Bible Translation Challenges

Image result for clipart KJV Bible

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What would get Christians up in arms about the best Bible translation?

Try a dialogue with the heading, ‘What is regarded as the best and most accurate version of the Bible?’ on a Christian online forum and the antagonists emerge from the pages of the Bible with Textus Receptus grins or snarls.

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(image courtesy fundamentallyreformed)

This topic led to a particular defender of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible to come forward, presenting it as the best Bible translation.

1. Difficulties for translators

As the discussion was progressing with the KJV supporter opposing those who supported modern translations such as the NIV and ESV, one of the moderators, gave this excellent example of the difficulties translators face:[1]

When a phrase is translated from one language to another, the translator has no recourse but to do so by expressing a thought. Differences in sentence structure, word meanings, context, and interpretation of the message all play a role. For example, because of the sentence structure differences between languages, to translate a phrase from French or Spanish to English in direct word-for-word form would generally result in a phrase that would not make any sense at all. This is because the order of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. are different. Furthermore, some of the French or Spanish words won’t have an English equivalent so what does one do with that? The only choice is to translate the phrase thought-for-thought along with intent-for-intent.

Here’s an example of how changing the order of just one word within a sentence written in English can completely change the meaning of the entire sentence.

Only you can have a sandwich for lunch. When I read this sentence, it is understood that I am the only one that can have a sandwich and nobody else.

You can only have a sandwich for lunch. Moving the word “only” to a different place within the same 8-word sentence and look what happens. Now, it is understood that all I can have is a sandwich for lunch and nothing else. Also, the word “you” could be either singular or plural and possibly addressing a group.

You only can have a sandwich for lunch. Look what happened now. Now, the sentence is confusing. Is this sentence saying that I can have a sandwich and nothing else or is it saying that I am the only one that can have a sandwich and nobody else?

There isn’t a Bible that has been translated into English or any language that is truly accurate. Every one of them is the result of a group of scholars agreeing on the intended meaning. Just like my sample sentence above, just repeating what another has said is really just another form of translation but how the translator understands what is said or written can impact the result.

Whenever we carry on a conversation, the intention of what is said and what is understood can be entirely different. Since we don’t have the original autographed text to work from we are left with ancient writings that had already been translated at least once or more even if within the same language. Therefore, we are stuck trying to piece it all together by combining the reference texts we have.

Even if we did have the original autographed text to work from and we could read and understand the words, we would not agree on the intended meaning of what is written. This is then when we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us, teach us, and lead us toward understanding God’s intended meaning.

I found this to be a superb example of the challenges many Bible translators face, not only for established ancient and modern English translations but also with translators who work for Wycliffe Bible Translators / SIL and other such organisations.

These latter translators work from the oral language, beginning with translators who know the language, bring it into print (a massive job in understanding grammar and syntax of the oral language). Then they translate Scripture into that language – one book of the Bible at a time. What a job!

Here SIL explains The Typical Process of Bible Translation.

2. A stubborn stickler for the KJV

That splendid response by moderator WIP was on the heels of a KJV supporter who made these kinds of claims:

clip_image004 ‘I stick with the good ole KJV that is also free, and is in the “Public Domain”, time honored at 400+ years and going strong!’[2]

He acknowledged he didn’t stick with the KJV that was 400+ years old: ‘I like the 1769 version, that’s what I use, it revised the old English into middle English’.[3]

2.1 ‘The good ole KJV’

Does being old make it a good translation?

What is the rationality in sticking with ‘the good ole KJV’ that is ‘time honored at 400+ years and still going strong’? The facts are:

clip_image006 He is not reading the KJV that is 400+ years old, but reads the KJV that is 249 years old as of 2018. He misled us with his claim.

clip_image006[1] Because a Bible translation is 400 years old, does that make it better?

2.2 Imagine using that approach with typewriters.

When was the typewriter invented?

Since the fourteenth century, when the idea of writing machines became technologically feasible, more than one hundred prototype models were created by over 50 inventors around the world. Some of the designs received patents and a few of them were even sold to the public briefly without much success. The first such patent was issued to Henry Mill, a prominent English engineer, in 1714. The first American paten for what might be called a typewriter was granted to William Austin Burt, of Detroit, in 1829.

clip_image008However, the breakthrough came in 1867 when Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee with the assistance of his friends Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule invented their first typewriter. Sholes’s prototype model, which is still preserved by the Smithsonian Institution, incorporated many if not all the ideas from the early pioneers. The machine “looked something like a cross between a small piano and kitchen table” as one historian observed (Typewriter History 2006).

clip_image009Prototype of the Sholes and Glidden typewriter, the first commercially successful typewriter, and the first with a QWERTY keyboard (1873) [Wikipedia 2018. s.v. typewriter].

Do you know of anyone who demands that the best means to type documents in the twenty-first century is to use the 1867 or 1873 models of a typewriter?

For this article, I use an MS Word 2003 word processor on a Windows 10 operating system and copied the document using WordPress and Open Live Writer to upload to my homepage. I’m encouraged more modern equipment is available in 2020.

It would be idiotic of me to demand that I use the typewriter when so much better technology is available in the 21st century.

But … I know a fellow who has a hard copy of the KJV (1611) that he takes to church every Sunday because ‘this is the best translation of the Bible that does not have verses cut out of it’ (his words to me).

2.3 There are other issues: Byzantine vs Alexandrian text-type

clip_image010I have addressed some of these in my articles:
Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

clip_image010[1]The King James Version disagreement: Is the Greek text behind the KJV New Testament superior to that used by modern Bible translations?

clip_image010[2]Excuses people make for promoting the King James Version of the Bible

clip_image010[3]The Greek Text, the KJV, and English translations

 clip_image010[4]Corn or grain? KJV or NIV in Matthew 12:1

2.4 Samples of John 3:16 translations in KJV editions

Try these two versions of this verse:

clip_image006[2] KJV (1611): ‘For God so loued þe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life’.

Is that how English people speak and spell in the 21st century?

Why would anyone want to read in church the language of 1611 or share the Gospel with people using that kind of translation? It would reinforce the views of some secularists that the Bible is an out-dated book for an obsolete religion.

Generally, it is because there is a small band of KJV-only supporters who use this approach:

clip_image006[3] They try to demonstrate that the Textus Receptus, compiled by a Dutch Roman Catholic priest and humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) is the best translation.

clip_image006[4] KJV (1769 rev ed): ‘ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ is the version most KJV enthusiasts use, but it also is a revised version, but based on the Textus Receptus.

If a person is fixated on reading from the KJV and using the Greek Textus Receptus for the NT translation, wouldn’t this be more appropriate for the current century than 1611 language?

clip_image006[5] King James 2000 Bible: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’.

clip_image006[6] Or, the NKJV: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’.

clip_image012 ‘I like to share God’s word as found in Matthew 17:21, 18:11, Acts 8:37, Romans 16:24 [from Textus Receptus and in KJV].
Can’t use the NIV, ESV, the verses are not there’.
[4]

clip_image014 ‘The fact stands today that over 5,000 Majority reading textual family witnesses exist.

The Alexandrian textual family is roughly at 50 witnesses; this is how the 99/1 ratio is determined’.[5]

clip_image016 ‘I have clearly shown you the fact of history, the church outside of Egypt didn’t use or transmit the Alexandrian Minority Text, This Is A Fact.
Westcott & Hort in 1881 revived the Alexandrian Text and published it to the world.

St. Jerome (Jerusalem) 347-420AD maintained knowledge of the Alexandrian schools, and he didn’t use their textual readings in his (Latin Vulgate)?’[6]

Why is the Alexandrian text-type out of the city of Alexandria – a port city in northern Egypt – the supposed ‘minority text-type’? In contrast, why is the Byzantine text-type the majority text-type?

3. It is quite simple to explain according to KJV promoters.

This is one example readily available to me.

clip_image018 ‘The argument is the Majority Greek Text 99% or the Alexandrian Minority Greek Text 1% of MSS.

The 57 KJV Translators were fully aware of the 1% minority text, and they didn’t use it because of it never being used or received by the early church.
The Alexandrian 1% minority text was basically localised to Egypt, the Church never used or received this text, A historical fact’.
[7]

3.1 What are some other reasons?

Why is the Alexandrian text-type of, say, Codex Sinaiticus or Codex Vaticanus so small a representative of Greek MSS when it was closer to the original documents than the Byzantine text-type?

In light of the above objections, I find it necessary to examine some background to the Byzantine text-type, the Textus Receptus behind the KJV, and the Greek text gathered by Erasmus (died 1536).

Is the KJV a superior Bible version and have the modern versions been corrupted by Westcott & Hort’s ideology of Alexandrian text-type in gathering NT manuscripts?

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A part of page 336 of Erasmus’s Greek Testament, the first “Textus Receptus.”
Shown is a portion of John 18.
[8]

clip_image021 In my article, The King James Version disagreement: Is the Greek text behind the KJV New Testament superior to that used by modern Bible translations?[1], I have listed 13 sound reasons for regarding the Textus Receptus behind the NT of the King James Version as not being superior to that used by the modern Greek critical text.

4. Conclusion

I recommend you visit that article for an assessment of the Byzantine vs Alexandrian text-type. Please note that most modern translations of the Bible use the critical text of the Alexandrian text-type e.g. RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, NIRV, NLT, NET, ERV, REB, HCSB, JB, NAB, and NASB. Those using the Byzantine TR include the KJV 1611, KJV 1769 (rev), NKJV, Mounce Reverse-Interlinear, and others translated around the time of the KJV – John Wycliffe Bible, Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew’s, The Great Bible, Geneva Bible, and Bishops’ Bible, Later versions using the TR include Webster’s Bible, Julia E Smith’s Bible, J P Green’s Literal Translation, and the Revised Young’s Literal Translation.[9]

The Erasmus Greek text that became the Textus Receptus and had so much influence on the text used for the translation of the KJV New Testament, is based on a ‘debased form of the Greek Testament’ (Metzger’s words).[10]

Better Greek manuscripts are available in the twenty-first century and most of the new translations are based on these texts. The Greek texts gathered by Erasmus that became the Textus Receptus are not the most reliable Greek texts available for NT translation.

The manuscripts found since the time of Erasmus and the eclectic Greek text of Nestle-Aland 26, which is used in the United Bible Societies Greek NT (edition 27 is now available), provide a more reliable Greek text from which to translate. The latter Greek text is used in such English Bible translations as the RSV, NRSV, ESV, NET, NIV, NASB and NLT.

However, there is no point in trying to convince a dogmatic KJV-only supporters of these details.[11] They are inflexible in considering another alternative. I wish these people well with a greeting such as, ‘We’ll need to agree to disagree. God bless and encourage you’.

To my knowledge, no major Christian doctrine is affected if one of these textual lines of transmission is preferred over the other.

5. Works consulted

Metzger, B M 1964/1992. The text of the New Testament: Its transmission, corruption, and restoration (third, enlarged, edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press Inc.

6. Notes

[1] Christian Forums.net 2018. What is regarded the best and most accurate version of the Bible? (online), WIP#99, 24 June. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/what-is-regarded-the-best-and-most-accurate-version-of-the-bible.76719/page-5#post-1469744 (Accessed 25 June 2018).

[2] Ibid., Truth7t7#64, 23 June 2018.

[3] Ibid., Truth7t7#70.

[4] Ibid., Truth7t7#74.

[5] Ibid., Truth7t7#48,

[6] Ibid., Truth7t7#52.

[7] Ibid., Truth7t7#32.

[8] Available at: http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/TR.html (Accessed 18 January 2019).

[9] With assistance from Textus Receptus Bibles 2019. Available at: http://textusreceptusbibles.com/ (Accessed 18 January 2019).

[10] Metzger (1964/1992:103).

[11] The last 3 paragraphs of the conclusion are taken from the conclusion of my article, The Greek Text, the KJV, and English translations.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 March 2020.

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Total depravity

Image result for clipart Total Depravity

(image courtesy David Cox)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The term, ‘total depravity’, gets people squirming as they think of all people being put into this wicked, sinful, immoral and evil class. The language used, ‘total depravity’, is enough to scare people away from considering Christianity.

Most Christians I know wouldn’t use the term when sharing Christ with unbelievers. I don’t use it in evangelism but speak of ‘we are all sinners’ who have missed the mark of God’s standard. Most people can get a handle on that type of language.

Isn’t it over the top to think that non-Christians and people of other religions are totally bad? How is it possible to say that about Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Corrie ten Boom, and those who work to relieve the poverty and deprivation of children through Compassion International?

What did it mean to Reformers such as Martin Luther, Jacob Arminius, and John Calvin?

1. Martin Luther on total depravity

In The Bondage of the Will (1976), he replied to the Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (The Netherlands), The Freedom of the Will which Luther called the ‘Diatribe on Free-Will’ (1976:13).

1.1 Who was Erasmus?

Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher and Christian scholar (AD 1466-1536) who translated the New Testament into Greek. His publications included ‘the Novum Instrumentum consisting of the Greek text and Erasmus’ own Latin translation of the New Testament’.[1]Textus Receptus was published by Desiderius Erasmus in his 1516 edition of the Greek New Testament: Novum Instrumentum omne’.

This is the New Testament base for the New Testaments by William Tyndale, the Bishops Bible, the Geneva Bible and the King James Bible. Although none of Erasmus’s manuscripts was older than the 10th century, it essentially agreed with the others. Erasmus made the Greek NT available to scholars across Western Europe.

It was a monumental feat and one for which the Dutch priest should be given much credit. While Erasmus Himself was not thinking in terms of Bible translations for the masses, the new Protestant movement certainly was, and this Greek text became a vital tool to that end (Wayne 2018).

1.2 Debate over Erasmus’s diatribe

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(image courtesy Peace Apostolic Ministries)

Luther wrote insensitively to Erasmus:

For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?…

Responding to Erasmus, he said that throughout Erasmus’s treatment he forgot that “that ‘free-will’ can do nothing without grace, and you prove that ‘free-will’ can do all things without grace! Your inferences and analogies [fail]. “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” (1957:149)

Luther went on to drive home the point: “Let all the ‘free-will’ in the world do all it can with all its strength; it will never give rise to a single instance of ability to avoid being hardened if God does not give the Spirit, or of meriting mercy if it is left to its own strength” (1957:202).

It seemed that Luther caught out Erasmus when Luther said that he would not want ‘free will’ nor anything eels be left in his own hands to enable him after salvation.

This is ‘not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground; but because even were there no dangers, I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success’.

He stated ‘that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him (1957:313-314).

Therefore, Luther confessed that total depravity meant there was no such thing as free-will and God had taken his salvation out of the control of his free will. Human beings cannot will to do good before God and are left in their sin – unless God intervenes.

This strict view of total depravity is similar to that of Calvin.

2. Calvinism and total depravity

The Calvinistic Synod of Dordt concluded concerning the corruption of human beings:

Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto (The Canons of Dordt, Of the Corruption of Man, His Conversion to God, and the Manner Thereof, Article 3).

2.1 John Calvin’s view

John Calvin wrote that concisely in expressing his view:

… our nature is not only destitute of all good, but is so fertile in all evils that it cannot remain inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence have used an expression not improper, if it were only added, which is far from being conceded by most persons, that everything in man, the understanding and will, the soul and body, is polluted and engrossed by this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that man is of himself nothing else but concupiscence. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. I, Bk. II, Chap. 1, Para. 8; J Allen transl.)

‘Concupiscence’ is an antiquated word that means ‘strong sexual desire; lust’ (lexico.com 2020. s.v. concupiscence) and ‘ardent, usually sensuous, longing’ (dictionary.com 2020. s.v. concupiscence’). It came into middle English via the old French and late Latin.

2.2 Summary of Reformation doctrine of total depravity

‘The Reformational doctrine of total depravity seen especially in Calvin can be stated summarily in these sentences:

1. Sin is the responsible choice of man to violate God’s law.
2. Sin is a depravity of the whole nature of man.
3. Sin conveys guilt before God for man’s personal and Adam’s representational sin.
4. Sin is the actively developed apostasy of man against God.
5. Sin is a full warrant for eternal punishment’ (Gregory n.d.).

3. Reformed Arminian: Total depravity

I accept a traditional Reformed Arminian approach to total depravity. Reformed Arminian is the theology of Jacob Arminius. It is not that of Wesleyan Arminianism or Semi-Pelagian Arminianism.

This means that because of the Fall into sin, no human beings are able to save themselves. Sinners are ‘dead in sin’.[2]

My understanding of total depravity or total inability is parallel with that of Jacob Arminius. Before the Fall into sin, human beings were ‘good’ in their ability to love and do the works of God.
Before the Fall, human beings were created in the image of God (
Gen 1:26-27). According to Gen 2:17, before the Fall human beings hd the ability to choose good from evil. After the Fall, for believers, they have ‘put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col 3:10 NIV).

3.1 Dead in sins

Ephesians 2:1-2 (NIV) are critical verses in understanding Total Depravity:

‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient’.

What does it mean to be ‘dead in sins’?

They were spiritually dead in their former lives and this was their lifestyle (present participle – continual action). We note in Eph 1:7 the plurals, ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace’ (NIV). Every trespass/sin (missing the mark) demonstrated this deadness.

?Does it mean that unbelievers cannot respond to God’s offer of salvation? We know this is not the case because of the content of Titus 2:11 (NIV). Do sinners have a total inability to respond to the offer of salvation without God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace?? See my article: How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11

?We know that Adam ad Eve, after they had sinned, could still hear the voice of God (Gen 3:8-19 NIV). Therefore, Total Depravity does not cut one off from hearing the voice of God. It is a demonstration of what has happened within human beings.?

3.2 The crunch time

The crunch is this, described as total depravity, and it is that sinful human beings cannot do what is good towards God. That’s because the free will has not only been ‘wounded, maimed, made infirm, bent, and weakened’ but also it is ‘imprisoned, destroyed, and lost’.

Its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace’. For Christ has said, “Without me you can do nothing.”?

St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man’ (Arminius 1977:525-526).?

But the great and good news is that God has provided a way to deal with this ‘dead in sin’ situation: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (Titus 2:11 NIV). This is the enabling grace of God available ‘to all people’ for the offering of salvation.

I believe in Total Depravity because it is a Bible teaching. It refers to comprehensive inability to do God’s good because of sins and transgressions.

3.3 Let’s explain this further

The Reformed Arminian perspective is that human beings in the beginning were created in the image of God. Adam & Eve fell from this sinless state through willful disobedience, leaving the whole human race in a state of total depravity.[3]
This means they were sinful, separated from God and sentenced to God’s condemnation (Rom 3:23; Eph 2:1-3). Total depravity does not mean that human beings are as bad as bad could be. But it means every part of a human being – body, soul/spirit, heart, and mind – has been infected with sin.

All human beings have a sinful nature with a natural desire/inclination to sin. So, all human beings are fundamentally corrupt throughout their entire beings (Jer 17:9; Gen 6:5; Matt 19:17; Luke 11:13).

All people are spiritually dead in their sins (Eph 2:1-3; Col 2:13) and as a result are slaves to sin (Rom 6:17-20). Could anything be clearer than the Apostle Paul’s statement, ‘For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature [flesh]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out’ (Rom 7:13 NIV).

Paul further explains the nature of total depravity: “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Rom 3:10-12; cf. Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:17-22).

So in their natural states, people are hostile to God and they cannot submit to his Law or please him – they are totally depraved (Rom 8:7-8).

4. What it looks like in the community

As I prepared this article today, I came across this headline from yesterday’s, The Sydney Morning Herald:

All over the world, patients are lying about virus: GP’

This was a headline in an Australian newspaper (online)

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(image courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)[4]

Journalist Madonna King explained:

But for each good act, we’ve also seen how the fear of this disease, which is only beginning, can bring out the worst of human behaviour.

Today, that behaviour is being seen in our GP surgeries, where staff are being abused, ridiculed and told lies.

It’s that latter behaviour – where patients are lying to receptions and nurses, denying they have travelled overseas or have had contact with other COVID-19 cases, in order to see a doctor – that is particularly worrying….

Dr Glynn Kelly: ‘”They are lying. And it’s happening all over Australia,’’ he says. Some patients were filling out COVID-19 forms denying overseas travel or contact with other infected people, so they could get into see a doctor – and then would confess (King 2020).

We may well conclude that this lying is a manifestation of the environment since we are experiencing a pandemic of Coronavirus. We are tempted to place the blame on the environment from childhood to adulthood, i.e. it’s learned behaviour.

This is why we need God’s word on total depravity. Jeremiah 17:9 is but one example of the core problem: ‘The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (NLT)

Doctors are finding out how depraved a person’s inner being is – in their consulting rooms.

5. A biblical perspective

The sinfulness of all human beings, as a result of the guilt inflicted on us by Adam’s first sin is that righteousness cannot be found in us (Rom 3:10; Col 3:10; Eph 4:24).

Instead, the whole of human nature is corrupted (i.e. total depravity or original sin). See: Ps 51:5; John 3:6; Rom 3:18; 8:7-8, and Eph. 2:3.

Although the context deals with the prediction of Noah’s world-wide flood, Gen 6:5 (NET) summarises well the human condition: ‘But the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time’.

clip_image003A Sistine Chapel fresco depicts the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden for their sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Image courtesy Wikipedia).

Sadly, that is the condition of all people without Christ.

After the Flood, the Lord still described human beings this way: ‘The inclination of their minds is evil from childhood’ (Gen 8:21 NET).

Could Isaiah be clearer? ‘All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf,
and our iniquities carry us away like the wind’ (Isa 64:6 HCSB).

‘It might be more accurate to say that we are totally unable to be righteous’ (Stack Exchange 2015).

The New Testament view is that all human beings are in a fallen state and are dead in sin (Eph 2:1-2). We are slaves to sin (John 8:34) and all unbelievers are ‘darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts’ (Eph 4:18 HCSB).

6. Conclusion

Human beings are wretches before God. ‘We can’t think, will, nor do anything good in and of [ourselves].[5] We are unable do anything that merits favor from God and we cannot do anything to save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God that we deserve for our sin’.

We cannot even believe the gospel on our own (John 6:44). If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative’ (see F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation: T).

All human nature is corrupt – total inability to respond to God unless he draws us to Himself.

7. Works consulted

Gregory, T M n.d. Presbyterian doctrine of total depravity (online). Available at: https://www.the-highway.com/depravity_Gregory.html (Accessed 20 March 2020).

King, M 2020. The Sydney Morning Herald (online). All over the world, patients are lying about virus: GP, 19 March. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/queensland/all-over-the-world-patients-are-lying-about-virus-gp-20200319-p54bob.html (Accessed 20 March 2020).

Luther, M 1957. The Bondage of the Will, J I Packer & O R Johnston (eds). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.

Stack Exchange 2015. What is the biblical basis for total depravity? (online), 24 February. Available at: https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/27/what-is-the-biblical-basis-for-total-depravity (Accessed 17 March 2020).

Wayne, L 2018. CARM (online). What is the Textus Receptus? Available at: https://carm.org/KJVO/what-is-the-tr (Accessed 19 March 2020).

8.  Notes

[1] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy n.d. Desiderius Erasmus (1468?—1536). Available at: https://www.iep.utm.edu/erasmus/ (Accessed 19 March 2020).

[2] This was my post to Christianforums.net 2020. T.U.L.I.P., OzSpen#16. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/t-u-l-i-p.81940/#post-1551578 (Accessed 16 March 2020).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#31.

[4] Available at: https://phil.cdc.gov/Details.aspx?pid=23313 (Accessed 20 March 2020).

[5] The original said, ‘themselves’.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 March 2020.

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An Australian way of death: voluntary assisted dying

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia: Fritz Klein, the camp doctor, standing in a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen [northern Germany] after the camp’s liberation by the British 11th Armoured Division, April 1945)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article first appeared in On Line Opinion, 19 March 2020.

John is 65 and has been suffering from cancer for many years. The pain is too much. When he asks his doctor to put him to sleep permanently (kill him!), should the doctor agree? Jean has such severe dementia, lies in bed for much of the day and is in a vegetative state in an aged care facility. She doesn’t recognise me when I visit her.

In the twenty-first century, there is considerable public support for euthanasia to be legalised across Australia. There is a minority group of medical practitioners, Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice, that is supportive of euthanasia in certain circumstances.

The dangers of the majority view

According to The Guardian Australia Edition “a nationwide poll of 1,032 people conducted by Essential Research has found that 73% of Australians support voluntary assisted dying” (VAD).

If a majority of people agree with a position, does that make it right? An Appeal to Popularity is a logical fallacy that is difficult to notice because it sounds like common sense if the majority of people agree with it. The falsehood is that it doesn’t deal with the content of why VAD is right or wrong for a society or individual.

What is voluntary assisted dying?

Let’s get it clear what euthanasia (VAD) is. We are sometimes confused by the current debate because it seems some are talking about disconnecting life support systems. Others think we deny the patients’ rights to say, “This is enough. I want no extraordinary means to be used to keep me alive when all hope of physical life seems to be gone”.

We don’t need euthanasia for this. It is the common law right of all Australians to decide which treatments they want to have for themselves. We have legislation for an enduring power of attorney and an advanced health directive to cover these medical situations.

(image courtesy docotal)

Euthanasia is “the intentional killing of a person, for compassionate motives, whether the killing is by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or by failing to perform an action necessary to maintain life. For euthanasia to occur there must be an intention to kill”.

Now, euthanasia promoters don’t use the word “kill”, but it is the only accurate word to describe the reality of what happens. Besides, it is the word that our current law uses. Retired anaesthetist and palliative care physician at Concord Hospital, Sydney, Dr Brian Pollard, stated, “Euthanasia is a form of homicide – even if legalised, it would be legalised homicide. Intention is central to the concept”.

Sad and distressing cases are put forth so that it is made to appear there is a vast amount of suffering for which nothing less than death is good enough. Yet, I am told that those who practise palliative care with the terminally ill encounter few requests for euthanasia by patients. Too often, the distressed relatives who often feel impotent, sense a lack of support, and may be encountering a financial burden, are the ones calling for euthanasia.

I do not reject euthanasia because of the results it is likely to cause.

When Luke Gormally, director of London’s Linacre Bio-Ethics Centre, was in Australia he warned that legalising euthanasia could lead to “killing the disabled and dependent for economic reasons”. He also warned that euthanasia would endorse youth suicide because of the “wholly negative message” it would send to youth.

What will stop Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Canada, certain USA states and Australia from getting to this example once the slippery slope has begun? The Atlantic (3 Sept 2014) reported this story:

In July 1939, Richard and Lina Kretschmar, two farm workers from eastern Germany, wrote to Adolf Hitler to ask for permission to kill their son.

Gerhard Kretschmar had been born five months earlier with one arm, one leg, and vision loss. The Kretschmars were loyal Nazis, and “The Monster,” as they referred to Gerhard, was considered both burdensome and incompatible with the pursuit of genetic perfection. Gerhard was killed a few days later at a hospital near his home, likely by lethal injection.

The Netherlands has become a dangerous country

We know that when we support VAD, it can go beyond the person’s choice. Holland is the most recent example for which we have clear evidence. That country has permitted VAD for some time, and has legalised it.

The Uniting Church in Australia’s consultation paper, “Voluntary Assisted Dying Queensland Synod 2019” stated: ‘In Belgium and the Netherlands, the criteria for voluntary assisted dying includes that someone be experiencing “unbearable suffering”‘. This paper detailed a very sad case of a person suffering from severe dementia.

Is that all that happens in the Netherlands with VAD?

The Netherlands’ medical doctor, Dr. Karel Gunning, on his 1992 visit to Australia said: “Holland has indeed become a very dangerous country, as patients may have their lives ended without their request and without knowledge of the authorities. The doctor thus has become a powerful man, able to decide on life or death”.

The New Scientist magazine (20 June 1992) confirmed this alarming situation in an article titled, The Dutch way of death.” It stated that:

… doctors and nurses in the Netherlands can practise euthanasia if they stick to certain guidelines. Yet many patients receive lethal injections without giving their consent.

In some hospitals, doctors routinely approach patients who are terminally ill, offering to inject them with lethal doses of barbiturates and curare. But Dutch euthanasia has its sinister side, too. Involuntary euthanasia of sick and elderly people is commonplace in the Netherlands, and that when patients do opt for euthanasia, it is frequently out of fear of being a nuisance rather than to avoid unnecessary physical suffering.

The details are alarming. At least a third of the 5000 or so Dutch patients who each year receive lethal doses of drugs from their doctors do not give their unequivocal consent. About 400 of these patients never even raise the issue of euthanasia with their doctors. Moreover, of those who willingly opt for euthanasia, only about 5 per cent do so solely because of unbearable pain.

The magazine concluded that “these revelations strike a blow at the two central canons of the worldwide euthanasia lobby: that euthanasia should be used only as a means to end pointless physical suffering, and that the patient alone should make the decision.”

As one Dutch doctor put it: “Everywhere doctors are terminating lives. The only difference in Holland is that here we talk about it.”

Is this the morality for Australia?

Even though it is clear from this Dutch example that it is impossible to control VAD, is this the right kind of morality Australia should follow? By looking to the end results, this is a system of ethics called utilitarianism. It simply means that a “good” result (for example, relieving pain of a cancer patient) justifies the means (killing the person–euthanasia). This is a dangerous view.

Two examples show us how bad this view of right and wrong can become. In Germany during World War 2, Hitler’s goal was to develop a more perfect race. A pretty good goal one could think? But his way to attain it was evil (killing six million Jews and millions of others).

President Richard Nixon’s goal was a noble one, national security. But the criminal activity of Watergate was not justified to reach it.

The popularity of this view of morality

( Photo courtesy Wikipedia: Hartheim Euthanasia Centre in Upper Austria is where over 18,000 people were killed in the Holocaust).

There are droves of Australians who support the VAD view of morality. We are in deep trouble if this nation follows such an ethical system. The end never justifies the means; the means must justify themselves. An act is not automatically good because it has a good goal.

How do we know what is good? We need a fixed standard of good by which to judge right and wrong, rather than a person’s opinion of what is good. This fixed standard for euthanasia needs to be: murder or assisted murder is always wrong. This is the morality of universal standards of the 10 commandments (the Judeo-Christian world view).

I have taken this lengthy look at why I do not support euthanasia, based on the end justifying the means, because it is a view of right and wrong that could lead to chaos in our lucky country. Those who support VAD and some of those who oppose euthanasia both follow this system of morality.

The Australian Medical Association’s position

In its position statement, “the AMA (Australian Medical Association) maintains that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life.

“This does not include the discontinuation of treatments that are of no medical benefit to a dying patient. This is not euthanasia,” says AMA president Dr Michael Gannon.

The AMA has grave concerns about the VAD Bill now legislated by the Victorian Parliament. It opposed it.

Why I do not support VAD

As a Christian minister I reject VAD for these reasons:

1. The Guardian Australia Edition (2019) summarised one point: “As this generation [baby boomers] enters its final years, the precept that life is precious irrespective of one’s medical condition is being called into question as never before“.

Human beings are unique and special. God’s view is that we are not higher animals but made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). If human beings are not special, we can do to them what a doctor advocated to me: “We put down dogs, why shouldn’t we offer the elderly in a vegetative state the same?”

Human life is sacred throughout life and in all circumstances, whether one is strong, independent and healthy or weak, dependent and handicapped.

When we reduce human beings to animals, it logically follows that a whole range of horrendous evils could eventuate. God has forbidden that any life be murdered. There is no need for a commandment that says, “You shall not commit euthanasia.” All deliberate, premeditated killing (abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, homicide–war raises some other issues) is covered by the one commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13; Matt 5:21).

2. Secondly, we already know the consequences of a permissive approach to euthanasia. We have glaring examples before us of where permissive euthanasia laws will lead us. The Netherlands, Belgium and Canada are examples, but don’t forget what happened in Germany.

In Germany in 1920, there was a publication by a lawyer, Karl Binding, and a psychiatrist, Alfred Hoche, called The Permission to Destroy Life Not Worth Living, that opened the floodgates and led to open discussion and legislation to permit euthanasia in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

Initially, it was seen to have a beneficial social effect in dealing with the so-called “useless” sick.

Why did they do it? For the very same reasons that are being advocated today: compassion, quality of life, and to cut the cost of caring for these so-called “useless people”. They stressed the cost of caring for the handicapped, the disabled (retarded) and the mentally ill. They were called “useless eaters”.

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia: Soviet POWs in the Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria)

This led to experimentation on human beings and genocide. It was a small step from euthanasia to the Nazi killing fields of 6 million Jews, and it is estimated that about 6 million others also were killed.

3. It is a strange paradox that VAD is being strongly promoted at a time when the medical profession has made great advances in the treatment of pain. This is not the time to recommend assistance in the killing of the terminally ill or others.

According to Dr. Bob Allan, president of the ACT branch of the Australian Medical Association, “Modern palliative care ensured that patients should never have to consider euthanasia on the grounds of severe pain. Treatments are available to ensure death with dignity and without pain” happens (The Canberra Times, 3 February 1993, p. 5).

4. VAD degrades the medical profession and has harmful effects on the doctor/patient relationship. It violates the doctor’s pledge to not harm patients, according to The Hippocratic Oath (created by the Greek physician, Hippocrates, ca. 460), which in its common form is taken by many medical doctors upon graduation, dating back to the time of the Greeks, states:

I will follow that system of treatment which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is harmful to them. I will give no deadly drug to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art.

Some medical schools modify this oath.

5. There is a better alternative: promote life and become actively involved in compassionate care for the dying, people who have a disability and other sufferers in our society.

6. I reject euthanasia because I support the 10 commandments and believe it is always wrong to murder or assist with the murder of anybody. The foundation of Australian society has been built on this view.

I also reject euthanasia because it is an attack on the sovereignty of God. We must answer two fundamental questions: Who are human beings? Whose right is it to terminate human life? Jesus Christ said, “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

At the time of preparing this article, only 2 Australian states had legislated VAD. However, Queensland is considering following the Victorian legislation and is currently engaged in a round of forums and have made a call for submissions.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia: Euthanasia legislation status in Australian states and territories (as of 2020):  Voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide illegal red Voluntary euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide legal blue.)

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 March 2020.

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Joshua and the Bible Bashers

Did the sun really stand still?

Sunset, Sky, Sea, Ocean, Setting, Sun, Golden Glow

(image courtesy pixabay)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

When people doubt the Word of God, even in the church, Joshua’s account of the sun stopping (Joshua 10:12-14) takes a beating. Gregory W. Dawes does it in his challenge of history to religious authority (Dawes 2001).

1. Gregory Dawes disputes biblical authority

Who is Gregory Dawes and what is his theological persuasion? At the time of writing this book, Dawes was a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand (Dawes 2001: rear cover). He is now associate professor of philosopher at the University of Otago.[1]

The pitch for his book is summarised in the conclusion:

It seems that there is something wrong with the believer’s claim to religious authority. If this is the case, then the problem with which our authors have been dealing is a pseudoproblem, not because of the historian’s assumptions, but because of the theologian’s. The simplest explanation would seem to be the sceptical one. There is no way of reconciling Christian claims to religious authority with the knowledge and methods of the discipline of history. The historical viewpoint of our age undermines claims to biblical authority, while the Jesus of history is not a figure who can be reappropriated for out own time (Dawes 2001:368).

Therefore, after studying the ‘doubting Thomases’ of modern theology, Dawes concludes with some of them as a sceptic of biblical authority.

Dawes doubts the validity of miracles: ‘How can we be certain that an event is both beyond the productive capacity of nature[2] and that it is performed by God (rather than some other supernatural power)? It is hard to see how this can be done outside of the framework of a particular set of religious beliefs’ (Dawes 2001:105).

1.1 William Lane Craig’s definition of miracles is:

…. contra the Newtonian conception, miracles should not be understood as violations of the laws of nature, but as naturally impossible events. Contra Spinoza, admission of miracles would not serve to subvert natural law, and the possibility that a miracle is a result of an unknown natural law is minimized when the miracles are numerous, various, momentous, and unique. Contra Hume, it is question-begging or invalid to claim that uniform experience is against miracles (Craig 2020).

2. Origin of recent challenges to biblical authority

Generally, you won’t find it in the Early Church Fathers. Here are a few example of what they thought of the Bible:

clip_image002Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335 – 394), ‘We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (On the Holy Trinity, To Eustathius, emphasis added)

clip_image004Irenaeus (d. 202), ‘We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith (Against Heresies, 3.1.1, emphasis added).

clip_image006Athanasius of Alexandria (296–373), after he had outlined the books of the Bible stated:

These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.’ (Festal Letter 39, 6–7, emphasis added)

clip_image008St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), ‘For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics[3] and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine. (Augustine, Letters, 148. 4.15, emphasis added).

From this sample of four early church fathers, we see that they had a high regard for the authority of the canonical Scriptures.

2.1 Why the confrontation of biblical authority?

The challenge to biblical authority came through ‘the new astronomy’ of the seventeenth century with people like Johann Kepler. This challenge, says Dawes, ‘was the heliocentric cosmology set forth by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) which called into question the accepted picture of a geocentric world’ (Dawes 2001:10). In other words, the old-fashioned (biblical) earth-centred world was challenged by the Copernican sun-centred universe.

To draw attention to the so-called, out-dated biblical view, the miracle that Joshua experienced of the sun stopping was used. Dawes wrote: “The text here is Josh. 10:12-14, which suggests that the sun revolved around the earth, not vice versa” and The Book of Mormon “corrects the biblical cosmology” (Dawes 2001:10).

2.2 Book of Mormon ‘corrects’ Bible?

The Book of Mormon (Helaman 12:15) reads: ‘And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun’.

The verses from Joshua that have taken a beating by the sceptics (secular or religious) contain this kind of language:

‘Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.’ And the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day (Josh. 10:13 ESV)

How is it possible for the sun to be stopped when it does not revolve? In our scientific day, we know that the earth revolves around the sun. Was the Bible wrong in its statement about standing still? That’s the view of those who doubt God’s word and want to make light of supposed errors in the Bible.

3. How could the sun and moon stop?

Is there an explanation that does justice to the Bible’s integrity and does not cause Christians to close down the use of their minds?

We need to remember a fundamental of biblical interpretation. The Bible speaks in everyday language as it seems to us – it’s called phenomenological language. In its pre-scientific language, the Bible speaks to the common people. Just as we speak of the sun ‘rising’ and ‘setting’, so does the Bible (see Psalm 50:1). Meteorologists today speak of the times of ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’.[4] This is how we commoners see and understand it, even though it is technically incorrect.

4. Responsible assessment of Joshua 10: Sun standing still

How do we explain the sun standing still, according to Joshua 10? The God of miracles who created the world is capable of doing that and he doesn’t have to explain it to us because of his all-powerful nature and operation (omnipotence).

However, that is hardly an answer that will satisfy doubting Australians. Did God stop the earth’s rotation for 24 hours or is there another solution? Here are some other factors to consider:[5]

clip_image010Take a look at what Joshua 10:13 states: ‘So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day’.

clip_image010[1]The last sentence of this verse reads literally, ‘The sun did not hasten to go down for about a whole day’.[6]

clip_image010[2]Therefore, the earth’s movement was retarded so it took 48 hours rather than 24 hours for the earth’s circuit of the sun.

Or, could the Hebrew, dom, be like the English onomatopoeia , ‘be dumb’,[7] thus indicating ‘the sun was to remain hidden – hence “silent”— during the violent thunderstorm that accompanied the troops as they fled before the Israelites down the Valley of Aijalon’.[8]

In Egyptian, Chinese and Hindu sources there have been ‘alleged stories about a long day’ but they ‘are difficult to verify’.[9]

clip_image010[4]Since a hail storm accompanied this event (Josh 10:11), it is reasonable to conclude the Hebrew dom should be translated as ‘was dumb’ or ‘silent’. Therefore, ‘the sun did not “stop” in the middle of the sky, but its burning heat was “silenced”’.[10]

The information in Josh 10:11 adds fuel to this interpretation, ‘The Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites’ (NIV). So, ‘Joshua’s long day’ is really ‘Joshua’s long night’.[11]

5. Conclusion

In my view,

the best solution is this. Joshua prayed early in the morning, while the moon was in the western sky and the sun was in the east, that God would intervene on their behalf. God answered Joshua and sent a hailstorm. This had the effect of prolonging the darkness and shielding the men from the searing rays of the sun. The sun, therefore, was ‘silenced’ in the middle of the sky and the moon ‘did not hasten to come’.

What a day to remember, for on it God went out and personally fought for Israel—and more died from the hailstones than from the weapons of the army of Israel.[12]

6.  Works consulted

Craig, W L 2020. The Problem of Miracles:  A Historical and Philosophical Perspective. Reasonable Faith (online). Available at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-problem-of-miracles-a-historical-and-philosophical-perspective/ (Accessed 2 March 2020).

Dawes, G W 2001. The historical Jesus question: The challenge of history to religious authority. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Kaiser Jr, W C, Davids, P H, Bruce, F F & Brauch, M T 1996. Hard sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

7.  Notes

[1] See Greg Dawes 2020. Academia (online). Available at: https://otago.academia.edu/GregDawes (Accessed 2 March 2020).

[2] Dawes referred me to Craig’s (2020) definition of ‘miracles’.

[3] He wrote of the general church, i.e. Christians.

[4] See Australian Government: Geoscience Australia 2010. Compute Sunrise, Sunset & Twilight Times (online). Available at: http://www.ga.gov.au/geodesy/astro/sunrise.jsp (Accessed 2 March 2020).

[5] I obtained these points from Kaiser et al (1996:186-188).

[6] Kaiser et. al. (1996:186)

[7] ‘Onomatopoeia’ ‘refers to the use of words which sound like the noise they refer to. ‘Hiss’, ‘buzz’, and ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ are examples of onomatopoeia’ (Collins Dictionary 2020. s.v. onomatopoeia).

[8] Kaiser et. al. (1996:186).

[9] Kaiser et. al., (1996:187).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kaiser et. al. (1996:188).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 02 March 2020.

Why did God create human beings knowing they would sin?

Image result for clipart omniscience public domain

(image courtesy ya-webdesign.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

God knows all things, past and present. This is the attribute of God’s omniscience? What is it? If he knows all things, why did he fashion human beings who would soon defy his command?

1. Theologians define omniscience

These evangelical theologians define omniscience as:

clip_image002

‘Historically, the omniscience of God was a straightforward doctrine: God knows everything—past, present, and future’.

This is confirmed in passages such as Gen 6:5; Job 21:22; 36:4; 37:16; Ps 139:2-4, 17-18; 147:4-5; Isa 40:28; 42:9; 46:10. In the New Testament this teaching is affirmed in Matt 6:8; 10:29-30; Acts 15:17-18; Rom 8:29; 11:33; Eph 1:11 and Heb 4:13.

‘His omniscience can be arrived from a number of his attributes. These include His infinity, His causality, His necessity, His knowledge of reality, His eternality, and His absolute perfection’ (Geisler 2003:180-181).

clip_image002[1]Dr H C Thiessen: ‘He knows Himself and all other things, whether they be actual or merely possible, whether they be past, present, or future, and that He knows them perfectly and from all eternity. He knows things immediately, simultaneously, exhaustively and truly. He also knows the best ways to attain His desired ends’ (Thiessen 1949:124).


clip_image002[3]Louis Berkhof: ‘The knowledge of God may be defined as that perfection of God whereby He, in an entirely unique manner, knows Himself and all things possible and actual in one eternal and most simple act. The Bible testifies to the knowledge of God abundantly, as, for instance, in I Sam. 2:3; Job 12:13; Ps. 94:9; 147:4; Isa. 29:15; 40:27-28’ (Berkhof 1941:66).


clip_image002[3]

Dr Wayne Grudem gives a simple definition: ‘God’s knowledge may be defined as follows: God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and dental act’. He used Job 37:16 and 1 John 3:20 to support this view’ (Grudem 1999:88).

2. God created human beings to sin?

Is that reasonable or is this a sign that He’s a wicked God who creates or endorses evil?

Image result for clipart SIN public domain(Adam & Eve in garden scenery, courtesy publicdomainvectors.org)


These are penetrating questions that any thoughtful person could ask, which is what a person did on a blog. Since God is all-knowing (Ps 139:4, 7-12; Matt 10:30; Heb 4:12-13; 1 John 3:20), he would have known Adam & Eve would sin by making the wrong decision to eat of the tree. Why, then, did God bother to tell them not to do it?

‘If all humans are meant to be sinners, why did He even create us in the first place already knowing that we would be so imperfect?’[1]

This leads to the questions: What place do sinners have in God’s redemptive plans? My human mind would think of another way to do it of making human beings so they could not sin (taking free will away from them) and making the crucifixion of Jesus unnecessary.

That’s my befuddled human thinking and not the mind of God.

Let’s examine a few reasons why a holy God who knows everything would make human beings, knowing they would sin.

2.1 There was fellowship in the Trinity but …

Have you thought about what God was doing before creation? That’s a fair question. St. Augustine cited one person’s provocative answer: ‘He was preparing hell … for those who pry into mysteries’ (Confessions, Book XI, ch 12.14). Don Stewart explains:

Before any finite creatures were created, God existed. Although God is a unity, He is a compound unity made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each member of the Trinity was conscious of the other two. Therefore God was never alone. There was love and communication within the members of the Godhead before humanity was created. Consequently there was no need on his part to create the human race. God did not need anything. Therefore the reason for the creation of humankind cannot be found in something lacking in the nature of God (Was God alone before he created the universe?)

The Psalmist hit the mark to help us better understand this dilemma: ‘what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?’ (Ps 8:4 NLT).

3. God doesn’t tell us the reason.

God could have chosen not to create human beings who would not fall into sin. However, they would be robots who had no power to choose anything, including agreeing with God or refusing his offer of salvation.

As to why he still created humankind with the knowledge that humanity would bring sin into the world we are not told. We are only told that he has done it this way. Since God has not explained his motives it would be fruitless for us to speculate. No one knows the answer because God has not revealed it to us (Don Stewart).

Let’s ponder a possibility:

4. Sinful human beings to glorify God!

God has provided an answer to this mystery that He knew people would sin, but he created human beings anyway.[2] The reason for creation of the universe and human beings starts in Genesis 1:27,

‘So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’ (NLT).

What’s the point of an image?

An image is to image. Images are erected to display the original — to point to the original, glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God — images of God, seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God — knowing, loving, showing God (Why did God create the world? John Piper).?

God created human beings and the universe for his glory. Even sinful human beings still retain the image of God and he wants to use all these people to bring him glory.
Isaiah spoke to the Israelites:

I will say to the north, ‘Let them go!’
And I will say to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from far away.
Bring my daughters from the farthest places on earth.
Bring back everyone who belongs to me.
I created them to bring glory to me.
I formed them and made them” (
Isa 43:6-7 NIRV)?

As far as I can see, that’s why God created human beings who sinned. They were formed from the beginning, sinned from the commencement, but they were created to bring glory to God.

4.1  Meaning of bringing glory to God

I found James N Anderson’s explanation to be powerful:

If God’s primary purpose in creation and redemption is the display of his glory, what does that tell us about why he allowed the fall? Both logically and chronologically, the fall comes between creation and redemption. Without a creation there could be no fallen creation; without a fallen creation there could be no redeemed creation. Salvation presupposes sin; restoration presupposes a fall. Thus it’s reasonable to infer that God’s primary purpose in allowing the fall was to showcase his glory both in the original creation and also in his powerful and merciful restoration of that creation from its rebellion and corruption (The Gospel Coalition 2017).

How can Christians bring God glory? We glorify God by our faith, worship, and humble service.

Image result for clipart Glory to God

5.  Works consulted

Berkhof, L 1941. Systematic theology. London: The Banner of Truth Trust. Also available online at: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/berkhof/systematic_theology.html#communicable (Accessed 1 March 2020).

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology, vol 2: God, Creation. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Grudem, Wayne 1999, Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

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

VanDrunen, D 2019. 3 Ways to Glorify God in Your Life. The Gospel Coalition U.S. Edition (online), 24 June. Available at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-ways-glorify-god-life/ (Accessed 1 March 2020).

6.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net 2018. Bible Study: Adam and Eve, 9 January, HeIsRisen2018#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/adam-and-eve.73372/ (Accessed 10 January 2018).

[2] This is my response at: ibid., OzSpen#28.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 01 March 2020.

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The Bible and Contraception

(image contraceptive pill courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A Christian stated on a blog:

It’s impossible for the bible to address every issue that could come up in a person’s life.
I cannot, however, think of one that is not covered somehow by the 10 commandments … or the Great Commandments of Christ.
[1]

Another responded:

Contraception is the first one that comes to mind.
Is it right or wrong from a Christian perspective and why?
[2]

This is why it is important to have a solid Christian world view and be in a church that encourages Christians to have faith, thinking and reasoning about issues of today. See: Learn how to screw up your worldview.

1.  Faith, thinking and reasoning

The Bible supports all 3 of these issues:[3]

  • God states we are to reason (Isaiah 1:18).
  • We are required to be ready to share a defense with people (1 Peter 3:15).
  • It is right to show unbelievers our faith is reasonable and logical.
  • This challenge influenced my writing this article: When Christian thinking becomes fuzzy
  • ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him’ (Heb 11:6 NIV).

How does contraception fit into this world view? I reason that it is responsible to plan a family (& the number of children we have) that fits the income and expectations for this Christian family.

2.  Nothing in Bible forbids contraception

I have not found any Bible references that support or forbid contraception, so Christians should not add rules not in Scripture and make them universal rules.
However, I accept that some contraception does kill the unborn child through an early abortion:

Some forms of contraception, specifically the intrauterine device (IUD), Norplant, and certain low-dose oral contraceptives, often do not prevent conception but prevent implantation of an already fertilized ovum. The result is an early abortion, the killing of an already conceived individual. Tragically, many women are not told this by their physicians, and therefore do not make an informed choice about which contraceptive to use” (Randy Alcorn).?

I’m not surprised the Pope took that position as the anti-contraception view has been part of RC theology for a long time.

3.  Papal Encyclical Letter

The Encyclical Letter, Humanae Vitae of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI states, in part,

Unlawful Birth Control Methods

14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.[4]

While I don’t agree with the RC position, I commend that church leadership for its high regard for all of human life, from conception to natural death.

As for Genesis 38:8-10 (NIV), it deals with a specific Old Covenant situation and is not applicable to Gentiles (and Jews) under the New Covenant. These verses state:

Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to avoid providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also.

4.  Conclusion

Intrauterine device

IUD with scale.jpg

Copper IUD (Paragard T 380A, courtesy Wikipedia)

There is nothing specifically stated in Scripture to affirm or deny contraception. The only exception is the use of a device that prevents implantation of an already fertilized ovum, e.g. an IUD.

5.  Notes


[1] wondering#54 2020. Stoned to death. Christianforums.net (online), 1 March. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/stoned-to-death.81713/page-3 (Accessed 1 March 2020).

[2] Ibid., Christ the King#54.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#62.

[4] The Vatican 1968. Available at: http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html (Accessed 1 March 2020).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 01 March 2020.

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Getting to the heart of domestic violence crisis

clip_image002

Photo: Hannah Clarke with her three children, Trey, Aaliyah, and Laianah. (Facebook)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

As I began writing this article, horrendous grief and anger are being poured out by family, friends and neighbours in Brisbane over the alleged murder and suicide of a family of four (mother and 3 children) burned to death in a car and the alleged DV perpetrator killing himself.

The ABC Brisbane headline (20 February 2020) was: Hannah Baxter[1] dies in hospital after three children killed in suspected murder-suicide in Brisbane’s Camp Hill, father Rowan Baxter dies at scene.

It is understood the wife, Hannah, was driving, husband Rowan was in the passenger seat. Three children aged 6, 4 and 2 were in the car. One witness of the event told The Guardian, ‘[Hannah] Baxter had run from the car screaming, “He’s poured petrol on me.”[2] This was the result (see image):

clip_image004(Police attend the scene of the car fire which claimed the lives four people in Brisbane. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP)[3]

A flood of grief has burst upon this Australian nation along with a call to do something more about DV behaviour.

clip_image006Photo: Flowers have been left near where the family died in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill. (ABC News: Kate McKenna)

DV epidemic

Australia is in the midst of a crisis of domestic violence. John Wren looked at DV statistics in this country:

Domestic violence is an epidemic in Australia. The statistics make sobering reading. On average, one woman a week is killed by their (sic) partner. The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year with costs rising exponentially in the future.

The Morrison Government loves to trot out the mantra that they are “keeping Australians safe” as their excuse for ever more draconian migration laws, monitoring laws and encryption laws, but their inaction on domestic violence and, in many cases, actions that actually make it worse belie the hollowness of the marketing spin that the phrase really is.

The Abbott Government cut funding to domestic violence programs and the Turnbull and Morrison Governments have continued that trend. It was suggested that Hannah Clarke had sought help to escape her violent husband but was unable to secure support through facilities already denuded by year after year of defunding. If this is true, then the Morrison Government through its budget cuts must bear some culpability for the death of her and her children (Wren’s Week: The Australian domestic violence epidemic, 22 February 2020).

So far today police in Australia would have dealt with on average 522 domestic violence matters.

(Data source: ABC News, Brisbane Qld)[4]

Is the government open to ‘whatever has to be done’?

Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, stated after this Clarke/Baxter tragedy:

“Baxter’s fire attack on his family was “horrific”.

“No-one could imagine the sadistic and premeditated nature of this violence, and I think Governments of any persuasion will do whatever we can.

“It is not an issue of money for a lack of ability or desire to change the laws. I think all of us stand united and have done for a long time in whatever we can do to stamp out this violence”.[5]

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the issue was above politics.

“I think all of us are open to whatever needs to be done, and I agree with you. You know, whatever has been done up until now doesn’t seem to be working.

“This is a scourge within our society and somehow we need to address it and get rid of it, and whatever that requires, in terms of whatever that requires, in terms of whatever kind of inquiry – and Peter is right – it is not about – we will do whatever, in terms of laws, money – this has to be brought to an end.”[6]

The Coalition’s Peter Dutton wants DV stamped out and governments will do whatever they can to make that happen.

clip_image008Richard Marles agrees from the opposition bench. All will do whatever needs to be done to get rid of the scourge of DV. Marles thinks of an inquiry, change of laws and money.

(image courtesy Clipartstation)

However, are they sincere in being ‘open to whatever needs to be done’ and will carry out ‘whatever we can do to stamp out this violence’? I have my doubts.

I’ll suggest a solution below that I can’t see Dutton and Marles doing hand-stands to achieve the eradication of DV.

Governments throw money at the problem

The Guardian Australia Edition reported in March 2019 ‘the Coalition [government] has pledged an extra $328m over three years to fight domestic violence, with frontline services, safe places and prevention strategies to receive the biggest grants’.[7]

In November 2019, the Queensland government (where I live) called for applications:

Apply now for a grant to help end domestic and family violence

Applications are now open for a share in $150,000 in grants for community organisations to host events during Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month in May 2020.

Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Di Farmer said grants of up to $5,000 each were available for projects designed to raise awareness, encourage community participation, and support people affected by domestic and family violence.[8]

In November 2019, the Federal government advised the ‘National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum (NFVPLS) its $244,000-a-year funding would not be renewed past June 2020’.[9] This organisation deals with DV among indigenous people. Labor’s Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Linda Burney, said

the statistics showed a desperate need for more funding for domestic violence services, not less.

“When you look at the shocking statistics relating to Aboriginal women and family violence — 34 times more likely to be hospitalised, 10 times more likely to be murdered from violent assault — it beggars belief that this would happen,” she said.[10]

I’m in favour of funding DV services and education programs. More are needed and governments need to invest more if they are serious about spreading the anti-DV message, ‘Stop it at the start’.

It’s not only a male issue

9News reported:

Police respond to a “serious domestic dispute” somewhere in the country every two minutes.

· One in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence

· One in four women and one in six men have experienced emotional abuse

· One in five women and one in 20 men have experienced sexual violence

· One in six women and one in nine men were physically or sexually abused

· One in two women and one in four men have been sexually harassed

· One in six women and one in 15 men have experienced stalking

· One in four Australian children is exposed to family violence.[11]

White Ribbon Australia acknowledged, ‘Sadly, both women and men are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men. Around 95% of all victims of violence, whether women or men, experience violence from a male perpetrator’.[12]

clip_image010(image courtesy Pinterest)

The Australian Social Monitor (1999) reported that the usual belief is that the overwhelming amount of DV is perpetrated by men against women. However this study in 1996/97 found that

partnered men and women were questioned about committing or suffering physical domestic violence in the last 12 months,[and they] show that women and men were equally likely to suffer injuries of about the same severity. There was some evidence of intergenerational transmission of violent behaviour both from father to son and mother to daughter. However, most respondents who admitted violence did not claim to have had violent parents.[13]

Lewis & Sarantakos (2001:2) claimed that over the last few decades, DV has been primarily defined as violence by men against women. Violence by women against their male partners was ‘considered to be either non-existent, or the fault of men, or has been trivalised and justified in a variety of ways’.

Their research challenged this notion and consider ‘the existence of this form of abuse is part of a fundamental disempowerment of men which has arisen from a tacit acceptance in society of the radical feminist agenda’. Lewis & Sarantakos concluded ‘that domestic violence is not an issue of gender, and that official policy should be directed to providing the kind of help for abused men which up until now has been available only to women’ (2001:2).

While acknowledging there is a major percentage of DV by men against women, the Australian Institute of Criminology identified a proportion of female DV perpetrators against men:

According to the findings of the ABS (2006) Personal Safety Survey, 78 percent of persons who reported being a victim of physical violence at the hands of a partner in the previous 12 months were female. Similarly, research by Access Economics (2004) found that 87 percent of all victims of domestic violence are women and that 98 percent of all perpetrators are men (Morgan & Chadwick 2009).

Is the real solution too religious?

There is a cure for the problem for both males and females who commit domestic violence (DV). However, the treatment is very Christian. Are you open to this Christian solution?

Reddit came close with its flair: ‘Male depravity’. It’s short of the mark because it misses half of the story. ‘Depravity’ hit the mark but applying it only to males is a biblical no-no!

Why? All people are depraved, male and female. The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, nailed the problem for those who commit (DV), but it has application to all people who commit evil, ‘The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?’ (Jer 17:9 NLT)

All people are badly sick with a sinful disease that is grounded in the human heart.

“Heart” (Hebrew lebab/leb [b’bel], Greek. kardia [kardiva]) occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in the Scripture. It denotes a person’s center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities; sometimes it is used figuratively for any inaccessible thing (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 1996. s.v. Heart).

The cure

I know of only one way to change the human heart from depravity to uprightness, from evil actions to freedom from the sin of DV. The cure comes from a changed inner person – a heart. It comes through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ who came to save sinners and make them righteous.

The apostle Paul stated it clearly in Scripture:

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Tim 1:15-16 NLT).

Image result for clipart The cureThis wicked blasphemer and persecutor of the Christian church, the Pharisee Saul, was changed from doing violence to Christians to proclaiming Jesus Christ across the then known world. He experienced the change all DV perpetrators need.

What changed him? ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile’ (Rom 1:16 NIV). Proclamation of the gospel of salvation through Christ alone turned a wicked, Christ-blaspheming sinner into a firebrand for the proclamation of the Christian message.

How does this happen for Jewish persecutors of Christians in the first century, persecutors of Christians in the Western world, changing murderers to decent people, and changing DV perpetrators into righteous people?

Bob Thune explained it in another context:

Somewhere along the line, we have individualized the gospel. We said it was just about “you and Jesus.” We forgot that the gospel doesn’t just change eternal destinies; it changes everything. The gospel transforms societies, renews families, and heals relationships. That’s why Jesus called it “the gospel of the kingdom” (Luke 16:16).

The gospel is all about the rule and reign of Jesus. And where Jesus is rightly honored as Lord, there is more than just personal salvation; there is redemptive action! The gospel is holistic. For me to say that I cared about Ryan’s soul without caring about his relationship with his family would be the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

The answer wasn’t, “Get saved and then we’ll deal with your family relationships.” The answer was, “God wants to heal the wounds in your family. He is a redemptive God” (Thune 2010. The Gospel changes everything, emphasis added).

The treatment for the DV perpetrator is:

(1) Education about DV and anger-control strategies;

(2) Proclamation of the Gospel of salvation through Christ;

(3) A call to forgiveness of sins and repentance.

(4) If the person responds positively to the Gospel, the local church must provide discipleship to help the person grow as a Christian.

Follow these biblical principles[14]

The new Christian and former DV perpetrator will not change only by giving up DV habits. It may take time for change to blossom into maturity (called Christian sanctification).

For lasting change to be established in a person’s life, bad practices need to be replaced with godly practices. This ‘Principle of Replacement’ is found in such Scripture as Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT):

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy (emphasis added).

In growing up to be more like Jesus in their behaviours, DV perpetrators need to stop DV actions and replace them with righteous and holy behaviour. Stopping bad behaviour is inadequate to bring about radical change. The old way of living must change, thanks to God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s fruit, God wants to see this change:

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Gal 5:22-23 NLT).

Can you imagine what your relationships would be like if these behaviours were demonstrated in your bonds with people, instead of DV?

The apostle Paul told the Corinthians what this means: ‘Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!’ (2 Cor 5:17 NLT).

Conclusion

I cannot see any government programme, rally, advertising campaign, or Royal Commission to be effective ultimately in smashing the DV emergency in Australia when the core issue is not being addressed.

DV education programs are worthwhile as a tool to offer help and techniques to resolve the anger outbursts. However, for a long-term solution that works, I know of only one way – an individual becomes a ‘new person’ through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s time for the Christian churches that believe in the Gospel proclamation to step up and demonstrate a true DV solution – proclamation of the Gospel and salvation through Christ – that leads to changed hearts of people. We need to see a deluge of DV perpetrators becoming ‘new persons’ in Christ. This won’t happen without a strong Gospel message in the public square.

Works consulted

Lewis, A & Sarantakos, S 2001. Domestic Violence and the Male Victim. Nuance no. 3 (online), December, 1-15. Available at: http://www.498a.org/contents/dv/DomesticViolenceAndMaleVictims.pdf (Accessed 22 February 2020).

Morgan, A & Chadwick, H 2009. Key issues in domestic violence. Australian Institute of Criminology (online), December. Available at: https://aic.gov.au/publications/rip/rip07 (Accessed 22 February 2020).

Notes:

[1] Also known as Hannah Clarke.

[2] Michael McGowan 2020. Brisbane car fire: Hannah Baxter dies of injuries, three children killed in suspected family violence case .(online)., The Guardian Australia Edition, 20 February. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/feb/19/three-dead-including-children-after-car-allegedly-set-alight-in-brisbane (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[3] Ibid.

[4] ABC News, Brisbane, Qld 2019. Federal Government axes funding to peak body representing Indigenous survivors of domestic violence (online)., 6 December. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-06/aboriginal-domestic-violence-survivors-peak-body-defunded/11773066 (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[5] 9News 2020. ‘This has to be brought to an end’ (online), 21 February. Available at: https://www.9news.com.au/national/brisbane-car-fire-attack-police-appeal-for-information-about-baxter-family-killing/6300f87d-49c6-4fed-806c-74590d4b197e (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Coalition pledges an extra $328m to counter domestic violence (online), 5 March. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/05/coalition-pledges-an-extra-328m-to-counter-domestic-violence (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[8] Queensland Government 2019. The Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory. Media Statements (online), 11 November. Available at: http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2019/11/11/apply-now-for-a-grant-to-help-end-domestic-and-family-violence (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[9] ABC News, Brisbane, Qld 2019. Federal Government axes funding to peak body representing Indigenous survivors of domestic violence (online), 6 December. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-06/aboriginal-domestic-violence-survivors-peak-body-defunded/11773066 (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[10] Ibid.

[11] 9News loc. cit.

[12] White Ribbon Australia 2020. Violence against men. Available at: https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/violence-against-men/ (Accessed 22 February 2020).

[13] Headey, Bruce; Scott, Dorothy and de Vaus, David. Domestic Violence in Australia: Are Women and Men Equally Violent? [online]. Australian Social Monitor, Vol. 2, No. 3, July 1999: 57-62. Available at: https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=759479315231736;res=IELAPA (Accessed 22 Feb 2020)..

[14] Some of these principles are adapted from: Richland Creek Community Church, Wake Forest NC: Put off – put on Worry V1.0. Available at: http://www.richlandcreek.com/uploads/Put-off-Puton-Worry-V1.pdf (Accessed 22 February 2020).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 22 February 2020

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Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection

(image courtesy Wikipedia, Resurrection by Luca Giordano)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Many scholars and laity have attempted to debunk Jesus’ bodily resurrection. These are a few examples:

(a) John Shelby Spong: ‘Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history’ (1998).

(b) John Dominic Crossan, fellow of the infamous Jesus Seminar, 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’ (1994:160) and Jesus’ resurrection was an apparition – a ghost (Crossan 1994:160).

(c) Rudolf Bultmann asked: “But what of the resurrection? Is it not a mythical event pure and simple? Obviously it is not an event of past history” (Bultmann 1984, Kerygma and Myth, online version).

(d) An antagonist: ‘If, as you say you believe, Jesus, resurrected with a physical body about 2,000 years ago, the probability that he is still alive and well is so infinitesimal that it may be considered non-existent.

Are they correct, based on the texts of the Bible?

1. 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 1999:668).

In that magnificent passage of I Corinthians 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 1999:668).

Check out these Scriptures:

The doctrine of the bodily resurrection is affirmed abundantly in the New Testament (see Jn. 5:28-29; 6:39-40; Mk. 12:18-27; Acts 17:32; 26:8; Rom. 8:23; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:21).

2. 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 being raised ‘from (ek) the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there was 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 1999:668).

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

3. 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. 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 1987:728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: ‘After his suffering, he showed himself to these men 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 NIV).

4. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

[Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Kinnaird Resurrection) by Raphael, 1502, courtesy Wikipedia]

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, of Jesus. 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, just published by Oxford University Press, says that by mid-century 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 or whoop it up in a carefree way of eating, drinking and being merry.

British evangelist and apologist, Michael Green (1930-2019), summarised 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 1990:184).

5. The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

These are not minor reasons; they are essential to core Christianity.

5.1 Belief in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation

Romans 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.  Romans 4:25 states that Jesus ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’.

Your salvation, being born again, justification, 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.

Also,

5.2 Christ’s resurrection proves that he 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 – of the man Jesus – 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; and Matt. 27:63.

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

5.3 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.

Another piece of evidence to support the resurrection as a central part of Christianity is:

5.4 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. First Cor. 6:14 states, ‘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 the Christian’s own bodily resurrection, Paul states that Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Cor. 15:20).

(image courtesy of Heartlight)

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.

The New Living Translation translation of 1 Cor. 15:20 explains it in down to earth terms, ‘But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died’.

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. Among those is Dr Albert Mohler Jr who provides a summary of the essential need for Jesus’ resurrection:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion–whatever its form. Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Furthermore, “You are still in your sins!” [v. 17b]. Paul could not have chosen stronger language. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” [v. 19].

Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under persistent attacks since the Apostolic age. Why? Because it is the central confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God, and the ultimate sign of Christ’s completed work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. Those who oppose Christ, whether first century religious leaders or twentieth century secularists, recognise the Resurrection as the vindication of Christ against His enemies (Mohler 2016).

6. Conclusion

In spite of attacks from the cynics, sceptics and liberal church, the bodily (soma) resurrection of Jesus demonstrates he rose in a real body that could be touched. Those around him communicated with him; he ate with them (see John 20:20, 26-28; Luke 24:39-43).

It was a soma (bodily) resurrection when Jesus came ek (out from) among the dead. If there is no bodily resurrection, there is no Christianity. He appeared to over 500 people, many of whom were still alive (inferring doubters could go to check with them).

Belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection are necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9). His resurrection demonstrates he is God and resurrection of believers in the future is guaranteed.

Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14] (Albert Mohler Jr.)

7. Works consulted

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

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

Geisler, N. L. 1999. Resurrection, Evidence for, in N L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

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

Mohler, A 2016. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Gospel (online), March 25. Available at: http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/03/25/the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-and-the-reality-of-the-gospel/ (Accessed 28 March 2016).

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 © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 February 2020.

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Matthew 16:19 – binding and loosing

[According to Catholic doctrine, the popes are successors of Saint Peter (kneeling, right), courtesy Wikipedia]

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I have been to Pentecostal-Charismatic churches where this verse has been used as a basis to bind the demon in a person and loosing a person from demonic bondage. I refer to Matthew 16:19 (ESV). Is that the meaning of the text?

The context includes Matt 16:18. See my article, Matthew 16:18, The Church built on Peter?

1. What is binding and loosing?

Eminent preacher and Christian writer, John MacArthur, claims:

There is no scriptural command to bind Satan, nor is there any biblical example of the practice. Satan remains at large as the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) until he is chained or bound (by an angel, not a human being) during the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:1-3). The disciples cast out demons, but they never bound them or Satan (MacArthur 1969).

This verse has created quite a bit of controversy among interpreters since the time of Jesus. It reads: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt 16:19 ESV).

The contentious statements include:

3d-gold-star-small  ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’.

3d-gold-star-small  ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’.

3d-gold-star-small  ‘Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’.

2. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven

In Matt 16:19 we have the ‘figure of a building with keys to open from the outside’. However, Rev 1:18 and 3:7 state that the Living One who was dead and is now alive holds the ‘keys of death and Hades’ and the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’.

In Matt 16:19, Jesus hands the keys of the kingdom over to Peter. This is not to make Peter the first pope. From Matt 16:18 we learn that Jesus hands the building (oikodomew) over to Peter for him to be a ‘gatekeeper’ or ‘steward’. The same power was given to the other apostles and belongs to every believer down through the centuries.

We know in the context this is not promoting Peter the pope because the disciples were having an argument over who would be the greatest in the kingdom and they presented this dispute to Jesus (Matt 18:1). They were at it again in Matt 20:21.

Surely these verses confirm that Jesus did not make Peter the foundation of the church and the first pope.

Peter held the keys just as every preacher-teacher does in proclaiming the Gospel. Alfred Edersheim in his massive exposition on the life of Christ expounds the significance of 16:19,

Viewing ‘the Church’ as a building founded upon ‘the Petrine,’ it was not to vary, but to carry on the same metaphor, when Christ promised to give to him who had spoken as representative of the Apostles – ‘the stewards of the mysteries of God’ – ‘the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.’ For, as the religious unity of His disciples, or the Church, represented ‘the royal rule of heaven,’ so, figuratively, entrance into the gates of this building, submission to the rule of God – to that Kingdom of which Christ was the King. And we remember how, in a special sense, this promise was fulfilled to Peter. Even as he had been the first to utter the confession of the Church, so was he also privileged to be the first to open its hitherto closed gates to the Gentiles, when God made choice of him, that, through his mouth, the Gentiles should first hear the words of the Gospel [Acts 15:7] and at his bidding first be baptized (Edersheim 1953:1035).

‘After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe’ (Acts 15:7 NIV).

So the ‘keys of the kingdom’ of heaven relate to the offer of salvation that any preacher, teacher or disciple can make to encourage all people to go through the gate of salvation to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus reminded us:

‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matt 7:13-14 NIV).

3. Bind and loose on earth

Image result for image bind and looseTalk about controversy! I have heard them in churches and small groups, ‘I bind you, Satan, in the name of Jesus’. These preachers use verses like Matt 16:19 to support their theology of demonology.

In context, do binding and loosing have anything to do with Satan and his demons?

‘To “bind” … in rabbinical language is to forbid, to “loose” … is to permit’. The verbs for ‘bind’ and ‘forbid’ are future, perfect, indicative, indicating the binding and loosing will be completed – with continuing results. Jesus uses binding and loosing language to all of the disciples in Matt: 18:18. After his resurrection, Jesus’ repeats the same language (John 20:33), indicating this is not the special privilege given to Peter (Robertson 1930:134).

This view also is supported by Friedrich Büchsel in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament under the entries for dew (I bind) and luw (I loose) in Matt 16:19 and elsewhere,

Jesus does not give to Peter and the other disciples any power to enchant or to free by magic. The customary meaning of the Rabbinic expressions is equally incontestable, namely, to declare forbidden or permitted, and thus to impose or remove an obligation, by a doctrinal decision (Büchsel 1964.2:60).

So every preacher or disciple who shares the Gospel of Christ for salvation is engaged in binding and loosing.

Satan and his demons are missing from this context. It has everything to do with calling people to repentance (being loosed) and warning them about continuing in sin and the ultimate eternal consequences.

I cannot find any Scripture to support the view that Christians are called upon to bind and loose Satan.

4. Conflict with casting out demons?

How does the above exposition harmonise with the following verses or are they in conflict?[1]

Matt 10:1, ‘Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness’.

Matt 12:27, ‘And if I [Jesus] drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges’.

Matt 17:19-20, “Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’.

Mark 3:14-15, ‘He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.

Mark 6:13, ‘They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them’.

Mark 9:18, ‘Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not’.

Luke 9:40, 49-50, ‘I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not…. ‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us’. ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’.

Luke 11:19, ‘Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges’.

Acts 16:16-18, ‘Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned round and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her’.

5. Genuine conflict or not?

None of these excellent verses above conflicts with the exegesis I provided in Matt 16:19 of binding and loosing. Jesus also used binding and loosing language to the disciples in Matt: 18:18. After his resurrection, Jesus’ repeats the same language in (John 20:33).

If you travelled with missionaries to countries where there is serious demonic activity in the culture, you’d be exposed to the need for exorcism. However, when some of these missionaries return to their conservative churches in the western world, they often avoid talk of the demonic. I spoke with a retired missionary from Brazil who told me of the spiritism in that country and the need for exorcism when a person submits to Jesus Christ. He was involved in a number of such exorcisms.

God certainly gives Holy Spirit power for demons to be cast out, but the passage in Matt 16 did not teach that.

6. Conclusion

Matthew 16:18 does not make Peter the first pope. Peter was the first to make the formal announcement, ‘You are the Christ/Messiah’.

In handing the keys of the kingdom over to Peter, Jesus was handing them also to every disciple down through the centuries. It is our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of God’s message of salvation.

As for the message of binding and loosing, there is nothing in context to declare it has anything to do with binding and loosing Satan.

To bind in rabbinical language refers to forbidding something while to loose indicates to permit.

The Gospels and Book of Acts give examples of exorcism of demonic spirits. This still takes place in parts of the world. Today, demonic manifestations are seen in various countries of the world, including Ethiopia.

So to bind and loose refers to sharing the Gospel of salvation through Christ. Those bound in sin will be loosed – set free – through Christ.

7. Works consulted

Büchsel, F 1964. Dew, luw. In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel (ed.), G W Bromiley (transl. & ed.), vol 2, 60-61. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Carson, D. A. 1984. Matthew. In F. A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8), (pp. 1-599). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Edersheim, A 1953. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, public domain. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.html (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

MacArthur, J 1969. Does the Bible teach that Christians can bind Satan and demons? Grace to You (online). Available at: https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA150/does-the-bible-teach-that-christians-can-bind-satan-and-demons (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament (vol. 1, Matthew and Mark). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

8.  Notes

[1] The following quotes are all from the NIV.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 February 2020.

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Matthew 16:18, The Church built on Peter?

Image result for image Matthew 16:18

(image courtesy Pinterest)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matt 16:18 ESV).

This verse has caused controversy for 2,000 years. It shouldn’t if we knew the context and the Greek language used.

1. Roman Catholic teaching

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that the apostle Peter is the foundation of the Catholic Church. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 concluded:

Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod, together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, has stripped him [Dioscorus] of the episcopate (Extracts from the Acts of the Council, Session III, emphasis added).

Catholic Straight Answers leaves no doubt: ‘Without question, St. Peter was the first pope of the Catholic Church’.

2. Greek and Peter the Pope

Does the NT Greek text confirm Peter as the first Pope, according to this verse?

screneRed-small  ‘You are Peter’. Here, Peter is the Greek, petros (masculine), which was a proper name for the Aramaic, Cephas.

screneRed-small  Then there is a pun, a play on words. This pun has caused theological heart-burn down through the centuries.

screneRed-small ‘on this rock’ uses petra (feminine) for rock and not petros – and a different gender. What could Jesus be referring to?

screneRed-small  Some interpreters have tried to see Peter as a rock on which Jesus builds his church but Jesus is the foundation.

screneRed-small  A play on words is common in Scripture (e.g. Ex 3:14) and should not be minimised because of this. It is still God-breathed Scripture.

It is true petros and petra mean ‘stone’ and ‘rock’ respectively in earlier Greek than the NT. However, in this passage, Jesus probably means in the underlying Aramaic, ‘You are kepha and on this kepha’ since the word was used both for a name and a ‘rock’ (Carson 1984:368).

If Jesus wanted to say (through Matthew’s Gospel) that Peter was a stone in contrast to Jesus, the Rock, he could have used lithos for ‘stone’ but there would be no pun used and that would defeat Jesus’ purpose.

The objection that Peter considers Jesus the rock is insubstantial because metaphors are commonly used variously, till they become stereotyped, and sometimes even then. Here Jesus builds his church; in 1 Corinthians 3:10, Paul is “an expert builder.” In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Jesus is the church’s foundation; in Ephesians 2:19-20, the apostles and prophets are the foundation (cf. also Rev 21:14), and Jesus is the “cornerstone.” Here Peter has the keys; in Revelation 1:18; 3:7, Jesus has the keys. In John 9:5, Jesus is “the light of the world”; in Matthew 5:14, his disciples are. None of these pairs threatens Jesus’ uniqueness. They simply show how metaphors must be interpreted primarily with reference to their immediate contexts (Carson 1984:368).

‘On this rock’ refers to a ledge or cliff of rock as in Matt 7:24 where the wise man built his house on the rock. Petros is usually a smaller piece of rock. However, we shouldn’t make too much of this distinction as Jesus probably spoke Aramaic and the pun was used regularly.

The point is that Jesus is speaking of the building of the ekklesia (church). In the NT ekklesia is used of both a local congregation and in the general sense of ‘the church’. Usually, the word referred to a local assembly (e.g. Acts 19:39) but became associated with an unassembled group that was persecuted (Acts 8:3).

A T Robertson’s conclusion is sound:

The wealth of imagery in Matthew 16:18 makes it difficult to decide each detail, but the main point is clear. The ekklesia which consists of those confessing Christ as Peter has just done will not cease. The gates of Hades or bars of Sheol will not close down on it. Christ will rise and will keep his church alive (Robertson 1930:131-132).

3. Peter not first Pope

Hierarchy of the Catholic Church

Saint PeterSaint Peter – (image courtesy Wikipedia)

 Peter could not have been the first Pope for a number of reasons (based on Geisler & Howe 1992:347-348):

gold foward button  Popes and RC priests are celibate but Peter was married (Matt 8:14).

gold foward button  We know from Gal 2:14, Paul had to rebuke Peter for his hypocrisy because ‘they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel’. Peter was not infallible in his teachings and practice.

gold foward button  The Roman Catholic Church clearly contradicts Scripture by making the Pope the foundation of the Church. The RCC website states:

Jesus spoke Aramaic, and, as John 1:42 tells us, in everyday life he [Jesus] actually referred to Peter as Kepha or Cephas (depending on how it is transliterated). It is that term which is then translated into Greek as petros. Thus, what Jesus actually said to Peter in Aramaic was: “You are Kepha and on this very kepha I will build my Church” (What the Early Church Believed: Peter as Pope).

This article then provides examples from the Early Church Fathers that ‘Jesus promised to build the Church on Peter’ – the first Pope.

However, this clashes with 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV) which states, ‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’.

gold foward button  The church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20 NIV). It is not built on Peter, the first Pope. What did the early church do? ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42). It was not a devotion to the apostle Peter’s teaching.

gold foward button  Peter was not head of the first church council in Jerusalem.

There is no indication that Peter was the head of the early church. When the first council was held at Jerusalem, Peter played only an introductory role (Acts 15:6–11). James seems to have a more significant position, summing up the conference and making the final pronouncement (cf. Acts 15:13–21). In any event, Peter is never referred to as the “pillar” in the church. Rather, Paul speaks of “pillars” (plural), such as, “James, Cephas, and John” (Gal. 2:9). Peter (Cephas) is not even listed first among the pillars (Geisler & Howe 1992:348)

gold foward button Some Protestant interpreters want to make ‘this rock’ refer to Peter who gave the solid (rock-like) testimony that Jesus was ‘the Christ, the son of the living God’ (Matt 16:16).

However, a significant difficulty with this view is that Peter was a rock and not the rock. And he was not ‘the only apostolic rock. Peter affirmed this in his own writing:

So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7 ESV)

There is nothing in this passage about Peter’s and his successors’ infallibility, exclusive authority when speaking ex cathedra. It creates overwhelming exegetical and historical problems for this position, especially after Peter’s death and the appointment of another apostle to replace him.

What the NT does show is that Peter is the first to make this formal confession and that his prominence continues in the earliest years of the church (Acts 1-12). But he, along with John, can be sent by other apostles (Acts 8:14); and he is held accountable for his actions by the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:1-18) and rebuked by Paul (Gal 2:11-14). He is, in short, primus inter pares (“first among equals”); and on the foundation of such men (Eph 2:20), Jesus built his church (Carson 1984:368).

4. ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it’

Image result for clipart Gates of Hades‘Hell’ is Hades in this text. Some interpreters consider this indicates Satan’s strength with his legion of followers because ‘gates’ in other biblical and non-biblical literature points to defence (5:22; 11:23). They see the church, being built by God, as not being defeated by the hosts of darkness (Gen 22:17; Ps 127:5).

Other interpreters focus on Hades and Rev 1:18, claiming that ‘death will not prevent Messiah’s people from rising at the last day…. But

“Gates of Hades” … seems to refer to death and dying…. Because the church is the assembly of people Jesus Messiah is building, it cannot die. This claim is ridiculous if Jesus is nothing above an overconfident popular preacher in an unimportant vassal state of first-century Rome. It is the basis of all hope for those who see Jesus as the Messiah who builds his church (Carson1984:370).

That seems to be the most reasonable conclusion I’ve encountered.

So, that leads to these Bible translations: the powers of death will not overcome the church (RSV), will not have any power over it (CEV), will not prevail against it (ESV, NRSV), will not overpower it (CSB, NIV), ‘will not be able to defeat my church’ (ERV), will not conquer it (NLT), and will not be strong enough to destroy it’ (NIRV).

These verses contain other controversial issues. See my article on Matthew 16:19 – binding and loosing.

5. Works consulted

Büchsel, F 1964. Dew, luw. In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel (ed.), G W Bromiley (transl. & ed.), vol 2, 60-61. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Carson, D. A. 1984. Matthew. In F. A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8), (pp. 1-599). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Edersheim, A 1953. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, public domain. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.html (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

MacArthur, J 1969. Does the Bible teach that Christians can bind Satan and demons? Grace to You (online). Available at: https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA150/does-the-bible-teach-that-christians-can-bind-satan-and-demons (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament (vol. 1, Matthew and Mark). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05 January 2020.

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