Monthly Archives: October 2011

The wrath of God and Muammar Gaddafi’s death


Gaddafi in death, courtesy of

By Spencer D Gear

Is the death of Muammar Gaddafi an example of the wrath of God in action? In the brief article from Nigeria, ‘Muammar Gaddafi is dead??‘, there was a comment, ‘Any tongue dat shall rise against Nigeria shall be destroyed in Jesus name. So I advise our politicians to beware bcos d wrath of God can fall on any one who does not want PEACE for Nigeria’. There was a Nigerian news item from Information Nigeria, ‘Fleeing Gaddafi forces, officials stray into Northern Nigeria’.[1]

The exact date of Gaddafi’s murder is not known, but the British Guardian newspaper reported, ‘Muammar Gaddafi is dead says Libyan PM‘, on Thursday, 20 October 2011. This is an example of some of the horror that happens in our human world. But is it the wrath of God in action?

As we shall see, this is a dangerous view to state that the wrath of God can be experienced by those who do not want peace with Nigeria. The wrath of God contains much more substance than this fleeting comment by a letter-to-the editor, following the death of this dictator, even though he was known for his violence and injustice. We need to get it clear that God’s wrath is serious and not associated with peace for Nigeria. It is associated with peace between rebel human beings and God. Why would I call all people rebels? A rebel is ‘one who refuses allegiance to , resists, or rises in arms against the established government or ruler’ (The Macquarie Dictionary 1997:1776). All human beings are rebels against the law of God.

It’s a biblical fact:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers,[2] liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound[3] doctrine (1 Tim. 1:8-10)

Jeremiah 17:9 affirms that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ Remember Jonathan Edwards famous sermon preached in 1741 , ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God‘?

What is the wrath of God?

Do we have a description of the wrath of God and have we seen it in action historically? It is important to understand that the wrath of God is as essential an attribute of God’s nature as his love and justice.

We know from 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love’. ‘God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others’ (Grudem 1994:198).

What about God’s justice?

In English, there are two different words for righteousness and justice, but in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament there is only one word group to cover the meaning of ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ (Grudem 1994:203). Remember how Moses described God’s actions? God, ‘the Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he’ (Deut. 32:4). Abraham made a successful petition to God’s character (attribute) of justice: ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen. 18:25). God himself stated, ‘The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart’ (Psalm 19:8a) and ‘I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right’ (Isa. 45:19b).

The wrath of God is as much an outworking of the nature of God as God’s righteousness/justice.

When I speak of the anger/wrath of God, I mean that God ‘intensely hates all sin’ (Grudem 1994:206) and acts towards such sin in his own unique way. We see evidence of the outworking of God’s wrath in the Scriptures when God’s people sinned against God. When God saw the idolatry of the Israelites in Moses’ day, the Lord God said to Moses,

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Ex. 32:9-10).

Another example is in Deut. 9:7-8,

Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.

The wrath of God is not only an attribute of God that is demonstrated by OT actions, but we have this warning from the NT, ‘ Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36) and ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’ (Rom. 1:18).

Therefore, all who do not experience eternal life through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will experience the wrath of God. Therefore, since Gaddafi, who to my knowledge did not experience salvation through Jesus Christ alone, he will now be experiencing the wrath of God. However, we do not know what Gaddafi decided to do in the last minutes and seconds of his life. Only God knows that.

This experience of the wrath of God applies to ALL who have not committed their lives to Jesus Christ for salvation. John 3:36 is definite: Eternal life (Christian salvation) is experienced only by those who continue to believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Acts 4:11-12 could not be clearer:

This Jesus[4] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

What’s the difference between the essence of God and the attributes of God?

How do we determine what is an ‘attribute’ of God? The attributes of God have a foundation, and that is the nature of God. Formerly, this was called the ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ of God. Essence and substance are used synonymously here. I prefer to use the term ‘nature’ of God as synonymous with essence/substance. Thiessen defines God’s essence as ‘that which underlies all outward manifestation; the reality itself, whether material or immaterial’ and the attributes are an outworking of this essence (1949:119). So, an attribute is an action that is a manifestation of the essence of some thing or person.

However, there are times when attributes look like essence. H. B. Smith noted this when he recognised that some things that are labelled as attributes, could be, ‘strictly speaking’, a different aspect of the divine substance (in Thiessen 1949:119).

In this aspect of the essence of God that some see as not referring to attributes but essence, we are speaking of God’s spirituality, his being immaterial and incorporeal (without a body), invisible, alive and a person. Other aspects of God’s essence are his self-existence, immensity, and eternity (Thiessen 1949:119-123).

It is important to note that God’s attributes are a permanent outworking from His nature. ‘The attributes are permanent qualities. They cannot be gained or lost. They are intrinsic…. God’s attributes are essential and inherent dimensions of his very nature’ (Millard Erickson 1985:265).

While this differentiation is helpful, there is a fundamental aspect of the essence of God that needs to be clarified as a foundation. This is the fact that ‘God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God’ (Wayne Grudem 1994:226). Grudem summarises this aspect of the essence of the nature of God as a Trinity:

  • God is three persons.
  • Each person is fully God.
  • There is one God (Grudem 1994:230).

Since God’s wrath will be experienced by all who live in unrighteousness and die without experiencing Christ’s salvation, there is no way to know whether Gaddafi did not repent and turn to Christ in the closing days, hours and minutes of his life. Only God knows this. However, we do know that all who do not repent of their sins and turn to Christ alone for eternal salvation, will experience the wrath of God.

How can the wrath of God be appeased before death for any individual? To appease means to be brought to a state of peace with God so that the wrath of God will not be experienced?

I’m glad you asked! clip_image004

God’s wrath & Jesus Christ’s propitiation

There are frequent Bible verses that speak of the wrath of God against sin. See Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:3-5; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9. So when Paul speaks of Christ’s hilasterion, he can’t be only referring to the covering for sin and cleaning the corruption of human beings (an idea conveyed by expiation), but Christ’s sacrifice needed to appease the God who stated:

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

This word, ‘propitiation’, is not one that we hear very much from the evangelical pulpits in my part of Australia. Why? Propitiation is not a common word in the Australian English language. My observation is that not much doctrine of this nature is preached from our pulpits.

The Macquarie Dictionary (1997:1712) defines the verb, ‘propitiate’, as ‘to make favourably inclined; appease; conciliate’.[5] We would most often use conciliation rather than propitiation or appeasement in everyday conversation. How can there be conciliation between sinful, rebellious human beings and the absolutely pure and just God Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth who states of Himself, ‘The Lord has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all’ (Psalm 103:19).

However, for anyone to enter God’s presence, it cannot be done without God’s appeasing all unrighteous thoughts and actions towards Him. How can this occur? The NT is very clear:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:23-26).

Since the wrath of God is one of the attributes that is an outworking of the nature of God, it is God also who should decided how the wrath towards all human beings can be conciliated, appeased, propitiated so that we can enter God’s presence. God has been very clear about this. It is only through belief in, acceptance of salvation through Christ’s shed blood.

That is why the doctrine of propitiation is so important to the believer. Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God as indicated in Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. This propitiation is being weakened by some theologians today who want it to mean expiation. For example, the NIV translates Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10 as sacrifice of atonement, atonement or atoning sacrifice.

Many evangelical Christians have not accepted the idea that propitiation = expiation. It was back in 1935 that C. H. Dodd (1935:82-95) opposed the doctrine that Jesus bore God’s wrath against sin. The basic idea of theological liberals is that propitiation may have been common with the pagans but it is foreign to the teaching of OT and NT writers. They assume that because God is love, it would be contradictory for God to love the human beings he created but then inflict His wrath on them. Therefore, they denied propitiation as consistent with the nature of God and used the replacement term, expiation, which means ‘an action that cleanses from sin’ that does not include the teaching on appeasing God’s wrath (Grudem 1994:575 n13).

Dodd’s argument was that the Greek verb, hilaskomai, and its cognates from the LXX could not be applied to Rom. 3:25. Instead, according to Dodd, the meaning in Rom. 3:25 is that of expiation and is contrary to the view of most translators and commentators who are wrong (Dodd 1935:94). Instead of God’s wrath being appeased by the death of Christ, Christ’s sacrifice was to cleanse or cover a person’s sins and uncleanness.[6] One of Dodd’s arguments is that God is almost never the object of the verbs that describe the atonement in the LXX. His view was that ‘the LXX translators did not regard kipper (when used as a religious term) as conveying the sense of propitiating the Deity, but the sense of performing an act whereby guilt or defilement is removed’ (1935:93).

A. G. Hebert supported Dodd’s view:

It cannot be right to think of God’s wrath as being “appeased” by the sacrifice of Christ, as some “transactional” theories of the atonement have done … because it is God who in Christ reconciles the world to himself…. It cannot be right to make any opposition between the wrath of the Father and the love of the Son (in Erickson 1985:810).

George Eldon Ladd (1974:429-430) has refuted Dodd’s views on hilaskomai, demonstrating that it does refer to propitiation and not expiation. Ladd provides this rejoinder (Ladd 1974:429-430):[7]

If we check Hellenistic Greek writers such as Josephus and Philo, uniformly the OT word means ‘to propitiate’. This is also true if we check the Apostolic Fathers of the NT era.[8] Leon Morris is pointed in showing that the ‘expiation’ translation is a recent invention: ‘If the LXX translators and the New Testament writers evolved an entirely new meaning of the word group, it perished with them, and was not resurrected until our own day’ (Morris 1950-51:233).

There are actually three places in the LXX where the word, exhilaskesthai, is used in the sense of appeasing the wrath of God, as propitiation. These are in Zech. 7:2; 8:22 and Mal. 1:9. Dodd’s (1935:233) promotion of the view that there is something exceptional about this view of these three references failed to convince Ladd.

While it is true that the verb, exhilaskesthai, is used in the OT with God as its object, ‘it is equally true that the verb is never followed by an accusative of sin in the canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament’ (Ladd 1974:430).

This is the most significant emphasis: While it is true that the OT does not speak of appeasing the wrath of God, it is true that the context for the thought, where the word is used, is appeasing the wrath of God. ‘In many places atonement is necessary to save life that otherwise would be forfeited—apparently because of the wrath of God’ (Ladd 1974:430).

Therefore, I agree with Erickson (1985:811) that C. H. Dodd’s conclusions, although they have been prominent, are inaccurate because Dodd may have had an inaccurate view of the Trinity, as seen by his failure to present the opposition to his expiation view in relation to Zech. 7:2; 8:22; and Mal. 1:9. Dodd’s kind of emphasis is shown in Bible translations such as the RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, REB[9], NET, Wycliffe, CEV, God’s Word translation, Good News Bible, Darby, and Young’s Literal where ‘expiation’ or ‘sacrifice of atonement’ is favoured over ‘propitiation’ in critical verses such as Rom. 3:25-26. For a ‘propitiation’ view of these two verses, see the ESV, NASB, English RV, ASV, KJV, NKJV, Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Amplified Bible, and J. B. Phillips.

There are passages in Paul’s letters, such as Romans 3:25-26, which cannot provide a satisfactory interpretation outside of this understanding of propitiation – appeasing the wrath of God. When Jesus is the hilasterion (propitiation, not expiation), ‘this proves both that God is just (his wrath required the sacrifice) and that he is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (his love provided the sacrifice for them)’ (Erickson 1985:811).

Harold O. J. Brown has rightly stated that ‘the history of the church is the history of heresies’ (1969:165). We need to understand the unorthodox theology of people like C. H. Dodd in relation to the doctrine of propitiation (appeasing God’s wrath against sin). See especially Roger Nicole’s (1955) refutation of Dodd’s view.[10]

God’s communicable attributes

The Hebrew word, kaphar, is rendered as exilaskomai, meaning to propitiate or appease, in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT. However, the word, exilaskomai, does not appear in the NT. Instead, verb, hilaskomai, is in Luke 18:13 and Heb. 2:17. The noun hilasmos is in 1 John 2:1; 4:10, and the adjective hilasterion is used twice in Rom. 3:25 & Heb. 9:5. The wrath of God is a teaching in John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5; 5:9; Eph. 5:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 3:11 and Rev. 19:15.

The Greek words for ‘propitiation’ signify what Christ’s death does to conciliate / appease the wrath of God. Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, defines propitiation as ‘a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor’ (1994:575). He places the wrath of God in ‘the communicable attributes of God’.

In an earlier generation, William G. T. Shedd, wrote,

‘By the suffering of the sinner’s atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation, the punishment dur to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or non-infliction of penalty is “forgiveness” in the Biblical representation’ (in Thiessen 1949:326).

There is abundant biblical evidence that the wrath of God is an essential attribute of our Almighty God. We praise God that his wrath is in his nature as much as his love, patience and forgiveness.


A good exegetical case can be made for the doctrine of Christ’s propitiation, appeasing the wrath of God. The wrath of God is experienced by all who do not believe in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. The wrath of God is not limited to tyrants like Gaddafi and despots like Hitler, Idi Amin and others who authorised genocide. ‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Rom. 1:18 NLT). The apostle Paul understood that the death of Christ was propitiatory – Christ died to appease the wrath of God against sin. This is stated beautifully in 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

For more of my articles, see ‘Truth Challenge’.

Works consulted

Brown, H O J 1969. The protest of a troubled Protestant. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Dodd, C H 1935. The Bible and the Greeks. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Ladd, G L 1972. A Commentary on the revelation of John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The Macquarie dictionary 1997. NSW Australia: Macquarie University.

Morris, L 1950-51. The use of hilaskenesthai in biblical Greek. Expository Times 62, 227-233.

Nicole, R 1955. C. H. Dodd and the doctrine of propitiation. Westminster Theological Journal, 117-157. May, Vol. XVII.

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


[1] Dated 10 September 2011 (Accessed 22 October 2011).

[2] The ‘enslavers’ are those who take someone captive in order to sell them into slavery (based on the ESV footnote). All biblical quotes in this article are from the English Standard Version.

[3] Or ‘healthy’ (ESV footnote).

[4] The original said, “This one”, but the context indicates that this one is “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10).

[5] The same definition is at (Accessed 22 October 2011).

[6] I was alerted to this information from Dodd by Erickson (1985:820).

[7] Erickson (1985:810-811) drew my attention to these 4 points.

[8] See First Clement (end of the first century) and the Shepard of Hermas (beginning of the second century), where hilaskomai means ‘propitiating God’.

[9] This is the Revised English Bible, an update of the NEB, but an online edition could not be found. I expect that it would follow the NEB.

[10] Unfortunately Nicole’s article is not available for free access online.


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 June 2018.

Why should we oppose homosexual marriage?

Marriage cover photo

Courtesy Salt Shakers (Christian ministry)

Spencer D Gear

My local freebie newspaper[1] had 3 letters in favour of homosexual marriage in its ‘Speak up’ (letters to the editor) section, under the heading, “Pollies are under fire over gay rights”. This was an opportunity for the newspaper to print 3 pro-homosexual marriage letters. There was not any letter opposing homosexual marriage.[2]

Let’s summarise what these letters promoted:

1. One said that it was amazing that government agencies, Centrelink and the tax department, allow same-sex relationships but ‘the government will not allow it’. This person found this to be a contradiction and considered that it was discrimination against homosexuals. Pollies need to ask: “Would they be in government without the votes of homosexual citizens?” This person did not think so.

2. The line taken by the second person, a father, was that he supported gay marriage because his son is gay and has found his ‘soul mate’. This son and his partner are organizing a wedding in Sydney for next year. Both families support this union ‘wholeheartedly’ and believe they should have the same right to marriage as anyone. Homosexuals can’t change and it’s a hard road when they experience so much discrimination. This son and his male partner will marry whether it is legal or not and celebration will be with family and friends. This Dad is ‘proud’ of his homosexual son and the son will live with his partner ‘as a gay married couple’.

3. We need to ‘move with the times’ and legalise same-sex marriage, said the third advocate of gay marriage. Because marriage has always been a heterosexual union, doesn’t mean it should continue to be that way. There were no votes for women, no IVF, etc, but “we live in the 21st century” and we should allow same-sex marriages, with the legal protections of a heterosexual couple.

A.  How should we respond to the promotion of gay marriage?

1. Not one of these writers or I would be here if same-sexual relations were the norm. It takes an ovum and a sperm (woman and man) to create a human being. Same-sex marriage will not do it. A contribution from the opposite sex, whether through sexual intercourse or IVF, is necessary for a child to be born.

A zygote is the initial cell formed when an ovum is fertilized by a sperm. An ovum from a female and a sperm cell from a male are needed to create a new human being. A zygote contains DNA that originates from the joining of the male and female. It provides the genetic information to form a new human being. Two males can’t achieve a zygote; neither can two females. It requires a joining of a male and a female in sexual union or through IVF. Shouldn’t this need for the genetic material from a male AND a female send an important message? Gay marriage will not do it!

2. Besides, from a biological point of view, the vagina was designed for sexual penetration. The anus and rectum were not. A 1982 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the anal cancer rate for homosexuals was up to 50 times higher than the normal rate.[3] The New England Journal of Medicine (1997) showed the “strong association between anal cancer and male homosexual contact”.[4]

Why? The lining of the anus is very much thinner than the much thicker lining of the vagina. The anus tears readily and thus makes that region of the anatomy more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria.

The human body was not designed for anal penetration. But the politically correct speak would not want us to know that.

No matter how much some want to make same-sex marriage appealing, from the beginning of time marriage has involved the union of a man and a woman. If that link is broken, we don’t have marriage. It’s as simple as that. No claims like “I have a gay son”, “we must move with the times”, or “we live in the 21st century”, will change the fact that marriage is a heterosexual union.

B.  The intolerance of tolerance

During the 2019 Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam, Anna Wintour, fashion editor with Vogue, raised her disagreement with champion tennis player, Margaret Court, over the homosexual issue.

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

A woman with brownish hair, lit by the sun from outside the top right of the image, is seen from her front left. She is wearing a light-colored short-sleeved collared jacket with elaborate jewelry, a white top beneath it, and sunglasses. In her right arm she is holding a cell phone to her mouth; she is apparently in the midst of a conversation(Wintour at the September 2013 Milan Fashion Week, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

The Canberra Times 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, 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” (Singer 2019, emphasis added).

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

B.1  Anti-Margaret Court intolerance

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

That’s what happened with this example from Anna Wintour and her opposition to Margaret Court’s view on same-sex marriage.

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

Image result for clipart intolerance homosexuality

(image courtesy Brotherhood News: Facebook censors biblical posts against homosexuality)

C.  What about these issues?

(1)   Mother and father are important for a child’s up-bringing. This Millennium Cohort Study: Centre for Longitudinal Studies in the UK found that

“children in stable, married families were said to have fewer externalising problems at age 5 than virtually all of those with different family histories. The most marked differences were seen for children born into cohabiting families where parents had separated, and to solo mothers who had not married the natural father. These children were three times more likely than those in stable, married families to exhibit behavioural problems, judging by mothers’ reports”.

See Bill Muehlenberg’s summary of this study of the need for both a heterosexual mother and father in, Why children need a mother and father‘.

(2)   God’s design from the beginning of time was for marriage of a man and a woman. See Genesis 2:24-25, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (ESV).

Jesus Christ affirmed this passage according to Matthew 19:4-6, “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’ (ESV).

(3)   Paul, the apostle, was able to speak of ‘men who practice homosexuality’ as being among those who were among ‘such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In this list, homosexuals were placed among the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers who were the ‘unrighteous’ who would not inherit God’s kingdom. But Jesus changes all of these people – even homosexuals. If you don’t believe me, read my interview with a redeemed lesbian, Jeanette Howard, “One woman’s journey out of lesbianism: An interview with Jeanette Howard“. I recommend her book, Out of Egypt: Leaving lesbianism behind.

Here are some more reasons to oppose homosexual marriage.

The homosexual sexual act is a revolt against nature. For procreation to allow for the continuation of the human race, a heterosexual liaison is needed. If homosexual sex were normal and practised extensively, the human race would be greatly diminished.

There is a natural factor: Which part of the body lubricates when stimulated: The vagina (through clitoris) or the rectum? The answer is obvious. The vagina is meant for penetration; The anus isn’t.

See my article: The dangers of anal sex and fisting

Other resources

Genetic cause of homosexuality?

Governments may promote gay marriage: Should we as evangelical Christians?

Polyamory: Poly leads to society’s destruction.

Works consulted:

Singer, M 2019. ‘Intolerance has no place in tennis’: Wintour criticises Margaret Court’, The Canberra Times (online), 24 January. Available at: (Accessed 25 January 2019).


[1] Northern Times (Pine Rivers edition), September 2, 2011, p. E8.

[2] I sent a letter-to-the-editor to this newspaper, opposing homosexual marriage, but it was not printed.

[3] These details are in the article ‘The unhealthy homosexual lifestyle’, available at: (Accessed 26 September 2011).

[4] Ibid.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 January 2019).

Is liberal theology heresy?

(image public domain, courtesy Google)

By Spencer D Gear

It has been asked if anyone can prove from Scripture that liberal theology is not heresy?[1] I consider that a better question would be, “Could you please demonstrate from Scripture that liberal theology is heresy?”

However, this begs the question….

What is liberal theology?

One of the seminal critiques of theological liberalism was that by J. Gresham Machen in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism. This is Machen’s (1923:2) understanding of what amounts to theological liberalism:

The present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so varied in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears. the root of the movement is rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity (emphasis added).

Then Machen proceeded to see how this movement that is “rooted in naturalism” affected core Christian doctrines. He has chapters on the liberal infiltration in these areas of theology: the nature of doctrine, the nature of God and man (human beings), the nature of the Bible, the nature of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the nature of the church.
In this brief article, I don’t show the many faces of theological liberalism that have moved away from orthodox Christianity in their attacks on core Christian teaching.

Dr. Norman Geisler (2002:350f) in his chapter on “liberalism on the Bible”demonstrates how the rise of modern anti-supernatural liberalism had its roots as far back as Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza in the 17th century. He demonstrates how liberalism’s view of Scripture included:

  • An anti-supernatural basis of the liberal view of Scripture;
  • Cultural accommodation is necessary;
  • Negative criticism of Scripture;
  • The Bible is not the Word of God;
  • The Bible is fallible and errant;
  • The origin of Scripture is not by divine inspiration;
  • Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only written and infallible authority for faith) is rejected;
  • So the Bible contains contradictions, including scientific errors;
  • There is immorality in the OT;
  • Human reason is prominent in interpreting the Bible;
  • There is a strong emphasis on human experience.

While theological liberalism is broad in definition, it also can accommodate the postmodern, reader-response ideologies, etc. of the Jesus Seminar.

What is heresy?

We do see “heresy” in the NT. In NT Greek, the term from which we get “heresy” is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5. Of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (“destructive heresies” ESV).

The article on hairesis in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1964:182f) states that its “usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis” but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use.

When the NT ekklesia (church) came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that “the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia” (Kittel 1964:183).

From the NT, we see the term, heresy, being used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine, etc. (I Timothy 1:3; 4:1;6:3; Ephesians 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God, etc. (I Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3; II Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

J D Crossan, a theological , postmodern liberal

As an example of how liberalism affects the Jesus Seminar scholars, John Dominic Crossan states:

For Christians the New Testament texts and the gospel accounts are inspired by God. But divine inspiration necessarily comes through a human heart and a mortal mind, through personal prejudice and communal interpretation, through fear, dislike, and hate as well as through faith, hope, and charity. It can also come as inspired propaganda and inspiration does not make it any the less propaganda. In its origins and first moments that Christian propaganda was fairly innocent. Those first Christians were relatively powerless Jews and compared to them the Jewish authorities represented serious and threatening power. As long as Christians were the marginalized and disenfranchised ones, such passion fiction about Jewish responsibility and Roman innocence did nobody much harm. But, once the Roman Empire became Christian, that fiction turned lethal. In the light of later Christian anti-Judaism and eventually of genocidal anti-Semitism, it is no longer possible in retrospect to think of that passion fiction as relatively benign propaganda. However explicable its origins, defensible its invectives, and understandable its motives among Christians fighting for survival, its repetition has now become the longest lie and, for our own integrity, we Christians must at last name it as such (1995:XI-XII).

For Crossan, Joseph of Arimathea did not exist and his involvement at the passion of Christ did not happen. It was a creation by Mark (1995:172). Concerning Christ’s passion and resurrection, his view is:

My working hypothesis is that the original stratum [the creation of the Gospel text from AD 30-60] or Cross Gospel in [the Gospel of] Peter had only the guards at the tomb and nothing whatsoever about the women at the tomb. It was Mark himself who created the empty tomb story and its failed anointing as a fitting climax to the literary and theological motifs of his gospel (1995:185).

For a critique of Crossan and the Jesus Seminar see:

Rudolf Bultmann, a theological liberal[2]


Bultmann (AD 1884-1976) applied the philosopher, Martin Heidegger’s, existentialism to the New Testament through his demythology of subjectivism. Bultmann built his case along several lines,

  • There is a three-storied universe with the earth at the centre, the heaven above (where God and angels are), and the underworld beneath (1954:2);
  • The supernatural forces in the NT must be stripped of this “mythological structure”. The mythical view of the world (the supernatural) is obsolete and a blind acceptance of the supernatural in the NT would sacrifice our intelligence (1954:3-4); so
  • The Bible’s picture of miracles is impossible for modern human beings for “man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world–in fact there is hardly anyone who does…. An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable” (1954:38-39).
  • What are his reasons for his anti-supernatural view? He speaks of the incredibility of believing in a mythical event like the resuscitation of a corpse; difficulty in establishing the objective historicity of the resurrection of Christ; the resurrection is an article of faith for which there cannot be miraculous proof; there are other such events that have parallels in mythology (1954:39-40).

How do we respond to Bultmann demythologization of Scripture? This view is built on two unproven presuppositions (assumptions), says Geisler:

  1. His view is that miracles are less than historical because they are more than historical;
  2. There can be no miracles in the world without being of this world.

Both of these presuppositions are wrong, says Geisler, because:

  • Miracles can be more than historical without sacrificing their historical nature;
  • Miracles can be from beyond the world but still be acts/manifestations in the world.

Bultmann has no evidential basis for his mythological events being unverifiable. Also, his view is contrary to the biblical data because there is substantial evidence for the authenticity and reliability of NT documents – in spite of liberals who want to doubt and challenge the reliability of the NT. I recommend Craig Blomberg’s compilation of the evidence in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1987); Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are they Reliable & Relevant? (2001); and K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003).

For assessments of Bultmann’s theology, see:

This is some of the flavour of the broad description of theological liberalism and how to assess some of it. The picture is very bleak. This is what happens when those paid by the church give up believing the church’s core of orthodoxy that has been taught for almost 2,000 years. Why do church leaders and pastors who promote theological liberalism continue to remain in the church and be paid by the church? It like  letting loose in our trade training schools, mechanics who no longer believe in engines. Talk about hypocrisy and contradictions!

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (4th ed). London: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition to Zondervan Publishing House).

Blomberg, C 1987. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, England/Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press.

Bultmann, R 1954. Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. Hans Werner Bartsch (ed), trans by R H Fuller. London: Billing & Sons.

Crossan, J D 1995. Who Killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Geisler, N 2002. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Kaiser Jr., W C 2001. The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Kitchen, K A 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol 1), tr. by G W Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Machen, J G 1923. Christianity & Liberalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “Liberal theology via scripture” #1, 8 October 2011, available at: (Accessed 11 October 2011). This person included the theologians of the Jesus Seminar, the universalists, and those supporting abortion and gay marriage, as among those who promote liberal theology.

[2] I am indebted to Norman Geisler (2002: 343-347) for much of the following analysis.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at 15 March 2016.


Is theology important?

Courtesy ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Does it matter what we believe? Is it true that loving people and doing good are more important than theology? This is an example of one who believes that theology is not important: “God is more concerned with what we ‘do’ in, through, Jesus Christ, concerning our daily walk, than our theology”.[1] Another put it this way: ‘Theology is not important. Jesus commanded us to love God and love others and I don’t need to know about the hypostatic union in order to do that.  I just want to love people and meet their needs’.[2]

Dr. Richard Krejcir warns:

Many Christians today are proclaiming that theology is not important or needed; all we need to do is to love Jesus. We have a big problem in the church today as doctrine disappears from the pulpit and the airways, and is replaced by what “feels good” or what we feel is needed. When theology disappears from the church and its leaders, we will have a “free for all” of what we think is truth. All that will accomplish is dishonesty, and an erosion of His conviction. The situation will be created where God takes a backseat to the god of the self as the central focus of our faith, and that will carve a road to hell. We as a church, or as a single practicing Christian, will be unable to think wisely about our culture, who we are in Christ, or who He is and what He did. Instead, we will take in what feels good, leaving God and His ways behind us. We will be reveling in the irrational, while Christ stands at the door and knocks Because of the noise of our Will, we will not open the door![3]

Fuzzy thinking about theology is not new. One hundred years ago, James Orr wrote: Every one must be aware that there is at the present time a great prejudice against doctrine—or, as it is often called “dogma”—in religion; a great distrust and dislike of clear and systematic thinking about divine things (Orr 1909:3).

If that was the state of affairs in 1909, it is even more so today than it was in Orr’s day. As we’ll see below, the problem with doctrine is not only 100 years old. It was a problem in the infant church 2,000 years ago.

Over the years, I’ve heard my share of statements such as these:

  • “Doctrine is not important because doctrine divides”.
  • “All Christians need to do it love one another and love others”.
  • “It is more important to experience Jesus than have teaching about him”.
  • “It doesn’t matter what anyone believes; what matters is that he/she is sincere”.
  • “It is not politically correct to speak of doctrine from the pulpit. Young people will leave”.
  • “Theology is for the intellectuals; I’m just an ordinary Christian and I don’t need that”.
  • “The Bible is out of date, inaccurate and over-rated. People in the 21st century are way too smart for that”.[4]
  • Or, as John K. Williams put it, ‘An evangelist who preaches the “old-time religion” is asking hearers to stake the living of their lives upon beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever and that fly against humankind’s painfully acquired knowledge of the world and of themselves. That is not simply, as we today are taught to say, a “big ask” but an outrageous ask’.[5]
  • The psychological, feel-good society has infiltrated the church.

Liberal Christianity has a long track record of downgrading or being opposed to sound doctrine. Dr. John K. Williams, a liberal Uniting Church (Australia) minister, wrote in the The Age (a Melbourne newspaper):

Let me lay my cards on the table. I am, unapologetically, a “religious person”. For me, the stories and symbols that best point me to, and enable me to stutter about, the sacred, about the holy, about “God” are the stories and symbols and images defining the Christian faith. I am a bloodied but unbowed liberal Christian.[6]

Father Stanley Jaki stated, “Liberalism is a habit of mind, a point of view, a way of looking at things, rather than a fixed and unchanging body of doctrine. Like all creeds it is a spirit not a formula”.[7] One of the seminal critiques of theological liberalism was J. Gresham Machen’s, Christianity & Liberalism (1923). He wrote of Paul, that the apostle’s,

primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions, but at its centre. If Christianity is to be made independent of doctrine, then Paulinism must be removed from Christianity root and branch (1923:26).

To love people, do good, and forget about theology are not among the teachings of Scripture. What do the Scriptures say?

Wait a minute: What is theology?

When I was a student in Bible College in the 1970s, I used Henry Thiessen’s text, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology (1949). He wrote of theology in two senses – the narrow sense and the broader sense. Its narrow sense is the doctrine of God (based on the two Greek words, theos, meaning God and, logos, meaning discourse). The broader sense is the one that is in common use by the populace and that refers to ‘all Christian doctrines … that deal with the relations God sustains to the universe’. This leads to a definition of ‘theology as the science of God and His relations to the universe’ (1949:24).

So, theology will include teachings from Scripture of subjects such as the doctrines of the Word of God (Scripture), of God, of man (meaning human beings), of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of redemption, the church, and of the future.[8]

What’s the difference between theology (the broad definition) and “doctrine”? In the contemporary church, theology and doctrine are treated as synonymous terms. Alister McGrath (2005:177) explains that one of the core tasks of Christian theology is to intertwine the threads of the biblical witness into a coherent account of the Christian version of reality. Thus, ‘”doctrine” is the term generally given to the body of teachings that result from the sustained engagement with Scripture’.

So, why is doctrine falling on hard times, even in evangelical churches? These are my current observations after 50 years of being a Christian.

1. The current emphasis on seeker-sensitive church services has led to the dumbing down of theology, in an attempt to draw unbelievers into the church. Bill Hybels, one of the gurus of the seeker-sensitive approach, has stated, “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for…. We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own”.[9]

2. The stress by the charismatic movement on “hearing from God” has led to an existential experience of God gaining prominence over theology. My observation is that this sometimes manifests itself in mysticism that is generally expressed in small groups. I have seen this in charismatic groups and in some house churches I have visited. I inquired of a house church leader in Brisbane and he told me that the church was interested in the centrality of Christ and ‘hearing from him through the Holy Spirit’ when the church gathered. He said that Bible teaching was not a prominent part of what his house church did when the group gathered. Building community and hearing from God prominent, which Bible teaching belonged to the old ‘traditional church’.

3. The influence of theological liberalism has extended its tentacles into the mainline churches such as Anglicanism (with the exception of the Sydney diocese and some of the Melbourne diocese), Roman Catholicism and the Uniting Church in Australia.

4. Some preachers who teach theology from the pulpit can be boring in their presentation. See my article, “It’s a sin to bore God’s people with God’s Word“.

What do the Scriptures say?

What place does the Bible give to the split between Christian practice and doctrine? We see from the Scriptures that we are to pay attention to both our lives and theology. We know this from 1 Timothy 4:16, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (NIV). Life and theology (doctrine) are united. The way we live will be based on what we believe about God.
Second Timothy 4:1-4 states:

1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (NIV).

Teaching sound doctrine is core to Christian living. We know that life and theology (doctrine) have an essential link. First Timothy 6:2-4 states:

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing (NIV).

Sound doctrine, instruction and theology are essential for Christian living. Paul to Titus showed that a bishop must have a union of good living and sound doctrine:

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:7-9 NIV).

Titus 2:1 states, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound [or healthy] doctrine” (ESV)

It is false to place a dichotomy between Christian living and sound theology. God is concerned about teaching the truth – sound doctrine. It is married to right living. We live what we believe. The Jewish people at Berea knew this. It is said of them that “these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11 ESV). Examining the Scriptures daily is an important dimension of the Christian’s daily living. How can we know how God expects us to live if we don’t have an understanding of what the Scriptures state? Doctrine undergirds Christian living.


Grudem, W 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leister, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Machen, J G 1923. Christianity & Liberalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

McGrath, A E 2005. Doctrine. In K J Vanhoozer (gen ed), Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 177-180. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic/London: SPCK.

Orr, J 1909. Sidelights on Christian Doctrine. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Sons.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Understanding Calvinism’, #441, available at: (Accessed 10 October 2011).

[2] Cited in Daniel Attaway, ‘”Theology isn’t important” and other ridiculous things Christians say’, available at: (Accessed 10 October 2011).

[3] Discipleship Tools, ‘Is theology important?”, available at: (Accessed 10 October 2011).

[4] Coffeehouse Theology, available at: (Accessed 10 October 2011).

[5] “It’s not good enough for us”, The Age, 19 January 2004, available at: (Accessed 30 January 2004). Also available at Online Opinion, 23 January 2011, available at: (Accessed 10 October 2011).

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Liberalism and theology”, Eternal Word Television Network, available at: (Accessed 10 October 2011).

[8] As an example of systematic theology, see Wayne Grudem (1994).

[9] Cited in Bob Burney ‘A shocking “confession” from Willow Creek Community Church’, available at: at: (Accessed 2 November 2007). This is no longer available at Townhall, but I located it at Crosswalk, (Accessed 18 July 2011).


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

Does the New Testament contain history or myth?

No Fairytale
(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear both scholars and laity proclaim words that the Bible is not an historical document but is mythological. These are challenging days in which mythology is following a certain definition as pursued by postmodern people, whether scholars or laity.

The third edition of the Australian, The Macquarie Dictionary (1997:1425) gives this as the first definition of myth: Myth is

a traditional story, usually concerning some superhuman being or some alleged person or event, and which attempts to explain natural phenomena; especially a traditional story about deities or demigods and the creation of the world and its inhabitants.

One such scholar who pursues this understanding of myth in the Gospels is Burton Mack. He stated that

The narrative gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian faith. The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking (1993:10).

Please understand that this perspective contains Mack’s presuppositions about the Gospels. He admits that in the early church ‘an explosion of the collective imagination signals change’ in the creation of these new myths that formed the gospels.

These are indeed challenging days when postmodern deconstructions like these intrude into discussions about Scripture and the historical Jesus.

Using this kind of definition of myth, scholars of the Jesus Seminar or of similar persuasion, have made comments like this by John Dominic Crossan:

What happened after the death and burial of Jesus is told in the last chapters of the four New Testament gospels. On Easter Sunday morning his tomb was found empty, and by Easter Sunday evening Jesus himself had appeared to his closest followers and all was well once again. Friday was hard, Saturday was long, but by Sunday all was resolved. Is this fact or fiction, history or mythology? Do fiction and mythology crowd closely around the end of the story just as they did around its beginning? And if there is fiction or mythology, on what is it based? I have already argued, for instance, that Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals. We can still glimpse what happened before, behind, and despite those fictional overlays precisely by imagining what they were created to hide. What happened on Easter Sunday? Is that the story of one day? Or of several years? Is that the story of all Christians gathered together as a single group in Jerusalem? Or is that the story of but one group among several, maybe of one group who claimed to be the whole?…
The Easter story at the end is, like the Nativity story at the beginning, so engraved on our imagination as factual history rather than fictional mythology. (Crossan 1994:160-161).

Please understand that Crossan places a certain interpretation on the supernatural. Crossan deconstructs miracles as he does Christ’s resurrection. He says that he accepts them, but he redefines them with a new radical definition. He could affirm Jesus’ healing ministry, but then he asks:

What, however, if the disease could not be cured but the illness could somehow be healed? This is the central problem of what Jesus was doing in his healing miracles. Was he curing the disease through an intervention in the physical world, or was he healing the illness through an intervention in the social world? I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. Jesus thereby forced others either to reject him from their community or to accept the leper within it as well…. Such an interpretation may seem to destroy the miracle. But miracles are not changes in the physical world so much as changes in the social world (1994:82, my emphasis).

Now to the laity: ‘The biblical texts were not historical nor scientific – they were myth…. There was never any “original” text. All texts were initially transmitted orally’.[1]

Biblical text as myth

If the biblical texts are not historical but contain myths, in what sense are they myths? By myth, does this lay person mean that they are like fairy stories that have been invented?

This is how Burton Mack explains his understanding of mythology and the Gospels:

The mythology that is most familiar to Christians of today developed in groups that formed in northern Syria and Asia Minor. There Jesus’ death was first interpreted as a martyrdom and then embellished as a miraculous event of crucifixion and resurrection. This myth drew on Hellenistic mythologies that told about the destiny of a divine being (or son of God). Thus these congregations quickly turned into a cult of the resurrected or transformed Jesus whom they now referred to as the Christ, or the Lord, as well as the Son of God. The congregations of the Christ, documented most clearly in the letters of Paul from the 50s, experienced a striking shift in orientation, away from the teachings of Jesus and toward the spirit of the Christ who had died and was raised from the dead. It was this myth that eventually made the narrative gospels possible (Mack 1993:2).

Please understand that this perspective contains Mack’s presuppositions about the Gospels. He admits that in the early church ‘an explosion of the collective imagination signals change’ in the creation of these new myths that formed the gospels and

Christians have never been comfortable with the notion of myth or willing to see their own myths as the product of human imagination and intellectual labor…. Early Christians imagined their myth as history’ and these ‘myths of origin were written and imagined as having happened at a recent time and in a specific place (Mack 1993:207).

In his book, Mack has assumed the authenticity of the historical-critical method and then proceeds to use those methodological presuppositions to drive his agenda. In fact, his book on the so-called Q hypothesis begins with these words, ‘Once upon a time’ (1993:1) and I suggest that the book should conclude with similar words, ‘Once upon a time Burton Mack imagined’, as they are Mack’s fanciful invention of what he wants the New Testament to be – a book that contains ‘myths of origin’ that were imagined to have happened by the early Christians. These, for Mack, comprise a story where ‘myths project an imaginary world in which a people are themselves reflected at a distance’ (1993:208).

Bible as history or not

The lay person and Burton Mack quoted above reflect the anti-historical views of the historical sceptical scholars of the Jesus Seminar[2] and those of similar ilk who follow the historical-critical method and its denigration of the Bible as containing history and of the historical nature of Jesus’ intervention in history.

However, there are historical Jesus scholars who disagree profoundly with this assessment. One is noted historical Jesus researcher, N. T. Wright, who claims that Mack’s proposal concerning Q

is an historical hypothesis, to be verified according to the normal canons; and by those canons it fails.[3] It does not do justice to the data: it chops up texts with cheerful abandon and relocates them all over the place, radically misreading first-century Judaism and completely marginalizing the theology and religion of Paul – which is the one body of literature we not only actually possess but which we know for certain was produced within thirty years of the crucifixion. Mack’s scheme has no simplicity of design, except in regard to Jesus himself, who is grossly oversimplified. The only area on which it seems to shed light is the analysis of twentieth-century American religion (Wright 1996:43, emphasis in original).

What an amazingly pointed and overt assessment of Mack’s thesis with Wright’s claim that it does not do justice to the data and comes to conclusions that fail.

Graham N. Stanton is another opponent of the anti-historical contingent. He states that

at least some aspects of the portrait of Jesus are essential to faith, for if historical research were ever able to prove conclusively that the historical Jesus was quite unlike the Jesus of the gospels, then faith would certainly be eroded. The gospel is concerned with history: not in that it stands if its claims could be verified by the historian, but in that it falls if the main lines of the early church’s portrait of Jesus of Nazareth were to be falsified by historical research (1974:189).

A scholar who has investigated the reliability or otherwise of the Gospels, Dr. Craig Blomberg, states that:

Biblical faith is fundamentally commitment to the God who has intervened in the history of humanity in a way that exposes his activity to historical study. Christians may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the gospels are historically accurate, but they must attempt to show that there is a strong likelihood of their historicity. Thus the approach of this study is always to argue in terms of probability rather than certainty, since this is the nature of historical hypotheses, including those which are accepted without question…. A good case can be made for accepting the details as well as the main contours of the gospels as reliable…. Even if a few minor contradictions genuinely existed, this would not necessarily jeopardize the reliability of the rest or call into question the entire basis for belief (1987:11).

Here’s an interview with Craig Blomberg that contains some helpful information about NT reliability.

Australian Anglican historian, Dr. Paul Barnett, has written Is the New Testament History? (2003). Barnett confidently asserts as an historian who has taught history at Macquarie University, Sydney, that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, based on these canons, judge Luke as ‘an exceptional historian’ (2003:4). The whole argument of Barnett’s book is to affirm that ‘Jesus and the first Christians are genuine figures of history and that they are faithfully and truthfully written about in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. These documents were written close in time to the events. They are historical and geographical in character. I am convinced that we are able to read these texts assured of their integrity and authenticity’ (2003:5-6).

Then Barnett sets out to prove his case. He has written extensively on the historicity of the New Testament. See his Jesus and the Logic of History (1997) and Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (1999). He has two recent volumes: The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (2005) and Paul: Missionary of Jesus (2008).

All of these volumes provide documented evidence that is contrary to the historical scepticism that ‘the biblical texts were not historical nor scientific – they were myth’.[4] Yes, there are many anti-historical hypotheses regarding the historical veracity or otherwise of the Bible that have been promoted by sceptical, historical-critical promoters. There are others who oppose the sceptical, anti-historical view. These include John Warwick Montgomery’s two volumes, History and Christianity (1965) and Where Is History Going? (1969) which refute the claims.

I do not find the sceptical, liberal theological views weigh in with substantive assessment when we investigate the historical Jesus and the reliability of the NT as historical documents.


What is a presupposition? The Australian Macquarie Dictionary (1997)  states that ‘presuppose’ means ‘to suppose or assume beforehand; to take for granted in advance’. As it relates to a thing, it means ‘to require or imply an antecedent condition’ (Macquarie 1997:1693). For Anthony Thiselton, presupposition ‘conveys the impression of rooted beliefs and doctrines which are not only cognitive and conceptual, but which also can only be changed and revised with pain, or at least with difficulty’ (1992:45). For Crossan (1998:109), by presuppositions he does ‘not mean positions beyond current debate or even future change’ or ‘theological commitments’. He means ‘historical judgments based on present evidence and requiring constant future testing against new theory, method, evidence, or experience’. He claims to have learned these presuppositions from scholarly tradition that he has studied internally and tested externally and he finds them ‘consistently more persuasive than their alternatives’. However, he rightly admits that ‘if they are wrong, then everything based on them is questionable, and if they are proved wrong, then everything based on them is will have to be redone’ (emphasis in original).

Crossan (1998:103) admits that all people must decide their ‘presuppositions about gospel traditions before reconstructing either the historical Jesus or earliest Christianity. Everyone must. Everyone does’.

I don’t submit to the kind of presuppositional or researched scepticism of Burton Mack, the Jesus Seminar scholars, J. D. Crossan and the doubting laity when there are more reliable assessments of the data.

A way out of the postmodern dilemma

How do we get out of the relativistic and postmodern quagmire of recent and contemporary historical studies into the historical Jesus? Montgomery has rightly stated that we need to transparently acknowledge ‘the subject-object distinction as the starting point for all genuine understanding of the past’. Von Wright has demonstrated by a reasoned argument that the inductive method, which presupposes the subject-object distinction ‘is the only entrée to verifiable knowledge of the external world: “its superiority is rooted in the fact that the inductive character of a policy is the very criterion by means of which we judge its goodness”‘. Montgomery’s view is that if we try to circumvent the inductive method when examining the past, we ‘destroy all objective knowledge of man’s history, and therefore … eliminate in principle a Christian philosophy of history’ (Montgomery 1969:193).


Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital

(courtesy Wikipedia)

Imagine trying to merge the subject-object distinction in reading the local newspaper. As I am writing this article, there is an article in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, 3 October 2011, on ‘Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital tells foreigners: Go home’. The story began:

QUEENSLAND‘S biggest public hospital has secretly banned some treatments for non-Australians in a bid to save money.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital recently began rejecting overseas students and visitors from certain countries, telling them to find a private hospital or go back to their own country.

The so-called “ineligible patients” are those from countries not listed among the nine nations with which Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements allowing costs to be recovered.

Those exposed to the ban include all Asian, American and African nations and many across Europe.

Let’s adopt a reader-response interpretation of this statement. By reader-response, we mean that ‘all reading is ideological and guided by certain interests…. The text, with no aims nor interests of its own, is at the mercy of the reader. With only slight exaggeration, Mark Taylor characterizes interpretation as “a hostile act in which interpreter victimizes text”‘ (Vanhoozer 1998:28).[5]

Therefore, I, using a postmodern reader-response interpretation of the Courier-Mail article, could make it mean that authority of the state in Queensland has been victimised by multiculturalism, so the state must take a stand so that Aussies are not put on a lower pedestal. The mother country has the supreme authority and will not be held to ransom by any entity. This newspaper’s statement is an endorsement of the doctrine of the origin of human races.

If I read this newspaper article in this way, you would have every reason to send me to the mental asylum. But that is how postmodern interpreters like John Dominic Crossan deconstruct[6] the biblical text. He wrote that what he means by ‘prophecy historicized’ is that

I do not intend the apologetical or polemical use of biblical texts as prophecies about Jesus, as if such texts were uniquely and exclusively pointing to Jesus the future Messiah. Prophecy historicized means that Jesus is embedded within a biblical pattern of corporate persecution and communal vindication (Crossan 1998:521).

As a further example of Crossan’s playing reader-response with the text, he says of Christ’s conception:

My position as an historian trying to be ethical and a Christian trying to be faithful is this: I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus (1998:29).

Let me transfer that kind of understanding to the Courier-Mail‘s story above: I do not regard it as an historical event that the Royal Brisbane Hospital has turned anyone away from that hospital and told them to go away. I believe it is a statement about social justice that is a fundamental in the need for hospitals to treat Aussies first and that multiculturalism goes on the back burner in the priorities of any State government in delivering medical services.

You would justifiably think that I should be assessed by a psychiatrist if that was my view, but that kind of thinking is rife within postmodern interpretation whether it is in culture in general or in the theological world. This is especially so in light of the reader-response theories of postmodernism. Kevin Vanhoozer (1998) and D. A. Carson (1996) have effectively refuted the reader-response claims in my understanding. Carson admits that ‘postmodernism has convinced many of the absolute relativity of all truth claims, not least religious truth claims’ (1996:182) and his tome successfully refutes the relativity of truth claims.

Postmodern methodology involves deconstruction which, in Derrida’s strongest form, Carson (1996:73) understands that meaning is bound permanently with the reader/knower rather than the text. Words only refer to other words, but with ‘irony and ambiguity’. Thus, the alleged plain meaning of the text ‘subverts itself’ and language cannot refer to objective reality.

By contrast, Vanhoozer maintains that ‘the author is the sovereign subject of the sign, the one who rules over meaning’ (1998:48). That is not so for postmodern advocates such as Stanley Fish or Jacques Derrida. Fish has stated that ‘it is interpretive communities, rather than either the text or the reader, that produce meanings and are responsible for the emergence of formal features’ (in Carson 1996:75). Fish (1989:4) writes that literal meaning does not exist if one wants clarity and lucidity, no matter the context and what are in the speakers’ and listeners’ minds. His view is that literal interpretation places a constraint on hermeneutics.

Following that line, I will need to meet with a group of like-minded people to decide on the meaning of that Courier-Mail article as the intent of the author and my personal reader-response cannot be used for interpretive purposes.

We truly are in dark, pluralistic days if we dare to follow postmodern, relativistic hermeneutics.


John Warwick Montgomery

I close with the assessment of leading apologist and lawyer, John Warwick Montgomery. He was in a forum discussion with opponents in the Chicago area regarding Christ’s resurrection when he made the following statements.[7]

It is fairer to compare the resurrection [of Jesus Christ] to other events of classical times, because it’s in the same general time area and therefore the amount of data is perhaps more comparable. I majored in classics in college, and to my amazement I never heard any questioning of the events of the classical period as to their per se historicity despite the fact that these are based on much less data than the resurrection of Christ. For example, the existence of Plato depends upon manuscript evidence dated over a thousand years later. If we must begin with sheer faith in order to arrive at the event-character of the resurrection, then we are going to drop out not simply the resurrection but a tremendous portion of world history, which I don’t think we’re prepared to do….

I say only that the historical probabilities are comparable to those of other events of classical times. Therefore there is an excellent objective ground to which to tie the religion that Jesus sets forth. Final validation of this can only come experientially. But it is desperately important not to put ourselves in such a position that the event-nature of the resurrection depends wholly upon “the faith.” It’s the other way around. The faith has its starting point in the event, the objective event, and only by appropriation of this objective event do we discover the final validity of it. The appropriation is the subjective element, and this must not enter into the investigation of the event. If it does, the Christian faith is reduced to irrelevant circularity….

The Christian faith is built upon Gospel that is “good news,” and there is no news, good or bad of something that didn’t happen. I personally am much disturbed by certain contemporary movements in theology which seem to imply that we can have the faith regardless of whether anything happened or not. I believe absolutely that the whole Christian faith is premised upon the fact that at a certain point of time under Pontius Pilate a certain man died and was buried and three days later rose from the dead. If in some way you could demonstrate to me that Jesus never lived, died, and rose again, then I would have to say I have no right to my faith (1965:106, 107, 108).

The Bible makes historical claims that can be verified according to the canons of historical research that are used to verify any person, thing or event from history. If Jesus’ claims have no historical verification, then what the Apostle Paul stated is profoundly true: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV).[8]

Works consulted

Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Barnett, P W 1999. Jesus and the rise of early Christianity: A history of New Testament times. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Barnett, P W 2003. Is the New Testament history? 2nd rev ed. Sydney South: Aquila Press.

Barnett, P W 2005. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Barnett, P W 2008. Paul: Missionary of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Blomberg, C L 1987. The historical reliability of the gospels. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fish, S 1989. Doing what comes naturally: Change, rhetoric, and the practice of theory in literary and legal studies. Oxford: Clarendon.

Funk, R W, Hoover, R W & The Jesus Seminar 1993. The five gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Mack B 1993. The Lost Gospel: The Gospel of Q & Christian Origins. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

The Macquarie Dictionary (3rd edn) 1997. Macquarie University NSW: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd.

Montgomery, J W 1965. History and Christianity. Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House Publishers.

Montgomery, J W 1969. Where is history going? A Christian response to secular philosophies of history. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Stanton, G N 1973. Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament preaching. Cambridge: University Press.

Thiselton, A C 1992. New horizons in hermeneutics: The theory and practice of transforming biblical reading. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).

Wright, N T 1996. Jesus and the victory of God. London: SPCK. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 2).


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “Bible changed by scribes”, #11, available at: (Accessed 3 October 2011).

[2] See Funk et al (1993).

[3] Here Wright referred to Wright (1992:98-109).

[4] See the lay person’s example above.

[5] Vanhoozer (1998) provides a superb critique of postmodern hermeneutics.

[6] Derrida is the father of deconstruction. ‘Deconstruction explores the “textuality” at work in all forms of discourse, thereby blurring what were once hard and fast lines between philosophy and literature…. The crucial task now is not the exegetical one of saying what a given text means, but the theoretical one of describing and explaining just what interpreters are after. It follows that the literary theorist must be conscious of the broader social and cultural context of the interpreter…. Whether there is something really “there” in the text is a question of the “metaphysics” of meaning’ (Vanhoozer 1998:19).

[7] One of Montgomery’s opponents, Prof. Dr. Jules L. Moreau, professor of church history, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL, stated, ‘The current preoccupation with the facticity of the circumstances surrounding the event called the resurrection reflects a concern for historical verification which is quite foreign to the attitude of the early church. The “proof” that God raised Jesus from among the dead was the experience of the living Lord in the community’ (in Montgomery 1965:109).

[8] Suggested by Montgomery (1995:15).


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 October 2015.