Category Archives: Jesus Christ

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.

Image result for clipart lines public domain

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

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.

Related image(image courtesy imgurmax.pw)

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.

Christian trash burned up at Judgment Seat of Christ

 

 

Image result for clipart rip off

By Spencer D Gear PhD

We know from mass media coverage that people, especially the young, can work for low wages and encounter further rip-offs. In Australia, we’ve seen that with businesses such as 7-11, The Super Retail Group, hospitality industry, Woolworths, Coles, Hungry Jack’s and KFC.

Who has caught these employers involved in the rip-offs? The Fair Work Ombudsman has picked up some of these underpayments and some have come from complaints by former employees.

So, the concept of judgment for both achievement and condemnation applies in both secular society and the Scriptures.

1. The judge’s job

When I looked up the meaning of the noun, ‘judge’, in the Collins’ English Dictionary, I discovered two meanings:

  1. A judge in the law courts who was decides the application of the law.
  2. This is a person who decides who is the winner of a competition (Collins English Dictionary (Collins English Dictionary 2018. s.v. judge).

In NT Greek, judge is used in these two senses. The first condemns and the other rewards. There will be condemnation for unbelievers and rewards for believers.

One of the significant NT verses emphasising the judgment for believers is 2 Cor 5:10 (NIV): ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad’.

This is known as the Bema Seat Judgment because the Greek word used for judgment in this verse is bema. It will be a judgment only for true believers in Christ, born again people.

Don Stewart explained:

The bema is a tribunal for rewards. In the large Olympic arenas, there was an elevated seat on which the judge of the contest sat. After the contests were over, the successful competitors would assemble before the bema to receive their rewards or crowns. The bema was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned; it was a reward seat. Likewise, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judicial bench. The Christian life is a race, and the divine umpire is Jesus Christ. After the race is over for each believer, He will gather every member before the bema for the purpose of examining each one and giving the proper reward to each (Stewart 2018).

That was the question asked on a Christian forum online:

Could you please tell us who or what you believe is being burned up in the following verses: 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 (NASB)?1

2. Who is the audience in Corinth?

Who is Paul addressing in 1 Cor 3:8-15?2 At the beginning of chapter 3, he is clear that his audience consists of ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ (3:1). So this passage is dealing with what happens to Christians when their rewards are determined by God at the end of life (v 8).

3. Paul’s use of metaphors: God tests our works

Image result for clipart metaphorPaul cannot mean literal buildings, foundation. silver and chaff when he wrote of ‘fellow workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building’ (v. 9). He is dealing with something other than the physical when he wrote of Christians (fellow workers) involved in ‘God’s service’, ‘God’s field’, and ‘God’s building’, but he used a natural analogy his audience would understand – a metaphor..

Examine the metaphors that are used in this passage.

A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable’ (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2018. s.v. metaphor). It is like a word picture using figurative language. It refers to something concrete in our experience, but uses it an an analogy to teach spiritual truth.
Here are the metaphors I observed in this passage:

v. 8, plants + waters –> own reward, which is the Christian’s labor (while on earth after salvation).

v. 9, Christians are God’s ‘fellow workers’ who are in ‘God’s field’ and are ‘God’s building’. Metaphors from agriculture and carpentry are used here to convey God’s message.

v. 10, ‘master builder’, ‘laid foundation’, ‘building’, ‘how he builds’. These are metaphors again to demonstrate what kind of foundation and building are being built into the Christian’s ‘own reward’. Seems to me that this points to James 2 in action.

v. 11, ‘lay a foundation’, ‘is laid’. This verse talks about a true foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The inference is that there are other foundations Christians can build on that will not lead to a good ‘reward’. The next verse tells us this:

v. 12, ‘builds’, ‘foundation’, ‘gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw’. All of those are metaphors but when speaking of the two types of ‘rewards’, Paul differentiates between the refined reward of ‘gold, silver, precious stones’ and what will be burnt up, ‘wood, hay, straw’ (anticipating v. 15).

v. 13, ‘man’s work’, ‘revealed with fire’, ‘fire … tests the quality’;

 

v. 14, ‘man’s [Christian person’s] work’, ‘built’, ‘reward’.

 

v. 15, How is this reward determined? Paul used the metaphor of ‘burned up’, ‘suffer loss’, ‘through fire’.

All through this passage, Paul uses metaphors of analogies known to the people of his day and ours – agriculture and particularly of carpentry.

4. It takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ

In my understanding, Paul taught what takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ where our works (AFTER salvation) will be tested to determine if they are trash (wood, hay, straw) or treasure (rewards of silver, gold, precious stones). Trash is burnt up; treasure is purified.

What is to be ‘revealed with fire’ is metaphorical language for when God hands out rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and believers will know the Judge’s decision on what were trash and treasure in the believers’ works.

What will be ‘burned up’ is like saying that what Christians do that is outside of what is articulated in James 2 (NIV) and Matt 25:31-46 (NIV) will be regarded as trash to be incinerated or discarded by Christ

We see in v. 15 that Christians can be those whose lives are built on ‘wood, hay & chaff’ or ‘silver, gold and precious stones’.
Paul is not speaking of literal fire. He’s using the example of fire as a metaphor to demonstrate that junk gets God’s treatment as does treasure. This ‘fire’ is God’s way of telling what amounts to true works after salvation and false works.

5. How will you respond?

In your personal or group responses, I encourage you not to examine your lives using Christian cliches like: they are ‘dead works’; that’s coming from my sinful nature; or if Satan didn’t tempt me I’d be as pure as gold in God’s sight. Christian cliches need to be translated into practical actions.

That is the junk in your life that will be burned up?

For me, it has been the times when I didn’t think of others and work to better love my neighbour. There have been the times when I became angry with those who were close to me and with employees. My motives have not always been pure. I have hurt people, including my wife and children. It’s too late to take back the hurt but I did seek forgiveness, etc.

What is the treasure in your life that will not be destroyed at the Judgment Seat of Christ?

For me, they have been the times when I genuinely loved and served my neighbour with practical help and care. I spent 34 years as a counsellor, mostly with non-Christians. I thank God for helping me with many break-throughs. I was an instrument that God used. Today I’m helping an elderly couple and the husband is in the early stages of dementia. I’m involved in a discipling ministry and challenging secular values and consequences in my society through the mass media, etc. None of this is to brag about what I’m doing.

This is where I often fail:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31 NIV).?

Loving God will all my heart, soul, mind and strength is a discipline in which I fail all too regularly. Instead, I fall back on my puny self – which amounts to wood, hay and chaff that are burnt up.

Only God knows what is truly genuine or false in our works for Him, but we have enough information in the Bible to give us direction.

5.1 This message throughout the Bible

You will find this same message in both OT and NT:

  • Psalm 62:12 (NIV), ‘and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’; and, ‘You reward everyone according to what they have done’.
  • Matt 16:27 (NIV), ‘For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done’.
  • Rom 14:10 (NIV), ‘You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?[a] Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat’.
  • Eph 6:8 (NIV), ‘because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free’.
  • 2 Tim 4:7-8 (NIV), ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’.
  • 1 John 8 (NIV), ‘Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully’.

Image result for clipart well done good and faithful servant

6.  Works consulted

Stewart, D 2018. What Is the Judgment Seat of Christ? (The Bema) The Blue Letter Bible (online). Available at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_144.cfm (Accessed 25 August 2018).

7.  Notes

1christianityboard.com 2018. Who or what is the fire burning? GodsGrace#1, original post, 23 August. Available at: https://www.christianityboard.com/threads/who-or-what-is-the-fire-burning.26560/ (Accessed 25 August 2018).

2Most of what follows is in ibid., being my response to GodsGrace as OzSpen#61, 25 August 2018.

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 August 2018.

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection?

Garden Tomb

Todd Bolen, “Garden Tomb

By Spencer D Gear

The apostle Paul was awaiting execution in a Roman prison when he wrote his second and final letter to Timothy in about AD 64-68 (intro in ESV).   What do you think would be the last words from one of the greatest church leaders of all time – just before he was killed as a martyr for the faith?  Listen carefully to 2 Tim. 4:1-4:

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths (NLT).

A.    What happened in the years immediately after the death of the apostles?

Was Paul’s warning to Timothy fulfilled?   Was sound doctrine compromised?  Were there listeners with “itching ears” who “turn[ed] their ears away from the truth and turn[ed] aside to myths”?  Yes, there were and here we will describe some of the teachings.

We need to understand that these church leaders were defending the faith against one of the most destructive heresies concerning Christ that developed towards the end of the first century.  A similar kind of heresy is with us today.  Back in the first and second centuries, this false teaching was called Docetism (a form of Gnosticism).

Docetism is based on the Greek verb, dokew, which means, “I seem.”  This heresy taught that:

arrow 2 NE clip art Jesus only seemed to be human; he was not really human;
arrow 2 NE clip art His human body was a ghost;
arrow 2 NE clip art Christ’s suffering and death were only appearances of suffering & death;
arrow 2 NE clip artThey denied his humanity, so there was no bodily resurrection of Christ.  But they affirmed Christ’s deity.
arrow 2 NE clip artWe see possibly an early stage of  Docetism being addressed in I John 4:2, when John wrote, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  In 2 John 7, we read, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

This is why early church theologians and writers after the death of the apostles had to preach against this heresy.  I’ll mention a few examples of this correction, particularly as it applies to the resurrection of Christ.

1. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35-107) [2]

He taught: “For I know and believe that [Jesus] was in the flesh even after the resurrection. And when He came to Peter and those who were with him, He said to them, ‘Take, handle me and see that I am not a spirit without body’” (written about the year AD 110) [Ignatius n.d., 6.3].

2.    Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)

Justin wrote:

“Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, ‘Ye have not yet faith, see that it is I;’ and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily” (Martyr, J., n.d., ch. 9).

This letter was written about AD 110. Why did he have to teach that Jesus rose from the dead in a body of flesh? Because there was false doctrine around in the early second century. He went straight to the Bible to get the proof. We have to do the same with new challenges to Christ’s bodily resurrection.

3.    Tertullian (ca. 160-225)

Tertullian wrote a book titled, “On the Resurrection of the Flesh,” in which he asked and responded:

How then did Christ rise again? In the flesh, or not? No doubt, since you are told that He ‘died according to the Scriptures,’ and ‘that He was buried according to the Scriptures,’ no otherwise than in the flesh, you will also allow that it was in the flesh that He was raised from the dead.

For the very same body which fell in death, and which lay in the sepulchre, did also rise again (Tertullian n.d., ch. 48).

4.    Irenaeus (ca. 130-200)

Saint Irenaeus.jpg

This image courtesy of Wikipedia)

This church father wrote a book titled, Against Heresies, in which he stated:

“In the same manner, therefore, as Christ did rise in the substance of flesh, and pointed out to His disciples the mark of the nails and the opening in His side (now these are the tokens of that flesh which rose from the dead)” (Irenaeus n.d., 5.7.1).

5.  Origen (ca. 185-254)

In Contra Celsus, Origen refuted Celsus’s charge that the resurrection appearances of Jesus were those of a ghost.  He asked:

“How is it possible that a phantom which, as he describes it, flew past to deceive the beholders, could produce such effects after it had passed away, and could so turn the hearts of men as to lead them to regulate their actions according to the will of God” (Origen n.d., 7.35).

Docetism was one of the major destructive heresies of the church in the first-to-third centuries and these defenders and teachers of the faith had to teach against the false doctrine of a spiritual or phantom resurrection of Christ.  Paul warned that “destructive heresies” would come and that people would have “itching ears” to receive and promote such false teaching.

B. What do we have today?

I hope you don’t get angry with me for mentioning names of people who teach false doctrine.  I am following the example of the apostle Paul who, in Galatians 2:11ff, condemned the apostle Peter — and named him.  Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, but when certain Jews came from James, Peter drew back and separated from the Gentiles.  Paul named Peter as a hypocrite and we have had it in writing for 2000 years.  

Paul said in 2 Tim. 4:14, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.”  We have had this also on record for 2,000 years.

When people are preaching false doctrine in the church or anywhere, when people are harming the church and God’s people, we need to name them, correct them, and proclaim the accurate biblical message.

In regard to the bodily resurrection of Christ, what false teaching do we have today?

1.    New Zealand Presbyterian minister, Sir Lloyd Geering

Lloyd Geering, 2011.jpg(Sir Lloyd Geering, image courtesy Wikipedia)

He defended what “Gregor Smith had said in [a book called] Secular Christianity … that the Christian is free to say that the bones of Jesus lie somewhere in Palestine, and until the Christian feels free to say that, he hasn’t understood what the Resurrection is about” (in Kohn 2001).

Geering continues, “The Resurrection was not a resuscitation, it was not a return to this life of a physical body. It was in fact something quite different. It was in fact the rise of Easter faith in the disciples, more or less as Bultmann had been explaining for some time” (in Kohn 2001).

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was not a risen body in the flesh, but it was a spiritual experience for Christ’s disciples.

You possibly won’t read Lloyd Geering and some of these other false teachers today, but do you know the people who do read them?  Those in the mass media who want to create doubt or a controversial perspective, readily seek comments from these doubters.  When it comes to Easter and Christmas times, they won’t call on you and me, but these false teachings and their heretical teachers will hit the headlines.

2.    Edward Schillebeeckx

A Dutch Roman Catholic, he wrote, “Jesus’ resurrection is not a return to life as in the story of Lazarus… it is certainly not a miracle of intervention in natural laws to raise a corpse to heavenly life” (from Schillebeeckx, God Among Us, p. 134, cited in Mann 1993).

3.    The German Protestant Lutheran, Rudolph Bultmann

Bultmann wrote that “the resurrection itself is not an event of past history” (from Kerygma and Myth, p.39, cited in Mann 1993).

4.    Protestant theologian Karl Barth

“Christians do not believe in the empty tomb but in the living Christ. Is the empty tomb just a legend? What matter? It cannot but demand assent, even as legend.” (from Church Dogmatics III, 2, p.454).

5.   Former Episcopalian bishop of Newark, NJ, John Shelby Spong:

“The probable fate of the crucified Jesus was to be thrown with other victims into a common, unmarked grave. The general consensus of New Testament scholars is that whatever the Easter experience was, it dawned first in the minds of the disciples who had fled to Galilee for safety, driving us to the conclusion that the burial story in the gospels is both legendary and was developed directly from the words of II Isaiah” (Spong 2004).

6. John Dominic Crossan, a Roman Catholic, of the Jesus Seminar

Crossan speaks of “the apparitions of the risen Jesus.”  What’s an apparition?  A phantom, a ghost.  Jesus’ resurrected body was not real flesh.   He says that “the resurrection is a matter of Christian faith” (1995, p. 189).  So, for him, the resurrection of Christ is really a spiritual resurrection among believers – whatever that means.

So, what happened to the body of Jesus?  Crossan wrote: “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” (Crossan 1994, p. 160).

Let’s come closer to my home in Queensland – in my hometown of Bundaberg, Qld., Australia.

7.    Rev. David Kidd, Bundaberg Uniting Church

At Easter time 1999, David Kidd wrote an article in The Bugle, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, “The Resurrection of Jesus” (Kidd 1999, p. 19). I lived in Bundaberg at the time.  In it, he stated: “The resurrection of Jesus.[3] It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible.’”[4]

C. What does the Bible state?

It is very easy to show from the Scriptures that Christ rose from the dead in a physical body. Let’s look at the evidence (based on Geisler 1999, pp. 667-668).

1. People touched him with their hands.

Jesus’ challenge to Thomas in John 20:27 was: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  How did Thomas respond, “My Lord and My God” (20:28).

Jesus said to Mary as she grasped him, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  Matthew 28:9 tells us that the women “clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, what did Jesus say?  Luke 24:39, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a [spirit ] {5} does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Do we need any further evidence that Jesus had real human flesh after his resurrection?

2. Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.

The verse that we have just looked at gives some of the most powerful evidence of his bodily resurrection: “Touch me and see; a [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39) and to prove that he really did have a real body of flesh and bones, what did he do?  According to Luke 24:41-42, Jesus “asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”  Folks, spirits or spiritual bodies do not eat fish.

Third piece of evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Christ:

3. Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for “food”).

As we’ve just seen, they gave him “broiled fish” to eat.  He ate real food on at least 3 occasions, eating both bread and fish, (Luke 24:30, 41-43; John 21:12-13).  Acts 10:41 states that Jesus met with witnesses “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That sounds clear to me.  Jesus ate food after his resurrection.  People in real bodies eat real food.

A fourth proof that Jesus was raised in his physical body:

4. Take a look at the wounds in his body.

This is proof beyond reasonable doubt. He still had the wounds in his body from when he was killed. John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”

When Jesus ascended, after his resurrection, the Bible records, “This same Jesus [ie this divine-human Jesus], who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

There’s a fifth confirmation of his bodily resurrection:

5. Jesus could be seen and heard.

Yes, Jesus’ body could be touched and handled.  But there is more! 

Matthew 28:17 says that “when they saw [horaw] him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” On the road to Emmaus, of the disciples who were eating together, Luke 24:31 states, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”  The Greek term “to recognize” [epiginoskw] means “to know, to understand, or to recognize”  These are the normal Greek words “for ‘seeing’ (horaw, theorew) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginoskw) physical objects” (Geisler 1999, pp 667-668).

Because Jesus could be seen and heard as one sees and recognises physical objects, we have further proof that Jesus rose bodily.

6. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament.  There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament.  Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body” (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

In that magnificent passage in I Cor. 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body?  It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999, p. 668).  We’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s a 7th piece of evidence in support of bodily resurrection:

7. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12).  That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, “from the dead.” Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1).  In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried.  Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999, p. 668). 

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

8. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers and scholars.  Christ “appeared” to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul “as to one abnormally born.”

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an “appearance” or was it actually “seeing” his physical being?  These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh, he died in the flesh, he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of  Jesus from the dead was not a form of “spiritual” existence.  Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987, p. 728).

N T Wright’s extensive research on the resurrection of Jesus concluded:

Let us be quite clear at this point: we shall see that when the early Christians said ‘resurrection’ they meant it in the sense it bore both in paganism (which denied it) and in Judaism (an influential part of which affirmed it). ’Resurrection’ did not mean that someone possessed ‘a heavenly and exalted status’; when predicated of Jesus, it did not mean his ‘perceived presence’ in the ongoing church. Nor, if we are thinking historically, could it have meant ‘the passage of the human Jesus into the power of God’. It meant bodily resurrection; and that is what the early Christians affirmed. There is nothing in the early Christian view of the promised future which corresponds to the pagan views we have studied; nothing at all which corresponds to the denials of the Sadducees; virtually no hint of the ‘disembodied bliss’ view of some Jewish sources; no Sheol, no ‘isles of the blessed’, no ‘shining like stars’, but a constant affirmation of newly embodied life. As Christopher Evans put it a generation ago, ‘there emerged in Christianity a precise, confident and articulate faith in which resurrection has moved from the circumference to the centre (Wright 2003:209; Evans 1970:20)

Therefore, it should not be surprising for this account to be recorded at the beginning of the Book of Acts: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

D. We need to look briefly at a few objections to bodily resurrection

One of the objections sometimes raised is that Christ’s body after the resurrection had some unusual supernatural features and that this means it was not a real physical body.  One objection is that

1. Christ would just appear and disappear

Take a verse like Luke 24:34, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”  Then go to Acts 9:17, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”

In these two examples the word “appeared” is used.  One of Jesus and the other of Jesus appearing to Paul, many years after Christ’s ascension.  Both of these are in the passive voice (Greek) , so it means that Christ “let himself be seen. . .  Jesus took the initiative to make himself visible at his resurrection appearances” (Geisler 1999, p. 659).  “Appeared” means that “he could be seen by human eyes, the appearances were not just visions” (Rienecker in Geisler 1999, p. 659).

The NT speaks of sudden appearances by Jesus, like to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  It is stated: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:31).  This could have been a miraculous act of power, a sign that he was both human and divine.  We must get this one correct, as Norman Geisler puts it:

The text nowhere states that Jesus became nonphysical when the disciples could no longer see him.  Just because he was out of their sight does not mean he was out of his physical body.  God has the power to miraculously transport persons in their pre-resurrection physical bodies from one place to another (1999, p. 659).

Remember when Philip the evangelist was with the Ethiopian eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).    Here was Philip, a real human being, whisked away by the Spirit of God.

So for both Jesus and Philip, the text does not say that either one became non-physical beings.

A second objection:

2.    Jesus didn’t die but swooned in the grave

H. J. Schonfield made this popular in his book, The Passover Plot (1965).  But this view is as old as Celsus in the 2nd century.  The view was that Mary Magdalene nursed Jesus back to health.  “Forty days later his wounds got the better of him, and he died and was buried secretly” (Green 1990, p. 186).

This is fairy story stuff.  There is not one bit of evidence to support it and it doesn’t understand “the brutal Roman method of execution” (Green 1990, p. 186).  I found Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” terribly brutal but it did give a realistic picture of how final Roman execution really was.

3.    The disciples stole the body

If the Jews and Romans wanted to silence the facts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, all they would have had to do was to produce the body of Jesus.  They didn’t.

Get this.  It does not make sense to claim that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, went forth proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then

They were willing to be imprisoned for this faith, torn limb from limb, thrown to the lions, or turned into human torches in the Emperor Nero’s gardens for this conviction that Jesus was alive.  Would they have endured all that for a claim they knew was [a fake] (Green 1990, p. 190)

Why did some of the Bible teachers after the death of the apostles teach Docetism,  that Jesus did not have a physical body and could not have risen with a physical body?  They could be the same reasons for such teaching today:

arrow simple red right clip art  They don’t believe the authoritative Bible is the infallible Word of God.  OR

arrow simple red right clip artThey don’t believe in the supernatural.  They are naturalists who believe that “the ‘natural’ universe, the universe of matter and energy, is all that there really is.  This rules out God, so naturalism is atheistic” (MacDonald 1984, p. 750).  This is like David Kidd, formerly of the Bundaberg Uniting Church, who said that the resurrection of Christ is “impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible” (Kidd 1999, p. 19).  That’s naturalism.

Naturalism is the belief that everything in nature originates from natural causes. There cannot be any supernatural or spiritual explanations. They are either excluded for relegated to some discounted position.
arrow simple red right clip artEven though deniers of Christ’s bodily resurrection may be in the church, according to Rom. 1:18, they still “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  They are rebels against God and don’t want to understand the resurrection of Jesus as God told us.  They are engaged in ungodly activities and can’t see the light of the Gospel.  In reality, they are atheistic concerning the supernatural God of the Bible.

arrow simple red right clip artPaul warned that these false teachers would attract people “to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:4 ESV). 

arrow simple red right clip artSatan, the enemy of our souls, loves to dress up false doctrine to make it look like the real thing.

E. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection. Paul told the Corinthians: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Cor. 15:13-14).

The updated World Christian Encyclopedia … by Oxford University Press, says that by midcentury there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world’s population, up from the current 33%.

Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).

If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion.

British evangelist, Michael Green, summarises the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:

The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection. . . [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page.  It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter.  If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light.  If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology.  In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990, p. 184).

The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

1. Belief in the resurrection of Christ is necessary for salvation

Rom. 10:9 states: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ.  You are saved from hell.

Your new birth (regeneration) is guaranteed by the resurrection.  First Peter 1:3 states that “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection.  Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20).  You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.

In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection – he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection.  Rom. 4:25 states that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Your salvation, your being born again, your justification, your having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Not any old resurrection will do.  Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom.  It was a real, physical body.  If  you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.

Secondly:

2. Christ’s resurrection proves that Jesus is God

From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection.  The Jews asked him for a sign.  According to John 2:19-21, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’ . . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”  Did you get that?  Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body destroyed and three days later, He would raise this body.

Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).  See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; Matt. 27:63.

The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:

3. Life after death is guaranteed!

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.

Fourthly:

4. Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.

After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection.  I Cor. 6:14, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.”

In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, Paul states that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20).  What are “firstfruits”?  It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming.  This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like.

Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection.

In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection.

F. Those supporting the bodily resurrection

Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and former Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr. N. T. Wright, wrote:

I simply cannot explain why Christianity began without it [i.e. without the resurrection of Christ]…. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, [his disciples] would either have given up the movement or they would have found another messiah.  Something extraordinary happened which convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah (Jennings 2000, p. 51).

N. T. Wright has since written these 817 pages to support the bodily resurrection and refute those throughout church history, including current scholars who deny the literal resurrection of Jesus.  Wright concludes: “The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity” (Wright 2003, p. 718).

G. What’s the remedy for this church and every church today when the bodily resurrection of Christ is denied?

It is the same for us as Paul’s last words to Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). I have great concern that the churches in Australia today are becoming suckers to rampant false teaching.  Why?

arrow 1 right clip artWe don’t take seriously Paul’s command to “preach the Word.”  Preaching about the Word, preaching my own ideas, is NOT preaching the Word.  I do not know how to preach the Word other than to systematically preach through the Bible, or to focus on certain biblical topics as I am doing today.
arrow 1 right clip art  When should we do this?  When it’s appropriate and when it seems inappropriate.  Paul’s words were: “Be prepared in season and out of season.”

arrow 1 right clip art  This preaching of the Word must include correction, rebuking and encouragement.  My task today has been to correct false doctrine, based on the Scriptures.  I don’t believe we take seriously the command: “Preach the Word.”
arrow 1 right clip art  It is not too late to make a change.  False doctrine will increase and the need for correction, rebuking and encouragement will be urgently needed.  Paul says that we must do this “with great patience and careful instruction.”  But I’m not sure that we care about false teaching.

arrow 1 right clip art  Will this church take seriously this command from Paul, so that we will not become a victim of false teachings?  All of us must be vigilant.  We cannot know what is false without knowing the truth of the Word.  We must preach the Word.

H.  Appendix:

1.    Theologian and apologist, Norman Geisler, wrote: “Those who try to get around the resurrection walk against the gale-force winds of the full evidence.  The facts are that Jesus of Nazareth really died . . . and actually came back from the dead in the same physical body” (1999, p. 656).

2.    Wayne Grudem wrote, concerning Jesus’ resurrection body, that “the texts . . . show that Jesus clearly had a physical body with ‘flesh and bones’ (Luke 24:39), which could eat and drink, break bread, prepare breakfast and be touched. . .  These texts are not capable of an alternative explanation that denies Jesus’ physical body. . . Jesus was clearly teaching  them that his resurrection body was a physical body” (1994, p. 612).

See my other articles on the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

arrow-bold-rightJunk you hear at Easter about Jesus’ resurrection

arrow-bold-right Jesus’ resurrection appearances only to believers

arrow-bold-right Easter and the end of death

arrow-bold-right Can we prove and defend Jesus’ resurrection?

arrow-bold-right Can Jesus Christ’s resurrection be investigated as history?

arrow-bold-right What is the connection between Christ’s atonement and his resurrection?

arrow-bold-right Christ’s resurrection: Latter-day wishful thinking

arrow-bold-right The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: The Comeback to Beat Them All

arrow-bold-right Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection?

I.  Notes

1a. The original read, “Men,” but the ESV translates as “people.2
2.  Earle E. Cairns considers that his “seven letters must have been written about 110” (1981, p. 74).
3. “The Resurrection of Jesus” was the title of the article and the first sentence began with, “It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies . . . ,” so I am left to conclude that the article’s title was the introduction to the first sentence.
4. The original article had closing inverted commas here, but there were no introductory inverted commas.
5. The NIV reads, “ghost,” but the ESV translates as “spirit.”  The Greek is pneuma = spirit.

J.  References:

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

Crossan, J. D. 1994, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

Crossan, J. D. 1995, Who Killed Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

Evans, C F 1970. Resurrection and the New Testament. SCM Press, London.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, N. L. 1999, ‘Resurrection, Evidence for’, in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of  Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Green, M. 1990, Evangelism through the local Church, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Grudem, W. 1994, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Ignatius n.d., ‘The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/smyrnaeans.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Irenaeus n.d., ‘Against Heresies’, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, available from:
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-63.htm#P8967_2580595 [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Jennings P. 2000, ‘Peter Jennings Reporting’, ABC television (USA), aired on Monday, June 26 2000. This quote is from Christian Research Institute 2000, “Point-by-point Response to ‘Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus,’ available from: http://www.equip.org/free/DJ036.pdf [Accessed 31 May 2005].

Kidd, D. 1999, Bundaberg Uniting Church, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” The Bugle (Bundaberg), March 19, 1999, p. 19.

Kohn, R. 2001, The Spirit of Things (radio program), ‘Tomorrow’s God, with Lloyd Geering’,  Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 4 March 2001, available from: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/spirit/stories/s253975.htm [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Mann, J. 1993, ‘Justification’, available from: http://www.fountain.btinternet.co.uk/theology/justific.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

MacDonald, M. H. 1984, ‘Naturalism’, in W. A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 750-751.

Martyr, J. n.d., ‘Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-resurrection.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Origen n.d., ‘Contra Celsus’, Early Christian Writings, available from: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen167.html [19 July 2005].

Schonfield, H. J. 1965, The Passover Plot, Bantam Books, New York.

Spong, J. S. 2004, Review, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship – Part 4, available from Arianna Online Forum at: http://www.ariannaonline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1025 [Accessed19 July 2005].

Tertullian n.d., ‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh’, Early Church Writings, available from: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian16.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Wright, N. T. 2003, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

Zenit 2001. World Christianity on the rise in 21st century (online. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/christianity-on-the-rise-in-21st-century/ Accessed 29 March 2016.)

 

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:11 July 2018

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Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

 

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By Spencer D Gear

Is it the will of God to always heal people when we pray for them?

A Christian friend wrote to me asking for recommendations concerning  a situation in which he was asked to pray for healing for a sick person. My friend was impressed in his heart that instead of praying for healing, that he should trust the Lord for what God was doing through the sickness. When this information was revealed to the person who asked for prayer for healing, my friend was accused of this giving an ‘almost heretical response’. Why? It was because my friend had an inner impression that God had a bigger issue in the sick person’s life than physical healing.

There are dangers with ‘impressions’ because they are subjective and I find it difficult to discern if my friend is hearing from God or if this is a personal view. We know that God gives the gifts of the Spirit that require ‘some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching’ (1 Cor. 14:6 ESV). The safety of the church gathering that enables discernment of the manifestation of gifts is much more suitable than to receive a private impression. However, we do read in passages such as First Chronicles 14:10, 14 where ‘David inquired of God’ (ESV) and received the answer that he should go against the Philistines and God would give them into his hands. On another occasion (1 Chron. 14:14), God’s answer from David’s inquiry was that he was not to attack the Philistines.

Does the Bible teach that during the ministry of Jesus there was no person who wasn’t healed by Jesus? Let’s examine the Scriptures with a few examples, but they are enough to cause us to question the ‘almost heretical’ statement that a person does not believe that God always heals.

A few fundamentals are happening with the ‘almost heretical’ statement that are very different from when Jesus walked this earth and contrary to what we should expect from God when we ask for physical healing.

  • The Scriptures do say on occasions that Jesus did heal all who came to him in verses such as Matt. 8:16; 12:15; and Luke 6:19. But there’s another dimension.
  • On other occasions Jesus healed, not all, but “many” who came to him. See Mark 1:34; 3:10; 6:13.
  • BUT, there were circumstances in which Jesus did not heal people. I’m thinking of Mark 6:4-6:

‘Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith’ (NIV).

  • What about the events like that at the Pool of Bethesda according to John 5:1-9? Verse 3 says that at that pool ‘lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame and paralyzed’ (ESV) but only one invalid who had been at that Pool for 38 year was healed. The facts are that Jesus did not heal all who were sick in Israel at the time of his life and he didn’t even heal all invalids at the Pool of Bethesda. It is false information to say that Jesus healed all. He clearly didn’t.

People may ask why Jesus didn’t heal all. My understanding is that healings are pointers/signs to God’s greater healing of the human soul through salvation and God’s ultimate healing of the universe that will happen with a new heaven and a new earth at the end of time.

However, I do need to say that I accept the gifts of the Spirit are available for today’s Christians and one of the gifts is the gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:28-29).  We must not overlook the biblical fact that God’s gifts to Christians function according to the “measure of faith” that God has given to believers:

‘For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you’ (Rom. 12:3 NIV).

According to James 5:14-15, the ministry of healing is available through the local church (and it is sadly neglected in most churches) in the anointing of oil by the elders of the church:

‘Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven’ (NIV).

Again, the emphasis is on “the prayer offered in faith” will cause the sick person to be raised up by the Lord.

I do not find any indications that Jesus healed all people. Nor do I find examples in the New Testament where all people were healed whenever there was a prayer for healing. I do find this in James 4:2b-3:

‘You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures’ (NIV).

There are many reasons why we do not receive physical healing when we pray and when others pray for us. The major reason is that God is sovereign and we are puny, fallible human beings who can have the wrong motives.

There is also the further biblical truth that most Christians find hard to bear as stated in James 1:2-4:

‘Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (NASB).

God has a greater plan for our lives than physical healing. The trials of our lives are meant to be considered with an attitude of ‘all joy’ by the Christian because God knows what trials are instrumental in achieving. Difficulties in our lives are are designed for the testing of faith to produce endurance of the faith so that we will be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” when we face Jesus. This is a hard dose to take for many Christians.

May I say personally that I would not have reached this point of growth in my Christian life if it were not for the many trials of sickness that God has put me through. This has included 3 bouts of rheumatic fever when I was a child, aged 6, 10 and 12, that left me with a leaking mitral valve in the heart. This has resulted in 4 open heart surgeries in my adulthood to replace (3 times) the valve with 3 mechanical ones and one surgery was for a repair around the valve.

As an adult, I have prayed on all four occasions for healing so that I would avoid the surgeries, but God has not chosen to heal me. God has a greater purpose in my life and that is Christian maturity and endurance in my faith.

It is not biblical to demand that God heal others or oneself when you and others pray. Jesus did not do it and there is ample evidence for God’s greater plan of development in Christian maturity.

The demand for God to heal all people can come with a diminished view of what life in the presence of God is all about. For believers, to have a desire to continue to live in this present evil world has some irony about it. Why is not living in the presence of God at death, and living for Him through trials in this life, not the way God plans for all believers?

As I update this article on Saturday, 16 June 2018, I share that on Thursday night last week after I came home from a Bible study, in the semi-darkness I tripped and fell on my side on the concrete floor of the garage. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do. My medialert did not trigger an SOS as it should do. I eventually pulled myself up and closed the garage door and then it was off to bed.

About 1.30am on Friday morning, I was woken by extreme pain in my left leg. It was so bad I couldn’t stand to walk to the mobile phone to contact our emergency services on 000. I cried out to the Lord for healing of the pain and that no damage was done to my leg.

The pain stopped immediately, for which I praised the Lord with jubilation.

When I visited my Dr this week for an assessment of my leg, all he could say was that it was all clear and I was ‘lucky’ I didn’t have a break or hairline fracture as I also have osteoporosis (brittle bones).

See these related articles:

snowflake-red-smallWere miracles meant to be temporary?” (Jack Deere)

snowflake-red-small St. Augustine: The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing (Spencer Gear)

snowflake-red-small Are there apostles in the 21st century? (Spencer Gear)

snowflake-red-small Are miracles valuable? (Spencer Gear)

’Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12 NIV).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:16 June 2018.

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Cynicism about Jesus as an Easter ‘treat’

 
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By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article is published in On Line Opinion, ‘Cynicism about Jesus as an Easter “treat”’, 4 April 2018.

Please note in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of the article the number of posters who don’t deal with the content of the article. Instead, they pour out their vitriol against Christianity with a string of logical fallacies.

I responded as OzSpen. However, when people are engaged in the use of erroneous reasoning, it’s impossible to have a logical conversation with them.

What are logical fallacies?

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others (Purdue Online Writing Lab: Logical Fallacies, 1996-2018).

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 May 2018.

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Can Christians become absolutely sinless?

Comments Off on Can Christians become absolutely sinless?

April 9th, 2018 Salvation, Sanctification, Sin

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By Spencer D Gear PhD

How would you, as a Christian,[1] respond to this provocative question?

Why did God / Christ call us to be Holy and Perfect when he knew we are sinners? What was He exhorting us to do / be?[2]

The Scriptures used for support were:

  • 1 Peter 1:16, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’, and
  • Matt 5:48, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.

Be perfect

This article will pursue the meaning of ‘perfect’ (Matt 5:48).

  • The KJV states, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’’
  • The NRSV translation, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.
  • International Standard Version (ISV): ‘So be perfect [or mature],[3]as your heavenly Father is perfect [or mature]’[4].
  • Revised English Bible (REB):[5] ‘There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds’.

These four translations demonstrate how ‘perfect’ as an English meaning may not be the best understanding of the koine Greek for that word. Let’s seek some further information.

If not perfection, what is it?

The problem we have[6] is with the English meaning of ‘perfect’ that communicates the idea of complete or absolute sinlessness. Even with Jesus living in me, I’m incapable of that standard – because I have a sinful nature that God does not have.

What are the alternatives?

(1) Either God is requiring something I cannot attain (perfection) – which makes God a liar (which He is not – Heb 6:18), or

(2) In the original languages, ‘perfection’ has a meaning that is different from our English understanding.

Teleios exposes the meaning

Related imageThe word for ‘perfect’ in Matt 5:48 is teleios. It refers to a goal and I don’t know one single word in English to convey its meaning. It doesn’t mean absolute sinlessness, just like God cannot sin, because if we go back to Matt 5:6, the disciples are blessed if they ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’. Verse 7 states, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (NIV). They are not yet completely merciful but will be shown mercy by God if they engage in merciful acts.

Therefore, I conclude that ‘perfect’ is not the meaning of teleios. In fact, it’s a misleading interpretation of the original. The statement of Matt 5:48 comes from Deut 18:13, ‘Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God’ (KJV), which modern translations render as, ‘You shall be blameless before the Lord your God’ (NKJV). Here, ‘perfect’ is the Hebrew, tham, which means ‘complete’, like a whole number (Lenski).

Westminster vs Wesley

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 35, asked: What is sanctification? ‘Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’.

By contrast, John Wesley in ‘A Plain Account of Christian Perfection’ wrote:

“To explain myself a little farther on this head: (1.) Not only sin, properly so called, (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law,) but sin, improperly so called, (that is, an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown,) needs the atoning blood. (2.) I believe there is no such perfection in this life as excludes these involuntary transgressions which I apprehend to be naturally consequent on the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from mortality. (3.) Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself. (4.) I believe, a person filled with the love of God is still liable to these involuntary transgressions. (5.) Such transgressions you may call sins, if you please: I do not, for the reasons above-mentioned”.

So the Westminster Calvinistic divines maintained that the Christian is renewed in the whole person and is enabled to die to sin and live for righteousness – which is progressive sanctification.

By contrast, Wesley considered that when a person voluntarily committed sins, it was possible to stop these as the person grew to Christian maturity.

However, the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia, as an example of a Wesleyan approach to sanctification, states that ‘our mission’ is to …

spread scriptural holiness throughout every land…. [This involves] guiding believers to experience entire sanctification so that they are enabled to live whole and holy lives (Wesleyan Methodist Church Australia, Our Mission).

The Church of the Nazarene adopts a similar perspective on entire sanctification.

Conclusion

We are called to reach the goal of maturity in Christ, to become blameless, complete, and people of integrity in his sight.

There is a divergence of interpretation among certain denominations on this topic. Some believe in progressive sanctification / holiness while others pursue cessation of deliberate voluntary sin, calling the effect entire sanctification.

Notes

[1] When I refer to a Christian, I mean an evangelical Christian who believes and proclaims the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone (Acts 4:12).

[2] Christian Forums.net 2018. ‘Are Christians called to be holy and perfect?’ Rajesh Sahu#1, 6 April. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/are-christians-called-to-be-holy-and-perfect.75394/ (Accessed 8 April 2018).

[3] This was given as a footnote in the ISV text.

[4] Ibid. CFnet.

[5] This is a revised edition of The New English Bible.

[6] The following is my response as OzSpen#18 on CFnet.

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 May 2018

Consequences of screwing up meanings of New Testament Greek tenses

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(courtesy Clker)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Christian forums (online)[1] have an abundance of people who promote or oppose once-saved-always-saved (OSAS). Here is one example:

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….

This indicates an acknowledgement that the Bible DOES teach eternal security.[2]

‘Has’ with a Greek emphasis

I couldn’t let him get away with his statement, ‘Notice the present tense “HAS” regarding eternal life’, and so I responded:[3]

What does tense mean for the NT Greek verbs? What does the present tense ‘has’ mean?
Also, what are the meanings of the tenses in these two verses?

‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:27-28 NIV)?

The Greek tenses have different emphases to the English tenses.

Nonsense that Greek and English tenses are equivalent!

Image result for clipart NonsenseHe came back with these kinds of emphases:

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 (sic) 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.[4]

That link provides information about Greek tenses that contradicts his statement that English and Greek present tenses are equivalent. This article states:

In English, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb mainly refers to the ‘time’ of the action of the verb (present, past, or future time). In Greek, however, although time does bear upon the meaning of tense, the primary consideration of the tense of the verb is not time, but rather the ‘kind of action’ that the verb portrays. The most important element in Greek tense is kind of action; time is regarded as a secondary element….

The kind of action (aktionsart) of a Greek verb will generally fall into one of three categories:
1) Continuous (or ‘Progressive’) kind of action.
2) Completed (or ‘Accomplished’) kind of action, with continuing results.
3) Simple occurrence, (or ‘Summary occurrence’) without reference to the question of progress. (This is sometimes referred to as ‘Punctiliar’ kind of action , but it is a misnomer to thus imply that, in every instance, the action only happened at one point of time. This can be true, but it is often dependent on other factors such as the meaning of the verb, other words in the context, etc.) (source).

This person who referred me to the link on ‘Greek verb tenses (Intermediate discussion)’ obviously doesn’t understand the emphases in NT Greek tenses so I provided this analysis.

I teach NT Greek and some of what you have stated here is incorrect.[5] In English, the tenses primarily relate to the time of action (past, present & future). We add extra words to indicate kind of action. We could say, ‘I go’, but to indicate progressive action, we say, ‘I am going’.

In Greek (except for the future tense), the tenses refer primarily to the kind of action (continuous, completed with continuing results, and simple occurrence). Therefore, the present tense in Greek is not equivalent to the present tense in English. 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 emphasis in original).?

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.

Image result for clipart end of race public domainJohn 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).

Conclusion

I urge every Christian who reads English, NOT to make the English verb tenses in an English translation of the Bible to have the same meaning as the Greek verb tenses. English verbs generally indicate time of action while the Greek verbs the kind of action, such as: continual action; action now with continuing results, point action, etc.

So when it comes to examining the verses mentioned above relating to once-saved-always-saved, the continuous action (unbroken action) of believing indicates one has continuous salvation as long as one continues to believe (Greek present tense). It does not teach that if one believes once only (aorist tense) and does not continue to believe, that one continues to have eternal life.

Here, the Greek verbals help to clarify that once-saved-always-saved is not a biblical way of looking at salvation, but perseverance of the saints is biblical teaching on salvation: ‘But the one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matt 24:13 ESV).

Works consulted

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

Notes


[1] I visit https://www.christianityboard.com/, https://christianforums.net/ and https://www.christianforums.com/ as OzSpen.

[2] Christian Forums.net 2017. Iron clad example proving OSAS from John 10:28. FreeGrace#3. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/iron-clad-example-proving-osas-from-john-10-28.68442/ (Accessed 15 February 2017).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#30.

[4] Ibid., FreeGrace#33.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#67.

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 February 2018.