British Home Office shocking Bible interpretations: Rejected Iranian Christian asylum seeker

clip_image002

(image British Home Office, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Image result for British clipart public domainLiving in a country of the British Commonwealth, Australia, it shocked me to hear that the UK Home Office (HO) refused to grant asylum to an Iranian convert from Islam to Christ. The reason given was that the asylum seeker claimed in 2016 that Christianity is a peaceful religion and it is not.

According to The Telegraph (UK), 21 March 2019, the HO rejected the application because

government officials said his conversion from Islam was “inconsistent” with his claim that Christianity is a peaceful religion.

In order to reiterate the point, the Home Office wrote a lengthy and “unbelievably offensive” refusal letter referencing six Bible passages and claiming that the book of Revelation is filled with “images of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.

The Home Office rejection, below the quoted verses concludes: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge.”

I strongly object to the HO’s process and final judgment for these reasons:

1folder The rejection for asylum included verses from the books of Leviticus, Exodus, and Revelation that the HO claimed demonstrated Christianity was not a peaceful faith but one of violence and revenge. Faulty biblical interpretation of these verses was only one of the deficiencies in the decision.

2folder The HO quoted Matthew 10:34 to try to demonstrate Christianity was not a peaceful religion: ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (NRSV). In context, what does that mean?

Messiah would be the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6-7) but the people will violently reject Him and His reign (hence the crucifixion and resurrection). Jesus taught His disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ (John 14:27).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. - John 14:27

(image courtesy Pinterest)

Before the consummation of all things (Jesus’ second coming), there will be peace in the midst of a hostile world where there will be violence. With Jesus’ first coming, he warned his disciples that they would experience His peace but it would be mixed with violence (the sword), not from His followers, but by others.

Don’t you see the irony of this asylum rejection? This person has experienced the violence in Iran (the sword – not from Christianity) and is fleeing from that to a country of relative peace, the UK. However, the HO does not want to grant him peace but wants to send him back to persecution in Iran?

You don’t realise it, but you have helped this person experience Matt 10:34 (when properly interpreted).

It’s time for the HO staff to take a basic course in biblical hermeneutics (interpretation).

3folder Profound biblical misunderstanding by the HO leads me to support Bishop Butler of Durham who said of the HO, ‘I am extremely concerned that a Government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities‘.

a. Leviticus not for Christians

One of the HO verses given for rejection was the line from Leviticus 26:7, ‘You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you’.

To whom was this verse directed? It was addressed to the Israelites (Lev 25:54-55) and all of Leviticus 26 deals with what will happen for obedience or disobedience by THE ISRAELITES.

Lev 26:7 does NOT deal with laws for Christians.

The HO staff has fallen into the hole of misrepresentation and eisegesis. A course in basic hermeneutics is needed by those staff who made the final decision.

b. Christianity and peace

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt 5:9). This does not contradict Leviticus 26:7 (What is the context? Who will fall by the sword?) Jesus did not teach, ‘Blessed are the violence pertrators’.

The almighty God whom Christians worship has one attribute in which he is the God of peace (Phil 4:6-9 NLT). However, he’s also the God of wrath (see John 3:36), which demonstrates the judgment of God.

c. The apocalyptic Book of Revelation

It’s a shocker what the HO has done with the interpretation of the Book of Revelation in rejecting this visa application.

I join with Bishop Paul Buttler in condemnation of the HO’s actions: ‘To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a violent religion is like arguing that a government report on the impact of climate change is advocating drought and flooding’.

Your HO staff don’t seem to know how to interpret apocalyptic literature.

Of the three points above, why has the HO engaged in biblical interpretation at all? If they want biblical interpreters, there are many in the Church of England who have done much better jobs than that demonstrated in the rejection letter.

4folder I understand that a Home Office spokesperson said:

“This letter (of asylum rejection) is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith.

“We continue to work closely with key partners, including the APPG (All-party parliamentary group) on International Freedom of Religion and a range of faith groups, to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers so that we approach claims involving religious conversion in the appropriate way” (Premier, 21 March 2019).

I sent the basic content of this article to: (a) The British High Commissioner, Canberra, ACT Australia, email: australia.enquiries@fco.gov.uk; and (b)  The United Kingdom Home Office, London UK, email: public.enquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk. When and if responses come, I’ll add to this topic.

Conclusion

The British Home Office (HO) entered the voyage of biblical interpretation in its rejection of a visa for an Iranian asylum seeker who converted from Islam to Christianity because the latter is a ‘peaceful religion’.

The Iranian claimed that Christianity was a peaceful religion. The HO said in its letter of rejection that it wasn’t and quoted passages from the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and the Book of Revelation. The HO claimed the Book of Revelation was filled with “images of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.

It cited Matt 10:34 to try to confirm Christianity’s violent intent. To ram home the point of Christianity’s violence, it used Leviticus 26:10.

I tried to show that the HO engaged in eisegesis – imposing its own meaning on the text – instead of obtaining the meaning from the text, when taken in context. The books of Exodus and Leviticus were written to the Israelites and demonstrated what God would do to that nation if it obeyed or disobeyed God’s commands.

The HO officials who wrote this letter of rejection to the asylum seeker should hand hermeneutics (interpretation) over to the theologians and exegetes. The rejection letter contained pathetic biblical interpretation that a Hermeneutics 101 student would be failed for.

Anger after asylum seekers given just 80p a week extra in Home Office ruling

(photo courtesy The Independent: ‘Anger after asylum seekers given just 80p a week extra in Home Office ruling’)

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:01 April 2019.

Orizzontale vignette senza soluzione di continuità con fiori illustrazione vettoriale Archivio Fotografico - 20960704

Controversies over John 10:28 and once saved always saved (OSAS)

Image result for clipart Once Saved Always Saved

(courtesy Delight in Truth)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you want to get into a controversial discussion in evangelical Christian circles, raise the topic of once saved always saved or eternal security.

clip_image004A well-known and respected ministry on the Internet, Got Questions Ministries, stated that once a person is saved that person has come to know Christ as Saviour. This is more than saying a prayer of ‘making a decision’.

Because of this relationship, this ‘guarantees their salvation as eternally secure…. ‘Salvation is a sovereign act of God whereby an unregenerate sinner is washed, renewed, and born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3; Titus 3:5)….

‘Remember the same God who saved you is the same God who will keep you. Once we are saved, we are always saved. Our salvation is most definitely eternally secure!’(Is once saved, always saved biblical?’ Got Questions)

clip_image004[1]One of the points of the Statement of Faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians’ relating to OSAS is, ‘We believe that God’s saving grace is resistible, that election unto salvation is conditional on faith in Christ, and that persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation’ (point #7).

So, for these Arminians, a person who believes once and does not continue in faith does not inherit final salvation.

clip_image004[2] Eminent Calvinistic leader, the late Dr R C Sproul, asked about those who fall away from the Christian faith finally. ‘Were they ever truly believers in the first place?’

His answer was based on 1 John 2:19, ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’ (NIV).

They ‘did not really belong to us’, which Sproul understands to mean they were not part of the church. Therefore, Sproul’s answer to the question of falling away was:

First John 2:19 speaks of the false teachers who went out from the church as never having truly been part of the church. John describes the apostasy of people who had made a profession of faith but who never really were converted. Moreover, we know that God glorifies all whom He justifies (Rom. 8:29–30). If a person has true saving faith and is justified, God will preserve that person (Can a Christian Lose Their (sic) Salvation? Sproul, 1 April 2014).

So his conclusion that those who finally fall away were not a part of the church, i.e. those who are truly saved, God will preserve tot the end.

clip_image004[3]Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), the founder of Arminianism, believed not in OSAS or eternal security, but in perseverance of the saints. He wrote:

Portrait of Jacobus ArminiusJacobus Arminius (1620) by David Bailly (painting courtesy Wikipedia)

I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration (Arminius 1977:254, emphasis in original).

Thus, Arminius taught that those who continue to live as true believers can never finally apostatise from the faith. He did see other verses that could promote the divergent teaching of unconditional perseverance.

clip_image004[4]John MacArthur’s ministry, ‘Grace to You’, wrote an article on ‘The Security of Salvation, Part 1’ in which it was stated:

If anyone attacks the security of the believer, first of all he is attacking God and claiming He changed His verdict.  Second, he is attacking Christ and claiming His work on the cross was inadequate and that His high-priestly work can’t maintain us.  Finally, he is attacking the Holy Spirit and claiming He is inadequate to help the believer persevere.  A discrediting of the Trinity is wrapped up in a denial of the security of salvation.

That should put the guilt trip on anyone claiming the Bible teaches it’s possible for a true believer to fall away from the faith.

In light of the Calvinistic teaching above, it is not surprising that a lay person clip_image006could pursue such teaching from a pastor, elder or TV preacher. There is a breed of ‘New Calvinists’ that is causing some concern in a number of evangelical churches. Pastor Tim Keller is one example.

(Photo Pastor Tim J Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, courtesy Wikipedia.)

 clip_image004[5]In the ‘Articles of Faith’ of the Church of the Nazarene, it states:

‘We believe that all persons, though in the possession of the experience of regeneration and entire sanctification, may fall from grace and apostatize and, unless they repent of their sins, be hopelessly and eternally lost’.[1]

clip_image004[6]I’ve encountered much of this debate on Internet Christian forums where I blog. Some of the laity are prepared to engage in inflexible debate from both sides of the Calvinistic / Arminian divide.

This one blog had the topic heading, ‘Iron Clad example proving OSAS from John 10:28’.[2] This verse states: ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (ESV).

The OSAS promoter’s argument was:

While this seems quite straight forward, many simply do not see anything about eternal security in what Jesus said….

The point is that the conditon (sic) for NEVER PERISHING is to RECEIVE eternal life. Not whatever is REQUIRED after that, as the conditional security crowd always adds.
So, the point of John 10:28 is that what Jesus does AT THE BEGINNING OF one’s faith will result in that person NEVER PERISHING.
The conditional security crowd simply misses this extremely important point….

Eternal life is received on the basis of believing the gospel. There are no further conditions to be met to avoid perishing.[3]

1. Who are those who will never perish and receive eternal life?

An immediate response was: Who is them (which is incorrect grammar)? I should have asked: You refer to ‘them’. Who are they? Everyone in the world?

If this were the only verse in the Bible then I would be on the OSAS bandwagon.

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).

Here is the condition to being one of “His sheep”. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
Those that follow for a while, then become lost, are likened to sinners who are lost and need to repent.

4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:4-7).[4]

2. Who has eternal life?

This promoter of OSAS came back with,

Those who have believed. They are the one (sic) who receive eternal life. Jesus said so in John 5:24 – “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
Notice the present tense “HAS” regarding eternal life.
[5]

He continued:

What I’ve shown from John 10:28 is that from Jesus’ own mouth, there are NO OTHER REQUIREMENTS OR CONDITIONS to be met in order to NEVER PERISH.

So, to “never perish” ONLY requires one to receive the gift of eternal life. There is nothing else to do in order to “never perish”[6]….

The very FACT that one receives eternal life is the ONLY condition for NEVER PERISHING. Which parallels what Paul taught in Romans, where he noted that eternal life is a gift of God in 6:23 and that God’s gifts are irrevocable in 11:29.[7]

3. Greek tenses different to English tenses

I entered the fray:[8] What does tense mean for the NT Greek verbs? What does the present tense, ‘has’, mean? It seems clear, doesn’t it? Yes, it does – from an English understanding of tenses of verbs.

Also, what are the meanings of the tenses in this verse: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life’ (John 10:27-28a ESV)?
The Greek tenses have different emphases to the English tenses, except in the future tense.

The OSAS promoter came back with,

It means “currently” from the perspective of the writer.
Surely you’re familiar with the English tenses, right? The present tense in the English is equivalent to the present tense in the Greek.
So, John 5:24 means that when one believes, they possess (have) eternal life. That’s when it is received….

This link will answer your questions:
http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/inter-tense.htm….

The present tenses are equivalent in Greek and English.[9]

John 10:28 No One Will Snatch Them Out Of My Hand (red)

(image courtesy Knowing Jesus)

4. That lit a fire under me

He didn’t know what he was talking about. I happen to have taught NT Greek at the college level[10] and some of what he stated was flagrantly false. In English, the tenses primarily relate to the time of action – past, present, and future. We add extra words to indicate the kind of action. We could say, ‘I go’, but to indicate progressive action, we say, ‘I am going’.

In NT Greek (except for the future tense), the tenses refer primarily to the kind of action.

4.1 Greek and English present tenses are NOT the same.

The English present tense refers to action in the present time. The Greek present tense refers to continual/continuous action. The time factor is of minor importance.

NT Greek grammarians, Dana & Mantey, stated this important difference when compared with English tenses:

The distinctive function of the verb is to express action. Action as presented in the expression of a verbal idea involves two elements, time of action and kind of action. That is, the action may be described as occurring at a certain time, and must be described, if intelligible, as performed in a certain manner. Tense deals with these two aspects of verbal expression, kind of action being the chief idea involved, for time is but a minor consideration in the Greek tenses…. The important element of tense in Greek is kind of action (Dana & Mantey 1955:177, 178 )?

What is the meaning of the present tense in Greek? The aorist tense may be represented by a dot (•). It happened. The present tense by a line (_______________), and the perfect tense by a combination of the two (•_________________) [Dana & Mantey 1955:179].

The fundamental significance of the present tense is the idea of progress. It is the linear tense. This is not, however, its exclusive significance. It is a mistake to suppose “that the durative meaning monopolises the present stem” (M. 119). Since there is no aorist tense for present time, the present tense, as used in the indicative [mood], must do service for both linear and punctiliar action. But it is to be borne in mind that the idea of present time is secondary in force of the tense. The time element belongs to the indicative [mood], where the present tense is really the “imperfect of present time,” while what we know as the imperfect tense is the “imperfect of past time.” The progressive [i.e. continual/repeated action] force of the present tense should always be considered as primary, especially with reference to the potential moods, which in the nature of the case do not need any “present punctiliar” tense (Dana & Mantey 1955:181, emphasis in original).?

We can apply this understanding of the Greek present tense to John 5:24 (ESV): ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears [present tense] my word and believes [present tense] him who sent me has [present tense] eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life’.

Therefore the verse means that those who hear Jesus’ word and continue to believe him continue to have eternal life. The verse does not teach that a person who once believed and no longer believes has eternal life. Eternal life is for those who continue to believe. That’s what the Greek teaches because the Greek present tense is not equivalent to the English present tense.

John 5:24 is in harmony with Matthew 24:9-14 (ESV),

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (emphasis added).

5. The rave continued

He promoted his ignorance of the present tense in NT Greek:

It means “currently” from the perspective of the writer.

Surely you’re familiar with the English tenses, right? The present tense in the English is equivalent to the present tense in the Greek.
So,
John 5:24 means that when one believes, they possess (have) eternal life. That’s when it is received.
This link will answer your questions:
http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/inter-tense.htm
The present tenses are equivalent in Greek and English….

And Jesus promise in John 10:28 for NEVER PERISHING is simply receiving the gift of eternal life that He alone gives. Therefore, to NEVER PERISH, the only requirement is to receive eternal life….[11]

Your understanding of John 5:24 does not and cannot refute the clear meaning of John 10:28.[12]

I responded: This is what happens when you reject the Greek grammar of John 5:24 (ESV) and John 10:28 (ESV) and don’t consider the content of verses like 1 Tim 1:18-20 (ESV):

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

These verses confirm it is possible to shipwreck one’s faith, be handed over to Satan and blaspheme against God in the process. That’s Bible!’[13]

The OSAS promoter wrote: ‘It has ONLY to do with receiving the gift. That’s the ONLY BASIS for NEVER PERISHING’.[14]

Another person opposed this OSAS doctrine with these Scriptures and emphases:

JN 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 IF ANYONE DOES NOT REMAIN IN ME, HE IS LIKE A BRANCH THAT IS THROWN AWAY AND WITHERS; SUCH BRANCHES ARE PICKED UP, THROWN INTO THE FIRE AND BURNED.

ROM 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For IF GOD DID NOT SPARE THE NATURAL BRANCHES, HE WILL NOT SPARE YOU EITHER. 22 CONSIDER THEREFORE THE KINDNESS AND STERNNESS OF GOD: STERNNESS TO THOSE WHO FELL, BUT KINDNESS TO YOU, PROVIDED THAT YOU CONTINUE IN HIS KINDNESS. OTHERWISE, YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF.

1 COR 10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

COL 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now HE HAS RECONCILED YOU BY CHRIST’S PHYSICAL BODY THROUGH DEATH TO PRESENT YOU HOLY IN HIS SIGHT, WITHOUT BLEMISH AND FREE FROM ACCUSATION– 23 IFYOU CONTINUE IN YOUR FAITH, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

2 PET 2: 20 IF THEY HAVE ESCAPED THE CORRUPTION OF THE WORLD BY KNOWING OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST AND ARE AGAIN ENTANGLED IN IT AND OVERCOME, THEY ARE WORSE OFF AT THE END THAN THEY WERE AT THE BEGINNING. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.[15]

Other verses he included that opposed OSAS were:  1 Cor 9:27; Phil 3:7-14; Heb 3:12-14; 6:4-6; 2 Pet 1:5; Ezek 18:24.

6. A shipwrecked faith

I had emphasised 1 Tim 1:18-20 and Hymenaeus and Alexander who shipwrecked their faith.

This is the Maheno shipwreck on the beach at Fraser Island off the coast of Hervey Bay, Qld (4 hours north of where I live in Brisbane):

Maheno shipwreck, clip_image008(photo courtesy Pinterest)


See a picture below of this working ship as it used to look (courtesy
Wikipedia).


The shipwrecked Maheno is useless as a boat. It used to be a usable steam ship but it is nothing more than a rusted hull that is wasting away on the foreshores of the Pacific Ocean side of Fraser Is, Qld., Australia.

Thus, a shipwrecked faith is one that used to be functional but is now a useless faith – it has been ruined, abandoned, given up, and torn down.

The Bible teaches it can be done and I know it happens. Two fellows who were vibrant Christians in my first theological college abandoned their faith and have not returned. Heb 6:6 (NLT) states of them, ‘It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame’.

The OSAS promoter responded to this explanation and example:

James made the same point about a useless faith. It is barren, fruitless.
But where in all this is one justified to make the HUGE leap from a useless faith (meaning fruitless) to loss of salvation?
No one seems able to provide any explanation for that….

You know I’m no Calvinist, as proven by our being shoulder to shoulder against their doctrine of limited atonement some years ago.
I fully understand that believers can abandon their faith, cease to believe. Jesus even made that exact point in the 2nd soil.
But where is the justification that such action results in loss of salvation. If it did, then what Jesus said in John 10:28 is untrue.
Since you noted you teach NT Greek, please provide your expanded translation of what Jesus said in that verse.
[16]

I’ve shown[17] from 1 Tim 1:18-20 (ESV) that a shipwrecked faith is one that used to be functional but is now a useless faith – it has been ruined, abandoned, given up, torn down.

Below is what that working ship, the Maheno, used to look like:
clip_image010
(Hand-coloured postcard of the SS Maheno,courtesy Wikipedia)

I asked this person online:

Do you understand the irony in your Statement?

I fully understand that believers can abandon their faith, cease to believe. Jesus even made that exact point in the 2nd soil.
But where is the justification that such action results in loss of salvation. If it did, then what Jesus said in John 10:28 is untrue.?
[18]

You state that believers ‘can abandon their faith, cease to believe’ and then you ask, ‘where is the justification that such action results in loss of salvation?’ Your doctrine creates the conflict that you stated so well here: ‘cease to believe’ = no ‘loss of salvation’. That’s an oxymoron![19]

7. The meaning of John 10:28

The OSAS supporter wanted to know the meaning of John 10:28. The context provides the answer:

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him (John 10:25-31 ESV).?

Who is Jesus talking about in v 28? Verse 27 gives the answer, ‘My sheep’. What do his sheep do?

1folder They ‘hear my voice’;

2folder ‘I know them’;

3folder‘They follow me’.

Let’s exegete these statements:

1folder ‘Hear’ is present tense, i.e. they continuously hear Jesus’ voice.

2folder ‘Know’ is present tense, i.e. Jesus continuously knows them.

3folder ‘Follow’ is present tense, i.e. they continuously follow Jesus.

THEREFORE, what is the result? ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28 ESV). By the way, ‘give’ in this verse is present tense in Greek, so it means Jesus ‘continuously gives’ eternal life.

I give 100% support to the content of John 10:28 (ESV) because John 10:27 (ESV) in the Greek text makes it crystal clear that those who continuously enjoy eternal life, will never perish and nobody will snatch them out of Jesus’ hands. These are those who continuously hear, continuously know, and continuously follow Jesus.

John 10:28 does not apply to those who once believed or believed for a short or slightly longer period of time, and then stopped believing.

John 10:28 (ESV) is a dynamic verse that supports perseverance of the saints and not OSAS.

I hope that lays to rest the whole idea that John 10:28 (ESV) is an ‘iron clad’ verse in support of OSAS. It is not. The Greek grammar refutes such a view.

8. Do you understand Greek grammar?

I asked this pro-OSAS supporter, ‘Do you read and parse Greek grammar yourself?’[20] His reply was:

If I’m so wrong, then please just explain how the present tense is so different from what I explained. And please explain why Jesus used the present tense in Luke 8:13 for believing when the 2nd soil only “believed (sic) for a while”. Hardly continuous belief.[21]

This is an excellent response, but a poor example.

It is correct that ‘believe’ is present tense in the Greek in ‘believe for a while’. However, ‘for a while’ provides the boundary put around the continuity of believing. Those who are not snatched out of the father’s hands are those who continue believing until the end of life.

When we examine the context of Lk 8:13 in Lk 8:12, we find that Luke used pisteuw,

thereby showing that the message of Jesus must be heard with faith; the aorist participle [pisteusantes, v 12] indicates the initial acts of faith, and the present tense [pisteuousin] in 8:13 indicates a continuing attitude is meant (Marshall 1978:325).

Greek exegete, R C H Lenski, explained Lk 8:13,

The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel 1-11 (image courtesy Best Commentaries)

“These do not have root,” and what that means is now stated literally. They are the ones “who for a season go on believing” (durative present); they are only transient, temporary believers. As he does so often, Jesus adds the adversative thought with kai: “and in a season of temptation they stand away.” They cannot endure anything like a test of their adherence to the Word. The fact that “temptation” in some form or other is bound to come to every believer is here regarded as a matter of course. When a season, a short while of this kind arrives, “they stand away,” i. e., from the Word. The hidden hardness of the heart which the Word cannot penetrate, into which no root of faith can sink, proves fatal in a short time. So these, too, are not saved by the Word in spite of all the saving power it contains and end by being lost more surely than if they had never heard the Word (Lenski 1946:450).

Lenski translates aphistantai as ‘they stand away’. These Bible translations render it as ‘they fall away’ (NIV, ESV, NLT, NAB, NASB, KJV, NKJV, LEB, RSV, NRSV, NET). This present tense, middle voice, third person plural word is based on the verb, aphistemi.

Kittel’s extensive word study concluded that it acquired the meaning in ‘the emphatic sense of religious apostasy; (Acts 5:37; 15:38; 19:9), ‘religious decline from God’ (Heb 3:12).

The apostasy entails an unbelief which abandons hope. According to 1 Tm. 4:1 apostasy implies capitulation to the false beliefs of heretics. This apostasy is an eschatological phenomenon…. The same view is found in Lk. 8:13, where aphistasthai is used absolutely (Schlier in Kittel 1964, vol 1, p. 513)

See I Howard Marshall’s article, ‘The problem of apostasy in the New Testament theology’ (Perspectives in Religious Studies).

9. Conclusion

Evangelical Christian leaders around the world have come down on both sides of the Arminianism vs Calvinism salvation conclusion.

I pursued the person’s statement that John 10:28 is an ‘iron clad example proving OSAS’.

Greek and English present tenses do not mean the same. The English present tense refers to the present time while the Greek present tense indicates the kind of action, i.e. continuous or continual.

I provided these exegetical details for John 10:28: ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28 ESV). ‘Give’ in this verse is present tense in Greek, so it means Jesus ‘continuously gives’ eternal life.

Therefore, I fully support the content of John 10:28 (ESV) because John 10:27 (ESV) in the Greek text makes it clear that those who continuously enjoy eternal life, will never perish and nobody will snatch them out of Jesus’ hands. These are those who continuously hear, continuously know, and continuously follow Jesus.

John 10:28 does not apply to those who once believed or believed for a short and then quit believing. It does not address eternal security after a small or medium time of believing.

John 10:28 (ESV) is a dynamic verse that supports perseverance of the saints and not OSAS.

Related image

(courtesy Allan Turner)

10. Works consulted

Arminius J 1977. The Works of James Arminius, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, also available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.iv.i.html (Accessed 29 March 2019).

Dana, H E & Mantey, J R 1927/1955, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto, Canada: The Macmillan Company.

Lenski, R C H 1946/1961/2001. The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Commentary on the New Testament). Columbus OH: The Wartburg Press (assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House; second printing 2001, Hendrickson Publishers Inc.).

Marshall, I H 1978. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Schlier, H 1964. aphistemi. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol 1, pp 512-513. G Kittel (ed), G W Bromiley (trans & ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

11.  Notes

[1] This is Article 7: Prevenient Grace.

[2] Christian Forums.net 2017. ‘Iron Clad example proving OSAS from John 10:28’, 13 February, FreeGrace#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/iron-clad-example-proving-osas-from-john-10-28.68442/ (Accessed 17 February 2017).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., JLB#2.

[5] Ibid., FreeGrace#3.

[6] Ibid., FreeGrace#15.

[7] Ibid., FreeGrace#24.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#30.

[9] Ibid., FreeGrace#33.

[10] My response at ibid., OzSpen#67.

[11] Ibid., FreeGrace#81.

[12] Ibid., FreeGrace#83.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#93.

[14] Ibid., FreeGrace#83.

[15] Ibid., Jim Parker#95.

[16] Ibid., FreeGrace#117.

[17] This information is from ibid#141.

[18] Ibid., chessman#97.

[19] Ibid., OzSpen#140.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#91.

[21] Ibid., FreeGrace#114.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 March 2019.

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Intolerant Intolerance

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(Wintour photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was first published (without the graphics and subject headings) in On Line Opinion, 21 Febrary 2019.

During the January 2019 Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam, Anna Wintour, long time fashion editor with Vogue, spoke publicly about her disagreement with champion tennis player, Margaret Court, over homosexual marriage.

Dame Anna Wintour DBE dived into the ‘intolerance’ issue against homosexuals. Her target was tennis champion, Margaret Court.

clip_image003(Margaret Court Arena, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Age reported that Wintour ‘has thrown her support behind the push to rename Margaret Court Arena over the tennis champion’s opposition to same-sex marriage’.

Wintour stated, ‘I find that it is inconsistent with the sport for Margaret Court’s name to be on a stadium that does so much to bring all people together across their differences”‘, in a speech delivered at the Australian Open Inspirational Series in Melbourne on Thursday [24 January 2019] , to applause.

She continued: ‘This much I think is clear to anyone who understands the spirit and the joy of the game.Intolerance has no place in tennis” emphasis added).

Wintour continued her broadside against those who support traditional family values:

“I have been alarmed by your prime minister’s record on LGBTQ rights, which seems backward in all senses,” she said.

“That no one can be expelled from school for their orientation, should not require clarification. A government should protect its people, not make it unclear whether they will be accepted.”

Not once in that article did the journalist mention Anna Wintour’s intolerance towards Margaret Court and Scott Morrison.

I find it disconcerting when a person opposes the ‘intolerance’ of Margaret Court on the subject of homosexuality and doesn’t see her own intolerance towards Margaret Court’s values.

It is a self-contradictory statement to accuse another person of intolerance while perpetrating the same oneself.

Other media joined the Wintour refrain

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(image courtesy longfordpc.com)

There were a considerable number of mass media examples that promoted the Wintour homosexual chorus. Three instances were from:

ABC News:

ABC News Brisbane, Qld reported that ‘Wintour said when Australia passed same-sex marriage in 2017, “the world sang in celebration” with it’. Wintour continued:

“Intolerance has no place in tennis. What we love [is] watching these remarkable men and women exceed themselves while being themselves in many different forms.

“Margaret Court was a champion on the court but a meeting point for players of all nations, preferences, and backgrounds should celebrate somebody who was a champion off the court as well.”

Do you hear Wintour’s ‘off the court’ intolerance towards Margaret Court’s sexual values as a Christian?

This article quoted Margaret Court’s views about the approach of her opponents who call for the renaming of the Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park. Court called this ‘another example of freedom of religion under threat…. I should be able to have my say as a minister of the Gospel…. I believe I shouldn’t be bullied for what I did in my past’.

Not a word was stated in this article about Wintour’s intolerance towards Margaret Court’s views.

Channel 9:

MSN Channel 9 explained the Wintour event with similar quotes to those by The Age and ABC News Brisbane about Primer Minister Scott Morrison and tennis champion and now Christian minister, Margaret Court.

Wintour didn’t hold back about her views on the proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act:

“That no-one can be expelled from school for their orientation should not require clarification,” Wintour added, referring to previous proposals for the Sex Discrimination Act to be amended in a way to allow religious schools to do so.

“A government should protect its people, not make it unclear whether they will be accepted and we are struggling with these issues in the United States as well.”

This article failed to expose Wintour’s own intolerance in her speech.

News.com.au

News.com.au provided similar details on the Wintour speech, with a sub-heading, ‘Fashion legend Anna Wintour has taken a swipe at Australia’s Prime Minister and one of our greatest tennis stars in a scathing speech’.

This news report and others were pleased to use Wintour’s statement in her speech: ‘This much I think is clear to anyone who understands the spirit and the joy of the game. Intolerance has no place in tennis’.

Again there was no effort to demonstrate Wintour’s own intolerance.

In this article I point to an apparent lack of discernment by journalists into the nature of intolerance that Wintour actively perpetrated. She practised the very thing she complained about with Margaret Court and Scott Morrison.

This is one of the main issues:

Intolerant intolerance

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Dr Jeremy Sherman exposed the nature of Wintour’s intolerant intolerance with examples from other situations that can be applied specifically to Wintour’s proclamation at the speech delivered at the Australian Open Inspirational Series in Melbourne on 24 January 2019.

  • “It’s true. We shouldn’t tolerate intolerance. We should nip it in the bud, set clear boundaries.”
  • “If we tolerate intolerance it spreads: Racism, sexism, prejudices of all sorts, judgmentalism, negativity, bigotry, factions squaring off and fighting: right vs. left, this fundamentalism vs. that.”
  • “An eye for an eye just leaves the whole world blind.”
  • “To bring about greater harmony we must all of us be tolerant. No exceptions. Loving, listening, caring for each other, respecting each other’s opinions whatever they may be.”

Sherman exposed our hypocrisy when we try to tolerate certain behaviours yet name others as being intolerant. He said the ‘truest practical question’ is ‘not whether to be tolerant or intolerant but when to be which’.

So far, I have not noticed the mass media I read expose Wintour’s intolerance of her own views – against Margaret Court’s and Scott Morrison’s views.

Sherman rightly exposed the dilemma:

‘Folks who don’t notice the hypocrisy don’t appreciate the bind we’re all in and they cut themselves unconscionable slack. They manage the bind ineptly at best, self-servingly at worst, telling people not to be judgmental when they’re being criticized, and not noticing they’re being judgmental when criticizing others’.

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(image courtesy Pinterest)

In applying this to Wintour’s speech content, Wintour didn’t seem to be aware that she herself was intolerant towards Margaret Court’s and Scott Morrison’s values. It would been startling to hear Wintour admit: ‘I oppose Court’s views on homosexuality, but in saying that, I’m making an admission this is an intolerant statement I’m making’.

It would have been even more remarkable to hear Wintour admit: ‘We live in a free society where freedom of religion and thought are allowed. It shouldn’t be surprising that a modern society like ours accepts homosexual behaviour, but I should not lambast Margaret Court’s worldview as that would demonstrate my intolerance’.

Michael Mendis calls it ‘the paradox of tolerance‘ because tolerance is a ‘self-contradictory principle’ as it is reflexive. The phrase is not original with him:

He stated that the principle of tolerance ‘dictates that we must be tolerant of everything. We cannot pick and choose what we will tolerate and what we will not. If this is so, then tolerance requires us to tolerate even intolerance‘.

Thus, if somebody is proclaiming or practising intolerance, Mendis rightly observes that ‘the tolerant person cannot, in principle, speak out against what the intolerant person is doing, since speaking out against intolerance would itself be an act of intolerance”.

Therefore, his assessment was that ‘tolerance as a principle, then, is clearly illogical, and therefore irrational. It is much more logical and rational to espouse intolerance, for then one does not get entangled in any contradictions-self or otherwise.

Intolerance as a principle does not require us to be consistently and universally intolerant’.

Who raised this paradox?

Enter Sir Karl Popper, Austrian-British philosopher of science and political philosopher:

“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them”.

In my view, it shows the lack of logical precision by the Australian mass media that they don’t expose the intolerant intolerance by Dame Anna Wintour’s statements against Margaret Court’s Christian beliefs about homosexuality and the Prime Minister’s views on amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act.

Intolerant tolerance of Court’s & Morrison’s values

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The Collins’ Dictionary (online) defines ‘intolerance’ as an ‘unwillingness to let other people act in a different way or hold different opinions from you’ (2019. s.v. intolerance).

Therefore, for Wintour to accuse Margaret Court of intolerance because she didn’t support same-sex marriage is to engage in an act of intolerance towards Court’s values. When will the supporters of certain values wake up to the fact that to accuse opponents of being intolerant is to engage in an act of intolerance perpetrated by themselves?

Other media join the Wintour spin

1. Sporting News, Australian Open: Anna Wintour slams Margaret Court over gay marriage stance (24 January 2019).

2. Perth Now, Wintour of discontent gets a serve from WA tennis legend Margaret Court (25 January 2019).

3. Daily Mail Australia, Fashion icon Anna Wintour slams Scott Morrison’s gay rights record and calls for the Margaret Court Arena to be renamed in a fiery speech – but she’s not Snow White when it comes to the #MeToo era (24 January 2019).

4. Women’s Agenda, Thank you Anna Wintour for highlighting what should be key to sport: ‘Intolerance has no place’ (February 2019).

5. Vogue Australia, Anna Wintour on inclusivity and the power of tennis (24 January 2019).

6. Fox Sports, Australian Open 2019: Anna Wintour calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed (24 January 2019).

7. SBS News, Vogue editor Anna Wintour slams Scott Morrison on LGBTQ rights (24 January 2019).

8. WWD, Anna Wintour Slams Margaret Court and Australian PM Over LGBT Issues (24 January 2019).

9. 3AW News Talk, Tom Elliott takes “hypocritical” Anna Wintour to task over Margaret Court comments (24 January 2019).

10. CNN, Anna Wintour slams Margaret Court, Scott Morrison over LGBTQ rights (25 January 2019).

Intolerant intolerance

See: Be Intolerant Of Intolerance! At: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/ambigamy/201501/be-intolerant-intolerance

Also, The Paradox of Tolerance: https://bigthink.com/the-paradox-of-tolerance

Enter Karl Popper: Paradox of tolerance, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance

Works consulted

Singer, M 2019. ‘Intolerance has no place in tennis’: Wintour criticises Margaret Court. The Age (online), 24 January 2019. Available at: https://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/intolerance-has-no-place-in-tennis-wintour-criticises-margaret-court-20190124-p50tcs.html (Accessed 8 February 2019).

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(image courtesy Brotherhood News:

Facebook censors biblical posts against homosexuality)

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05 March 2019.

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Advantages & disadvantages of distance education – a personal perspective

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I pursued a PhD in New Testament (British model of dissertation only) through distance education. These are some of the advantages and disadvantages, as I see them, of pursuing distance education:

A. Advantages

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  1. A GREAT advantage is that I can pursue all of the education from home, as long as I have computer and Internet access.
  2. This means that costs are much less as I didn’t have to move house locations with my wife or use public transport.
  3. Based on my previous academic qualifications, the options for study were increased substantially, as long as online degrees were available through the college, seminary or university.
  4. As a general rule, I didn’t go to other libraries as most articles (a few exceptions) were available through EBSCO and Google Scholar, if the University subscribed to most journals needed for the research.
  5. On personal issues with my progress, I could Skype my supervisor.
  6. I benefitted from Skype connection for my verbal defence of the thesis. I received the positive decision of successful defence within minutes of completing the interview.

B. Disadvantages

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1. Since I pursued my BA and MA in a classroom environment, I miss the interaction with people of different perspectives. The dynamic of the classroom is absent – Big Time!!

2. Being able to ask (and get answers) from professors in an immediate context is missing. At the beginning of the academic year, I sent material through to my supervisor but it could take him 3 weeks to get to it as he is also teaching in the classroom. Getting immediate feedback is an issue.

3. Accessing library resources is a challenge as many journals are available online but many other academic resources are not. Most resources in my technical area are not available at or through my local library. I have to travel many km (or miles) to access books that I need. When a journal article is not available, I had access to a librarian assistant who has been very helpful in tracking down most articles. However, there is the occasional article that was not found as the University did not subscribe to that journal.

4. How can this issue of distance education be solved?

5. Webcam and Skype could be used more effectively in interacting with other students and supervisor. More online interaction with other students could be promoted, but busy students don’t always have an interest in the small focus of my dissertation. I’m also seeking interaction at a local theological college to see if there are students and faculty interested in my topic. But that also involves considerable travel to the location of the College.

6. Loneliness was the BIG issue for me. Doing it all alone takes a lot of discipline when I try to work 6-7 hours a day on the dissertation.

7. For continuing study after the degree is completed the databases of EBSCO and Google Scholar are not available from my home computer. I have to make an arrangement with a theological library in Australia that has access to all of the journals I require.

8. I completed my dissertation in April 2015 and graduated in September 2015 after 5 years of research with the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

C. Conclusion

If I were to pursue doctoral study again, I would choose the distance education mode, but with these changes:

  1. Find a theological discussion group in my city of Brisbane, which had a population of 2.27 million at the 2016 census. If living in a regional part of this large country of Australia, meeting with other theological students for discussion would have to be via Skype. Then one has to deal with the availability of Skype transmission in remote areas.
  2. Meet with those at higher levels of study who are engaged in advanced degrees of study.
  3. My pastor and the laity in my church were not able to discuss these issues with understanding.
  4. I completed my PhD at age 69 in 2015.

My completed dissertation is available at: Gear, Spencer D, Crossan and the resurrection of Jesus : rethinking presuppositions, methods and models.

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(image courtesy Liturgy (NZ))

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05March 2019.

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Can people choose to reject salvation?

Do all people have free will?

Image result for clipart Free Will

(image courtesy Breaking the Free Will Illusion)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This brief article was prompted by an email from Christian friends. They wrote:

With regard to the [church we attend], the doctrinal issue we are sad about is that they teach “free will” as entrance to salvation.  We strongly disagree as we believe that the unregenerate man/woman is incapable of choosing God, as our wills are enslaved to sin and death through the first fall.  We believe it is only by God’s Grace alone, through Faith, and believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and this Faith is only by revelation of the Holy Ghost. (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added)

We believe there are two types of religion in this world  –  religion of human achievement, and the true religion of Grace alone and Faith alone by God the Father alone through His Son Jesus Christ alone, and His Spirit alone..[1]

1. People are incapable of choosing God

Is it a biblical teaching that an unregenerate person, dead in sin, is incapable of choosing to serve God?

As to the issue of free will in relation to salvation, how do you define free will?

I define it as the ability to decide between alternatives. Adam and Eve had this free will ability given by God at the beginning of the world. Adam is our representative, ‘Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned’ (Rom 5:12).

This definition is not original with me. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks explained:

There are several points on which there is confusion about what is meant by free will. Some have said that it refers to the ability to desire. But a better definition is that it is the ability to decide between alternatives. Desire is a passion, an emotion; but will is a choice between two or more desires. Also, some think that to be free means that there can be no limitation of alternatives—one must be able to do whatever he wants. But the opposite of freedom is not fewer alternatives, it is being forced to choose one thing and not another. Freedom is not in unlimited options, but in unfettered choice between whatever options there are. As long as the choosing comes from the individual rather than an outside force, the decision is made freely. Free will means the ability to make an unforced decision between two or more alternatives (Geisler & Brooks 1990:63).

1.1   Adam and Eve had free will before and after sin entered the world.

God gave Adam and Eve the capability to choose between two alternatives:

‘In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of he knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die”’ (Gen 2:9, 15-17 NLT).

So from the beginning of time, Adam was given the choice between alternatives (free will). What happened when Eve came along?

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied [to the serpent [Satan]. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness (Gen 3:2-7 NLT).

Both Adam and Eve had free will that God gave to them. Eve was deceived and was joined by Adam, the ‘sucker’.

2.    Free will after sin entered the world

What about free will after this sin entered the world? Do all human beings, dead in sin (Col 2:13), have the ability to choose among alternatives, including evil over good?

2.1   Meaning of ‘dead in sin’

Here are four translations of the phrase (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13) that should shed some insight on Col 2:13.

GNT: ‘spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NLT: ‘were dead because of your sins’;

ERV:[2] ‘you were spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NIRV:[3] ‘You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead’.

Regarding Eph 2:1 and ‘dead in sin’:

The word for dead in Greek is nekros, which literally means a corpse or dead body. Since we know Paul is talking about a spiritual state (not a physical state), we must understand this deadness refers to our spiritual life. The Ephesians were alive physically but dead spiritually. Paul chose this comparison because it accurately describes not only the nature of an unbeliever but also the impossibility of an unbeliever recognizing and correcting his own condition. Just as a corpse cannot revive itself to life, neither can an unbeliever revive his own spirit into new life (Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018).

2.2   Biblical examples of free will from the Old Testament

clip_image002Exodus 19:3-8 (NLT):

3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

7 So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.

The Lord, through Moses, gave the ‘family of Jacob’ this choice: ‘obey me and keep my covenant‘ and you will receive ‘special treasure’. However, he reminded ‘the descendants of Israel of what God ‘did to the Egyptians’. They had the choice to be like the Egyptians or to obey God’s covenant. What was the free will choice: ‘We will do everything the Lord has commanded’.

That was an example of the group free will of the 12 tribes of Israel to make a choice.

clip_image002[1]   Deuteronomy 5

This is the chapter where the Ten Commandments are repeated. These 3 verses provide a solid foundation built on the free will they could choose to be idolaters or serve God:

8 ‘You must not make any idols. Don’t make any statues or pictures of anything up in the sky or of anything on the earth or of anything down in the water. 9 Don’t worship or serve idols of any kind, because I am the Lord your God. I hate for my people to worship other gods. People who sin against me become my enemies. And I will punish them, and their children, their grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren. 10 But I will be very kind to people who love me and obey my commands. I will be kind to their families for thousands of generations! (Deut 5:8-10 ERV)

This chapter has many commands to obey God’s laws, but also has warnings about disobeying:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small In vv 8-9, the command was against idolatry ‘because I am the Lord your God’. That’s the positive command.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small However, if the Israelites chose to serve other gods (they are able to sin against God), they then become His enemies and He punishes them, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small God will be very kind to the obedient people and their families for thousands of generations (v. 10).

If it was impossible for the Israelites to choose to disobey God, there would be no point in issuing this warning. The teaching here is that the Israelites had the power of alternative choices – idols or the one true God. This defines free will.

clip_image002[1] Deut 11:27-28 (NLT):

27 You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 28 But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the clip_image004Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.

The Israelites could choose between 2 alternatives: (1) obey the Lord’s commands and be blessed, or (2) Reject the Lord’s commands, worship other gods, and they will be cursed. This is free will in action in God’s old covenant.

clip_image005Joshua 24:11-15 (NLT):

11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent terror[c] ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord”.

It is clear what Joshua laid before the Israelites who were sinners: Choose whom you will serve – the gods of your ancestors and the Amorites – OR serve the Lord. God’s chosen people had a free will choice between 2 alternatives.

For further exposition on Josh 24:15, see: Choose does not mean choice! Joshua 24:15.

3.    Free will and salvation

What do we find in the NT when the Gospel of salvation is offered to all people? Can they accept or reject it? Or are they unconditionally elected and are irresistibly drawn to Jesus because He died only for the elect?

I have taken these points from my article, What is the nature of human free will?

When we ask, ‘What is the nature of free will or free choice?’ we may be asking: How long is a piece of string in theological terms? If we are going to answer this question with biblical accuracy, we will need to ask further questions about:

Image result for clipart choose Christ(image courtesy ChristArt)

  1. Free will / free choice and the power of God (see Isa 45:11-13; 46:4; Jer 32:16-44; Acts 4:24-31);
  2. Free choice and the decrees of God (Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 3:11);
  3. Free choice and the salvation of human beings (Tit 2:11; Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; Matt 18:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 16:31; 17:30; Phil 1:39; 1 Jn 3:23);
  4. Free choice as it is related to God’s providence (Jas 4:2);
  5. Free choice and God’s foreknowledge (Rom 8:29-30; 2 Cor 6:1-2; 1 Pt 1:1-2);
  6. Free choice and a human being’s moral nature (Jn 1:12-13; 7:17; Rom 3:26; Heb 3:7-8, 15; 4);
  7. Free choice and Adam’s original sin (the origin of the sin of the human race) [Gen 3:1-8; Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22; 1 Tim 2:13-14];
  8. Free choice and human depravity (Deut 6:4-5; Matt 22:35-38; Rom 2:14; 7:18; 8:14; 2 Tim 3:4);
  9. Free choice and eternal security/perseverance of the saints (Jer 3:12, 14, 22; Hos 14:4; Mt 24:13; Mk 4:16-17; 7:21-23; Jn 6:66-67; 13:10-11; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 2 Pt 2:20-22; 1 Jn 2:19)[listed in  Thiessen 1949:524].

In relation to salvation, I consider that the Bible teaches …
clip_image002[2]All salvation is provided by God himself. It is a gift from God. As Eph 2:8-9 (NLT) puts it,

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

clip_image006God elects / predestines people to salvation:

According to Arminianism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those whom he foresees will respond in faith to the gospel. According to Calvinism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those who, because of sin, cannot and will not respond in faith to the gospel. Which of these two views is the one the Bible teaches? Or is there a third, mediating option? (Storms 2018).

This is supported by verses such as 1 Peter 1:1 (NIV),

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

God in his foreknowledge, elected people to salvation. Was this an unconditional election (Calvinism), or was it conditional election (Arminianism) or based on some other factor. That other element is:

clip_image002[3]People choose (because of their free will) between alternatives: to respond in faith and repentance to the Gospel OR to reject the Gospel. An example is found with the Philippian jailer and Paul and Silas when released from prison:

Image result for clipart Philippian jailer(image of Philippian jailer courtesy Garden of Praise)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’ 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (Acts 16:25-31 NIV).

This jailer, dead in trespasses and sin, responded to the proclamation made by Paul and Silas in prison, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ Paul and Silas did not say, ‘Do nothing. God has done it all for you. You are unconditionally elected and are in the Kingdom’.
Instead, Paul & Silas commanded: ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’.

There cannot be a Gospel response to receive salvation without human responsibility of the choice between Yes or No to the Gospel. Otherwise it is God’s authoritarian dictatorship that does away with certain biblical emphases.
How can this be? It’s because God’s grace has been extended to everyone and they respond in faith or reject the Gospel. We have this partially explained in Titus 2:11 (NIV), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.

Salvation is offered to all but not all respond in faith. That’s not because of irresistible grace because ‘the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.
For further explanations, see my articles:

There may be many questions that come from my response. In my understanding of free will, I’m a leaky, Reformed Arminian. To his dying day, Jacob Arminius was a Dutch Reformed minister who taught in the Reformed University of Leiden. I’m a ‘leaky’ one because I do not believe in Arminian infant baptism. Baptism is for believers in my biblical understanding. (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:36, 38).

See my article, Believer’s baptism or infant baptism?

4. Conclusion

From the beginning of time (with Adam and Eve) right through to salvation, God’s view is that human beings have free-will choice to accept or reject him. All people can choose to follow other gods or God Himself (Joshua 24:14-15).

They can choose to accept or reject evidence for the existence of God (Romans 1:18-22) or choose to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31) or reject his offer of salvation (John 3:19-21).

In this article, I use ‘choose’ and ‘free will’ to mean the ability to decide between alternatives. Yes, people are drawn to salvation by God the Father (John 6:44) but Scripture assures us that all people are drawn since Jesus since Jesus death and resurrection when he was ‘lifted up (John 12:32).

5. Works consulted

Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. When skeptics ask. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Storms, S 2018. The Arminian concept of election. Sam Storms: Enjoying God (online). Available at: http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-arminian-concept-of-election (Accessed 16 August 2018).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018. Could you explain the connection between our spiritual “deadness” and God’s grace, as presented in Ephesians 2:1-10? (online). Available at: https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/could-you-explain-ephesians-21-10 (Accessed 16 August 2018).

6.   Notes


[1] I received this email on 1 May 2018.

[2] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version. This version also is for a lower literacy level.

[3] The NIRV is the New International Reader’s Version. This is for a lower literacy level than the NIV.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 06 March 2019

Flourish pattern with butterflies vector clip art

The Rapture in the early church fathers

1 Thessalonians 4:17 on the Rapture

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(image courtesy Pinterest)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Do you think anyone in the Christian church could be so audacious to make this kind of statement about eschatology (end times)? ‘The Rapture doctrine is only taught in America. Hardly anyone outside the US believes in such things’.[1]

1. Misinformation re rapture teaching

I found this statement not only overconfident but also ignorant of what is going to happen at the time of Christ’s second coming that will end world history.

Therefore, my response was:[2]

Come across the Tasman from NZ (Angelina lives in NZ) and you’ll find lots of people in Australia who also teach the Rapture, especially in Dispensational circles. I was taught it in an Assemblies of God Bible College in Brisbane in the 1970s. You’ll find it among Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, especially Christian Brethren (Gospel Hall), and other evangelicals. There is a large Open Brethren assembly 15 minutes from where I live that teaches the Rapture.

2. Who will teach the Rapture?

clip_image004Any promoters of premillennial, pre-, mid- or post-tribulation eschatology, will promote the Rapture. See some examples in this publication (image on left) that deals with three views of the rapture.

Anyone who accepts one of these eschatological views will promote a Rapture of the saints. Here we have Three Views of the Rapture (Gundry et al 1996) that could be taught in any country around the world.

If you read the beliefs of Northside Baptist Church, Perth WA, Australia, you’ll see the doctrine of the Rapture taught. Here’s a list of Christian Brethren assemblies in your own country of New Zealand that teach the Rapture doctrine.

The Rapture is certainly not a doctrine restricted to North America. One of the leading verses used by Bible teachers to proclaim the Rapture is …

2.1    Interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Therefore, how do we understand 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (ESV), ‘Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord’?

What does ‘caught up together’ mean? The catching/snatching up is into the clouds to meet the Lord. Should this be taken literally or is there some symbolic view here that shoots down literal interpretation?

Is the Rapture bunkum doctrine promoted for ecstatic, futuristic reasons? Is this an over-the-top brand of exuberant pre-mill, pre-trib fundamentalism that is designed to get a following of those looking for a way out of this wicked world?

This is the context of verse 17 in 1 Thess 4:13-17 (NABRE):[3]

13 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers [and sisters], about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together[4] with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.

To what is verse 17 referring? This is my:

2.1.1   Textual outline of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17

clip_image006(photo courtesy Rapture bombs’: Clothes at the end)

a. Be aware of the destiny of those who have died (fallen asleep) (v. 13).

b. Don’t grieve like those who have no hope (after death) (v. 13).

c. Belief in Jesus’ death & resurrection at death puts you in the group coming with Jesus when he returns (v. 14).

d. The Lord’s word is: Those alive when Jesus’ returns will not precede [rising before] those who have died (v. 15).

e. The Lord’s shout / trumpet will be blasted as he returns and the dead in Christ rise first (v. 16).

f. Those sill alive will be caught up (raptured) with the Lord and others in the air (v. 17).

g. Then all believers will be with the Lord always (v. 17).

Another on that Christian forum spoke up:

I have been to [a] couple of countries where protestant denominations teach Rapture. They did that even long before Iron Curtain came down and Americans got there.

The reason why Rapture was not taught until just a couple of centuries ago is because Christian doctrine was controlled by Catholic/Orthodox churches. In some countries Bibles in native languages were not even available until 18th century and few people were literate enough to read them.[5]

2.1.2  Exegesis of 1 Thess 4:17

The contentious verse 17 in the Greek can be read at SBLNT.

The key word causing controversy against the Rapture doctrine is harpagesometha. I need to get a little technical to parse this word and seek its meaning in lexicons and word studies. It is first person plural (i.e. ‘we’), future, passive, indicative of harpazw (will be caught up).

Harpazw means ‘I snatch or take away … in such a way that no resistance is offered’. Paul was ‘caught up to the third heaven’ (2 Cor 12:2). First Thess 4:17 is associated with this meaning of being snatched away with no way to resist (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 1957:108).

The church being ‘caught up’ or raptured was taught long before J N Darby (1800-1882).[6] Darby was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren denomination in the UK who promoted his dispensational theories, beginning in the Anglican church but he found no satisfaction there (see Graves 2007).

clip_image008(image courtesy Daily Mail)

In his word study of harpazw, Foerster (1964:472) gave the meaning as ‘to take something forcefully (firmly, quickly, or rapaciously)’.[7] It can mean ‘to steal’ (Josephus) and in the NT is is ‘used in parables to speak of conflict between the kingdom of God and that of Satan… It occurs at 2 Cor:12:2, 4 (vision); 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 12:5 (“to catch up or away”); Acts 8:39 – always expressing a mighty operation of God’.

A T Robertson’s assessment was that harpazw was an ‘old verb to seize, to carry off like Latin rapio…. This rapture of the saints (both risen and changed) is a glorious climax to Paul’s argument of consolation’ (Robertson 1931:32). Vincent’s word studies (1887/1946:43) gives the meaning of ‘shall be caught up’ to include ‘by a swift, resistless, divine energy’ (cf. 2 Cor 12:2, 4; Acts 8:39).

Therefore, the meaning of ‘caught up’ in 1 Thess 4:17 is to be caught up or taken away forcefully by a mighty operation of God, called the Rapture.

The message of the Rapture in 1 Thess 4:17 harmonises with Jesus’ statements about his Second Coming in Matthew 24:36-44 (NLT):

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.[k] Only the Father knows.

37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

Christians don’t know the time of the Second Coming of Jesus and the Rapture of the church. Only God the Father knows that. However, those who love the Lord live in glorious expectation of meeting our Master and Saviour.

3. If you don’t know the information, use a logical fallacy

His reply was this sarcasm: ‘It is your opinion only. One of millions in at least a dozen of variations of beliefs on this topic. Go ahead and start a million first pre-post-mid-none trib topic’.[8] My rejoinder was, ‘It was NOT my opinion. I provided you with evidence from a church father to refute your view, but that’s not good enough’.[9]

Notice what he did. I provided the evidence so he erected a straw man logical fallacy. This happened when Skitnik ignored the evidence I presented and created his own distorted misrepresentation of what I stated. I provided evidence from Irenaeus that the rapture teaching was taught long before the last 2 centuries. His comeback was that it was my opinion. No, I provided the evidence that his statement was incorrect but he refused to accept that.

4.   Evidence from other early church fathers or literature

clip_image010(image courtesy Endtime Ministries)

The Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 150):[10]

You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then you prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and you spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly (Hermas, vision 4, ch 2, emphasis added).

Irenaeus (ca AD 130-202) wrote in his famous treatise, Against Heresies (5.29.1)

Those nations however, who did not of themselves raise up their eyes unto heaven, nor returned thanks to their Maker, nor wished to behold the light of truth, but who were like blind mice concealed in the depths of ignorance, the word justly reckons “as waste water from a sink, and as the turning-weight of a balance — in fact, as nothing;” (1) so far useful and serviceable to the just, as stubble conduces towards the growth of the wheat, and its straw, by means of combustion, serves for working gold. And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.” (2) For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption (emphasis added).

The church being ‘suddenly caught up’ is parallel with the language of 1 Thess 4:17.

Cyprian (ca. 200-258)[11] wrote in Treatise 7:

And this, as it ought always to be done by God’s servants, much more ought to be done now— now that the world is collapsing and is oppressed with the tempests of mischievous ills; in order that we who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. If in your dwelling the walls were shaking with age, the roofs above you were trembling, and the house, now worn out and wearied, were threatening an immediate destruction to its structure crumbling with age, would you not with all speed depart? If, when you were on a voyage, an angry and raging tempest, by the waves violently aroused, foretold the coming shipwreck, would you not quickly seek the harbour? Lo, the world is changing and passing away, and witnesses to its ruin not now by its age, but by the end of things. And do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? (Cyprian 7.25)

Ephraim (AD 306 – 373) was made a deacon in the church in Syria in 338 and later became the bishop of Nisibis. Although he was made a “saint” in the Roman Catholic Church, he was not involved in Catholicism and did not even live in the Roman Empire until the final years of his life. The book Pseudo Ephraim is one of his still existing works. It was called “Pseudo” because of later dispute over authorship. However the book’s one reference to the rapture is very compelling.

In his work, On The Last Times 2, he wrote:

We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hunger and plagues, violent movements of nations and signs, which have been predicted by the Lord, they have already been fulfilled (consummated), and there is not other which remains, except the advent of the wicked one in the completion of the Roman kingdom. Why therefore are we occupied with worldly business, and why is our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or on the anxieties of the ages? Why therefore do we not reject every care of worldly business, and why is our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or on the anxieties of the ages? Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that he may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms all the world? Believe you me, dearest brother, because the coming (advent) of the Lord is nigh, believe you me, because the end of the world is at hand, believe me, because it is the very last time.

Or do you not believe unless you see with your eyes? See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: “Woe to those who desire to see the day of the Lord!” For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins. And so, brothers most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of the world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord. And we think that the earth exists with blind infidelity, arriving at its downfall early. Commotions are brought forth, wars of diverse peoples and battles and incursions of the barbarians threaten, and our regions shall be desolated, and we neither become very much afraid of the report nor of the appearance, in order that we may at least do penance; because they hurl fear at us, and we do not wish to be changed, although we at least stand in need of penance for our actions!’

With a sense of urgency and strong warning, Ephraim writes that the end times are upon this world and could start at any moment. This text very clearly states the saints and elect of God, all born again believers in The Lord Jesus Christ, will be “taken to the Lord” before the Great Tribulation. Ephraim also identifies the Old Testament Day of The Lord and the end times Great tribulation as the same event (in line with the teachings of the Beginning and End Rapture Series). Ephraim quotes Amos 5:18 which says: “Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light” (source).

5.   John Gill on the Rapture [12]

(image courtesy Pinterest)

clip_image012Dr. John Gill, a famous eighteenth-century Baptist theologian, published his commentary on the New Testament in 1748. He is considered a serious Calvinistic scholar who wrote many volumes on theology. In his commentary on I Thessalonians 4:15-17, Gill pointed out that Paul is teaching a doctrine that is ‘something new and extraordinary’. Gill calls the imminent translation of the saints ‘the rapture’ and calls for watchfulness because ‘it will be sudden, and unknown before-hand, and when least thought of and expected’. This is a clear, detailed 1748 teaching on the imminent pre-tribulation rapture (80 years prior to John Darby in 1830).

To summarise Dr. Gill’s 1748 pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching about the sequence of prophetic events it is vital to note that he declared: to all.

1. The Lord will descend in the air.
2. The saints will be raptured in the air to meet Him.
3. Here Christ will stop in the air and will be visible.
4. As yet, He will not descend on earth, because it is not fit to receive Him.
5. He’ll take up the saints with Him into the third heaven, till the general conflagration and burning of the world is over.
6. He will preserve them from it.
7. And then shall all the elect of God descend from heaven to earth with Christ.

Gill then summarised the sequence:

1) They shall be with Him, wherever He is; first in the air, where they shall meet Him, then Him; then
2) In the third heaven, where they shall go up with
3) On earth, where they shall descend and reign with Him a thousand years.

6.   Philip Schaff: The Earliest Church Fathers Were Premillennial[13]

Without question, premillennialism was the earliest and most widely held view by leading teachers in the earliest centuries of the church. The dean of church historians, Philip Schaff wrote, ‘The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene Age [A.D. 100-325] is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism,… a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papia, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius’ (Schaff 1884:2.614).

German historian Adolph Harnack wrote,

First in point of time came the faith in the nearness of Christ’s second advent and the establishing of His reign of glory on the earth. Indeed it appears so early that it might be questioned as an essential part of the Christian religion…. It must be admitted that this expectation was a prominent feature in the earliest proclamation of the gospel, and materially contributed to its success. If the primitive churches had been under the necessity of framing a “Confession of Faith,” it would certainly have embraced those pictures by means of which the near future was distinctly realized.[14]

7. The Rapture – Not Historic Christian Teaching?

clip_image014This (to the left) is Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris’s caricature of a raptured person[15]

His theology is:

In this brief article, Fr. Anthony expresses with clarity the truth of the false teaching known as the “Rapture” and how much it distorts the teachings of the Lord in the Holy Scriptures.

As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me:

“WARNING! In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

The strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly. There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure.

Unfortunately the Rapture has been promoted widely by the Left Behind series of books that have sold over 70 million copies.

The Rapture represents a radical misinterpretation of Scripture. I remember watching “Sixty Minutes”a year ago and was appalled to hear the announcer say that “the Rapture is an unmistakenly Christian doctrine”. It is not!

It is a serious distortion of Scripture.

It is astonishing that a belief so contrary to Scripture and the tradition of the Church could be propagated by so-called “Christians”.[16]

That was Father Coniaris’s view. It is not mine. As long as 1 Thess 4:16 is in the Bible, it will announce that there will be no secret Rapture:

‘For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first’ (NABRE).

8. No secret Rapture

Confusion enters this discussion when pre-tribulation promoters claim that Christians will be whisked away before the tribulation. It will be a secret rapture of the saints, they claim. Erickson (1985:1187) notes the biblical emphasis: ‘While the fact of the second coming is very emphatically and clearly asserted in Scripture, the time is not. Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that we do not know and cannot ascertain the exact time when Jesus will return’. See Mark 13:32-33, 35 (ESV) where ti states,

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come…. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning.

Norman Geisler summarised the Pretribulationism of Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord & Dwight Pentecost:

Pretribulationism holds that the Rapture of the church occurs before the Tribulation, during which the church, Christ’s bride, will be in heaven, standing before His judgment seat (2 Cor. 5:10) and preparing for His return to earth. Pretribulationism holds that Christ’s coming for His saints will be in the air and before the Tribulation; after the Tribulation, Christ will come with His saints and to earth to reign for a thousand years (Geisler 2005:612).

To address further aspects of this eschatology, see my articles,

clip_image016 Is the rapture of the church hogwash?
clip_image016[1] A pre-millennial, post-tribulation end times understanding

clip_image016[2] What is the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture of Christians?

9.   Conclusion

If people take the Scriptures seriously, they will confirm a Rapture according to 1 Thess 4:17. However, there is no unanimity on when it will happen. It could be pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation.

To deny the Rapture is to deny the Scripture and the content of 1 Thess 4:17. I find it best to conclude with Norman Geisler: ‘Only believers who have received the power of the Holy Spirit are in Christ’s body (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:13), so only those who have this power will be raptured (1 Thess. 4:16-17)’ [Geisler 2005:548].

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(image courtesy Pinterest)

10. Works consulted

Bauer, W (transl, 4th rev, & aug ed), Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W, 1957, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, trans. & adapt. of Bauer, W, The University of Chicago Press (limited edition, Zondervan Publishing House), Chicago.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries, rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Coniaris, A M n.d. The Rapture – not historic Christian teaching. Orthocath (online). Available at: https://orthocath.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-rapture-not-historic-christian-teaching/ (Accessed 15 September 2016).

Erickson, M J 1985. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Foester, W 1964. harpazw, in Kittel, G (ed) Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 1, 372-373. Tr and ed by G W Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Geisler, N 2005. Systematic theology: Church, last things, vol 4. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House.

Graves, D 2007. John Darby of the Plymouth Brethren. Christian History (online), April. Available at: https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/john-darby-of-the-plymouth-brethren-11630602.html (Accessed 28 February 2019).

Gundry, S N; Archer Jr., G L; Feinberg, P D; Moo, D J & Reiter, R R 1984,1996. Three views on the rapture: pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Harnack, A 1883. Millennium. The Encyclopedia Britannica, XVI, 9th ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Jeffrey, G n.d. Three fascinating discoveries! Rapture Ready (online). Available at: http://www.raptureme.com/terry/james27.html (Accessed 6 June 2016).

Robertson, A T 1931. Word pictures in the New Testament: The epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Schaff, P 1884. History of the Christian church, vol 2. New York: Scribner.

Showers, R E 1990. There really is a difference! A comparison of covenant and dispensational theology. Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc.

Vincent, M R 1887/1946. Word Studies in the New Testament, vol 4. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

11.  Notes

[1] Christianity Board, Intense dreams, I need answers (online), Angelina#3. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22150-intense-dreams-i-need-answers/#entry276105 (Accessed 2 April 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[3] This translation is the New American Bible (Revised edition), which is not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible. The NABRE is a Roman Catholic version.

[4] The footnote here in the NABRE was: ‘Literally, snatched up, carried off; cf. 2 Cor 12:2; Rev 12:5. From the Latin verb here used, rapiemur, has come the idea of “the rapture,” when believers will be transported away from the woes of the world; this construction combines this verse with Mt 24:40–41 (see note there) // Lk 17:34–35 and passages from Revelation in a scheme of millennial dispensationalism.

[5] Christianity Board op. cit., Skitnik#8.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#10. Darby’s lifespan dates are from Christian History: John Nelson Darby. Available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-nelson-darby.html (Accessed 1 November 2016).

[7] Oxford Living Dictionaries (online) gives the meaning of ‘rapacious’ as: ‘Aggressively greedy or grasping’ (2019. s.v. rapacious).

[8] Christianity Board op cit., Skitnik#12.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[10] Date is from Cairns (1981:76).

[11] Lifespan from Cairns (1981:113).

[12] I gleaned this information about John Gill from Grant Jeffrey (n d).

[13] See: http://biblocality.com/forums/showthread.php?5663-The-Earliest-Church-Fathers-Were-Premillennial&s=a101604c8cc517077ef721ad4f042da4

[14] Adolph Harnack (1883:XVI, 314-315, in Showers (1990:117).

[15] Coniaris (n.d.).

[16] Ibid.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 March 2019.

clip_image020  clip_image020


John 3:16 downgraded

How self-centredness replaced God-centredness

An edited version of this article is found at, Millennials choose fake theology  (On Line Opinion, 8 April 2019).

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(image courtesy 123RF)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What would influence Christians to ditch core Christianity for another kind of christianity?

Some of the process is expressed in an article in Fairfax newspapers (online) in Australia. This report on the research into how God-centred thinking has been replaced by another breed should be of concern to all Christians, especially evangelicals.

The replacement was self-centred picking and choosing what to believe in the Bible. Take a read of: Social media upends public’s Bible quote preferences.[1]

The research was associated with Reverend Dr Peter Phillips, director of CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology of St John’s College, Durham University, UK. He said: ‘Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster-boy’ text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11’.
According to the article:

John 3:16 had been knocked of (sic) its pedestal in print by the social media era: “People don’t want to put a verse about Jesus’s death upon the cross on social media. It’s a bit heavy.” The passage, which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has been eclipsed in the UK by the offer of hope and prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11, according to YouVersion, a digital Bible provider with more than 350 million users.

It reads: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11 is also the favourite in nine other countries, including Canada and Australia.

 

1. An assessment

 

 

clip_image003(image courtesy KissClipart)

Here is my brief analysis of what I see happening in the UK with this digital Bible reading research of Millennials (or, Generation Y) who were born between 1982 and 2002.[2]

What is this article telling the Christian community that needs evaluation?

1.1 Fake theology[3] in the article

The false teaching in this article included:

clip_image005  1.1.1 People’s change in biblical emphasis and support.

This is told in the journalist’s writing:

In the beginning – and for centuries that followed – God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the favourite Bible passage of many Christians. But that is changing, as messages of hope and prosperity on social media find greater resonance with the younger generation.

The change in acceptance and emphases through social media is an example of pragmatism (what works best) in action. It is promoting fake theology when any generation promotes self-centredness instead of God-centredness.

That the Millennials discard John 3:16 for Jeremiah 29:11 is an example of abandoning Christo-centric theology for egotistic, feel-good theology.

Does it occur to these researchers and the Millennials that they are replacing the centre of Christianity with a bogus doctrine?

clip_image005[1]  1.1.2 From ‘poster boy’ to ‘star’: Christianity for the Oscars.

Fitzpatrick wrote:

“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster-boy’ text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11,” said Reverend Dr Peter Phillips, director of CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology of St John’s College, Durham University.

That one paragraph demonstrates a change in worldview by the Millennials. The change is from:

clip_image007 (1) God’s love for the world and Jesus’ sacrifice of his life to bring salvation to whomever believes, to

clip_image007[1] (2) The fake doctrine of prosperity and hope in the here and now.

clip_image005[2]  1.1.3 The crux of Christianity crucified by compromise.

Fitzpatrick again:

“People don’t want to put a verse about Jesus’s death upon the cross on social media. It’s a bit heavy.” The passage, which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,”

So the cross of Christ and his shedding his blood to provide eternal life is ‘a bit heavy’ for social media.

I cannot imagine anyone with that approach standing up for their faith to the point of being a martyr like Peter, Paul, Polycarp, Hugh Latimer and those slaughtered by the Auca Indians in Ecuador: Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian.

clip_image009 (image courtesy TeePublic)

Compromise does not stoke fire in the heart of Christianity. Here we have an example of the Millennials who changed the truth of God (John 3:16) to fake theology (Jer 29:11).

clip_image005[3]  1.1.4 Let me interpret the Bible my own way.

This is done in true Frank Sinatra style, ‘My Way’.

According to experts, the switch is a product of social media and young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online (Fitzpatrick).

What is the ‘Bible’s Way’? This is every Christian’s responsibility, although directed to Timothy: ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15 NASB, emphasis added).

You might say: You are cherry-picking a verse to support accurate handling / interpreting of the word of truth – the very thing that you accuse the Millennials of doing?

Please examine the context of 2 Tim 2:1-2 (NIRV),

My son, be strong in the grace that is yours in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach in front of many witnesses. Pass on to people you can trust the things you’ve heard me say. Then they will be able to teach others also.

Timothy’s role of teaching others was central to his task of ‘accurately handling the word of truth’, as it is for all Bible teachers today. It is the role of all Christians to check out the Scriptures when any preacher or teacher speaks.

We know this from Acts 17:11 (NIRV):

The Berean Jews were very glad to receive Paul’s message. They studied the Scriptures carefully every day. They wanted to see if what Paul said was true. So they were more noble than the Thessalonian Jews.

It is every Christian’s responsibility to check any preaching or written teaching about Scripture.

According to these researchers, the switch from Christo-centric to self-centred fake theology is:

clip_image011  (a) ‘a product of social media’, and

clip_image011[1]  (b) ‘young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online’.

This is postmodern, deconstructed Christianity in action. Postmodernism is difficult to define simply. In this Fitzpatrick article we have an example of the trend that moves from ‘cold, hard facts’ (John 3:16) to ‘warm, fuzzy subjectivity’ (Jer 29:11).

Got Questions? has defined it as:

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Post-modern Christianity falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward…. When groups form under such thinking, theology and doctrine tend to lean more towards liberalism.
For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases.[4]

Then add the deconstruction, reader-response elements of postmodernism. Here, an author’s intended meaning of a book or article does not provide the correct interpretation of his or her own work. The readers determine what any book or article means.

The ‘young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online’ is not the way to read any document to gain its true meaning. Expectations should not drive any person regarding the content of articles in The Sydney Morning Herald or History of Australia by Manning Clark, or the Bible.

You’ll appreciate that when many people read the one author’s book, there are many interpretations and each is as valid as the other – in deconstruction. So the intended meaning of any book of the Bible goes down the postmodern chute of confusing, multiple interpretations and nobody can say which is the correct meaning.

Imagine using that approach when completing your tax return, giving your driver’s licence details to a policeman, reading the Brisbane Courier-Mail, or the Bible. Which way does the promoter of postmodern deconstruction want us to read his or her own book? Literally or by deconstruction?

What I see in this preference of Jer 29:11 over John 3:16 is a deconstruction of biblical theology to replace it with fake theology, i.e. self-centredness instead of Christ-centredness.

It’s a different gospel of prosperity without the cross, hope without the atonement.

This is how the article describes postmodern theology in practice:

With apps such as Bible Lens – which allows users to create new images using their own photos overlaid with quotes from the Bible – and YouVersion’s search-by-emoji function soaring in popularity, Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings.

Bible Lens 

The YouVersion website explains Bible Lens:

YouVersion Bible Lens is the app that transforms your everyday photos into profound, Biblically-based artistic shareable images. Bible Lens lets you take a picture, or point to one you already have. It detects not only objects in your photo, but more importantly, the Biblical themes of the moment that photo captured… and then suggests Bible verses to match!

This highlights one of the issues with the YouVersion app approach. It matches your photos or artistic, shareable images to specific Bible verses. This is not the way to disciple people in important Christian disciplines of:

clip_image015   (a) contextual biblical interpretation,

clip_image015[1]   (b) learning not to cherry-pick single Bible verses to make them say what we want them to say,

clip_image015[2]   (c) refusing to use software that interferes with appropriate interpretation. This does not mean that all software linked to Bible knowledge is to be avoided. I access many articles online, including Bible translations through BibleGateway and BibleHub.

clip_image015[3]   (d) using the biblical themes of the moment that photos capture, and leaving the app to choose the Bible verse.

clip_image015[4]   (e) Since ‘YouVersion’s function [is] soaring in popularity, Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings’ (Fitzpatrick), Millennials have postmodernised the Bible through ‘search-by-emoji’. This leads to a pick-and-choose Christianity that avoids the wisdom and knowledge of God, gained through fear of Him.

I have no confidence that it will develop disciples who know how to study the Scriptures with the foundation, ‘Wisdom begins with fear and respect for the Lord. Knowledge of the Holy One leads to understanding’ (Prov 9:10 ERV). All knowledge and wisdom must begin with the Lord or it is worthless.

Building a foundation for faith on apps that pick and choose Bible verses to go with the artistic images you use, is like building one’s house on the sand of intuitive emotion of feel-good faith. See Matthew 7:24-28. Taking action on what apps decide is not practising biblical Christianity.

‘Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings’ (Fitzpatrick). They sure have and it does not resemble the Gospel of John 3:16. It is time for God’s watchmen and watchwomen to stand up and be counted to counteract this Christless, fake gospel.

clip_image005[4]   1.1.5 Therapeutic, self-centred identity

The me-centred fake theology is declared in this kind of statement:

Reverend Dr Phillips, whose book Bible, Digital Culture and Social Media is published later this year, said: “We find that Millennials tend to share therapeutic messages – it’s far more about their own identity and how faith can help them in their future. The result is a shift in public display of the Bible.”

There you have it: ‘it’s far more about their own identity‘ and it’s ‘a shift in public display of the Bible’, according to the Millennials. The shift is more disturbing than public display of one’s identity.

A Christian’s personal identity is found in being made in the image and likeness of God (see Gen 1:26; 5:1–3; 9:6; Col 3:9–10; Eph 4:24–26; and James 3:9). Theologians down through the centuries have debated what it means for human beings to be created in God’s image. This is a reasonable summary of the meaning, in my view:

The image of God (Latin: imago dei) refers to the immaterial part of humanity. It sets human beings apart from the animal world, fits them for the dominion God intended them to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables them to commune with their Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.

Mentally, humanity was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, human beings can reason and choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.[5]

It is a radical change by YouVersion apps. It’s a leap of faith to another worldview of postmodern deconstruction that condemns any talk about truth. Absolute truth is taboo.

This is discarding biblical Christianity for feel-good millennial therapy. It is fake theology of personal importance over God Almighty’s sovereignty. Am I too dogmatic in labelling this as another gospel?

clip_image005[5]  1.1.6 Discard the context for therapeutic benefit

One of the major errors of the Millennials represented in this article is the approach to Christianity and its association with Jeremiah 29:11.

To whom was Jeremiah 29:11 addressed? This is the context of Jeremiah 29 (NET):

clip_image016(image, Babylonian Captivity, courtesy Pinterest)

 

clip_image018 ‘The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was addressed to the elders who were left among the exiles, to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the other people who were exiled in Babylon’ (Jer 29:1).

clip_image018[1] ‘The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem’ (Jer 29:4).

clip_image018[2] “For the Lord God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. They are prophesying lies to you….”’ (Jer 29:8-9a)

clip_image018[3] ‘“For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope’” (Jer 29:10-11).

One of the ‘Comments’ posters examined the context of Jeremiah 29 and correctly interpreted verse 11:

From my cynical believers perspective you are absolutely right. Furthermore that passage is not about ‘me’ at all. It was written ‘to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon’. i.e. the Israelites held captive by the Babylonians after the invasion in 587BC. In fact here it is in context (from Jer 29):

10 When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”[6]

There are many problems with this approach to Christianity but hermeneutics (interpretation) is one of the BIG ones.

2. Post-truth in action

I consider Fitzpatrick’s content to be an example of Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016, post-truth. which is ‘an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”’. (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2019. s.v. post-truth).

In context, this promise of Jer 29:11 is not for Christians in the 21st century. It was for the nation of Judah (cf. Jer 27 – 29, 39-43; Book of Ezra), the people carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar. But it’s a classic example of feel-good Christianity in action. This time it avoids the truth of John 3:16 to replace it with an emotional appeal that is false because the verse is cherry picked and has no application to the believer today.

In my understanding of interpretation in context, it was not meant to extend contemporary hope and prosperity for Millennials in the 21st century. That meaning is generated out of context and provides false hope. Nevertheless, the Bible Society in the UK put this spin on it:

But the popularity of Jeremiah 29:11 also comes down to the context of social media, said the Bible Society.

“Passages like John 3:16 concern an eternal perspective and hope beyond death,” the society’s Rachel Rounds said. “These are not easy concepts to convey on social media, which doesn’t really do context or nuance and is a challenge for politicians, scientists and the Church alike”.

3. Conclusion

Two commanding themes against Christianity dominated this article.

clip_image020Firstly, postmodern fake theology replaced exegesis of the biblical text and its interpretation in context. It moves from facts to fuzzy feelings, driven by a reader-response technique of the reader determining the meaning of a text. Millennials decide for themselves what is ‘better’ faith than John 3:16. Since many readers read a text, there will be many interpretations and none of them is ‘correct’ in an absolute sense.

clip_image022Secondly, the post-truth view expressed in the article was that objective facts of Jesus’ life being given for the sins of the world are replaced by Millennials from a hope beyond death to a hope for now – prosperity.

All of this means self-centredness has replaced Christ-centredness. The result is a different gospel generated by fake theology.

This fake theology needs to be exposed by evangelicals and others who are concerned about the demise of truth in our culture.

However, this is a risk for evangelical Christianity that must be banished:

clip_image024

(image courtesy Pinterest)

4.   Notes

[1] Laura Fitzpatrick 2019. The Canberra Times (online)  25 February. Available at: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/world/europe/social-media-upends-public-s-bible-quote-preferences-20190225-p50zyy.html (Accessed 25 February 2019). This article is from the Telegraph, London.

[2] Although there are conflicting opinions about the timeline for the era of the Millennials, census bureau results (USA) show ‘that the millennial generation is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002’ – Robert Farrington 2019. What is the Millennial Age Range and What Does That Mean Financially? The College Investor (online), 13 February. Available at: https://thecollegeinvestor.com/19793/millennial-age-range/ (Accessed 25 February 2019).

[3] I use ‘fake theology’ as an adaptation of ‘fake news’, which means, ‘false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting’ (Collins English Dictionary 2019. s.v. fake news). So fake theology is false, sensational information circulated under the guise of orthodox biblical teaching.

[4] Got Questions 2002-2019. What is post-modern Christianity? (online). Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/post-modern-Christianity.html (Accessed 26 February 2019)).

[5] Got Questions 2019. What does it mean that humanity is made in the image of God (imago dei)? (online). Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/image-of-God.html (Accessed 26 February 2019).

[6] Fitzpatrick op. cit, sneakyguy12. Available at: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/world/europe/social-media-upends-public-s-bible-quote-preferences-20190225-p50zyy.html#comments (Accessed 25 February 2019).

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 February 2019.

clip_image025 clip_image025

Why doesn’t God heal everyone who is prayed for?

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(Image courtesy Dr. Elroi)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Is it God’s responsibility to heal all people who are prayed for?

If was he who stated: ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24 NIV). Isn’t it signed, sealed and delivered – right from the mouth of Jesus?

Then Mark further affirms: ‘And the people who believe … will lay their hands on sick people, and they will get well’ (Mark 16:17a, 18b ERV)

Surely that is what Jesus meant when he taught, ‘Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you’ (Matt 7:7 ERV)?

Since he doesn’t do this in the real world of the twenty-first century, who is to blame?

clip_image004 The person who prayed didn’t have enough faith?

clip_image004[1] The person prayed for had insufficient faith?

clip_image004[2] It is wrong-headed to demand that God must heal when we ask him;

clip_image004[3] Have God’s supernatural gifts ceased?

clip_image004[4] What about false or insufficient teaching on healing?

clip_image004[5] Where does the sovereignty of God and human responsibility fit into God’s will for healing?

This person started a topic:

Me personally, I really don’t think so and I think that it’s a load of manure. The reason why I ask this question is because I just found out about this today after Yoga class and it was being discussed. I only go to Yoga because of the fact that it relaxes my mind and has caused me to become more balanced and flexible. I wouldn’t do anything if I thought somebody believed that they had the power to “heal” me because that’s where I personally draw the line and find it very sacrilegious but that’s just imho. It might just be considered therapeutic but I just would never personally get involved with it.

The topic this person started was, ‘Can God Really Give The Power to Heal Somebody?’[1]

1. Does God heal supernaturally today?

This person doesn’t think so, but mixes her belief with attending Yoga classes that ‘relax her mind’. Really? What is Yoga?

My response was:[2]

Do you believe the Scriptures? They state:

clip_image006(body part name with pictures; image courtesy Body Parts Name)

27 All of you together are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of that body. 28 And in the church God has given a place first to apostles, second to prophets, and third to teachers. Then God has given a place to those who do miracles, those who have gifts of healing, those who can help others, those who are able to lead, and those who can speak in different kinds of languages. 29 Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all do miracles. 30 Not all have gifts of healing. Not all speak in different kinds of languages. Not all interpret those languages. 31 Continue to give your attention to the spiritual gifts you consider to be the greatest. But now I want to point out a way of life that is even greater (1 Cor 12:27-31 ERV, emphasis added).?[3]

Do you believe the Bible??

Are you not aware that Yoga is a practice of Buddhism??

Do you understand that Buddhism denies the existence of God??

2. God CAN and DOES heal

Another person responded to the information about and I replied:[4]

Thank you for your encouraging comment about my post. All people don’t have all the gifts because …

?A person has only one body, but it has many parts. Yes, there are many parts, but all those parts are still just one body. Christ is like that too. 13 Some of us are Jews and some of us are not; some of us are slaves and some of us are free. But we were all baptized to become one body through one Spirit. And we were all given the one Spirit. 14 And a person’s body has more than one part. It has many parts (1 Cor 12:12-14 ERV).

clip_image008Paul draws an analogy with the human body which has MANY parts. Then he states why there are many gifts in the body of Christ:

(image courtesy Faith – Grace – Jesus)

‘If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But as it is, God put the parts in the body as he wanted them. He made a place for each one. 20 So there are many parts, but only one body’ (1 Cor 12:18-20 ERV).?

We need many gifts in the body of Christ for it to function properly. This person online wrote:

We read other things 1 Corinthians, like where Paul states boldly to desire the gifts, thereby indicating that we are to desire all the gifts, not just this one or that one. And in Mark it reads, Mk 16:18 “… they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” By saying “they will” it does not exclude any of His followers.[5]

You missed emphasising another guarantee, ‘They will recover’.

Is Mk 16:18 teaching that all those will be healed who have hands laid on them and the prayer of faith is prayed for them?

Jesus’ audience for this teaching was the ‘eleven followers (disciples)’ while they were eating (Mk 16:14 ERV). You have raised some good issues with ‘they will lay hands on the sick’ and ‘they will recover’.

  1. That’s not what I see happening in Christian churches in Australia. Most healing is left to the medical profession.
  2. Is God lying to us when he states ‘they will recover’? God is not a liar (Heb 6:18).
  3. So what is happening here? There is an apparent contradiction of God’s people laying hands on the sick and ‘they will’ recover and practically in the 21st century it doesn’t happen. We can blame lack of faith but there are reasons of more substance than that, based on the text.
  4. Firstly, in Mk 16:18 (SBLGNT) the three words are future tense in the Greek language: epithesousin (they will place) and kalws exousin (they will recover, or ‘they will have/get well’). So they are future statements of what will happen. But it doesn’t happen most of the time people have hands laid on them and there is prayer. How come?

3. The request to heal has a faulty foundation

clip_image010(image courtesy Pinterest)

There is a fundamental reason that is explained by one of the eminent Greek grammarians of the 20th century, Dr A T Robertson, who wrote of Mk 16:8:

At this point Aleph [Sinaiticus] and B [Vaticanus], the two oldest and best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, stop with this verse. Three Armenian MSS. also end here. Some documents (cursive 274 and Old Latin k) have a shorter ending than the usual long one. The great mass of the documents have the long ending seen in the English versions. Some have both the long and the short endings, like L, Psi, 0112, 099, 579, two Bohairic MSS; the Harklean Syriac (long one in the text, short one in the Greek margin). One Armenian MS. (at Edschmiadzin) gives the long ending and attributes it to Ariston (possibly the Aristion of Papias). W (the Washington Codex) has an additional verse in the long ending. So the facts are very complicated, but argue strongly against the genuineness of verses Matthew 9-20 of Mark 16. There is little in these verses not in Matthew 28:1 ff. It is difficult to believe that Mark ended his Gospel with verse Matthew 8 unless he was interrupted. A leaf or column may have been torn off at the end of the papyrus roll. The loss of the ending was treated in various ways. Some documents left it alone. Some added one ending, some another, some added both (Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol 1, Mk 16:8).?

This is one piece of information that leads me to conclude that Mark 16:9-20 should not be in the canon of Scripture. That’s why many translations have this kind of statement after Mk 16:8,

Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20…. Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20 (ESV)?

4. False doctrine in Mark 16:9-20

The false doctrines in these verses convince me it should not be in Scripture:

  • Baptismal regeneration (Mk 16:18);
  • Drinking deadly poison (Mk 16:20);
  • Handling snakes (Mk 16:20).

So why in one place does the Bible talk about elders laying hands on the sick and in another it reads “they will”? Isn’t it because we are growing in Christ, or at least should be?

The simple explanation is that Mk 16:9-20 is not in the Bible. It has been added by a later person, so we get false doctrine mixed with the truth. I would never use these verses as a foundation for any church doctrine or statement of faith. I wouldn’t preach from them either.

5. The Spirit of God gives you power to heal the sick.

clip_image012You stated online:

If you care to believe it; if you have the Spirit of God you have the power in you to heal the sick. That is obvious, but still it might be hard to believe. So we find a Christian confessing a doubt that God can “Really Give The Power to Heal Somebody”, like in the OP. At this point we have a testimony from a Christian who does not yet care to believe God can really give the power to heal somebody. Happily, our faith grows.

There is only the power to heal given as a gift of healing to SOME people. To those people, those they pray for will be healed. We’ll know them by their fruits. Further, you said:

So we have newer Christian’s (sic) that simply have trouble believing God can heal, even though they believe they have the Spirit of God in them and obviously the Spirit of God can heal people. And we also find pastors and elders, who also believe they have the Spirit of God in them and even believe prayer can get things done, but can’t believe God can use them to heal cancer.

Is it that simple? There are other factors influencing the ministry of healing.

5.1 Not enough teaching

My view is that this is because there is too little teaching on God’s view of healing and the gift of healing. More teaching is needed on:

clip_image014 God’s spiritual gift of healing (1 Cor 12:27-31 ERV)

clip_image014[1] The elders anointing the sick with oil (James 5:13-18 ERV)

clip_image014[2] God’s will and his sovereignty in the world and over people.

5.2 False healers

clip_image015(image courtesy dreamtime.com)

We have too many fake healers around us to influence people to become skeptical.

I have a friend who went to a local Pentecostal Church for 3 years. That church laid hands on, anointed with oil, a person with terminal cancer. One person announced and kept affirming he would be healed in an alleged word of knowledge.
The person died of cancer. My friend left that church because of this kind of fake teaching and manifestation.

You stated:

If we are saying that God can’t use people today to heal, how much do we believe in Jesus Christ, when that is exactly what was happening then? Let’s learn our lessons and get on with it.

I don’t think it relates to how much we believe in Jesus Christ but speaks to God’s sovereignty in the giving of gifts. I can assure you I don’t have the gift of healing but people say I demonstrate the gift of teaching. That’s how I understand it as well.

6. Conclusion

We are faced in the modern-day world with manifestations of the alleged gift of healing. It comes mixed with the genuine and the false.

God does not state that everyone who is prayed for will be healed. A wrong verse in the Bible teaches that (Mk 16:18-20).

God does give the gift of healing to some and they will demonstrate that with God healing people. However, that is only one gift of the Spirit.

I consider it is the height of arrogance to claim that God will heal a person when we should pray, ‘According to your will’. When Jesus taught his disciples and us how to pray, he said:

We pray that your kingdom will come—that what you want will be done here on earth, the same as in heaven (Matt 6:10 ERV).

clip_image017 See my article, Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

My conclusion is, ‘No’.

clip_image017[1] Dr. James White admits that 1 John 5 7, Mark 16 9-20 and John 7 53-8 11 ARE FORGERIES

The Last Page of Mark in Codex Vaticanus

This is a hand-made replica of the last page of Codex Vaticanus. The verse-numbers in the margins are not present in the manuscript; I added them for the sake of convenient reference. In Vaticanus the text ends in the middle column, and is followed by an ornamental line and, further down, the subscription “KATA MARKON” (“according to Mark”). The third column is blank….

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7. Notes

[1] Christian Forums.net, 11 January 2019. HeIsRisen2018#1. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/can-god-really-give-the-power-to-heal-somebody.78572/ (Accessed 15 January 2019).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#21.

[3] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version, Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International. Available at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12&version=ERV (Accessed 15 January 2019).

[4] op. cit., Christian Forums.net, K2CHRIST#28. Unless otherwise stated, quotes from her post are indented.

[5] Ibid.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 January 2019.

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Celebrations smother the truth of Christmas

(image courtesy paper model kiosk)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Some of these details were published in my article, Make-believe and celebrations: Christmas message ignored, (Online Opinion, 24 December 2018).

Is this the truth about the origins of Christmas? Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker wrote: ‘Christmas—whether it is observed for religious or seasonal reasons or just for the hell of it—is in its origins and in its imagination and its implications indissolubly syncretist’ (Why wage a war on Christmas? 2018).

Syncretism is ‘the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion’ (dictionary.com 2018. s.v. syncretism). So Gopnik’s view on Christmas origins is that of someone who wants to combine opposing principles or beliefs. Is that where Christmas began? Is it a mixture of beliefs of the pagan gods, Santa and his reindeer, profiteering and the baby in the manger?

It is unlikely that syncretism will get to the core of Christmas origins. It will not be joyous but toxic. O’ Come Let Us Adore Him is not likely to be a prominent theme.

In 2017, objections to Christmas came from a different quarter. The Sunshine Coast Daily in Queensland reported:

A ‘JESUS ban’ in public schools has sparked fury from [Sunshine] Coast MPs, after reports kids swapping Christmas cards, making Christmas tree decorations or bracelets could be censored.

The Australian reported an unofficial policy from the Queensland Department of Education and Training had identified junior evangelism as an issue to be stamped out, following a Departmental review into GodSpace religious instruction materials.

“The notion of trying to take pictures of Jesus out of Christmas cards is ludicrous,” Fairfax MP Ted O’Brien said, fuming at the reported edict.

“What do they think Christmas stands for? Are they going to try and take Christ out of the word Christmas next?

“I don’t think Australians should cop such political correctness. I think it’s ridiculous”….

The department [of Education] “expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to (sic) students who do not” in Queensland public schools.

“This could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment,” the report read.

Examples of evangelising reported as being in the review and two other previous reviews included exchanging Christmas cards referring to Jesus’s birth, making Christmas tree decorations and beaded bracelet gifts in order to share the good news about Jesus (Sawyer 2017).

Image result for image Christ in Christmas(image courtesy The Leo House)

In the profiteering and commercialism of Christmas, what is the truth that is missed?

The charade that covers up these truths

Is the biblical Christmas story wrapped in history or myth? To unwrap this, see my article, The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Something Else?

In this season, lost is the realisation that Christmas is first of all a celebration of the birth of the Saviour. He is all but forgotten – thoughtlessly smothered in the haste, commotion, partying and flamboyant marketing of this season.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Christmas should be only solemn, sombre, grim religious observances without any cheer. It should be a time of real joy and gladness as exemplified in the Christmas carol with words by Isaac Watts and music by George Frederick Handel:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

This is not manufactured sentiment and wild revelry that characterises the way the community celebrates Christmas.

This Christmas truth is covered up

What do Santa, reindeer, lights and Christmas trees disguise?

(1) The virgin birth, including its prophetic fulfillment

Even from within the church, former Roman Catholic priest, John Dominic Crossan objected: ‘The stories of Jesus’ birth are religious fiction, or parable, if you prefer…. This does not mean that they have no value, but … they are not to be read as literal history’ (Crossan & Watts 1999:10).

Objections are at the core of the Christmas story. Even Mary was a doubter herself about the virgin conception. The angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin in Nazareth who was pledged to marry Joseph. Gabriel’s message was that Mary was ‘highly favoured. The Lord is with you’. Those words disturbed Mary and she was ‘greatly troubled’ by what the words meant.

The angel told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son to be called Jesus. He will be ‘the Son of the Most High’, given the throne of his father David, and reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. This kingdom will never end (Luke 1).

Then Mary’s fears rose like today’s sceptics. ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:34-35).

Why is there resistance from Mary down to Dom Crossan in the late twentieth century?

(a) In a materialistic, commercial age dominated by naturalistic explanations, many find it more difficult to believe in a virgin conception than Jesus’ walking on water. Since God is so omnipotent he could speak the heavens and the earth into existence (Gen 1:1), doubt about God’s powerful actions has crept into our society through evolutionary theories. A flow on is resistance to the virgin birth.

(b) No matter one’s worldview, we live in a miraculous world where God’s providence means ‘he causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t’ (Matt 5:45 NIRV). It would be sound thinking during this Christmas season to understand the everyday miracles we need to survive, including the air we breathe and the power of gravity. What happens when the rains are not sent by almighty God – for his reasons?

(c) Genuine Bible prophecy is held in low regard. This miraculous event was prophesied in the Old Testament (OT). The history of the Western world turns on this result, the division of BC to AD.

The Christ child’s birth in Bethlehem was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 that he would be born in Bethlehem, 700 years before his birth. And it happened as predicted.

Yet sceptics respond with this type of question: ‘Where is the evidence that “Messianic prophecies of the OT weren’t manufactured after Jesus birth, life and death by his disciples”?

Paul Williams, British blogger and convert to Islam, posed this question:

There is evidence they [Jesus’ disciples] did [make stuff up] from time to time. Consider Matthew 2 [v.23] for example:

“There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

There is no such prophecy anywhere in the Bible (in Jimmy Akin, Did Matthew *Invent* A Prophecy About Jesus? 2012, emphasis in original).

It’s important to note How Matt 2:23 cites the OT: ‘… what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled …’ The specific quote is not found in any OT prophet. Was Matthew wrong with this statement?

An answer is found in what Matthew stated. He did not quote a specific prophet but referred to ‘prophets’. It would be fruitless to try to find a particular prophet who stated this about Nazareth when Matthew used the general, ‘prophets’. Geisler & Howe (1992:328) provide evidence of how Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the OT law, which included fulfilling the Nazarite vow.

One fact removes the possibility that Jesus’ disciples read the OT prophecy back into the NT – after the fact. This evidence is in the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, Israel, on the west bank of the Dead Sea. In 1946-47, Bedouin shepherd boys found every book of the OT except Esther in desert caves. Here is proof that the Messianic prophecies predated the incarnation of Jesus. Copies of Isaiah, Psalm 22, Daniel 9 and other OT prophecies have been dated to 335-100 BC by paleography, scribal and carbon 14 dating – secular methods. This was a significant find because it demonstrated the fulfillment of the prophecies was not manipulated by Jesus’ disciples.

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Isaiah 7:14 prophesied: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you [plural] a sign: the virgin [or, young woman] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [meaning, ‘God with us’]. This was confirmed – not invented – in Matthew 1:22-23.

You couldn’t believe the academic and other theological gymnastics that surround the meaning of ‘virgin’, with some wanting to translate it as a ‘young woman’ and not inferring virginity. In Isa 7:14, the Hebrew word used is almah whose root meaning could be either ‘maiden’ (virgin) or ‘young woman’.

Here is one example of the resistance to the virgin conception from Bob Seidensticker (2013):

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Matt. 1:23).

Matthew documents the fulfillment of a prophecy written 750 years earlier. Powerful evidence of the truth of the Bible?

Well … no. The first reason is the reason by which anyone would reject a claimed prophecy: the evidence of the fulfillment is not independent but comes only through authors (of Matthew and Luke) who one must assume had read the prophecy. They had motive and opportunity to claim a fulfillment where none existed.

But was that quote from Isaiah even a prophecy of a messiah? You’d expect something like, “The LORD God understands the burdens of His people and will send a savior. And ye shall know him by this sign: the virgin will give birth to a son” and so on.

Here’s what that chapter of Isaiah is actually talking about. In the early 700s BCE, Syria and Israel allied with nearby countries for protection against Assyria, the local bully that was vacuuming up smaller states. Judea refused to join the alliance. Syria and Israel, fearing a potential enemy at their rear, moved to conquer Judea.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to tell the king of Judea that, with faith, his enemies would be destroyed. Isaiah gives him a sign: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (7:14). Before the boy is old enough to understand right from wrong, Syria and Israel will be destroyed.

In speaking to this opposition to Isa 7:14 being fulfilled in Jesus, Messiah and Emmanuel, it is important to note that OT prophecies mostly have a double fulfillment:

‘Few laws are more important to observe in the interpretation of prophetic Scriptures than the law of double reference. Two events, widely separated as to the time of their fulfillment, may be brought together into the scope of prophecy’ (Pentecost 1958:56).

See the excellent article by David Jeremiah that explains this more fully: ‘The principle of double fulfillment in interpreting Scripture‘.

This is the case with Isa 7:14. The immediate relevance of this verse is spelled out in the context. It dealt with the Lord speaking to King Ahaz. The son born to the young woman,’before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right’, was a sign that the land of the two kings that Ahaz dreaded would be deserted and the Lord would bring prosperity to Ahaz and his people (Isa 7:15ff).

Was this son born to a virgin or young woman?

Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer (1982:269), stated, ‘It is … not as precise a word for virgin as the Hebrew bethulah’ (see Gen 24:16). However, for the seven times the singular almah is used in the Hebrew OT, the word always refers to a woman who has had no sexual relations – a virgin. We know from the Isa 7:14 fulfillment in Matt 1:24 that Joseph had no sexual liaison with Mary ‘until she had given birth to a son’.

When the Hebrew OT was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) about 250 BC by seventy Jewish scholars, parthenos was used to translate almah, which can only be translated as virgin and not young woman. This also is the case in Matt 1:23 where the Greek for ‘virgin’ is parthenos. The Greeks used numphe for bride or young woman.

Why is the virgin birth important in the records of the first Christmas? Am I nit picking in emphasising Jesus’ virgin birth rather than his birth to a young woman? Not at all! There are at least five reasons why the virgin birth is important to Christianity (suggested by Don Stewart):

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Because Mary ‘was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit’ (Matt 1:18), it guaranteed his heavenly identity of being God the Son.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Jesus lived a sinless life since there was no sexual liaison between a male and a female for his conception. With a human father, he would have inherited a sinful nature. The sin nature is passed down through the male as it was Adam who was responsible for the first sin of disobedience (Gen 3; Rom 5:12). The virgin birth guarantees that Jesus ‘appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin’ (1 John 3:5). No sinful human being could guarantee cleansing from sin.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  For the cleansing of human sin, God required a perfect sacrifice in the OT (Ex 12:5) and the sinless Jesus, with his crucifixion, was a sin offering for Christian believers (2 Cor 5:21). Hebrews 7:26 confirms that Jesus was a high priest who truly meets our need because he was the ‘one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens’. This was possible because of his virgin birth.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Christ’s unparalleled attributes are revealed in Scripture. Don Stewart’s summary of this uniqueness is:

What the virgin birth does is show the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. No one else has ever come into the world the same way as Jesus. The unique and miraculous nature of Jesus carried on through His entire life. His birth was a miracle, His public ministry consisted of miracles, Jesus miraculously lived a sinless life, He miraculously came back from the dead, and left this world in a miraculous way. From His entrance into this world until His departure, the life of Jesus Christ was a miracle.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  The historically reliable Bible confirms Jesus’ virgin birth. See my articles: (a) Can you trust the Bible, part 1? (b) Can you trust the Bible, part 2? (c) Can you trustthe Bible, part 3? (d) Can you trust the Bible, part 4?

With commercialised Christmases, these core elements are ignored and replaced.

(2) The meaning of nativity

Nativity is a special name for a baby’s birth place. If I was born in Brisbane, you could say my nativity was in Brisbane. However, it predominately refers to Christians’ pointing to the birth place of Jesus Christ. Nativity ‘comes from the French word nativité, which also means “birth.” The Latin root word is nativus, “born or native“’.

Often Christian nativity scenes include the Christ child in the manger, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, some barn animals, three magi and angels.

Should there have been angels in the first nativity scene? Luke 2:8-9 informs us that the shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks at night when an angel appeared to announce the Messiah’s arrival. The shepherds ‘were terrified’. So the angels should not appear in a nativity scene.

As a passing comment, to talk about angels appearing today could cause great anguish amongst many because we don’t believe in that such characters. They are made for movies!

To the contrary, the Bible teaches that ‘angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation’ (Heb 1:14). We hear about the dark side of evil angels (demons) today, but discussion of angels is far from our thinking of reality.

The late Billy Graham wrote a book on Angels: God’s Secret Agents. He said angels are real, are not the product of our imagination, and ‘if we had open spiritual eyes we would see not only a world filled with evil spirits and powers—but also powerful angels with drawn swords, set for our defense’.

Corrie ten Boom, who harboured Jews and others in her house’s basement in Holland during the Nazi Holocaust, wrote:

Are there angels here on earth? What do they look like? Do they have any influence on the history of mankind? Do they really have anything to do with the lives of human beings? The Bible writers believed in them and thought they were important because they wrote about them hundreds of times, much more than about evil spirits and Satan. So why do we hear so little about them these days? (God is Still a God of Miracles)

These dimensions of the Christmas story are ignored, by-passed or laughed at when commercialisation crushes Christmas.

(3) The star guided the magi

Image result for image star Bethlehem magi(image courtesy Crystalinks)

Often in nativity scenes, there are three wise men (magi) accompanying the manger, Jesus, Joseph and Mary. The setting is in a stable. Jesus may have been born in such a place but it is as probable that he was born in a house’s lower level where there were animals sheltering for the night.

Luke 2:7 states: ‘She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’. It was in the kataluma (Greek word), which is best understood as ‘the guest room’. It was not a commercial lodging for which Luke had a word, pandokheion, which he didn’t use.

Which new mother with her firstborn would want to give birth in a public inn?

Even though the wise men often show up in nativity scenes for Jesus’ birth, the evidence points to the magi visiting Jesus later. It is difficult to create a time line for their visit to Jesus. We know the situation when King Herod found out about the city where the Messiah was born and sent the magi to find him:

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in that entire region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matt 2:16).

This is an indicator that Jesus was a young child, under 2-years of age, when Herod realised he had been deceived by the magi and then issued this edict to kill all male children in that age group.

Can the star that guided the wise men be identified? While the regular Greek word for ‘star’ was used, the text of Matt 2:1-11 doesn’t name the star. It appeared only to the magi, so it would be reasonable to assume it was no ordinary star because of its purpose of identifying the location of the baby Messiah.

(4) Jesus born to die a sacrificial death

Every human being is born to die: ‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Heb 9:27). What was subdued in emphasis at that first Christmas was what the angel told Joseph, husband of Mary.

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21-22).

However, Jesus of Bethlehem was born to be Jesus, the crucified One, who ‘will save his people from their sins’. This is glossed over at Christmastime. The real meaning of Easter is like a hand in glove event with Christmas.

I met a person recently who said: You Christians always (hyperbole) talk about sin. Please quit it! The reason sin (breaking God’s law) is an issue is because it is what separates all sinners from God. We needed a sinless, perfect sacrifice to bridge the gap between a holy and just God and human beings. Jesus, the baby in the manger, grew to become that sacrifice so that all who believe (trust) in Jesus may receive forgiveness and eternal life.

These are God’s requirements and not those any human being formulated.

(5) The baby was the wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace (Isa 9:6).

Related image

(image courtesy flickr.com)

This prophecy from Isaiah has a question that needs answering among the Christmas glitz.

How can the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, be prophesied to be the ‘everlasting Father’? At first sight, it sounds contradictory. How can the Son be the Father?

It is doubtful ‘everlasting Father’ is the best translation of the Hebrew, abiad, which literally means ‘Father of eternity’. The first part of Isa 9:6 stresses the incarnation, ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….’ So ‘Father of eternity’ refers to the ‘Author of eternity’, from the beginning of time/creation to the consummation of all things. ‘This title points to Christ as Creator of the world’ (Archer 1982:268) as indicated by John 1:3, ‘All things came into being through Him….’

(6) The baby who started Christianity and its peaceful spread

Christianity spreads through peaceful proclamation. Any other way is an aberration, e.g. the Crusades, John Calvin’s endorsement of the death penalty for Servetus who was not a Trinitarian, and support of slavery. Christianity is not spread through force or violence.

Even an atheist/agnostic such as scientist, Richard Dawkins, inferred the benefits of Christianity. A Fox News headline was, ‘Atheist Richard Dawkins warns against celebrating the alleged demise of Christianity in Europe’. Why would Dawkins, an anti-Christian, say this?

‘Before we rejoice at the death throes of the relatively benign Christian religion, let’s not forget Hilaire Belloc’s menacing rhyme: ‘Always keep a-hold of nurse – For fear of finding something worse….

Dawkins has previously voiced concern over the decline of the Christian faith, “in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse,” which he echoed in his tweet’.

Matthew 5:9 blessed are the peacemakers(image courtesy pinterest)

The baby born to the virgin Mary at Bethlehem is the Messiah who is the ‘prince of peace’ and Christianity’s spread worldwide is based on its theology, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt 5:9).

Conclusion

As illustrated above, all kinds of excuses and revelry – whether deliberate or going with the flow – have made the Christmas season one of celebrations while the truth is smothered.

This truth includes the Messiah born to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem, a Saviour who was prophesied by OT prophets.

He was born to die – not a normal death – and shed his blood on a Golgotha cross to provide salvation for the world.

This same Jesus will return triumphantly: ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first’ (1 Thess 4:16 NIV).

Works consulted

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When critics ask: A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Pentecost, J D 1958. Things to come. Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company.

Sawyer, S 2017. No Christ in Christmas next? School ‘Jesus ban’ sparks fury. Sunshine Coast Daily (online), 27 July. Available at: https://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/no-christ-in-christmas-next-school-jesus-ban-spark/3205543/ (Accessed 21 December 2018).

Seidensticker, B 2013. Virgin Birth of Jesus: Fact or Fiction? Patheos: Cross Examined (online), 3 December. Available at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/12/virgin-birth-of-jesus-fact-or-fiction/ (Accessed 21 December 2018).

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2018.

Image result for colored line dividers public domain

Commercial celebrations contaminate Christmas

Image result for Nativity scene public domain
A Child is Born, courtesy GodTube
Image result for picture Santa public domain
(courtesy Clker)

By Spencer Gear PhD

Some of these details were published in my article, Make-believe and celebrations: Christmas message ignored, (On Line Opinion, 24 December 2018).

This is a delightful season for summer fruit from the tropics and temperate climes. I purchased a pawpaw that looked just right. I struck a problem when I cut it open.

It wasn’t seen from the outside, but around the stem, there was a small bad spot that had developed mould on some of the seeds inside. Once the bad section had been removed, the remainder of the pawpaw was delicious. I would never have written off the entire pawpaw because of some contaminated seeds.

But that’s what some people want to do with Christmas. The season has been commercialised with festivities that disguise the true message of Christmas.

1.   Paddling in the Christmas shallows

Let’s clear away some debris. December 25 is not the birth date for Jesus’ birth. There is no biblical mention of the exact day of Jesus’ birth. A few hints in the text indicate it was not in the middle of the northern winter. Shepherds were in the fields overnight guarding their flock (Luke 2:8). This suggests a time of more temperate weather.

There were early discussions about the date of Jesus’ birth in early church leader in northern Africa, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215). He wrote: ‘There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of [the Egyptian month of] Pachon. This is 20 May according to our calendar (The Stromata 1.21).

For the first 300 years of the church’s existence, it did not celebrate Christmas. December 25 was adopted in AD 336 when Constantine was emperor. In 354 a list of Roman bishops was compiled. The words that appeared in 336 were, ’25 Dec: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae, i.e. 25 December, Christ born in Bethlehem Judea.

Around that time there were pagan festivals honouring the Roman god of agriculture, liberation and time – Saturn. Mithra (Mithras) was worshipped by the Persians (Iran, Iraq and vicinity) as the god of light. Could this have been a tactical decision by a christianised Emperor, Constantine, to encourage people to consider the new faith of Christianity?

2.  The Santa sham

I well remember the deceitful fun my parents had with us kids at Christmas with the gifts under the tree. The jolly old Santa was part of my family’s tradition. We children knew no other way to celebrate Christmas. Now we know its pretense, but who wants to spoil the fun for kids?

This legend has been traced back to the monk, St. Nicholas, born around AD 280 in Patara, modern Turkey. He was esteemed for his godliness and kindness. Many legends have sprung up around his story.

As for the name, Santa Claus, it emerged from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas. As for the chubby, bearded fellow in the red suit, those features originated in 1822 when Clement Clarke Moore, a USA Episcopal minister, wrote a lengthy poem for his three daughters, ‘An account of a visit from St. Nicholas’.

He was cautious about publishing it because of its petty subject. However, that poem seems to have been responsible for the contemporary image of Santa – the tubby old man in red who could climb up a chimney (history.com).

This year, I visited a major department store in the Brisbane region to purchase a nativity scene for my house. When I asked the person at the front door to direct me to where I might find such a scene, she naively responded: ‘What do you mean?’ She had no idea of the true meaning of Christmas and where a nativity scene fits into the picture. To her knowledge there were none in this very large store. She was correct.

However, she knew lots about Santa, tinsel, lights and Christmas trees.

3.  The contaminating myths

At this time of the year, the doubters, protagonists and atheists are out in force in the mass media. They try to show that the decline and contamination of Christmas indicate that the celebration is phoney. It demonstrates the ‘Christ-myth’ (Bruno Bauer, Arthur Drews). It’s really not a celebration of the Son of God but is a festivity for the god of sun.

Some focus on the supposed connection between the Egyptian religion and Christianity, particularly the Horus-Jesus relationship. Horus was the Sun of God.

4.  How are myths created?

Jane Yolen, in her Myth Writing Workshop defines myth as ‘a made-up story that explains the existence of a natural phenomenon – such as where thunder comes from or why snow falls from the sky. Myths – which often include gods and goddesses and other supernatural characters who have the power to make extraordinary things happen — are popular even when people know the actual reasons for natural phenomena’.

This agrees with the Collins’ Dictionary definition that a myth is ‘a story about superhuman beings of an earlier age, usually of how natural phenomena or social customs came into existence’. It is fiction, an invention and promotes historical, mystical and supernatural falsehoods – for creative reading, film and performance.

5.  Jesus’ birth as truth or fiction

How do we know Jesus birth and life are rooted in history and not fiction? His forerunner, John the Baptist, was born at the time when Herod was king of Judea (Luke 1:5-7). Herod the Great lived 73-4 BC and was appointed King of Judea by the Romans from 37-4 BC. Jesus was born ca. 6-4 BC under Herod’s late reign (see Matt 2:16).

Image result for clipart 25 December Christian Christmas(image courtesy Clipart Library)

The awful details of Herod’s death are recorded in graphic detail by the Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities 17.6.5). Josephus regarded this kind of death as ‘God’s judgment upon him for his sins’. He was brutal in his treatment of opponents.

6.  Is Herod’s massacre of young children a myth?

Matthew 2:16 records, ‘When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi’.

A writer on historical topics, Michael Grant, considered these details not to be historical but myth or folk-lore. The massacre of the children was invented, although he conceded it was likely related to the historical fact that Jesus probably was born in one of the last years of Herod’s reign (in Gordon Franz 2009).

In my research, I found no record of this massacre in secular literature outside the Bible. However, it is consistent with the brutality of Herod. He slaughtered friends, enemies and relatives (see Josephus Antiquities, 15:5-10). He even killed his second wife, Mariamme I, out of jealousy (Antiquities, 15.3.5). He had some of his sons killed (Josephus War 1.27.6).

Archaeology and other research have discovered much evidence to support the trustworthiness of Bible records.

‘Now for the first time, one hundred and ten 2,500 year old Babylonian tablets have been discovered in Iraq which provide a glimpse of Jewish life in Babylonian exile’. It corroborates the biblical story mentioned in Ezekiel 1:1. The Huffington Post, Australia (6 December 2017), hardly a Christian publication, concluded: ‘This discovery is a remarkable confirmation of the historical reliability of the Biblical text’.

7.  Embarrassment

Something that may have caused embarrassment or created difficulty for the early church is more likely to be authentic. Why? Because it is improbable that the writers of the Gospels would deliberately set out to write false, embarrassing or contradictory material that would weaken the position of the church.

Josephus stated: ‘But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex’ (Antiquities, 4.8.15).

What happened on resurrection morning? ‘The Sabbath day was now over. It was dawn on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb’ (Matt 28:1). Imagine it! Women who weren’t worthy to be witnesses in that Jewish culture were the first to the tomb to find it empty.

Image result for picture embarrassment public domain(image courtesy Medical Xpress)

This is, therefore, more likely to be a credible witness to what happened historically because of the embarrassment factor.

Similarly with Herod! It would be embarrassing for the Gospel writer to record something as history if it did not happen. That record has been here for people to consult for 2,000 years and the Christian church worldwide has grown to be the largest religious group in 2015, ‘making up nearly a third (31%) of Earth’s 7.3 billion people, according to a new Pew Research Center demographic analysis’. That’s about 2.26 billion followers. Surely a myth wouldn’t engineer such a following!

Herod was a brutal king. As indicated, one of the leading criteria ancient historians use to determine the authenticity of an historical document is embarrassment. This applies to the investigation of what happened in 1770 when Captain James Cook sailed along the eastern coast of Australia, the terrorism on September 11 2001 in New York City, or whether Herod massacred the boys under 2 years’ of age in Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matt 2:16-18).

For a further discussion of these criteria, see Robert H Stein, The “Criteria” of Authenticity.

8.  That questionable census

The incarnation at the first Christmas when the pre-existent Son of God became a human being was accompanied by historical events and a human being with attributes of a person.

Jesus’ birth was at the time when emperor Caesar Augustus issued a decree for ‘all the world’ to ‘be registered’ (Luke 2:1). This was ‘the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria’ (Luke 2:2). Augustus was the greatest Roman emperor who reigned from 27 BC until his assassination in AD 14 (Ancient History Encyclopedia). Thus, Jesus’ birth was rooted in history and not myth.

(image courtesy Wikipedia: The Virgin and Saint Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople 1315–20).

This historical information has some protagonists up in arms:

(1) ‘There is no record of Caesar Augustus’ decree that “all the world should be enrolled” (Lk. 2:1).  The Romans kept extremely detailed records of such events’ (N F Gier 1987).

(2) No records exist that Quirinius was governor of Syria when Luke wrote his Gospel. John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar stated, ‘The journey to and from Nazareth for census and tax registration is a pure fiction, a creation of Luke’s own imagination’ (Crossan 1994:20).

Even though there are questions about the accuracy of the biblical record, observe the association of Jesus’ birth with secular rulers – Herod, Caesar Augustus, and Quirinius. God’s purposes were worked out through unbelievers.

Herod died in 4 BC and Quirinius didn’t begin to rule in Syria until AD 6. Jesus was born in 5-4 BC. Is Luke telling a whopper? How can we answer this apparent historical discrepancy (suggested by J. Hampton Keathley, III)?

Flower10  An ancient census form from an official government order in Egypt, dated to AD 104, spoke of a house-to-house census for those who returned to their own homes. Archaeologist John McRay spoke of another papyrus from AD 48 indicating ‘the entire family was involved in the census’.

Flower10 External evidence to the Bible states census registrations happened about every 14 years and that Quirinius could have been twice in charge of these registrations. Luke records in Acts 5:37 that he was aware of the later registration or census of Quirinius, the one reported by Josephus. Luke shows from Luke 2:1-2 and Acts 5:37 that there may have been two census’ registrations by Quirinius. Or, there could have been two Quiriniuses,

Flower10  A distinguished archaeologist, Jerry Vardaman, found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing, or what we call ‘micrographic’ letters. This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC until after the death of Herod. ‘The census would have taken place under the reign of the earlier Quirinius. Given the cycle of a census every fourteen years, that would work out quite well’.

Sir William Ramsay, the late archaeologist and professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities gave a similar theory of one Quirinius who ruled Syria on two occasions. ‘He concluded from various inscriptions that while there was only one Quirinius, he ruled Syria on two separate occasions, which would cover the time period of the earlier census’.

9.  Manipulation of evidence

Have I stage-managed the evidence to arrive at a conclusion that conforms to Christian orthodoxy? That’s not my motivation. I want to honestly examine the evidence since Luke has a reputation of being a reliable historian. All readers of this article can choose to close down further examination of the evidence and claim that Luke got it wrong because of presuppositional resistance to the birth of Jesus happening as described in the Gospels.

The other option is to pursue the evidence where it leads. That’s what I’ve attempted to do. As a researcher of the historical Jesus, like all historical evidence (that cannot be examined in the laboratory by repeatability), the conclusions reached can be only probable and not 100% certain.

I have found reasonable answers to the Christmas questions posed about the biblical text.

10.  Conclusion

The season has become infected with profiteering and extra effects such as Santa, reindeers, tinsel, lights and Christmas trees.

Commercialisation of the Christian message or a bad experience should never testify against the real person and events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

Mouldy pawpaw seeds did not deter me from enjoying a special piece of summer fruit. Neither should a contaminated Christmas season stop us from remembering the Person who began this celebration ca. 4 BC, Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world.

The intrusion into the Christmas season of foreign symbols and signs detracts from the meaning of Christmas.

The history of the Western world turns on this event. The Christ child was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 to be born in Bethlehem, 700 years before his birth. And it happened as predicted.

In the same era, Isaiah prophesied that he would be more than a baby in the manger. This child would be God the Son who would ultimately govern God’s kingdom. The baby of Bethlehem is the wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace.

He’s the One whom we celebrate every Christmas. The extravagance of the season should never blind us to the fact that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Image result for image For unto us a King is born and the government shall be on his shoulder

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 December 2018.