santa Claus the basis of scientific data. The agnostic astronomer with NASA, Dr Robert Jastrow said in his book God And The Astronomer, “For the scientist who puts his trust in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance. He is about the conquer the highest peek. As he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” There is no equivalent to this with regard to belief in Santa Claus. The atheist who renders this comparison is not a critical thinker, has no respect for you and therefore, this is one of 7 ways to tell if an atheist is not worth your time.

4 – They imply their intellectual superiority. The most common method of feeding pride is by contrast. People will contrast themselves with others to demonstrate their intellectual superiority. Atheists are fond of exercising this. They will tell religious people that that once they read the Bible, they began to read the Bible, they become atheists. Therefore, they reason, if religious people read the Bible as well, they would be atheists. Since they are not atheists, it follows that they do not read the Bible. This also chauffeurs with it the implication that atheists know more about religion than religious people. They will cite Pew Forums wherein atheists may have scored high in a particular category. But what is interesting about that survey is that atheists score lower in the category of Christianity than Christians do. However, they score higher in general religion. Atheists and Mormons lead the knowledge of general religion. Well done to the atheists and the elders. But still, again, they score lower in their knowledge of Christian belief. Either way, the only reason that they would bring up this misinformation is to feed their pride. If somebody is just trying to elevate their intellectual repute by stomping on yours, that is one of 7 ways to tell if an atheist is not worth your time.

5 – They caricature Christian belief. Atheists are often caught attacking straw men. This means that they will conjure up versions of Christian theology that are easier to attack and refute. They will attack the cartoon version of Christian belief rather than the robust and carefully nuanced theology that we believe in. For example, atheists have constructed a meme that says that Christianity is the belief that “A Jewish zombie will make you live forever… et cetera, et cetera.” Obviously, this is just a poor and insulting caricature. Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but they do not believe that he is a mindless zombie. For a zombie is one whose body is no longer inhabited by the human mind. It is just a walking virus. But in the case of Jesus, he was raised in an incorruptible body to glory and immortality. But that is not at all akin to a zombie. If the atheist renders that criticism, they are just trying to construct a version of Christianity that is easier to refute. They are not interested in an open and honest discussion. Hence, this is one of 7 ways to tell if an atheist is not worth your time.

6 – They do not listen to your responses and are only out to refute you. When we engage in debates with people, it is often the case that they do not really want to hear what you have to say. They do not want to take your arguments seriously. They do not care about arguments and they do not care why you believe what you believe. They only care about what they believe. Your beliefs stand in the way of that, and therefore, they need to find a way to refute it. Symptoms of this will be that no matter what you say, they are presenting little ways to refute it. They are only interested in refuting your arguments and debating you. But they are not interested in considering that you may be right.

7 – They reply in memes and one-liners. Anybody who has spent a significant amount of time speaking with several atheists will notice something astonishing. They all say exactly the same things. They will recite clever little soundbites that they heard somebody else say which they have committed to rote memory. They will say things like, “I just go one God further,” Or “who designed the designer?” or “If you had been born in India…” These are not to considered to be serious arguments. Rather, they are one-liners and memes. They read these arguments in pictures that they saw on the internet. They are bumper-sticker arguments, but there is really no latitude behind them. Atheists will often promulgate these bumper-sticker arguments. When they do that, you can be sure that they are not really thinking seriously about the conversation that they are engaging in. They are just looking for a platform to recite their favorite one-liner. Thus, this is one of 7 ways to tell if an atheist is not worth your time.

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If Islam Were True, Why Would Jesus Become Famous?

islam jesus 1Many readers are familiar, at least in passing, with some distinctions between Islam and Christianity. Often Muslims are prone to employ a sort of shock factor by reminding Christians that they do love and revere Jesus as a prophet of God, just as we do. They believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, committed no sin and conducted a public ministry wherein he brought people to align themselves with the historic faith. Muslims believe that just as Christians do. But the Muslims departs from Christian theology in the claims and events that ushered Jesus into the halls of history. Christians maintain that Jesus claimed to be God. For that crime, he was murdered, dying for our sins. There days later, he rose from the dead. If any of these doctrines are removed, Christianity is undone. Well, Islam denies all of them. Islam maintains that Jesus was merely a human prophet, did not die, and hence did not rise from the dead. Yet it was precisely these factors that led to Jesus’ fame. So if Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous?

islamic jesus 2We can discuss theology all day long. We can philosophize about who Jesus was, raise questions about his nature and his teaching. But we have to remember that the person of whom we are speaking was an actual person who is rooted in human history. Muslims and Christians agree on this point. So it is not enough to say that our beliefs about Jesus make sense to us. Do they make sense in their historical context? Do they make sense of the events that they led to? Do they make sense of the spread of early Christianity and Jesus’ rise to fame? If Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous? I would like to suggest that Islam’s purchase of Jesus as a prophet was made on a borrowed credit card. It cannot make sense of the surrounding historical events.

islam jesus 3If Islam were true, then the message that Jesus was preaching was not unique. Muslims are often supporters of the liberal textual critics of the New Testament, as these critics tend to deny much of what orthodox Christianity believes. Liberal critics of the New Testament will suggest that these things are not really what Jesus said. They are theological and apologetic works meant to convert people to Christianity. They are not historical biographies. They are religious accounts. Muslims eagerly adopt this form of argumentation, for they believe that the gospels do not represent an accurate picture of the historical Jesus. They believe that certain proclamations have been inserted into Jesus’ mouth by later Christians. Thus when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” (John 8:58), or when the disciples worshipped the divine figure, the Son (Matthew 14:33), or when Mark identified Jesus as YHWH (Mark 1:2-3), these are manifestations of corruption. These are seen as interpolations of later writers.

islam jesus 4Islam proposes that the message of the historical Jesus is one much like all of the prophets. Jesus came to Israel to guide people to monotheism. That is the center of his message on Islam. He is restoring true Judaism, telling people to worship but one God. However, first century Jewish Palestine was not a time of great idolatry. The Pharisees and Sadducees were strictly adhering to monotheism. The proverbial thesis statement on the paper of Israel is, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). If Islam were true, then Jesus would be preaching exactly what everybody already believed. He was preaching a blasé monotheism. The problem in that time period was not that they were not monotheists. It was that they were guilty of religious ritualism; serving God outwardly but not in their hearts.

But if, as Islam suggests, Jesus came to preach this message of monotheism, he would be something like a voice in the mob. Everybody is already saying the same thing. If Islam were true, why did Jesus become famous? Well, it seems to me that he would not become famous. He was just saying the same thing as everybody else.

What about his miracles, prophecies, and claims to be the Messiah? Throughout his public ministry, Jesus is said to have performed many miracles, healing the sick, restoring sight, and even raising people from the dead. This would certainly turn some attention toward him. Well, in this highly religious and superstitious era, there were a lot of people who were said to perform miracles. If you hear a miracle report of a man named Jesus, it would sound a lot like the miracle reports that you hear from others. Indeed, there were Pagans who were known for their divinations. Consider the fortune teller of Acts 16:16. The Pagans of that day really believed that this slave girl could tell the future and she brought her master a lot of income. They even chastised Paul when he cast the demon out of this girl. There were a lot of people said to be performing miracles. There were even a lot of people claiming to be the Messiah. It was ingrained in the culture.

Further, when the message about Jesus began to spread, it was not on the foundation of his miraculous work. The disciples were spreading the message that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world and then he rose from the dead. That was the message that warranted all of the attention and his rise to fame. If Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous? It was not his miracles or prophecies or messianic claims. None of these things were very unique and they were not the foundation of the message that his disciples began proclaiming and that led to his fame.

Allah fooled the world into becoming Christians. The crucifixion of Jesus is usually thought to be a historical fact beyond any dispute. No disciples of Jesus would invent the crucifixion. If they were to invent it, it would be a source of embarrassment and it would require them to explain it away. For if a person is crucified by the state as a blasphemer, it exposes them as a heretic and reveals that their message was a lie. So the disciples would never invent that sort of story. Thus even atheism historians, such as Doctor Gerd Ludemann will write, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” There is just no plausible explanation for the disciples to invent that sort of story. If you are going to invent a story about the Messiah, you would not subject him to the most humiliating form of death imaginable.

However, the Qur’an proposes an alternative hypothesis. Jesus did not die on the cross. Rather, God made it appear to be the case that Jesus died on the cross. Traditionally, Muslims interpret this to mean that God put somebody on the cross in his place and then put Jesus’ face on that individual. This means that God fooled the world into becoming Christians. For part and parcel to Jesus’ rise to fame is his crucifixion. If Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous? Well, he became famous because God tricked all of us into believing that he died on the cross and we manufactured the theological additive, “for our sins.” Now, we developed this doctrine that Jesus died “for our sins,” precisely because God fooled us into thinking that he died.

Heretics said that Jesus rose from the dead. Shortly after his alleged crucifixion, large groups of people began sprouting up and saying that Jesus has appeared to them alive after his death. This lead to the radical conclusion that Jesus has been raised in an incorruptible body to glory and immortality. But this belief was not in alignment with what the traditional Jews believed about the resurrection. The traditional Jews believed that nobody would rise from the dead to glory and immortality until the final resurrection at the end of the world. It was forbidden by Jewish tradition. Thus for a Jew to propose that would be unthinkable, unless they believed that it actually occurred. As Gerd Ludemann said of this, “It may be taken as historically certain that the disciples had experiences of Jesus, where he appeared to them alive, after his death.”

From there, heretics, such as the apostle Paul, began to spread the Christian message that Jesus died for our sins and then he rose from the dead. The book of Acts chronicles Paul’s journey and we seen thousands of Gentiles and Jews being converted to Christianity and believing that Jesus really did die for our sins and rise from the dead. This suggests that Jesus became famous among Jews and Gentiles on the basis of this belief in the resurrection. But if Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous? If you are a committed Muslim, you would have to believe that Jesus became famous on the basis of the heretical belief that he died for our sins and rose from the dead.

The Islamic Jesus disappeared from history for 800 years. The Islamic story of the life of Jesus usually portrays him as living for a few years until God eventually brings him up to Heaven. He never actually died, but was just ascended. Now, he is going to come back (Yes, Muslims believe in the Second Coming of Jesus… sort of), and die on earth. But after the Islamic Jesus went to Heaven, what happened to his message? Where were his people? They seem to have all instantly vanished. The Muslims deny that the writings of Peter are legitimate. The gospels are all forgeries. Where in the world did his people go? The only recordings that we have of Jesus are Christian records.

The hymn that Paul cites in Philippians 2:5-8 identifies Jesus as God. The oral tradition that he cites in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 says that he died for our sins and rose from the dead. These are pre-Pauline. Paul was quoting traditions and hymns that came before him, and they are the earliest accounts of Jesus that we possess. Indeed, all of the traditions that we are aware of identify Jesus as God. In the first century, the The Huleatt Manuscript recounts the story of Jesus’ encounter with the prostitute in Luke 7, and identifies him as God. The Epistle of Barnabas identifies Jesus as the one to whom the Father said, “Let us create man in our image.” Hermas said that the Son was older than his creation. Even if you think that these documents are forgeries or not written by the person who they are attributed to, that does not matter. They are still the earliest accounts that we have of Jesus. Where did the Islamic Jesus go? If Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous? It seems to me that Jesus became famous solely by the tradition promulgated by heretics.

Islam is cashing a check that the Christian message wrote. Jesus rose to fame solely because of his claims to divinity, his crucifixion for our sins, his resurrection from the dead and his appearance to large groups of people. It seems to me that in saying that Jesus was really preaching an Islamic message, and that message brought him fame, Islam is cashing in a check that was written by the Christian message.

For just think about these two historical scenarios concerning Jesus’ rise to fame. In Christianity, Jesus claimed to be God, and since the religious authorities did not believe him, they had him crucified. Later, he rose from the dead, proving that he was telling the truth about who he was, and he appeared to many people. These people spread the message of his death for our sins and resurrection across the world, and on that basis, Jesus became famous. Alternatively, if the Islamic message is true, then Jesus never claimed to be divine. He was just preaching the message of monotheism that everybody already believed. But he still committed some other crimes worthy of crucifixion, and so the authorities tried to have him killed, and they failed. But, God fooled the world into thinking that he was crucified. Judas was crucified in his place, and God put Jesus’ face on Judas, thus making the world think that Jesus was crucified. Later, large groups of people, including enemies, skeptics and unbelievers, all hallucinated Jesus appearing to them alive after his death. These people spread the message of his death for our sins and resurrection across the world, and on that basis, Jesus became famous.

If Islam were true, why would Jesus become famous? Either way, he became famous on the basis of the message of his death and resurrection. If Islam is true, he became famous because heretics spread the lie that he claimed to be God, that he died for our sins and that he rose from the dead. But the real Jesus, the Islamic Jesus, seems to have faded into irrelevancy.

Church history source: Early Christian Faith On The Trinity

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James White Does Not Understand Molinism

molinism 1Doctor James White is one of the most outspoken living biblical scholars. His polemics against the heresies and justification of nefarious behavior that have arisen in the church and his apologetics to various religions have proven to be a worthy and helpful resource. He has engaged in public debates with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and composed books that engage with contemporary issues. I personally possess and have read five of his books. It is easy to understand how he has convoked the respect of Christians everywhere, especially those among reformed circles who champion has as the primary defender of Calvinism. In his defense of Calvinist theology, he engages with Molinism. Despite that he has mounted criticism of it, James White does not understand Molinism.

molinism 2But how is this? How can a man of high intellectual repute render unworthy criticisms? How can we even say that? Surely everything that he says should come forth from sophistication. Perhaps to consider why this is, think of a man such as Professor Richard Dawkins. Professor Dawkins may be quite brilliant in his field (zoology), but when he steps outside of that field, he is merely a laymen. Similarly, Doctor White is a Greek scholar and an exegete. But Molinism is a matter of philosophical theology, which is not his area of expertise. Doctor White has smuggled in his criticisms of Molinism under the guise of his credentials and authority in his area of expertise. Alas, when rendering these criticisms, he is merely a laymen. For Doctor White to criticize a Molinist scholar, such as Doctor William Lane Craig, it is to be thought of something like a student debating a professor. James White does not understand Molinism, and his criticisms that he rendered in his YouTube Video, Explanation and Refutation of Middle Knowledge reflect that.

molinism 3The value of philosophical theology. Imagine you were to overhear a conversation between a religious person and an atheist. When challenged to explain why he is an atheist, he cites all of these scientific resources and attempts to relay scientific data to the religious person. The religious person becomes frustrated and overwhelmed at the idea of becoming scientifically oriented just to refute what this individual is saying. Rather than seriously engaging in the field of study, this individual just shrugs off the field of science and argues that it is not a worthy endeavor. This is precisely what Doctor White has done. For a number of times, he has complained that Molinism is too heavily reliant upon philosophy.

molinism 4What Doctor White fails to realize is that every theological system is heavily reliant upon philosophy. I do not know what Doctor White thinks philosophy is. But I have heard many Calvinists describe it in a way that is very unsympathetic, something like, “It is just man’s unguided reason, disconnected from God.” But that is just not a robust or defensible definition of philosophy. Philosophy is etymologically the love of wisdom. As a practical explanation, philosophy is the study of knowledge. Doctor Alvin Plantinga described it as “thinking deep thoughts.” Everything that we do and think, and all of our disciplines are dependent upon philosophy. We could not practice biology without philosophy of biology. Similarly, we could not practice theology without philosophy of theology. The biblical worldview is contingent upon philosophy. Indeed, it is usually thought that even in the gospel of John, he relies on Grecian philosophy to attribute the title of Logos to Jesus.

molinism 5The practical difference between a biblical exegete and a philosophical theologian is that there are some questions that cannot be answered by Scripture. The Christian philosophical theologian is working within the confines of Christian theology. They have these various truths established by the biblical data and then begin to reflect upon them. A good example would be the question of God’s eternality. The Bible tells us that God is eternal, and has always existed. But the exegete of Scripture cannot tell you whether God is omnitemporal (existing at all times in an infinite past) or if he is timeless. That is a question that is answered by philosophical reflection. Similarly, the question of the relationship between sovereignty and freedom of the will is not a question for the exegete. It transcends the realm of exegesis. But, Doctor White will accuse the philosophical theologian of having an “inherent lack of trust in God’s word.” That is only because James White does not understand Molinism. He does not understand the task of the philosophical theologian.

molinism 6Does Molinism begin with the autonomous will of man? Doctor White argues that the only reason that anybody would become a Molinist is because they desperately want to preserve the autonomous will of man. They start with that presupposition that they must have freedom of the will, and contort everything else to fit into paradigm. If anybody else were to compose this characterization, I would assume that this individual does not care about what their opponents have to say. It sounds like he is just attributing derogatory labels to them just so their view would be easier to refute. But, out of the respect that I have for Doctor White and his work, I am prone to say that he does care what people have to say and he does want to characterize them honestly.

molinism 7With that in mind, if you were to ask a Molinist if they are clinging desperately to freedom of the will, they would deny that. Instead, the Molinist would say that they recognize that freedom of the will exists (As I argued in my article Does God Micromanage Us, Or Do We Have Free Will?). Upon that recognition, they also recognize other features of the universe, such as the sovereignty of God. With these two features in mind, they will begin to take on the task of the philosophical theologian, by asking, “How do I integrate these two features of the universe into an acceptable model?” The Calvinist, like the Open-Theist, will reply, “You do not. You just drop one and keep the other.” That, however, is not intellectually satisfying and is not the result of serious critical analysis. Thus in accusing the Molinist of just trying to preserve freedom of the will, it becomes perspicuous that James White does not understand Molinism. The Molinist recognizes freedom of the will.

molinism 8Does Molinism compromise God’s sovereignty? I can appreciate that Doctor White is very concerned with the sovereignty of God. For the Molinist holds the same concern. If he did not, then he would just become an open-theist. The Molinist is laboring to do philosophical theology within the perimeter of biblical truths. The Bible declares that God is sovereign, and we want to understand that and create a cohesive and systematized theology that accounts for truths, including both sovereignty and human freedom. The Molinist would say that God does not have to micromanage us to be sovereign. He does not have to dictate every single movement to have sovereignty. Indeed, the normal usage of the word ‘sovereignty’ would have to betray Doctor White’s insistence upon God’s micromanagement. For if a king is sovereign, he is not micromanaging. Thus for Doctor White to maintain that God is only sovereign if he is micromanaging, he would have to adopt a new and unheard-of definition of sovereignty.

But Doctor White’s complaint is that on Molinism, God is incapable of creating a possible world of free creatures in which everybody is saved. Since human beings are free, then in every possible world, there are always people who reject him. People always reject God. Doctor White objects, “God’s will is limited to the free creatures allowing him to create a world.” What Doctor White has not understood is that these creatures are only free because God has allowed them to be free. But God could create a world of creatures who were not free if he so chose. He could do that. But, given the additive of human freedom, then God’s choices of possible worlds are limited. God does not have to give us freedom. He is under no requirement to do so. In complaining that God’s choices are limited, James White does not understand Molinism. God could choose anything he wanted. He could create a world in which everybody is saved. But the Molinist is saying that with the additive of human freedom, then God’s choices become limited because he wants to persist in allowing humans the luxury and virtue of freedom of the will.

Is predestination still personal? Molinists are often synergistic in their soteriology. This means that they believe that man and God cooperate to bring about salvation. God draws man into salvation, and man responds to him. But both elements are necessary. There may be times when man does not respond to God’s drawing. The Molinist picture of soteriology will often entail that God is actualizing the world in which the maximum number of free creatures are saved. In this way, predestination is thought to be impersonal. For God just wants the maximum number of people, rather than these specific people that he has called into salvation. Doctor White said that this sort of salvation is just a “numbers game.”

I think that the way that we conceive of time is what has made this difficult. We imagine everything happening in time, a chronological passing of events. So when Doctor White imagines God choosing a possible world with the maximum number of people, he imagines that these are events that are chronologically taking place. So God has all of these worlds in front of him, and shuffles through them to find the one with the maximum number of people. He does not care who is there, so long as somebody is saved. (Doctor White did not say this. I am expounding upon why I think he made this argument.) But I do not think that is correct. Rather, God knew from eternity who would be saved. For this reason, the Molinist may say of the individual, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before.” (Ephesians 1:4).

Further, and critically, Doctor White seems to hold the assumption that all Molinists are synergists. That is implicit in this objection. But he has failed to recognize the Molinists who are not synergists. While he was engaging with Doctor William Lane Craig’s work (who is a synergist), the title of his video was “Explanation and Refutation of Middle Knowledge.” If you are going to explain Molinism, you should explain the subtle nuances. There are Molinists who are also monergists (which means that God alone brings people to salvation). There are Molinists who would agree that in every possible world, everybody would deny salvation unless God regenerates them. But he did not bother to say this. He just assumed that Molinism was exclusively a form of synergism. This suggests to me that James White does not understand Molinism.

Who dealt God the cards? One of his primary counter-arguments to Molinist theology is the bizarre objection, “Where did God get these possible worlds? Who dealt him the cards?” Now a possible world is a world in which God takes all of the people put in all of the different circumstances. If one thing in that world were different, then it would be a different “possible world.” There is a possible world in which I read a book instead of writing this article. There is a possible world in which I did not exist. There is a possible world to represent every minute difference and free choice of man. God chooses to actualize the possible world which most sufficiently brings about his ultimate purpose.

So, as I say, Doctor White objects, “Where did God get all of these possible worlds? Who dealt him the cards?” He goes on to say that if somebody dealt God the cards, it follows that there is a second God, and he accuses the Molinist of polytheism! Well, I know why he is saying that. When referring to possible worlds, Doctor William Lane Craig pointed out that God is working with the cards that he has been dealt. But this is just a figure of speech. Doctor Craig does not think that a greater divine being dealt the possible worlds to God. Rather, Doctor Craig was suggesting that if there is human freedom, then the worlds in which God could bring about his will are limited. So if God wants to grant freedom to humans, his choices of worlds that allow for that freedom is limited. However, God could choose to absorb all human freedom and just make the world into a vain spectacle. As I have said, he has the power to do that. But he wants to grant freedom of the will. This sort of speculation on Doctor White’s part is really not productive.

How could God intimately know creatures who do not exist? Molinism entails that there is a possible world for every different contingency or event or thought. There is a possible world in which I did not write this article. There is a possible world in which my parents never met, and hence I never existed. There is a possible world in which different people coupled, hence producing individuals that do not exist in the actual world. These individuals that do not exist in the actual world are known so well by God that he knows what they would do in every circumstances. Doctor White objects to God possessing this sort of knowledge. It is just so abstract.

It may seem abstract and unknowable, but so does the future and the past. How could anybody know what will happen in the future? How could anybody have exhaustive knowledge of the present, the movement of quantum particles and the blowing of every grain of sand on every beach. That does seem unknowable. But perhaps if we expand our view of God and acknowledge that he is greater than we are, and that his ways are higher than ours, and that his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, the problem will begin to dissolve.

It might help if you imagine that these worlds are real. It’s possible for God to create a multiverse of infinite worlds where all of these possible people are real. There’s no trouble with God knowing all of the contingencies there because they are actual. Of course that would mean that the amount of universes is always growing to account for the different contingencies. So I do not think that an actual infinite number of things could exist. But that is just an illustration to help conceptualize how God knows these things.

Does Molinism retain freedom of the will? Since Doctor White thinks that Molinism is just a desperate attempt to retain freedom of the will, he also thinks that the suggestion that it does not succeed in that will leave the Molinist staggering. By putting people in a situation wherein you know that they will act in a certain way, are they still free? Doctor White says that they are not free because they are just sort of robotically reacting to the circumstances that God knew would occur. But he is making the assumption that foreknowledge negates freedom of the will. He is assuming that in knowing something, God causes it to occur. However, God’s knowledge could be more like a barometer. It is always correct, but it does not cause anything to occur. Indeed, that is what Molinists believe. In misunderstanding the Molinist conception of knowledge, it is demonstrates that James White does not understand Molinism.

His continued musings about this topic are quite telling. He went on to say that just because you put somebody in the same circumstance, that does not mean that they will react the same way. He went on to say that during college, every day, he would eat the same lunch. But there were some days wherein he departed from his favorite meal and ate something else. This establishes that in the same circumstances, people behave differently. The problem is that this is not the same circumstance. It is a different circumstance. It is a different day and there are different factors.

Is David’s experience in Keliah evidence for Molinism? In 1 Samuel 23, David saves the people of Keliah. But as David was in this town, somebody came with an ephod (a divining devise that reveals future events). David asked the ephod, “If I remain in Keliah, will Saul attack?” The ephod replied, “Yes.” David asked the follow up question, “If Saul attacks, will the people of Keliah hand me over to him?” The ephod replied, “Yes.” So David fled the city and these events never occurred. So God relayed knowledge of events to David that did not actually occur. They were circumstantial. This would suggest that God has middle knowledge.

Doctor White objects, “But that does not prove that God had all of these possible worlds in mind and that he chose the one with the maximum amount of people to be saved!” That is right, it does not establish that. But it establishes that God has middle knowledge. It establishes that he knows what people would do given different circumstances than the actual world. From that, we begin the process of philosophical reflection upon the biblical data. The Bible teaches that God has middle knowledge. The question is, why is it unthinkable that he would use it?

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Does The History Of Slavery Prove That Black People Should Not Be Christians?

This post inspired this article.

This post inspired this article.

People will sometimes suggest that Christianity is a white man’s religion. The only reason that there are Christians who have a darker pigmentation is that the white man manipulated them into believing and promulgating Christian theology. Christianity was taught to slaves in the American south and now it is still promoted despite that it had those roots. Opponents of Christian belief will ask the Christian who happens to have a darker pigmentation why they would be a Christian when Christians historically treated “your people,” so poorly. White Christians have enslaved black people. Even after slavery, white Christians did not regard them as equals, did not permit the mingling of marriage and even today, there are strands of racism among white Christians. What are the implications for black Christians? Does the history of slavery prove that black people should not be Christians?

black people 1This objection seems to pull on the heart strings of the individual. The black person who recognizes their history and everything that has happened to them will recognize that their race is sacred. They will recognize that despite that, people have oppressed them and robbed them of their human value. Many people of African descent will feel a measure of pride and effervescence concerning their race. Opponents of Christianity labor to pit that pride and effervescence against their Christian faith. The Christian faith should be seen as an enemy of their pigmentation. Christianity is a white mans’ religion, and we have manipulated the black man into believing it. Is that the case?

black people 2There is only one race – the human race. Christian theology proposes that mankind is made in the image of God. This means that there is something special about us that renders us distinct from animals. We have intrinsic value. Human beings have intrinsic rights. They are not to be abused or used as means to an end. Human beings are ends in and of themselves. There are many bigots who will suggest that there are some biological human beings who are not really persons, and often among them, will be those with a different pigmentation. But the Christian view is that if somebody is a biological human being, it follows that they are made in the image of God. As the apostle Paul said, unifying all races, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Pigmentation is merely the result of your adaptation and where your ancestors lived. It is of no more significance than a freckle or a sunburn.

black people 3Thus there should be a camaraderie among all human beings. All of us should unite as one despite our pigmentation. However, the person who thinks that black people should abdicate their role in Christianity seems to be assuming that there is no camaraderie between white people and black people. Consider the objection. The objector is saying that it makes more sense for a white man to become a Christian than for a black man. But why? The implication is that black people are not “one of us.” Does the history of slavery prove that black people should not be Christians? This objection seems to have racist underpinnings. Why is it objectionable for the black man but not for the white man? If Christianity were inherently racist, then everybody should be opposed to it. White people should be equally opposed to it because black people are “one of us.” It is an asinine assertion to suggest that only black people should be opposed to it. Why not everybody? The objector must think that black people have an inner camaraderie that white people do not share with them.

black people 4There were black people in the Bible, and probably no white people. The majority of the biblical narrative chronicles the history of ethnic Jews. Most of the people throughout the Bible were Jewish, and did not share the pigmentation of the Caucasian. Jesus was not a white man. There is a temptation among people to want to imagine Jesus as sharing the same pigmentation as they do. Many television programs about the life of Jesus will depict him as a white man. Likewise, there are some groups that depict Jesus as a black man. These varying views of Jesus’ pigmentation strike many with malaise. Sometimes white people will dislike seeing a black Jesus because they feel as though they cannot relate to him as well as they would a white Jesus. But, in reality, Jesus was not white. He was an ethnic Jew. This means that he looked like a Middle Eastern man.

This should not strike us as surprising. In fact, most of the people throughout the Bible have been non-white and usually ethnic Jews. Caucasian followers of God are an abnormality! Even in the history of the early church, most of the Christians were not white. Most were Middle Eastern. Many were even from Africa, hence, they were black. Doctor Dan Rogers, a scholar in historical theology, has pointed out in his article Evidence of Black Africans In The Bible that Abraham probably mingled with black people. The Ethiopian Eunuch in the New Testament could have been black. The descendants of Cush were probably black. Ishmael was probably black. His descendants known as the Kedarites were probably black. Does the history of slavery prove that black people should not be Christians? Not at all. They are continuing in the tradition of their earliest ancestors. There are a lot of black people throughout both the Old and the New Testament and there is no indication that there is an inferior pigmentation.

Should black people be Americans? This detractor of the Christian faith in this situation is not so interested in logical discourse. They are interested in emotional manipulation. They are not asking whether they are being reasonable. They are asking how they can manipulate this individual into abandoning their faith. There is an underlying logical assumption in this argument that is being ignored. If an adherent to a system of belief treats me poorly, does it follow that this system of belief is false or immoral? Does it follow that they are abiding by their pure and undefiled beliefs? Think of it like this. Imagine that I were once beat up by a group of black men. Later, I am found associating with a friend of mine who happens to share the pigmentation of my persecutors. Am I behaving inconsistently? Of course not. Indeed, it would be foolish for me to say that I cannot associate with any black people because in the past, some have treated me poorly.

Further, a similar objection could be raised about whether black people should be Americans. They were brought here in chains and forced into slavery. In fact, there is still a higher percentage of black people in the areas that they were forced into slavery. Are they behaving inconsistently? Do we have trouble reconciling this? I should not think so. Just because the United States has treated them poorly in the past, does not mean that they should cease being Americans. Does the history of slavery prove that black people should not be Christians? Only if you are willing to say that black people should not be Americans and that anybody who has been persecuted by a black people should disassociate with their friends.

The Bible forbids the practice of slavery as seen in the American south. The conception of slavery in the Bible is quite different from the practice of slavery in the American south. In ancient Israel, there was no prison system. So if somebody were to work off a crime, they would be put into slavery. Further, Gentiles sometimes had the option to sell themselves into slavery to Israelites. They did not want to live in poverty, unable to feed their family. So they would sell themselves into slavery for a finite period of time. This is the practice of slavery that we see in the Bible. But it does not contain man-hunting and the devaluation of human beings, which are central to the conception of slavery in the American south.

European men would invade Africa and kidnap people. They would take people from their homes, separate them from their families and sell them as though they were a mule. The only difference is that it is illegal to steal a mule. Yet this practice is forbidden by the Bible. Exodus 21:16 reads, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” Further, one of the more abominable practices of these slavers was the practice of sex slavery. But the biblical data also forbids that as I demonstrated in my article, Does Islam Allow Sex Slavery? Does the history of slavery prove that black people should not be Christians? Not at all. It proves that Christians have disobeyed the Bible.

Wise people should align themselves with what is true. As we wrestle with the polemics of world religion, what questions ought we ask ourselves? Should we ask ourselves, “How have the adherents to this world religion treated people?” That is certainly an interesting question. But it does not establish that world religion as true or false. It only demonstrates that adherents to the world religion are flawed. Unless there is some doctrine that says that all adherents to the religion will be perfect then it does nothing to undermine that religion. This means that we should be asking ourselves, “Is this religion true?”

This will lead one to ask different questions. It will lead one to ask who Jesus was. It will lead one to ask whether he was telling the truth about his claims and ultimately, whether he actually rose from the dead. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then we can be confident that he was who he claimed to be and that he has the authority to forgive our sins and give us the free gift of eternal life. I would like you to begin exploring the available evidence and looking for answers to this question. As a Christian, I am firmly convinced that God exists and that he raised Jesus from the dead. You will notice that you have stumbled upon a website titled “ThereforeGodExists.com”. I engage with the claims of atheists and present evidence for the Christian faith. You may begin by reading my article, Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

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If God Designed The Universe, Why Is There Poor Design?

poor design 1The concept of unintelligent design is a response to the creationist movement and philosophy of intelligent design. It proposes that there are too many flaws in the universe to have been created by an intelligent agent. If this argument is successful, it leads to the conclusion that an omniscient and omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator is not the cause of these things. Yet it does raise an interesting point. As we render our argument that the universe is designed, how can we explain that there are some things that are designed poorly? If God designed the universe, why is there poor design?

poor design 2This argument usually manifests as a response to creationism. The idea is that God could not have created man, or the universe, as is, because there are too many flaws. There are biological and cosmological treatments of this argument, such as the objection from the human appendix. The human appendix serves little to no biological function, is more apt to kill you than anything, and therefore God would not have created such an organ. There is the objection from the human eye, that there are receptors in the front which loop around in an indirect route, while it would be more convenient if the receptors were in the back. There is also the uninhabitable universe and even the earth, that much of it is uninhabitable, and therefore God could not have created human beings for it.

poor design 3Poor design is still design. You and I are on our way to a Nickelback concert. I am quite reluctant, but acquiesced upon your desperate pleas. With tears in your eyes, you cry out, “The Backstreet Boys are headlining for them! Give me a ride! Please!” As we are driving down the highway, my vehicle begins to emit a strange mechanical sound, and it precipitously slows down and I am forced to pull over to the side of the road. You and I exit the car and look inside the engine. In frustration, I say, “Ah! They must have sold me one of these self-designing cars. No intelligent designer would have assembled a car that malfunctions.” You find yourself nodding in agreement of my assessment. However, later that night, in a flash of insight, you realize that just because my car was designed poorly, that does not mean that it was not designed. You further conclude that a poor design is still a design and demands a designer. Therefore, the conclusion that my car did not have a designer is not only unwarranted, but it seems that the opposite conclusion is warranted. If my car was designed poorly, then it had a designer. It was designer poorly. Therefore, it had a designer.

poor design 4This is precisely the same mistake that the atheist makes in thinking that the universe does not allow a designer as a consequence of poor design. Poor design does not lend to the idea that there is no designer. Poor design lends to the idea that somebody designed the universe. For poor design is design. This means that if you render the argument that the human eye was designed poorly, you are conceding that it was designed, and even a poor design demands a designer.

In response, you might be inclined to suggest that if the designer is supposed to be intelligent (as in the case of God), then there cannot be a poor design. The design must be the fullest expression of the designers’ abilities. But what good reasons are there to think that? Why should I assume that the design is the fullest expression of the designers’ abilities? Pablo Picasso probably scribbled subpar designs on a napkin at times. That would not lend to the conclusion that he was a poor designer. Every design does not have to be a full expression of the designers’ abilities. Further, a poor design might reflect not the incompetence of the designer but the passing of time. A car that breaks down is not designed poorly. It is just decrepit. It is possible that we could say something similar about this world.

Is God an engineer, or an artist? Imagine that you were an architect as a professional career. But as a hobby, you also enjoy painting, particular old colonial houses. Well, your employer has assigned a project wherein you are part of a team that is assembling a colonial home. After a few weeks of diligent progress, your employer visits your home and sees some of your paintings of colonial homes. Furiously, he tells you, “Johnson! These will never function as blueprints. These are paintings! What in the world is wrong with you?” Obviously, your employer thinks that you intend for your paintings to function as your architectural work. Then you reveal the actual blueprints and his anger subsides.

This is akin to the mistake that the atheist has made in saying that the universe is too expansive to be created by God. The atheist is assuming that God’s work is like that of an engineer, which is just functioning to get the job done, when he could be more like an artist. God could enjoy the process of creating. This would seem to shut down the objection that suggests that the universe is too large to be created for us. There is too much in the world that is uninhabitable. Well, perhaps the reason that it is uninhabitable is precisely that it was not intended to be inhabited by us. We were not intended to live on the surface of the sun. We were not intended to live in the depths of the ocean, resting our head on the ocean floor. If God designed the universe, why is there poor design? In the case of the expansive cosmos, God created these things because he enjoys creating, and it is not all about us.

What are the designers’ intentions? I challenge you to a game of basketball. You are not very good at that particular sport, but you thought it might be fun, so you agreed to the engagement. When you arrived, you saw me dribbling a giant beach ball up and down the court. As I prepare for the game, I try to sink the beach ball into the net and I am growing more frustrated as I seem to be accurate, but it just keeps falling off without sinking. I complain, “Who designed this ball and this net? What a terrible design!” I write a letter to the manufacturers of the beach ball and the basketball hoop complaining of this flawed design. After a few moments of heavy contemplation and philosophical reflection, you come to realize that the problem is not the design. The problem is that I am holding an expectation of these designs that the designer did not intend. They are suboptimal because I am misusing them. I have assumed that the designer intended the beach ball to be thrown into a basketball hoop.

This is logically equivalent to what the atheist has done in complaining that there is poor design in the universe. We may look to biological organisms and say that the features of that organism are such that no intelligent designer would create them. But all we have done is make assumptions about the designers intentions. A panda bear may have suboptimal thumbs relative to the needs of a human being, and so we might look at them and complain that the designer did a poor job. However if one looks at the bears’ natural habitat, one discovers that the he uses his thumb for shedding bark. Therefore the bear might look at our thumbs and call them suboptimal because they are insufficient for the purpose of shedding bark. If God designed the universe, why is there poor design? The notion that a design is optimal or suboptimal cannot be assessed unless we know the intention of the designer.

We are not God’s pets. When we say that an organism is not optimal, we mean that it is not optimal for the flourishing of human beings or for human happiness and survival. But the intention of God as revealed in Christian theology is not one that ends in the flourishing of human beings, happiness or survival. The end of God, according to his revelation to man, is that we come into his mercy, are conformed to the image of the Son, justified, and glorified. God wants to glorify himself and for all of his creation to glorify him. Therefore, there is sin in the world so that God can reveal his wrath and his justice. If there were no sin, there would be no cause for these things. So, we see an imperfect world because only in an imperfect world could God reveal his perfect attributes to us.

We are not God’s pets for whom he wants to create a comfortable environment, and it is therefore no surprise that the design reflects a lack of concern for human comfort and flourishing. It could be the case that it was the purpose of God that some areas of the earth are uninhabitable for humans, just as it could be the case that it was God’s purpose that some things cause us discomfort and suffering, because our worldly comfort is not a priority. The priority is instead that God would be glorified, and that God’s people comes into a loving relationship with their Creator. Everything else, including comfort, is secondary. That is not to say that all suffering and discomfort goes to support salvation, however, it is to say that man was not created with such things in mind, and therefore we should not be surprised at the lack of interest in mans’ comfort and flourishing.

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Does God Micromanage Us, Or Do We Have Free Will?

micromanage 1There is a growing trend among Christians to deny philosophical reflection upon complicated issues. It is an unfortunate state of affairs in the evangelical church that many people are repelled by intellectual discourse. As a consequence of this, many Christians find themselves holding the position that either predestination is true, or free will is true. But it cannot be both. For how could we be free if God predestined everything to occur? Further, if God knows everything, how could it be the case that we have free will? For obviously, God knows with certainly that I will perform a certain action at 3 o’clock on Saturday. That is established as an absolute fact in the future. Does it therefore follow that I have no freedom to choose what I will do on Saturday? Am I being compelled to do this? Many think that since God knows that it will occur, that the answer is, yes, you are being compelled to do it. The question is, does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? Even in light of God’s foreknowledge?

micromanage 2Further, and perhaps even more profoundly, what about the issue of predestination? The biblical data affirms that God predestines every event to occur. Many take this to be a doctrine of micromanagement. That is to say that as the Calvinist theologian, Doctor Edwin Palmer wrote in his book The Five Points of Calvinism, “God decides and causes all things to happen that do happen… He foreordained everything ‘after the counsel of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11), the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of the typist, even sin.” If that were the case, then it seems unquestionably so that mankind is bereft of freedom of the will in the classical sense. But is that the only acceptable model of predestination? Do we have to believe that God has programmed everything to occur if we are going to believe in predestination? I do not think so. Where will that leave free will? Does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? Well, God could have predestined everything in a different way that aligns with freedom of the will.

micromanage 3If God knows that I will do something, am I still free in doing it? The question has led many Christian thinkers to deny either foreknowledge or freedom of the will, sacrificing it to their theological system. When somebody sacrifices God’s omniscience, they are saying that God is not really all-wise. He does not know the truth value in all of the possible propositions. Thus, they have conjured up a conception of God that borders on idolatry. It is a sacrifice to the character of God for the sake of their theological system. In the name of preserving freedom of the will, some will suggest that God does not know what will happen in the future. But I think that this is an unjustified concession.

micromanage 4It may be the case that God’s foreknowledge is something like a thermometer. That is to say that it accurately reflects what is going to happen. But it has no causal potency. God knows what will happen, but his knowledge is not causing anything to happen. In this way, God’s knowledge is based upon human decisions. If you eat pizza at three o’clock on Saturday, God foreknows that. But if you choose to play basketball instead at 3’clock on Saturday, God would have known that. So whatever decision you choose to make at 3 o’clock on Saturday, God would have known it. Does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? Well the fact that God knows everything should not give us pause. This model that I have presented preserves human freedom and divine foreknowledge.

micromanage 5We all recognize that we are making decisions. Do you recall the worst decision that you ever made in your entire life? Do you ever reflect on your actions and wonder what brought about such an asinine statement or action? You could have easily averted that by simply saying or doing something different. As we retroactively look into the past, we recall the various decisions that we have made. If we were having a bad day and somebody crosses our path, we might have thoughtlessly snapped at this individual. But after a careful recounting of the event and our actions, we would go to that person and apologize to them. These are two decisions that we may recall making in our life. We remember the careful thought that was put into them and the various emotional factors at play. Whether we chose something that seemed selfish or selfless, we recognize that decisions are made. Our lives seem to be a series of choices. Even today, everything you do is based on decisions that you must make. You are presented with a vast range of decisions and you may choose any of them.

micromanage 6Thus, as we venture through life, we grasp this concept of autonomy. It seems to be a properly basic belief. It is something that we presuppose in our daily life. It is part of the foundation upon which the rest of our beliefs rest. We believe in freedom of the will because it is something that we can all intuitively recognize. For obviously I am making a choice to open my laptop and write this article. I could have plausibly not opened my laptop and read a book. I could have done that. There is nothing illogical or infeasible about that proposition. There are a number of options instantly available to me. It seems properly basic to recognize this conception of freedom of the will. Therefore, unless you can provide an overriding defeater, then I am justified in believing in freedom of the will. Does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? Well, if we do not, then the entire world is a vain spectacle. It is a charade. It is a show that God has put on for us.

micromanage 7Is God still sovereign? Some think that if we have freedom of the will, then we are intractable and God just cannot rein us in. We are out of God’s control, and hence he is just not in charge of the world anymore. We are in charge. We have frustrated God’s plans. We are laughing maniacally as God desperately tries to put the pieces of his broken world back together. But we will just not cooperate with his plans. We will not allow him to put the pieces back together. God cannot stand against our almighty will. We have finally won. We have stolen God’s world from him, and he had better back off. It is our world now. Is that what we mean when we say that we have free will? Some people think that. Some people think that this is the concomitant of mans’ free will.

micromanage 8But I am just not likely to be taken in by that proposition. God does not have to preprogram everything to bring about his ultimate will. Rather, God could have put each individual into certain circumstances, in which he knows that they will freely choose to bring about his will. Think of the naughty child in the grocery store. Every time the parent brings the child into the store, the child misbehaves and makes a scene. That happens several times. The parent wants to discipline them, but they do not have time and they really cannot at this moment. So later, the parent decides to bring the child back to the store to inspire the negative response so that they can discipline the child and train them to behave in the grocery store. You see, the parent put the child in a situation wherein he knew that the child would misbehave. But the child still made a free choice to misbehave. Similarly, God puts us in different situations where he knows that we would act in certain ways.

micromanage 9In this way, God knows how every human being would act given different circumstances. If tonight, you ate liver and onions for dinner, God knows that you would hate them. He knows that if you were to be given a choice between chocolate chip cookies, and liver and onions, you would choose the cookies. God knows how you would act given every circumstance. God knows how everyone would act given every circumstance. This knowledge of how you would act in different circumstances is called middle knowledge. Does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? Well, when we say that God is sovereign, we mean that God’s will is coming to pass because he has put creatures in a situation where he knows that they would freely choose some action that brings about his will.

What about when man intends something for evil, but God intended it for good? In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers who tried to murder him, “you intended to do me harm, but God intended it for good.” This means that while these brothers were conspiring in a way that was evil, God was using their plot for his righteous purposes. Similarly, God used the Babylonian army to bring his judgment upon Israel. But then, he condemned the Babylonian army for their evil deeds. Likewise, when the Romans were crucifying Jesus, they were being evil. But God predestined that event for righteousness. How do we understand these passages if man has free will? It certainly sounds like God was controlling their actions.

But these passages are elucidated as we understand God’s middle knowledge. If God knows how we would act in any given circumstance, then he knows that if he puts these men in this situation, then they would become Roman soldiers and crucify Jesus. He know that the Babylonians would bring Israel into captivity. He knows that Joseph’s brothers would sell him into slavery. He puts people into these situations in which he knows that they would do these things. He does this to bring about his purposes. Does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? Middle knowledge retains freedom of the will even in light of these passages.

How do we know that God really has middle knowledge? How can we be sure that God actually has knowledge of what we would do under different circumstances? Well consider the fact that the content of these circumstances are truth claims. They have truth value. They are either true or false. What I mean is that the following statement is either true or false: “If the weather permits, then on Friday morning, Billy will ride his bike to work.” This proposition is either true or false. For us to suggest that God does not know the truth value of this proposition is to make a claim akin to the open theist. It is to sacrifice God’s knowledge for the sake of our theological system. To deny that God has this middle knowledge is to border on idolatry.

A favorite biblical example of middle knowledge would be in 1 Samuel 23, where David saves the people of Keliah. But as David was in this town, somebody came with an ephod (a divining devise that reveals future events). David asked the ephod, “If I remain in Keliah, will Saul attack?” The ephod replied, “Yes.” David asked the follow up question, “If Saul attacks, will the people of Keliah hand me over to him?” The ephod replied, “Yes.” So David fled the city and these events never occurred. So God relayed knowledge of events to David that did not actually occur. They were circumstantial. If this happens, then this result will occur. But it was not knowledge of the actual world. It was knowledge of some possibilities that would have occurred if David remained in Keliah. So, does God micromanage us, or do we have free will? In answering this question, we can say that God employs his middle knowledge as demonstrated in the Bible to put us in circumstances where we would act in a way that would bring about his will.

Doctor James White and dealing God the cards. There are some theologians who do go so far as to sacrifice God’s middle knowledge to their theological system. Foremost among these is Doctor James White. Doctor White has proposed a number of counter-arguments that demonstrate an uncharacteristic lack of reflection about this issue. While Doctor White is a brilliant Greek scholar and exegete, he is just not a very sophisticated philosophical theologian.

So he raises the bizarre objection, “Where did God get these possible worlds? Who dealt him the cards?” Now a possible world is a world in which God takes all of the people put in all of the different circumstances. If one thing in that world were different, then it would be a different “possible world.” There is a possible world in which I read a book instead of writing this article. There is a possible world in which I did not exist. There is a possible world to represent every minute difference and free choice of man. God chooses to actualize the possible world which most sufficiently brings about his ultimate purpose.

So, as I say, Doctor White objects, “Where did God get all of these possible worlds? Who dealt him the cards?” He goes on to say that if somebody dealt God the cards, it follows that there is a second God, and he accuses the Molinist of polytheism! Well, I know why he is saying that. When referring to possible worlds, Doctor William Lane Craig pointed out that God is working with the cards that he has been dealt. But this is just a figure of speech. Doctor Craig does not think that a greater divine being dealt the possible worlds to God. Rather, Doctor Craig was suggesting that if there is human freedom, then the worlds in which God could bring about his will are limited. So if God wants to grant freedom to humans, his choices of worlds that allow for that freedom is limited. However, God could choose to absorb all human freedom and just make the world into a vain spectacle. He has the power to do that. But he wants to grant freedom of the will. This sort of speculation on Doctor White’s part is really not productive. Doctor White needs to learn when to hand the reins over to a philosophical theologian.

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5 Truths We Can Learn From The Thief On The Cross

From http://christianitymalaysia.com/

From http://christianitymalaysia.com/

Jesus was being crucified between two thieves. For a brief time, both of these gentlemen were mocking him along with everyone else (Matthew 27:44). But then, one of these thieves repented and recognized his sin. He even recognized Jesus for who he was. God worked in this mans’ heart as he cried out, “Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me!” But Jesus denied his request. Instead, he said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43). Today, the thief on the cross is a beloved story among Christians, and we even appeal to this story to resolve theological disputes. I wonder what this nameless criminal condemned to shameful death would have thought if he knew that his story would be prominent in theological discourse. He might be surprised that we could learn anything from him. But I think there are at least 5 truths we can learn from thief on the cross.

1 – Deathbed conversions are possible. Often we wonder what happened to those of our loved ones who died outside of Christ. Did they die in their sins? Of course, everybody who denies the Son will be condemned (John 3:18). But if we know somebody who lived in rebellion to God, and then we find out that they died, that does not necessarily mean that they died outside of the kingdom. For this thief was mocking Jesus just before he repented of his sins. As he was dying, he recognized his sin and he turned to Jesus in faith. God worked on him, perhaps employing his fear of death and fear of the unknown, and brought him into repentant faith. The same could be speculated for our loved one of whose spiritual state we are unaware. God could have used their fear of death to bring about true repentant faith and hence welcome them into the kingdom. One could be saved on their deathbed.

2 – One can be saved without water baptism. When people discuss the role of water baptism in the soteriological model, they will appeal to the thief on the cross. Since the thief on the cross was not baptized in water, and he was saved, it follows necessarily that baptism in water is not a necessary aspect of salvation. It is possible for somebody to be saved without water baptism. In response, one might suggest that the thief on the cross was within the perimeter of the Old Covenant. In the Old Covenant, of course he would not be baptized. But the question is, what does the Old Covenant entail? How is one saved in the Old Covenant? I argued in my article Were The Jews Saved By Works Or By Faith Alone? that in the Old Covenant, people are saved by faith alone. This means that the thief on the cross, if he was under the Old Covenant, would be saved by faith alone. But the question is, why would God add ordinances that are necessary for salvation when throughout the history of his people, he maintained that people need only put their trust in him for salvation?

3 – Works are not necessary for salvation. Many people believe that the Jews were saved by the keeping of the Law. They kept the Torah and merited salvation through their righteousness. Such a person thinks that in the New Testament, we are no longer saved by works of the Law but rather works of the Spirit. In this way, justification comes by works. But the thief on the cross lived in decadence and unrighteousness. He was not a pious Jew. He was a thief. He stole things from other people. He did not live up to the standards of the Law nor did he bring forth the fruit of the Spirit throughout his life. He had no works to provide. The thief on the cross disconfirms the idea that works are necessary for salvation.

In response, some people appeal to the doctrine of Purgatory. He could have gone to Purgatory to perform meritorious deeds. However, Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Some people thing that when Jesus said this, what he meant was, “Very truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” He is telling the thief today. The thief will not be with him today, but rather, he is relaying the information today. But I am afraid that this is not consistent with Jesus’ usage of that idiom. Jesus did not say, “I tell you today,” and then relay some truth. Instead, he often said, “I tell you,” and then he relayed some truth (John 1:51, 14:12; Matthew 18:3, 25:40, etc.). It would therefore be consistent with the usage of this idiom for Jesus to say, “Very truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

4 – The spirit separates from the body at death. There are some devout Christians who believe that when a person dies, they go into a brief soul sleep, wherein they pass out of existence until the final resurrection at the end of the world. That is why Paul often referred to those who were dead as “sleeping.” But the encounter that Jesus had with the thief on the cross seems to shut down that doctrine. For if the thief will be with Jesus in Paradise “today,” it follows necessarily that the soul separates from the body. Since the final resurrection at the end of the world did not happen that day, Jesus must have met the thief on the cross again in Paradise when both were disembodies spirits.

5 – Jesus will forgive anyone who turns to him. Many individuals have this conception of religion wherein they cannot come to God because they have done so many evil things in their lives. God will reject them out of hand because they are so evil. Well, there is certainly a measure of truth in that. But it is applicable to all of us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In resolution to this problem, when Jesus was murdered, all of the wrath of the Father that we deserve was poured out upon him. He took our place. He died for us, absorbing the punishment that we deserve. Three days later, he rose from the dead. Anybody can turn to him in faith. The thief on the cross demonstrates that the vilest sinner can turn to Christ and he will take them as they are and make them new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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In Defense Of Monophysitism

monophysitism 1Central to the Christian faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. For anybody to compromise the person and work of Christ would be to uproot the essence of the faith. There is no Christian faith if Jesus was not fully God and fully man. Throughout the New Testament, we see the fulfillment of the great prophecies of old, wherein God became a man, the Messiah, and taught the good news of the kingdom of God, eventually leading to his murder by the state, dying for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. These tenets of the faith (his death for our sins and resurrection) are necessary components of Christianity. If you pluck either of them out, you have something less than Christianity. You have a heresy. This means that I affirm without reservation that Jesus was fully God and fully man. But what is the best way to understand this proposition? I write this article in defense of monophysitism.

monophysitism 2Monophysitism is derived from a Greek word meaning one (monos) nature (physis). It is the Christological view that after the incarnation, Jesus had but one nature. This one nature was a synthesis of God and man. This one nature was both fully God and fully man. This stands in contrast with the mainstream view that Jesus had two natures (dyophysitism), one being fully divine and the other being fully human. In defense of monophysitism, I will enunciate a few of the problems with this view and demonstrate how monophysitism resolves these problems.

monophysitism 3Before continuing, it would be an act of honesty for me to remind the reader that monophysitism was condemned as a heresy by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. However, that condemnation is very for specific reasons which my conception of monophysitism circumvents. Further, it is my stance that it is possible that the earliest adherent to monophysitism, Apollinaris of Laodicea, was probably misunderstood by his critics. Apollinarius was quite oriented toward philosophy and very carefully nuanced his Christological position. If any of these subtleties are overlooked, it would quickly lead to misunderstanding and wrongful condemnation. That is possibly what happened. As he spoke in defense of monophysitism, he outlined a few staggering problems with dyophysitism.

monophysitism 4Dyophysitism logically entails that there are two persons in Christ. Christological heresies abound at every turn. Apollinaris was combatting Arianism (the view that Jesus was not God) with one hand, and fending off Nestorianism with the other. But he also understood the criticisms that the Nestorian heretics had of the church doctrine. The Nestorians rightly pointed out that dyophysitism view logically entailed Nestorianism. Thus, Apollinaris carefully devised a Christological system that avoids both the Arian heresy and the Nestorian heresy. The Nestorian heresy held that within Christ, there are two distinct persons. One of these persons is divine, and the other is human. In this way, there are two Sons. This means that when we see Jesus praying the Garden of Gethsemane, the divine Christ is overcoming the human Christ. It would imply that the human Christ died on the cross, while the divine Christ continued living.

monophysitism 5As repugnant as the Nestorian heresy is, one can see how they would logically come to this conclusion. For if there are two natures and both of these natures possess full rational and cognitive faculties, then it is inconceivable that there would not be two persons or two conscious entities. The only remaining recourse is to appeal to mystery, namely, to say that you do not know how this problem is resolved, but you remain in the confessional strongholds. But that would not be effective in combatting Nestorian or Arian heretics that you encounter. Yet this was what the church chose to do. The church severed its’ most potent resource in this intellectual struggle by condemning monophysitism as a heresy. It did this without resolving the theological quagmire.

monophysitism 6A retreat to Kenotic Christology. Many readers might suggest that there are certain models of dyophysitism that do not logically entail the Nestorian heresy, foremost among them being kenotic Christology. Kenotic Christology is the position that at the incarnation, Jesus surrendered a number of his divine attributes. They draw support from Philippians 2:7, which says that he “emptied himself.” Thus, at the incarnation, he was no longer omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and so on. Rather, he was fully God in the sense that the consciousness of God has been incarnated into a man. This view would not make the same claims as Classical Christology, and hence would avoid the logical problems therein.

However, in suggesting that it is possible for God to lack his essential attributes, other logical problems arise. God is essentially omnipotent, omniscient. If God does not possess these properties, then he is no longer God. For God is necessarily the greatest conceivable being. God must possess all of the great-making properties. If God were not all-power, then he is not God, for it would be possible to conceive of a being who has more power than he does.

Just ask yourself, what else could God be stripped of? Could God be stripped of righteousness, that is, could he be malevolent, and still be God? Could Jesus have come to earth and lived in decadence and sin, saying that he has laid aside his divine attributes, such as righteousness? Obviously not. This is not a logically possible model of God. God must be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. If Jesus lived unrighteously, if he broke the Law, if he lived in sin, he would not be God, for God is necessarily omnibenevolent. Likewise, if Jesus did not possess the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, he would not be God, for God necessarily has these properties.

In response, you might pose the question of omnipresence. If it were impossible for Jesus to lack divine attributes, then what about the attribute of omnipresence? Well this raises the question of what it means to be omnipresent. Does omnipresence entail that God is diffused throughout the universe like some sort of invisible gas? If I have a sip of water, am I drinking God? When I digest food, am I digesting God? If I read a book written by an atheist, am I reading God? If that were so, then that would imply that God was stretched out across the universe, so that there is a little bit of God here and a little there. If you deny this, and suggest that God is fully present everywhere, then the concept of God’s Shekinah Glory has lost all meaning. When we see the glory of the Lord filling the Temple (2 Chronicles 5:14, 7:11, etc), the presence of God is there in a much more full manifestation than that which is normative. Thus the full presence of God is not across the universe. I think that we plausibly have to rethink our definition of omnipresence. It does not mean that God is diffused through the universe. Rather, it is an extension of his omnipotence and omniscience. God is aware of everything that is going on and has the capacity to be causally active anywhere in the universe. Thus as I articulate this article in defense of monophysitism, I affirm that Jesus possessed this attribute of omnipresence even during the incarnation, for it is impossible for God to lack any of his essential properties.

How does monophysitism solve these problems? As Apollinaris was teaching in defense of monophysistism, he wanted to combat the heresies that surrounded him. He wanted to elucidate a Christological model that was not guilty of the Nestorian heresy and that left Arians without solace. He wanted to affirm that Jesus was both fully God and fully man without saying that he had two distinct natures, for he thought that this entailed that there were two distinct persons. Similarly, he would have rejected the Kenotic explanation, for this entails that it is logically possible for God to lack his essential attributes. But by the very definition of who God is, he must possess these attributes. The Kenotic explanation seems to lend support to Arianism, while dyophysitism seem to lend support to Nestorianism. Apollinaris engaged in polemics against Arianism and Nestorianism as he contemplated the person of Christ. He concluded that there must be one nature which is a synthesis of God and man. This means that during the humiliation (the incarnation), Jesus took on a full human nature, which was synthesized with his full divine nature. At the incarnation, the Logos (the eternal Son of God) took the position of the human mind of Jesus. The Logos was the human mind of Jesus.

Critics responded that Apollinaris’ view was myopic, for there is more to a human being than a bipedal organism. Human beings are more than a mere body. So in saying that the Logos replaced the human mind, Apollinaris was rendering a view which said that the Logos incarnated an animal, for there was no human mind. If there is no full human mind, there is no full human nature. Thus, Apollinaris’ view collapses as it failed to provide a full human nature at the incarnation. It is therefore declared to be a heresy by the church.

However, Doctor William Lane Craig pointed out that it is possible that his opponents misunderstood what he was saying. Apollinaris may not have been arguing that Jesus did not possess a human mind. Rather, he could have been arguing that the Logos fulfilled all of the criteria of a human mind. For human beings are made in the image of God. The human mind is designed to reflect the mind of God. This means that the Logos has existed from eternity as the archetypical man. That is not to say that the flesh of Christ had existed from eternity. Rather, it is to say that there existed an archetypical mind in the eternal Logos, the eternal invisible Son. Therefore, at the incarnation, the Logos would serve as a human mind. This would provide the full human nature that critics of Apollinaris suggest that monophysitism could not provide. Thus, in defense of monophysitism, it succeeds in substantiating a synthesis of human and divine, providing a nature that is both fully God and fully man.

In response, someone might be inclined to say that this model suggests that the mind of Jesus was not actually human, for the Logos is omniscient. To this, Doctor Craig replies, “We suggest what William James called the “subliminal self,” is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos.” This means that during the incarnation, Jesus possessed the attributes essential to God, but that they were underlying. Just as much of our knowledge is underlying and not present in our waking lives, so also was much of the knowledge of Christ. He knew what date and time his Second Coming would be, but that knowledge was underlying. He knew the movement of subatomic particles, but that knowledge was underlying. He had the power to perform miracles in his hometown, but that power was underlying. In this way, there is a sense in which Jesus both knew and did not know everything. He did not know it in his waking life, but he still possessed that knowledge in his subconscious. Since omnipresence is an extension of omnipotence and omniscience, the same could be said of that attribute.

If you disagree, is this heresy, or inconsistency? When I suggest that something is outright heresy, I am suggesting that by confession, this person holds to some claim that compromises the Christian faith. But insofar as Christology is concerned, I believe in the full humanity and deity of Christ. I believe that Jesus had a rational human mind. I believe these things. These are essential to my confession. If I denied any of them, then you could say that this model is heretical. But since this model affirms the central tenets of the faith and even averts the problem for which monophysitism was originally condemned, it is certainly not heresy. Even if you disagree with the model, it is difficult to see how it can be thought of as heresy.

It seems to me that the most you could do is that I am being inconsistent. For something is not a heresy based on what it logically entails. Kenotic Christology logically entails that Jesus is not God. Dyophysitism logically entails that there are two Sons – one divine and one human. You might similarly think that monophysitism logically entails that Jesus was not fully human. But a person cannot be condemned as a heretic based on what their view logically entails. A person is condemned as a heretic based on their confession. The confession of the view that I have outlined is that Jesus is fully God and fully man, possessing a rational soul and a human mind.

Citation: Dr William Lane Craig & Dr JP Moreland; Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview; pages 606 – 611

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Do Christians Have Moral Duties?

moral duties 1Often as Christians read the Bible and learn the doctrines therein, they will over-extend the logical implications of these doctrines, which leads to unwarranted conclusions. One of the most obvious examples of this is the over-extension of justification by faith alone. In an attempt to avoid the error of works-salvation, some people will say that since the faith is alone, this entails that we do not really have to do anything in our Christian lives. We can live however we want. We can live evil lives. We can even become atheists, because our justification has been settled by faith alone. This misunderstanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone often serves as an excuse for sin. Why not live in sin? We are justified. So, do Christians have moral duties? In this article, I would like to affirm justification by faith alone, but suggest that Christians do have moral duties.

moral duties 2The Son of God had to be slaughtered for our sin. If we want to develop a practical doctrine of our relationship with sin that honors and reflects the biblical data, we need to ask ourselves how God reacted when his people sinned. It seems to me that he thought of it as a departure from faith in him. Even if the Israelites continued worshipping him, sin was still what kept the creature from his Creator. Whether they synchronized their faith with Paganism and worshipped other gods alongside God, or they worshipped him alone, and were highly ritualistic, God still condemned them. Whether the crime is idolatry or coming to God with lip-service but an empty heart, these crimes are still a punishable offense. They are abhorrent to God to the extent that he has devoted cities to destruction and left them in ruin because of their sin.

God hates sin so much that when the sins of his people were laid up his Son, he crushed his only begotten Son under the heavy weight of his fury. He destroyed his Son because his Son was marked with the sins of his people. The slaughter of the Son of God is a demonstration of the severity of sin and God’s wrath against iniquity. The cross of Christ is a picture of God’s hatred for sin and his love for mankind. Do Christians have moral duties? It seems unthinkable that we would continue in sin knowing that God hates it so much that his Son had to be slaughtered to atone for his people.

This recognition of the severity of sin demonstrated in the cross seems to also disarm the idea that because Jesus died for our sins, that we can live evil lives. It is rather precisely because Jesus died on the cross that we should be impaled with the groaning desire for righteousness and holiness.

Love is the fulfillment of the Law. What does it mean to keep the Law? What did it mean for the Jews before the death of Christ and what does it mean for Christians today? Paul tells us that love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:10) and if we love one another, then we are keeping the Law. However, in an attempt to show that Christians need not concern themselves with moral duties, many suggest that we should just love each other, and that is all. But this love that Paul writes of should not be taken as a generic or abstract entity that is beyond all human definition. If we were to think of love like that, then anything could be called love. I would suggest that this is not really love that is being described, but hatred.

Love is nuanced, particular, and contains precepts within it. One cannot just broadly say that we need to love and this frees us from further discussion of the matter. Rather, Paul tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness…” In this paragraph, there are ten moral precepts that the person who loves will keep. If you are being impatient, then you are not being loving. If you are arrogant, then you are not being loving. Do Christians have moral duties? We are commanded to love one another, and this love has within it particular precepts and commands that we are meant to keep.

It should be said that Jesus kept the entire Law. He loved God with all of heart, strength, soul and mind, and he loved his neighbor as him. He did these things in their fulness for his entire life. But how did he do that? He did that by obeying the perfect Law of God. He was a devout Jew, born under the Law, and he said, “I do know him and I keep his word.” (John 8:55). Thus the way love manifests itself is in keeping moral precepts, and I think that this is obvious. If one loves their wife, they will keep the moral precept, ‘you must not commit adultery.’ The command to love contains moral precepts within it.

We are dead to sin. It is quite interesting how little the human thought process has changed. People have always looked for ways to justify their sin as they mightily try to circumvent the command to sin. Some people apparently brought this challenge to Paul as well. He answered it in Romans 6:1-2, writing, “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?” The Christians is dead the sin. The Christian is a new man. The old man that he once was is dead. As he writes similarly in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The man that we once were, bringing forth the lust of the flesh has passed away. He was crucified with Christ so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6) The new man is here and he is dead to sin.

Therefore, since we are dead to sin, how should we behave? Paul writes, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14) Do Christians have moral duties? Well, what does this passage say? There is very little exegesis that is required. In fact, many who argue that we do not have moral duties will say, “we are not under the Law, but under grace,” as though that implied that we could do whatever we want. But Paul suggests that this paradigm means that sin is not master over us. We are to present our bodies as an instrument of righteousness.

Is this just salvation by works? People often misunderstand the call to righteous living. People suggest that if we are living righteous lives, it must be the mechanism by which we think that we are saved. Thus, we are performing what is known as salvation by works, which is where one merits their justification over a long period of time. This would obviously stand in contrast with Romans 4:5, which reads, “To the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). Yet while Paul taught this doctrine of justification by faith alone, he also said, “for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” While we are justified by faith alone, we are also called to keep the Law. How do we put these two truths together?

Well as I pointed out in my article Does Romans 2 Teach Salvation By Works? what Paul is saying is that the person who is justified will do good works. They are not saved by good works, but they do good works as a consequence of their justification. Thus we can say that justification is by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone. We are still called to do good works and to live a righteous lifestyle. If a person believes in salvation by works, they will trust in their works. Their works will be the mechanism by which they are justified. But in this case, that is not what the Christian church is advocating. The church advocates that our works are not the mechanism for justification, but are an outpouring after our justification.

In this way, they may be thought of as an overflow of the joy that we have for God’s forgiveness. We are rejoicing over what God has done for us. We are rejoicing that he died in our place, taking our sins upon himself, and then defeated death. We are rejoicing that he gave us this positional standing of righteousness before that Father that comes by faith alone in him. As an overflow of this rejoicing and this love that we have, we desire to do the will of God. As Jesus said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”

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If God Predestines Everything, Why Does He Punish Us?

predestine punish 1The very concept of divine sovereignty and predestination leaves many people staggering, for they do not believe that God predestines anything. They believe in free will, which is usually thought to be in opposition with God’s predestination. After all, if God predestines everything, how could he still hold us accountable? We are just doing what he predestined us to do. We are carrying out the action that he decided that we will carry out. How can he find us guilty, then? If God predestines everything, why does he punish us? This seems like a rather difficult philosophical quagmire, and one that even the apostle Paul seemed to wrestle with (Romans 9:19-20).

predestine punishment 1I would first indicate that I do not see a conflict with libertarian free will and divine predestination. For if God’s foreknowledge is based upon my free choice. If I choose to eat a sandwich, God will have foreknown my choice. But if I choose to eat pizza, God would have foreknown that instead. God’s knowledge would not causal, in this case. However, in the case of divine election, that is, who is saved, God does causally determine who will be saved. We are all slaves of sin and unable to turn to God (John 8:34), and only God’s saving grace can turn our hearts to him. Yet, he does not save everybody. Now, in my article, Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True? I defended the theodicy of Job, namely that God does not owe us an explanation. He is God, and we simply need to trust him.

At the same time, I think that there are answers to this question that are available to us. If God predestines everything, why does he still condemn us?

God wanted his righteousness to be on display. This question seems akin to asking why it is that God did not just create a world in which everybody would turn to him in salvation. The common wisdom of the day would allude to free will. However, I do not think that is correct. For in our free will, we would choose nothing but sin. So, God needs to turn our hearts to him. Why does he not turn everybody to him? Why are there some people who he leaves in a reprobate state? Well, I would like to suggest that it is possible that God wanted to demonstrate the full range of his attributes. He wanted us to know that not only is he merciful, but also, he is righteous.

The only way that we could know that he has righteous judgments is if he punishes sinful men. But the only way for him to punish sinful men is if there are sinful men available for him to punish. Hence, we can understand why God would create the category of sinful men. We can understand why it is that God would want to create a world in which everybody was not saved, but rather that there were some people who lived in open rebellion of him. He wanted to glorify himself by demonstrating his righteousness, by revealing his wrath against sin. As Romans 1:18 said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” If God predestines everything, why does he punish us? If there was no ungodliness and unrighteousness, God would never be able to demonstrate the full range of his attributes.

But isn’t God just controlling them, and then punishing them for it? The illustration that people tend to use is that of a puppet and his puppet master. God is sort of like the puppeteer controlling his little humans and then punishing them. Well, I am inclined to reject that sort of illustration as comparable to the relationship between creature and the Creator. We do not know what sort of resources God has at his disposal to relate to his creatures in a way that would not be akin to puppeteering.

Further, it is not as though God is not giving these people what they want. It is not as though they desperately want to believe the gospel and just cannot bring themselves to. Rather, people who wallow in sin want to wallow in sin. They are in love with their sin. Like a slave who loves their chains, they cherish their sin and they do everything that they can to preserve their sin. They hate the light, and they cannot understand why anybody would desire to do righteousness. When somebody is living a life of righteousness, they can only perceive it as a life of legalistic measures that they are imposing upon themselves. The idea of laboring out of love for God is inconceivable to the lost man. They hate the light. They love their sin. So, God is giving them precisely what they want. They want an eternity without him, and that is what he gives them.

It is not as though God were predestining people to do something different than that which they would choose freely. Rather, God predestines people to do precisely what he knew they would freely choose, given freedom of the will. So there is just is no trouble in thinking that he would condemn a person for doing actions that he predestined them to do. For he could have predestined them to do exactly what they would have done on their own given the condition of libertarian freedom. If God predestines everything, why does he punish us? He punishes us because he predestined us to do exactly what we would have done given the condition of freedom of the will.

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Was There A Time When The Son Was Not?

son was not 1Was there a time when the Son was not? This is the view was represented at the Council of Nicaea by Eusebius of Nicomedia. It was regarded as so disdainful by the presiding theologians that they interrupted his speech, robbed him of the manuscript for his lecture and tore it to pieces. For he was advocating the view that Jesus was merely a creature of God’s. He was suggesting that Jesus was not YHWH. He was suggest that there was a time when the Son was not.

son was not 2This belief erupted within the first few centuries of church history, spawning the Council of Nicaea. Many who do not study church history have a bit of a skewed conception of the proceedings of Nicaea. They think that the doctrine of the trinity was formulated, that the deity of Christ was conjured up by a few theologians. But, much like how the canon was developed in response to the Marcionist controversy, so also was the deity of Christ established in response to the Arian controversy. It was not that people did not believe in it prior to that point. But rather, it was formulated and made official church doctrine in response to the uprising of Arianism. But what is true? Was there a time when the Son was not?

son was not 3Divine Aseity. There are certain attributes or properties which are ascribed to God in both Perfect Being Theology (the philosophical musings that determine what it mean to be a perfect being) and in the Bible. One of these attributes is what is known as divine aseity. Divine aseity entails non-contingency. God is not dependent upon anything or anyone for his existence. He exists in and of himself, by the necessity of his own nature. This would contrast with the Mormon belief that God was once a man, who worshipped another being who he called God. But the Bible declares God to be self-existent. He exists by the necessity of his own nature.

son was not 4Recall Moses pressing God to reveal his divine name. God tells him, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14). This is usually thought to be an expression of divine aseity as well as the proper name of God. It is quite interesting to note that Jesus applied this name to himself on a few occasions. Perhaps the clearest is John 8:58, wherein he tells the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” Again in John 8:24, he says, “Unless you believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” Since Jesus was referring to the Septuagint, it is worth noting that the Greek term found in Exodus 3:14 was ego eimi was exactly what John attributed to Jesus. Was there a time when the Son was not? Well, it seems to me that Jesus claimed to be YHWH by attributing to himself God’s name and the property of divine aseity.

Jesus is the Creator. Who created the universe? Was it God? Man seems to have a grasp of who God is based on the created order. This is what is known as general revelation. We can perceive the existence of God through the existing universe. Paul writes in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Paul argues that by perceiving the natural world, we can come to know about our Creator. In perceiving the natural world, we can know that the Creator has invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature. If Jesus is the Creator, then it follows that Jesus has invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature.

Yet the biblical data abundantly reveals that Jesus was, in fact, the Creator of all. Perhaps the most profound among these declarations is what we find in Hebrews 1:10. The author quotes Psalm 102:25, and says that this is an example of the Father talking to the Son. The text reads, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” In context, this psalm is clearly referring to YHWH (v. 1). But the author suggests that this psalm is referring to Jesus. He said that it is an example of the Father communicating with the Son. It is the Father who said to the Son, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.” But just so the reader will understand his theological meaning, the author of Hebrews adds the word, LORD (taken to indicate YHWH) into the sentence so as to underline the point. It reads, “You, LORD, In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.” Was there a time when the Son was not? That seems inconceivable. The author of Hebrews clearly applied this creation psalm intended for YHWH to the Son, and even added the word YHWH so that there would be no misunderstandings.

In response, one might be inclined to suggest that Jesus was God’s instrument in creating the world. Well, first of all, that would not account for the author of Hebrews referring to Jesus as YHWH and applying this creation psalm to him. Second, it does not seem like a biblical proposition to suggest that the Father had an assistant in creation. God says in Isaiah 44:24, “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” If YHWH created by himself, then Jesus did not assist him if he is not YHWH.

God does not share his glory. The unitarian will often try to reconcile the verses that clearly diagnose Jesus as God by suggesting that Jesus is a god . So when John directly calls him God (John 1:1, 1:18), what he intends to relay is that Jesus is a demigod. But if Jesus is a demigod, that would imply that some sort of polytheism was true. Polytheism is the view that there are multiple gods. Yet in the Shema (which is the proverbial thesis statement on the paper of Judaism) we see that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). The little gods that we are aware of are often referred to as gods for colloquial purposes, but it is clarified that these gods are actually idols (Psalm 86:5), they are deaf and dumb (Isaiah 44:19). But they are not worthy of our worship nor are they worthy of our following them.

If we are allowing the word god to be so flexible so as to include idols and demons, that is fine. But we have to make some distinctions clear. God does not share his glory with created things. He said explicitly “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). Yet Jesus does share the glory of God. He says in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Was there a time when the Son was not? Jesus claimed to share the glory of the Father. If Jesus and the Father are not of the same substance, then he was a liar and a blasphemer. We are led to the conclusion, then, that the trinitarian model, which proposes that there is one God, eternally present in three persons, is more plausible.

Jesus is eternal. In 1919, observations were made during a solar eclipse which demonstrated that gravity bends light. This established Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. General Relativity assumes the space, time, and matter are interdependent. They came into existence together. There was not time before all things. This leads us to stunning theological implications. Paul writes of Jesus, “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Was there a time when the Son was not? Well if Jesus created all things, and he is before all things, it follows that he must be eternally existent. For time is a feature of the universe. Jesus must have been time-less, or eternal, and uncaused.

Jesus reveals the Father. How may we contemplate the character of God? Where can we see it in its’ fullest expression? John tells us in John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten God, in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.” Jesus is the full expression of God. He is the explanation of who God is. If we want to know who God is, if we want to contemplate the character of God, we need to look to the person of Jesus.

Yet even after years of ministry, even Jesus’s disciples did not comprehend this. In chapter fourteen, Jesus tells his disciples, “if you had known me, you would have known my Father also, from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him.” The disciples must have been looking around at each other, confused (as they often did not understand a word that Jesus said). They probably whispered to each other, “we’ve seen God? Where?” They did not understand what he was saying to them. So Philip posed the challenge, “Show us the Father, Lord, and we will be satisfied.”

The text does not tell us how the Master felt when Philip said this to him. Perhaps he looked at him as a teacher looks to an eager student. Perhaps he looked to him as a friend to another. Perhaps he looked to him as a father looks to a son. Perhaps he was angry that Philip did not understand him. Perhaps he was hurt that Philip had not recognized him and could not understand what he was revealing to him. Jesus said what we find in verse nine, “Have I been with you for so long, and yet you have not come to know me, Philip? He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Was there a time when the Son was not? Jesus was making a claim that nobody who was only a human being could make. He was claiming that in his character, in everything he demonstrated, in everything he did, he revealed who the Father was. In the person of Jesus, we see an explanation of who God is and how God interacts with the world. In this way, the disciples do not need to see the Father because they have seen, as Hebrews 1:3 says, “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of his nature,” or as Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God.”

Where is the church? It seems to me that if you want to suggest that there was a time when the Son was not, you would have to suggest that the church has underwent a great apostasy. For the supermajority of Christians have been taken in by the doctrine of the trinity. But that is not a slight divergence over the course of a few hundred years. It has been the doctrine of the church for the last two thousand years of its’ existence. The apostles failed to edify their disciples, for they began preaching what is the worship of a created thing.

The Holy Spirit did not sustain the church. He did not guide the church into all truth. He just let it slide into idolatry and heresy and fade into irrelevancy for two thousand years. He allowed generations upon generations of Christian theologians to give worship to a created being. Will Christ come back for these idolatrous people? Will he redeem them? That seems unthinkable. There would have to be a call to repentance and true faith in the unitarian God. But if that were the case, then, again, there is no church today. There may be a few minor sects scattered throughout the world, but in general, there is no church. Where is the church?

Concerning the biblical data, however, it seems to me that there is no question. Was there a time when the Son was not? Of course not. There is not even a crack through which doubt can seep.

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How Many Authors Wrote Isaiah?

authors isaiah 1As biblical scholarship unveils mysteries within biblical history, many find themselves opposed, or discomforted by these revelations, for they contrast their traditional interpretations or seem to remove the divine from the Bible. When Christians encounter a development that explains what we previously regarded as a miracle with natural phenomenon, we tend to view this as pure anti-supernatural bias. We view it as liberal scholarship. We view it as men who do not think that God can work miracles. In this way, we repudiate these developments. While I view this movement as being motivated by piety, and in many cases, is a proper and biblical stance on truth, I do not think that we need to maintain it universally. For there really are some things that are natural phenomenon. One of the mysteries in biblical history that has been unveiled is the author of the book of Isaiah. How many authors wrote Isaiah?

authors isaiah 2It is traditionally maintained that an individual man, the prophet Isaiah, composed his entire book, from beginning to end. But in the 19th century, scholarship developed what is known as the multiple authorship theory, which suggests that Isaiah was written over a period of about a century by several different authors. Typically, conservative scholarship prefers the singular authorship theory. But what is the proper biblical stance? How many authors wrote the book of Isaiah?

authors isaiah 3The change in context. During the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah, what we see is the message typical of the prophetic books in the Old Testament. God indicts his people with abominable sin and relays through his prophet the message that his wrath is imminent. But, if they repent, they will be restored and will avert disaster. Hence, throughout the first 39 chapters, God not only threatens his people and tells them that they have sinned against him, but also promises restoration and offers a vision of the idealized Israel that is reigned by truth and justice. This is what could be theirs if they turned to God in repentance. But as we voyage into chapter 40, a dramatic change in the tone and the context seems to appear. The statements of condemnation against Israel are lighter and scarcer. God is no longer offering them repentance and the opportunity to avert disaster. There are eschatological visions of hope. There are promises of restoration. But he is no longer threatening Israel. For in chapter 48:20, Isaiah says, “Go forth from Babylon! Flee!” Hence, the shift from a city under siege to a people in captivity renders apparent. This means that after chapter 40, the book of Isaiah is being recorded during the captivity of Israel.

authors isaiah 4This change of context has led to a dispute in Christian circles about how many authors composed the book of Isaiah. Throughout church history, Christians have traditionally maintained that only one man, namely, the prophet Isaiah, wrote his scroll. But by the very nature of the breed of writing, we would not expect everything to be the same. For the scrolls of the Major Prophets are compilations of oracles, sermons, narrative event events, visions, et cetera. They are grouped together by broad themes. It may be tempting for us to think of the composition of Isaiah as akin to the composition of Romans, where Paul just wrote a letter. But that is not how it was written. Isaiah was given a number of different revelations, and he wrote them in different literary styles to convey different messages. So we should not think that chapters 1-39 are all of a singular literary style, and chapter 40-66 are of a different literary style. Rather, we should think that the book of Isaiah is composed of several literary styles. When the message of Isaiah changes from a promise of destruction, to a reflection on the destruction already endured, that should not necessarily lead us to think that there were multiple authors. Rather that there could have been one author who was writing in a variety of different circumstances. How many authors wrote Isaiah? I am not compelled to think that the change of context should induce the multiple authorship theory.

That is not to say, however, that the multiple authorship theory is wrong. It is just to say that it seems unwarranted if all we have to consider is the literary differences. However, that is not necessarily all that we have to consider. The multiple authorship theory would make sense in the historical context. If during captivity, the prophet Isaiah were to perish, the Israelites would read his scroll and see what it was incomplete, and hence, finish it. It is neither completely unthinkable nor unprecedented, for that is what we also see in the Book of Kings. The Israelites had a running record of the kings of Israel, and the designated historian of the next generation would record the actions of the king. Obviously, we are not compelled to think that the entire book of Kings was prophetic. Rather, it was just an ongoing written record of the kings of Israel. This would seem to set a precedent, then, for establishing the multiple authorship theory of the book of Isaiah. However, this precedent by itself is not evidence that Isaiah was, in fact, written by multiple authors.

The appearance of Cyrus. The multiple authorship theory would seem to draw support from the 45th chapter of Isaiah, where God calls Cyrus, the one who was to free Israel from its’ captivity, by name. He says that Cyrus is his chosen instrument. Since the Babylonian Captivity lasted for 70 years, and Isaiah was clearly an adult before the captivity, he was most likely dead by that point. If we are to account for the fact that Cyrus was named as God’s chosen instrument, we would need to say that there were multiple authors who composed Isaiah. Multiple authorship theory, then, seems to be strongly implied by the naming of Cyrus.

However, it is usually charged against the multiple authorship theory that it is maintaining an anti-supernatural bias. For God could prophecy Cyrus in advance. He could have given this as a prophecy to prove to the people of Israel that he is who he says he is. So the reason that we see Cyrus foretold is not that there were multiple authors, one of who was a contemporary of Cyrus. Rather, Isaiah, living years before Cyrus, foretold what was going to happen as a prophecy. By assuming that there must have been multiple authors, we are then assuming that God cannot prophecy and cannot work miracles. This would seem to shut down the argument based on the appearance of Cyrus. Indeed, one might be inclined to think that the appearance of Cyrus is a proof of divinity. After all, if Isaiah were written long before Israel was freed by Cyrus, then this would be a legitimate long-term prophecy.

Still, though, it is possible to interpret this within a multiple authorship paradigm. That is not an untenable approach to the text. In fact, a secular historian might suggest that as a tenet of history, they cannot invoke the supernatural to explain the text. They have to be scientific and adopt methodological naturalism. However, as committed Christians, we view Isaiah as a theological record of God’s interactions with his people. This would mean that we have no restrictions against the supernatural. At the same time, though, the committed Christian need not think it an act of piety to suggest that God is speaking at the beginning of the captivity as opposed to the end of the captivity. How many authors wrote Isaiah? It would seem to me that the naming of Cyrus is not conclusive evidence for the multiple authorship theory, even though it is possible for a committed Christian to interpret it within that paradigm.

What was the traditional interpretation? But how did the Jews approach this issue? Is there any indication in history? Do the Jews ever tell us where there was one author or multiple authors? Many suggest that in the 20th century, there was a discovery that resolved this issue. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, we found that there were preserved a number of ancient books of the Old Testament, dating from between 250 BC and 135 AD. Among them was the book of Isaiah. Most advocates of multiple authorship assumed that the scroll would only contain the first forty chapters of Isaiah. When it was revealed that the entire book was there, most thought of this as a victory for the single authorship theory. But I am not inclined to think that. After all, there was almost three hundred years to catalog the Isaiah text into one scroll. Further, the completion of the Isaiah scroll could serve to only indicate that the Jews viewed the second half as part of the same story. I do not think that the Dead Sea Scrolls resolve this issue.

However, there are still traces of Jewish tradition that might be able to help us to understand this controversy. The main and most authoritative one would be the New Testament. Jesus spoke of the prophet Isaiah and his work, so is there anything relevant there that be contributed to this discussion? Well, in John 12:40-41, Jesus quotes the book of Isaiah, one from the beginning of Isaiah, and the other from the end of Isaiah. Of this, he says, “This same Isaiah said…” Many suggest that Jesus is saying that the same prophet, the man, Isaiah, made both of these statements. But the multiple authorship theory would imply that Jesus was speaking of the scroll of Isaiah. This same book of Isaiah said both of these things.

The committed Christian, then, could take a decisive stance on which of these interpretations is more plausible and resolve this issue. I, personally, think that both interpretations are equally as likely. How many authors wrote Isaiah? Well, the tradition of the Jews in the Dead Scrolls does not offer the insight that many attribute to it. On the other hand, the New Testament might offer some insight, depending on your interpretation.

How many authors wrote Isaiah? With this overview of these competing theories, we seem to be left in a deadlock with both of these two theories being possible alternatives. Perhaps Isaiah made a long-term prophecy and named Cyrus. Perhaps Isaiah died, and somebody picked up where he left off, much like the chronicles of the kings of Israel. There is no reason to be dogmatic about either theory. Both theories are consistent with the tenets of biblical inspiration. There is no reason that a book with multiple authors could not be inspired. Other examples of books with multiple authors include 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and others. We just do not have enough historical data to determine which theory of authorship is true. But whether it is the prophet Isaiah, or a member of the Jewish community, it is still inspired text and we can still derive truth from it.

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Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True?

calvinism evil 1Is God a moral monster? Is God evil in the Bible? This is a question that is often raised by atheists and other non-Christians who labor to bring forward a case against the biblical model of God. Since God is necessarily righteous, they cannot be believers, for the biblical presentation of God is one that does not measure up. It does not adequately reflect the holiness and righteousness that one would expect from God. This is an atheistic argument that Christians encounter when interacting with the non-believers. Yet, shockingly, and absurdly, there are Christians who mount the same arguments against other Christian conceptions of God. Arminians will often say that if Calvinism is true, then God is a moral monster. They go as far as to say that if the Calvinistic interpretation of the Bible is true, they would forfeit their Christian faith and resign themselves to unbelief and disobedience. Is this reaction warranted? Is God evil is Calvinism is true?

calvinism evil 2Many reading might be wondering what these terms are that I am using. In the narrowest and most concise sense, Calvinism is an expansion of monergism. Monergism is the view that God alone brings salvation in the human heart. It is the view that when a person has faith, it is because God has saved them already. God actively pursues them and makes them new creatures so that they can turn to him in faith and repentance. I represented this view in my article “Do We Have The Free Will To Choose Salvation?” There are certainly a few moral tones in this doctrine and questions that have to be answered. But rather than engaging the text, some have chosen to change their interpretation of the text based on these moral tones. Hence, we have Arminianism, which is to be taken as an expansion of synergism. Synergism is the view that God is actively pursuing everybody, yet fails in most cases, and only those who respond to him in faith and repentance are saved. Many Arminians (synergists) look at Calvinism (monergism) and raise several moral objections, a few of which you may be shuffling through as you read this. I will address them through the course of this article.

calvinism evil 3Who is deciding what righteousness is? If a police officer were to take off his badge and doff his blue uniform, get in an unmarked car, and try to pull somebody over, the citizen would not respect the authority of the off-duty cop. But if he is wearing his uniform with his badge, in a marked car with sirens, then the citizen will pull their car over. It is an issue of the authority of the officer. Similarly, when the atheist looks at the Bible and sees him taking a life, what they are seeing is not God’s judgment, but a manifestation of the wicked hearts of man. They have removed God’s authority from Scripture. God can take a life, for he is the one who gave life in the first place. He can send somebody to Hell if he wishes and even bring destruction upon a city. He is God and he is more righteous and more loving than we are. Just consider all of the times that people have made snap judgments and then, when they learned more of the details and context, they repented of their judgment. God’s wisdom and knowledge supersedes our own, and we just do not know enough to make these judgments.

calvinism evil 4This is something that the Arminian will acknowledge when discussing moral issues with atheists. Yet it seems that they fail to apply that standard to their own theology when they indict God with immorality. For if one is to say that God is behaving in a way that is evil, that is not only blasphemous, but it is a statement born out of ignorance. Indeed, it is precisely the lesson that Job had to learn. When he lost his family, his home and everything that he owned, he questioned God and claimed his own righteousness. He made the same indictment against God that we see Arminians making. The divine response that we see is, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). The Arminian who claims that God is being evil is darkening counsel by words without knowledge. They are assuming to know more than God knows.

calvinism evil 5After all, this is a discussion about the Bible. The question about whether monergism is true is one that is answered by Scripture. When we exegete Scripture, we need to be honest with the text and not contort it to our own liking. If we find something in Scripture that we disagree with, we need to ensure that we conform our beliefs to Scripture, and not Scripture to our beliefs. For if we conform Scripture to our beliefs, then we are constructing God in our own image. We are creating an idol for ourselves. Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Even if we do not understand why God would do certain things, we have to remember that he is more righteous and more holy than we are, and we just do not know all of the facts. The Bible is God’s word and we need to just conform ourselves to it.

calvinism evil 6Why did God save one person, and not another? Calvinists are often posed this challenge. If God has it within his ability to freely save everybody, then why does he not freely save everybody? Something interesting that should be remembered is that this is a question that everybody has to deal with. Unless you deny that God knows the future, then you are committed to the belief that God knows who will be saved and who will not be saved. The Arminian answer to this quagmire is that God elects individuals on the basis of their free choice. However, if everybody has an equal opportunity, then the question remains: why did one person choose God, and not another? It cannot be that they were more wise or more righteous, for if that were the case, then we would have a model of works-righteousness. The only resolution to this problem is to say that God provides more grace to the individual so that they may freely choose him, which would lead us back to monergism.

So I am inclined to think that the Arminian has the greater logical quagmire. After all, even if I do not know why God chooses one person and not another, there is nothing that logically compels me to think that therefore, these people have the freedom to choose God. Rather, I am biblically compelled to think that it is simply by the counsel of God’s will. I do not know the answer to this problem. I do not know why God chose one person and not another. But I do know that God is more righteous and holy and I am, and he is in a position to make these decisions. I also know that there really is no logical alternative, for the Arminian resolution leads to a logical problem that only monergism can resolve.

It should also be noted that when presenting this doctrine, Paul anticipated this question and answered it. He writes, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'” (Romans 9:19). Notice that this is exactly the moral dilemma that the Arminian is raising. Nobody can resist God’s will. How can he possibly still blame us if he is the one who is choosing to save us? Like the rest of us, Paul does not know the answer to this question. It is a logical problem that is left to God to know the answer. He calls us to just put our trust in him, that he is more righteous and loving than we are. He writes, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20).

In response to this, you might be inclined to suggest that Paul was not talking about individuals, but about nations. Well, first of all, in verse 16, he switches from talking about nations to individuals. But secondly, if Paul were talking about nations, then why did he not provide the logical answer to this problem? The logical question that Arminian exegesis suggests that Paul is answering is, why is God expanding his salvation to include the Gentiles? So, why did he not just say, “God loves Gentiles, too,” or “God is saving the Gentiles so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” But he does not say those things. Why does he not answer the rhetorical questions? There are very simple answers to that question. Instead, he calls man into obedience to God. He calls man to trust in God’s righteousness. Perhaps the question is more difficult than Arminian exegesis suggests. Perhaps the question is, “why does God save one person, and not another?” Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?

How can you fellowship with such a person? If somebody thinks that the God you believe in is evil, how can you join hands and sing hymns with them? The person with whom you are singing thinks that you believe in a God that is evil. Oh, you do not realize that the conception of God that you maintain is evil, but nonetheless, they think that you believe in an evil God. If somebody thinks that you believe in an evil God, how is it that they would think that you were saved? Those two concepts are just utterly incompatible.

Further, how is it that the Calvinist can think that the Arminian who thinks that God is evil, is saved? After all, they are maintaining that the God of the Bible is evil. The Arminian should try to put themselves in the Calvinists’ shoes. The Calvinist believes that this is the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible unconditionally elects people based on his good and sovereign will. The Arminian is looking at the God of the Bible and saying that he is repugnant, unworthy of worship. What sort of fellowship can be had with such a person? Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Well, to maintain such a thing seems to be a disconnect between Arminian and Calvinist fellowship.

Finally, and critically, if it were the case that Calvinism were true, then the Arminian would essentially be blaspheming God. I am not saying that the Arminian who says such a thing is not saved. But I will say that I would not want to answer for such a thing. I would not want to have to explain to God why I called him evil. In response, the Arminian might say that they would stand the judgment seat of God and ask, “so why did you not save those other people?” Suppose, though, that God provided the answer. He told this Arminian the answer to that question at his judgment seat, and it satisfied all of their moral qualms. Would it then not be the case that God could say, again, “Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Evan Minton of CerebralFaith challenged this article. Click here to see his response!

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What Does Acts 2:38 Teach About Baptism?

acts 238When does God justify a person? Is it only after they have endured a few religious rites? Is it only after he regenerates them? Is it in response to their turning to him in faith? These different models of salvation pervade throughout the contemporary church and we see them as we gaze through the corridors of church history. Throughout the ages, Christians have maintained different stances on salvation and justification. Particularly in this article, I will zoom in on one nuance, namely, the issue of water baptism. Is a person justified by the religious ceremony and ritual of water baptism? Does water baptism wash away sins? What about some of the compelling proof-texts, such as Acts 2:38? What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism?

acts 238 2For many, Acts 2:38 is the end of the debate. For 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.” A surface reading of this verse, in a vacuum, may lead someone to believe that water baptism washed sins away. However, this soteriological heresy is corrected by Paul’s didactic teaching on what it means for a person to be saved, for he says that faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5). I labored to underline this point in my series on Justification By Faith Alone. It is important that we allow the Bible to present a consistent and adequate model of salvation, rather than just pointing to individual snippets that we can recite as one-liners. If we are all just reciting our favorite one-liner, I can say, “faith is credited as righteousness,” and you can say, “Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins,” which essentially amounts to two people talking passed each other and not interacting with the text or what other people are saying. I think that it is important to understand Acts 2:38 in the context in which it was written. Only then will we understand how it fits into Paul’s paradigm of justification by faith alone.

acts 238 3Stories Vs Letters. Reading the Bible often requires a certain measure of discernment. It might be tempting for us to just appeal to the verse that sounds good and seems to represent and prove the core of our theology, but that is not a sound approach to summoning the theological truths forth from the Bible. In fact, that is precisely how Satan manipulated the Bible, when he took verses out of context in a futile attempt to persuade Jesus to bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:1-11). He appealed to little one-liners, verses that he favored, that seemed to support his theology. I am afraid that this is what many Christians are guilty of as well in establishing their doctrine. Many pay little mind to the intention of the author and the literary genre. There are several different genres of literature throughout the Bible, but for our purposes, I will only mention two.

acts 238 4Historical narratives where the author is telling us a story about a certain individual or event and didactic epistles where the author is usually writing to a group of people about something that is going on in their community, and this always has theological overtones, so the apostles will, in turn, teach theology. In some cases, we even have theological treatises on certain issues. That is what we see in the book of Romans, where Paul offers us a theological treatise on what salvation is. He moves from the sinful state of man to justification by faith alone (Romans 3-5). We can see that by the language that Paul is using, he is prescribing the manner of justification.

However, in contrast, in a historical narrative, what we often see are statements that are descriptive of what is going on around them. When Jesus tells Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” that is descriptive of what Jesus told Judas, but not prescriptive for our behavior. In contrast, when he said, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (John 3:3) this is prescriptive, for it applies to everybody. However, many of passages are less clear than John 3:3, and it is more difficult to discern what is descriptive and what is prescriptive. That is not to say that we should just throw up our hands in despair and ignorance, but a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is that we should always use the passages that are more clear to interpret passages that are less clear. Since Romans is a didactic teaching on what salvation is, the primary discussion needs to be had there, and interpret everything else through that lens. What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism? Well, we need to understand it primarily through the lens of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Is baptism for the remission of sins? If a person is advocating that water baptism washes away sins, they will often misquote this text. They will say, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins.” If it did say that, then this would be a very powerful proof-text for their view, and adherents to Pauline soteriology would have to deal with it. The text does not say that, though. The difference is subtle, and as is often the case, it alters the meaning of the sentence. It says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” Each of you be baptized. Peter is switching from plural to singular, and back to plural. This would seem to grammatically disconnect repentance and baptism, while grammatically connecting repentance and the remission of sins. Hence, a proper interpretation of this text would be to read, “Each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and repent for the remission of sins.” Of course, it should be noted that this is not a novel rendering of the Greek text. I am not advocating that the text of Acts 2:38 be changed. I am saying that the grammar leads us to this interpretation. What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism? Repentance is for the remission of sins. But they should also be water baptized as a rite of initiation into the Christian church.

It is quite interesting that this term “remission of sins,” appears in a few other places as well. After Jesus rose from the dead, he opened the disciples mind to understand the Scripture, and told them that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” (Luke 24:47). Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That message begins, where? In Jerusalem. We see the fulfillment of this at Pentecost, in Acts 2:38, further confirming the Pauline interpretation of this verse. Jesus said that it is repentance that is for the forgiveness of sins. Further, in Peter’s second speech, he cut water baptism out of his message. In Acts 3:19, he says, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…” The consistent message is that repentance leads to the remission of sins. The one time that water baptism happens to be mentioned in the same sentence does not lead us to think that it washes away sins. We need to be consistent in our understanding.

One might be inclined to ask why it is that we would not just put all of these salvation texts together. In Luke 24:47 and Acts 3:19, we have repentance for the remission of sins. In Romans 4:5, we have faith being credited as righteousness. In Acts 2:38, we have water baptism for the remission of sins. Why not just put them all together and create a checklist model of salvation? We do not do that because that is not what the author intended for us to do. Luke wanted to communicate, in both the gospel named after him and in Acts that repentance leads to the forgiveness of sins. Paul wanted to communicate that faith is credited as righteousness. It would not be treating the text fairly to create a checklist.

Something glaring that you might be inclined to ask is how is it that repentance and faith can both be taken by themselves if they are both necessary for salvation. Is it not true that I am also creating a checklist, albeit, a shorter one? Not at all. For repentance is something that happens internally. Repentance is not a work that one performs. Rather, repentance is to change your mind about sin and to change your mind about Jesus. It might be thought of as an expansive definition of faith. What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism? Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, then, succeeds even in the face of the oft misinterpreted Acts 2:38.

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Does Islam Allow Sex Slavery?

islam rape 1It is tempting for us to be sympathetic with our Islamic friends who want to disassociate themselves from the renegade terrorists who blow themselves and kidnap young children, taking them as sex slaves. Muslims who grew up in the west (and perhaps many even in countries where Islam is the majority religion) think that the uprising of jihad is a stain on Islam. It is like if somebody stole my car and then used it to evade the police after robbing the bank. You would not blame me for their crimes. They stole my car. Likewise, contemporary Muslims contest that these renegades have hijacked Islam. They stole Islam. They are committing the wicked deeds of their heart and sprinkling it with Islamic language. Is that the case, when examining of the most vile practices of these men? Does Islam allow sex slavery?

islam rape 2We are told that no real Muslim would condone such behavior. Practicing Muslims who adhere to Qur’anic values are peaceful people who want to live in harmony with folks of other religions in society. It is akin to skeletons in the closet of the history of Christian church. Church history is marked with iniquities such as the Inquisitions and the Crusades. Just as Christians are viewed as peaceful people and their doctrine is peaceful, so also Muslims are peaceful people with peaceful doctrine that has been abused by a group of wicked men. This is the model that we have been presented of Islam. Of course, it cannot be denied that there are a lot of nice and peaceful Muslims. The question is, what does their doctrine teach? Does Islam allow sex slavery?

Spoils of War. As we reflect upon the barbaric armies of history, it is difficult to understand how men could demonstrate such depravity, and how rulers could just shrug their shoulders and suggest that it is just part of the paradigm of war. For when an army is defeated, and a city is conquered, the residents of that city who were not participating in the war were just bystanders. They were not fighting. They are waiting for their husbands and sons to return from the battle. They and their children are crouched down in dark corners of their home as they listen to howl of screaming men and the constant clamor of steel against iron. These children, who have never been away from their father for more than a day, are wondering if they will ever see him again. They hope that they can just fall asleep, so that when the sun breaks across the horizon, their loved one will return and their incessant weeping will be undone. Many of these mothers knew that if they had been freshly widowed, the conquering army would take them as spoils. They would not only lose their loved ones, but they would kidnapped and repeatedly molested, and those with daughters knew that their daughters would suffer the same fate. This is the reward that men would take for themselves when they won a battle.

Yet anybody with the slightest inkling of a moral intuition knows that such a behavior is unworthy of the people of God. God could never prescribe such a behavior. It would be contrary to his character and his nature to allow his creatures to command such a behavior. Yet this is what we see in the Qur’an. When the renegades would win a war, they would take females as sex slaves. After one particular battle, the renegades wanted to force themselves on these women, but they were afraid that they would get them pregnant. But Muhammad, offering what must have been seen as brilliant theological insight, said, “It is better for you not to [ejaculate outside of the vagina], for if any soul till the Day of Resurrection is predestined to exist, it will exist.” (Bukhari 5:59:459) Likewise, when married women were captured, the renegades were told that they were permitted to have sexual access to these women. While married women are forbidden in a normative context, they were not forbidden when they were captives of war (Qur’an 4:24). So even while their husbands were still alive, perhaps even watching, these Muslims men took these women and had sex with them. Does Islam allow sex slavery? Well, the question is, do you really think that any of these captives of war were willing to have sex with them, after their husbands and sons just fell in battle? What of those whose husbands were still alive?

One might be inclined to think that this is just a critics’ view of Islam. I am just a critic, on the outside, looking in, making accusations because I am a mean person. But, astonishingly, this is conceded, by one of the most reputable and well-known Islamic scholars of the day. He acknowledges everything that I said in the above paragraph, and he proposes it as a morally acceptable view. In explaining why Boko Haram was wrong to kidnap schools girls, Doctor Shabir Ally pointed out that they distorted Islamic law. Islamic law does not teach that one can just invade any place they want and just take anyone. Rather, according to Doctor Ally, “It is traditional Islamic Law that if the result of the war would be that if Muslims are victorious, they would pick up the spoils of war… women were taken as captives and then allotted to the male soldiers or sold on the open market. If they were allotted to a male soldier, it was taken for granted that the male soldier would have access to her sexually, as though she were a wife, but the difference is that she was not free to leave.” (Start the video to the left at 4:03 to hear the quote.)

Even the most conservative Islamic scholars, who are revered as intellectuals, who oppose radicalism, are forced to concede that in Islamic law, women can be taken as sex slaves during a time of war.

Was the Islamic system superior to the surrounding civilizations of that time? Of course, one could appeal to a cultural understanding of the renegades’ behavior. That was just, as it were, the way of war. Since everybody else is doing it, we can understand that the renegades would adopt it, for it was a custom of that day. We can understand the cultural system in which they were living. Well, I am inclined to first point out the theological problems with this. Muhammad is said to have received these suras from God himself. God told Muhammad to allow these men to force themselves on married women, and to ensure that they ejaculate inside of the vagina because what is predestined to happen, will happen anyway, so our actions do not really matter (my fingers are itching as I deny myself the space to point out the logical error in Muhammad’s reasoning). If God is giving these commands, then clearly it is insufficient to appeal to the cultural standard. Is it not possible for God to have provided a system that was not morally repugnant? Could God have provided a system that was morally praiseworthy? One that does not reflect the wicked desires of the human heart?

In fact, that is precisely what God did, and it shuts down the argument from cultural comparison. For there was another society that even within a culture of evil behavior in times of warfare, made allotment to treat captives of war and prisoners with respect. What we see the Jewish Torah is a model of treating captives of war with civility, in a way that far exceeds Shari’ah. There is no rape, for rape is strictly condemned (Deuteronomy 22:25-27), and sex outside of marriage was condemned (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Men are not given “sexual access” to a woman “as if she were a wife.” This may be taken, then, as an assurance that women are not forced into sex slavery.

They are taken as wives, but only after a month of mourning for their families. (Deuteronomy 21:10-11). Men do not charge into the homes of women who just lost their husbands or sons and molest them. Yet there was no prison system, so what are we to do with them? They are taken as wives. The men are instructed, “It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.” The men are commanded to treat their new wives with respect. Further if they are neglected by their husband or divorced, they are freed. If they are divorced, they are also freed (Exodus 21:10-11). These laws may be taken as an expansion of Numbers 31:18, which reads, “But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” It may be tempting to read sexual slavery into that verse, but considering the host of laws that forbid it, that interpretation is nullified.

Does Islam allow sex slavery? According to the conservative scholar, Doctor Shabir Ally, who has a doctorate in Qur’anic exegesis, it absolutely does. It is insufficient to appeal to the culture around them because [1] according to the Qur’an, God gave these renegades direct permission to rape these women and [2] there are societal models cut from the same mold that are morally praiseworthy.

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Does William Lane Craig Have An Orthodox Christology?

wlc 1Gossip is a feature of the world from which Christians are called to abstain. For we cannot spread rumors about people, attribute statements to them, and misrepresent them, especially without knowledge and behind their back. When we do that, we are guilty not only of our own sin, but of enticing others to do it as well, because they heard the information from you, and now they are spreading it to other people. You acquired your information in the same way that they did, by hearing someone else spread it, but nobody checked the information to see if it was accurate. People just gleefully continue to gossip about this individual. Doctor William Lane Craig has been victimized by this flawed approach to research. Abuzz in the schoolyard and the hallways are Doctor Craig’s Christological positions. Many are asking the question, “does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology?” But, without consulting Doctor Craig’s work, they answer “no,” purely for the sake of gossip.

wlc 2Most will base their research on a quick google search, prompted by something that somebody else said. Upon hearing that Doctor Craig is an advocate of Neo-Apollinarianism, they will do a google search of Neo-Apollinarianism, quickly see the flaws therein and the reasons that it was rejected as heresy, and apply these views to Doctor Craig. Many folks (particularly of the reformed camp) are eager to call Doctor Craig a heretic. They are eager to accuse him of denying the incarnation, or denying that Jesus had an actual human body, or anything else that they can think of. The internet has rendered this form of malevolent gossip especially potent, for in a matter of seconds, hundreds of people can see false accusations being made against the brethren, based on information that does not appeal to Doctor Craig’s primary work on this subject. Throughout this article, I will provide information that should acquit Doctor Craig of all of the charges of heresy, citing his volume Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (all page numbers will be taken from that).

wlc 3William Lane Craig affirms the full deity and humanity of Jesus. Doctor Craig has not retreated to self-autonomy, deciding what doctrines he likes and what he dislikes. He is not spoiling the Christian faith by denying the incarnation of Jesus. He is not denying the classical creeds nor the ancient Council of Chalcedon. Rather, in Philosophical Foundation For A Christian Worldview, he begins his chapter titled “The Incarnation” by saying “The New Testament affirms both the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ,” (page 597). He expounds upon this by appealing to the great Council of Chalcedon, not to critique it, but to establish its’ theological outline as the boundaries within which he is developing his Christological model. He writes, “[The Chalcedonian formula] does not seek to explain the Incarnation but sets up as it were, channel markers for legitimate christological speculation. Any theology of Christ’s person must be one in which the distinctness of both natures is preserved and both meet in one person, one Son, in Christ.” (page 601).

wlc 4Critics, then, are left squirming to determine where it is that Doctor Craig could be considered to maintain Christological heresies. After all, he is working within the confines of the orthodox confession of faith. Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? His Christology begins with the full deity and humanity of Jesus. However, if a person were to charge him with heresy, they would probably appeal to what they call Apollinarianism.

William Lane Craig has the same reservations and criticisms of Apollinarianism. People who seek to charge Doctor Craig with heresy will, as I said, do a google search of Apollinarianism and then apply the inherent shortcomings to Doctor Craig. This is a very simplistic and unsympathetic approach, for Doctor Craig is not aligning himself with Apollinarianism in an identical manner. Indeed, anybody who reads his published work (his critics do not read it), will discover that he affirms the criticism that the church has of this Christology.

He writes, “Nevertheless, Apollinarianism was inadequate as it stood. Two deficiencies of Apollinarian Christology seemed especially serious. First, a body without a mind is a truncation of human nature… Second, if Christ lacked a human mind, then he did not redeem the human mind.” (Page 599) He goes on to empower this criticism, writing, “Unfortunately, Apollinarianism was radically defective as it stood. For a complete human nature involves more than a hominid body, so that on Apollinarianism’s view of the Incarnation was really a matter of the Logos’s assuming, not humanity, but mere animality…. [His] opponents rightly charged that such a view undercuts Christ’s work as well as his person, since Christ did not have a truly human nature, but only an animal nature, and so, could not have redeemed humanity.”

Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? Well, Doctor Craig, seems to present parallel misgivings to Gregory of Nazianzus. His criticisms of this Christological view are probably surprising to the Calvinists who attributed it to him. That is why it is important to ensure that you read the original source of the person who you are criticizing. As faithful Christians, we cannot just say things and hope that they are true. We need to give people a fair hearing.

William Lane Craig is combatting Nestorianism. Throughout his treatment on the Incarnation, Doctor Craig is concerned that many of the views that are outlined imply or logically precede Nestorianism. Nestorianism is the view that within Jesus Christ, there are two persons, one being the Logos, his spiritual nature, and the other being the human being. If there are two natures, one being divine, and the other being human, how is it that there could not be two persons? He writes, “The church seems in danger of dividing the person of Christ,” (page 602). Of course, this logical quagmire does not cause Doctor Craig to retreat to the position that there are two persons. He is outlining some of the logical tension that Christians have to deal with. It is not intellectually satisfying to just throw up our hands and say that it is a mystery. If we do that, then, when somebody comes along and proposes Nestorianism, our non-solution of appealing to mystery will quickly unravel. If an Arian were critiquing the Incarnation, by saying that it logically entails Nestorianism, our non-solution and anti-intellectualism will be exposed.

While many do resign themselves to this form of anti-intellectualism, surely they will not condemn people who continue to explore this. These are legitimate philosophical questions. How is that two natures does not entail two persons? Moreover, how is that two wills do not entail two persons? After all, if there is one almighty will (the Logos), and one human will, how would that not entail two persons? Indeed, that notion seems to force us to depart to a form of modalism, where the Father is identical to the Logos, and he possesses the almighty will, while the Son is merely a human being, and he possesses the human will. As you can see, we are teetering on the borders of heresy. The question is, how can we remain soundly within the confines of the Chalcedon Council, and provide good answers to these questions?

Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? His work on this issue seems to be driven by the agenda to provide orthodoxy with good answers to these questions. It would be unacceptable to resign ourselves to mystery or to heresy. Doctor Craig is laboring to that end.

William Lane Craig provides a possible Christological model. His work is precisely meant to resolve the tension related to Nestorianism outlined above. He wants to explain how it is that there could be two natures, and not two persons. While Apollinarius tried to solve this problem, Doctor Craig rejects this explanation for the same reason that historic Christianity rejected it. But, appreciating the intellectual fervor and the unique, compelling resolution offered by Apollinarius, he asks, “Can we appropriate Apollinarius’s insight without falling into his errors? Let us see.” So, Craig’s model is not strict or classical Apollinarianism. It is a revised form of Apollinarianism. In fact, Craig seems to imply the possibility that Apollinarius’s opponents misunderstood him, and so, the criticisms lodged against this view are based on a faulty understanding.

He writes, “Apollinarius may have been misunderstood when his critics charged him with giving Christ a truncated human nature. When Apollinarius argued that the Logos was not only the image of God but also the archetypal man, and in this latter sense, already possessed human nature in his preexistent form, his opponents, like Gregory of Nazianzus understood him to mean that the flesh of Christ was pre-existent. Apollinarius may have been more subtle than this. What he may have meant is that the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature. The result was in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ’s animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it a complete human nature. … This draws support from the doctrine of man as created in the image of God. Human beings do not bear God’s image in virtue of their animal bodies, which they have in common with other members of the biosphere. Rather, in being persons, they uniquely reflect God’s nature. God is personal, and inasmuch as are persons we resemble him. The Logos already possessed in his preincarnate state all of the properties necessary for being a human self. In assuming a hominid body, he brought to it all that was necessary for a complete human nature.” (page 608-09).

In response, someone might be inclined to say that this model suggests that the mind of Jesus was not actually human, for the Logos is omniscient. To this, Craig replies, “We suggest what William James called the “subliminal self,” is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos. Thus Jesus possessed a normal human consciousness, but it was underlain, as it were, by a divine consciousness. This understanding of Christ’s personal experience draws on the insight of depth psychology that there is vastly more to a person than waking conscious. The project of psychoanalysis is based on the conviction that some of our behaviors have deep springs of action of which are only dimly aware, if at all. … Similarly, the incarnation, at least during his state of humiliation, the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of his waking consciousness which were compatible with the typical human experience, while the bulk his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water’s surface, lay submerged in his subconscious. On the model we propose, Christ is thus one person, but in that person, conscious and subconscious elements are differentiated in a theologically significant way,” (page 610-11).

While Apollinarius’s original model suffered from the detrimental flaw of removing human personhood from the human mind, Craig’s revised version submits that the Logos did have a perfect human mind. Doctor Craig points out that this “nullifies the traditional objections lodged against Apollinarius’s formulation,” (page 609).

How should William Lane Craig’s critics react? Those who accuse Doctor Craig of the same Christological heresy as common critics of Apollinarius render will find this information to be foreign. As I said, many of those who criticize Craig have never read his work on the incarnation. In response to this new information, you may find yourself disagreeing with Craig’s revised version or understanding of Apollinarianism. But, this model cannot be indicted with the same heresy as the original understanding of Apollinarianism has suffered from. Indeed, it asserts that the human person, Jesus of Nazareth, does have a complete human mind. If you think that logically, this model entails that he does not, remember that Craig is asserting that he does. This means that you can accuse him being inconsistent (as a result of the logical entailments of his view), but not heretical, (for he does not follow those alleged logical entailments to their conclusions). Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? He falls right in line with the ancient Council of Chalcedon. His model does not suffer from the same flaws as what most call Apollinarianism. If we are going to accuse someone of heresy, and start gossiping about it, we need to ensure that we have good information.

Christians who have not heeded wisdom, and slandered Craig in this way, should employ self-reflection and begin to ask what they want their future role in ministry to be. They need to aim to develop maturity, and to repent of this behavior. If they have publicly called Craig a heretic for this reason, I would call them to publicly repudiate their comments and repent.

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Did Paul Think That Jesus Was An Actual Human Being?

paul jesus history 1There is a gap of a couple of decades between the death of Jesus and the earliest biography of his life that we have. The leaves might raise a question about what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. Did they think the same things that we do? Was their worship akin to our worship? Was their devotion to Jesus as a divine person, the only begotten God, at the Father’s side (John 1:18)? Was he thought of as an actual human being, planted in human history of just a few years passed? Were there people who were connected with him, and knew him, in real life, as another human being? Orthodoxy affirms that indeed, Jesus was an actual human being, as the gospel accounts display him that way. But some have suggested that Paul took a different view. Some suggest that for Paul, the existence of Jesus of Nazareth was not rooted in human history. What, then, did Paul think? Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being?

paul jesus history 2I cannot underline the significance of this question enough. For the attacks upon the Christian faith that we see today are unique and vociferous. Even when they are refuted, they remain afloat on popular blogs on the internet. Popular bloggers often do not care about how others respond to their view. They have some rhetoric that they want to spew forth, they will do it even in the absence of scholarly consensus or logical justifiability. Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being? It is Paul’s letters that are the basis for the scholarly consensus that Jesus of Nazareth really did exist.

paul jesus history 3He clearly made reference to Jesus. It is difficult for the skeptic to avoid the reality that Paul made reference to events that occurred during the lifetime of Jesus. He believed the account of the Christians, which seemed to have been rooted in history. He spoke of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). He believed that Jesus initiated the ceremony of communion, after which he was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). He even said that if Jesus had not physically and bodily rose from the dead, then our faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). For Paul, these events actually occurred.

paul jesus history 4However, some suggest that perhaps Paul was proposing not a picture of human history, but a cosmic scheme, a celestial location, with heavenly figures and events. This celestial platform was the place in which the death, betrayal, and resurrection of Jesus occurred. That would mean that when Jesus appeared on Resurrection Sunday, he was transported from one world to another, from the celestial platform to the earth, and then revealed to the masses all of the events that had transpired in this other world. When Paul refers to these events, then, he is not referring to human history. On this theory, Paul would not have to view Jesus as an actual historical figure to speak meaningfully about the events that occurred in his lifetime.

There are several problem with this theory, and the first is that it is pure conjecture. There is nowhere that Paul outlines this celestial platform. There is no place in Paul’s letters that he says that the events in the life of Jesus took place in another realm. This interpretation is molded intentionally to avoid the historical assumptions that Paul makes. But nobody reading Paul’s letters would come to that conclusion. It is ad hoc, meaning that it is constructed specifically for the purpose of avoiding a particular conclusion. There is no reason for us to think that this is what Paul really meant. It is an interpretation not based on evidence, but meant to circumvent the evidence.

However, even in that, it fails, for Paul often recounts the events of Jesus’s life in a way that necessarily corresponds to the actual earth. He writes, “…the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8). Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being? Absolutely. He recognized that the rulers of this age crucified the Lord of Glory.

He was acquainted with the brother of the Lord. When historians want to determine if an author is telling the truth about a certain event, there are certain criterion that they will measure the authors’ writings against. We do not have to resign to throwing our hands in the air, saying that we cannot know. Rather, historians look for hints in their writings to determine whether he was telling the truth. A writer is unlikely to fabricate details that are embarrassing to him. Likewise, if a writer says something as a side detail, if he makes a disinterested statement, we can be sure that he was probably telling the truth, because he was not really interested in it. This is the criterion that I am focusing on.

In Galatians 1:18, Paul recounts his trip to Jerusalem, wherein he stayed with the apostles. He came to know Cepheus, and “James, the brother of the Lord.” He was not saying this to make a theological point. He was not constructing some sort of argument on the basis of the unique relationship that James had with the Lord. He just sort of said it. James is the brother of the Lord. Doctor Bart Ehrman, the skeptical New Testament scholar tells us, “If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed.” Hence, we can know that Paul did not view Jesus’s life as taking place on a celestial platform, because Paul believed that he was acquainted with the very brother of the Lord.

Born of a woman, born under the Law. The Law was central to the Jewish religion and worship. It was the revelation of God, the mark of his covenant, and to keep the Law was to be a practicing Jew. The Jews revered the Law. David says of it, “The Law of the Lord is perfect.” (Psalm 19:7). If a person is born under the Law, then they are born into a system of religion wherein they are required to keep the Law. They are born into human history with a specific religious undergirding. Yet these are precisely that characteristics that Paul applied to Jesus. He writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” (Galatians 4:4). There are a few interesting things worth note. First, Paul tells us that the Law was like a guardian, watching over his people (Galatians 3:24). This is actual history. Then, the Son comes, born under the Law, to redeem his people and free them from the curse of the Law (Galatians 4:5). It is pure eisegesis to say that one of these is historical, and the other is not.

Further, Paul makes a very interesting claim. He says that Jesus was “born of a woman.” If he was born of a woman, then clearly he was an actual human being. If you want to say that this was a woman in another realm, under another Law, then you are taking a view of history that is alien to anything that a historian would do. Secondly, if Jesus was born under a different Law than the Torah of Israel, then Paul would be guilty of a simple equivocal fallacy when he says that Jesus redeemed his people from the curse of the Law. For why should we think that the Law on this celestial platform has any relevance to the Law of Israel? What do we know about the Law on this celestial platform? What do we know about anything about this celestial platform? Nothing, because Paul tells us nothing about it. He never even mentions it. Isn’t that strange?

Yet not only was Jesus born of a woman, born under the Law, he was also “…a descendant of David according to the flesh…” (Romans 1:3). David is rooted in human history. The Jews believe that David was an actual person, who wrote the Psalms and whose life we have an account of in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. He did not exist on a celestial platform. Paul was clearly establishing Jesus as an ethnic Jew and a direct descendent of David. Unless one wants to speculate that there was another David, who existed on this celestial platform. And why not? Since it is pure conjecture, you can say anything you want about it. Yet we must not find ourselves guilty of naivety as we desperately contort the evidence to fit our presuppositions. Did Paul believe that Jesus was an actual human being? If we allow Paul to speak for himself, it becomes evident that he views Jesus as one who was a descendant of David according to the flesh, born of a woman, under the Law.

The Resurrection There were several theological errors that had crept into the Corinthian church. Not the least of which were their views on the resurrection. Some of them had actually come to adopt the view that there was no resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). Paul addresses this view in appealing to the resurrection of Jesus. He reasons that if there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised (1 Corinthians 15:13). But, why should that follow? After all, if Paul is presupposing that the resurrection of Jesus took place on a celestial platform, then why is the resurrection of Jesus relevant to general earthly principle that people do not rise from the dead? His resurrection simply would not apply to that rule.

It is significant also that Paul is drawing a comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the believer. Just as we “fall asleep” (an idiom for death) in Christ, so also Christ was the firstfruits of those who fell asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). But how could Christ be the firstfruits of those who had fallen asleep, if had fallen asleep in another realm? He writes that the body is sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). He continues, The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). Since the resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruit of the resurrection of all, he corresponds to this pattern. Therefore, Jesus once had an earthly body.

Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being? It seems unmistakable. His discourse about the resurrection, the comparison to our resurrection, his remarks about the family of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, the lineage of Jesus, the flesh of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus in “this age,” all point invariably to Paul’s belief that Jesus of Nazareth is rooted in human history.

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