The Book of Isaiah


Jared Jenkins, a friend and co-host of "Salty Believer Unscripted" recently finished a PhD seminar on the book of Isaiah at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  I thought it might be interesting to do a podcast series on the Isaiah and have Jared walk us through the book.  It's a big book, but with Jared's info, it's really not that hard to navigate.

If you'd like to walk through and overview of Isaiah--and hear all kinds of interesting stuff along the way--I recommend you check out the Isaiah series on Salty Believer Unscripted.  You can subscribe on iTunes or listen by clicking on the audio links below.

Jared Jenkins on Isaiah
-- Part 1, The Lay of the Land audio
-- Part 2, A Walk Through Chapter 8 audio
-- Part 3, Nine Through 35 audio
-- Part 4, The Life of Hezekiah audio
-- Part 5, Isaiah Shifts Gears audio
-- Part 6, The Conclusion audio

You can find many more podcasts, book recommendations, and other resources under the resources menu on this website. 

*Photo of Isaiah taken by user, "Ted" is registered under a creative commons license. 

A Look at End Times, AKA: "An Overview of Eschatology"

A part of the ministry of is a podcast called Salty Believer Unscripted.  You can find our podcasts on our Resources Page or subscribe to it on iTunes.  (A selection of them are also available at

If you've never listened to "Salty Believer Unscripted," it's basically an unscripted, unedited 20 to 30 minute conversation between pastors that's recorded so you can join in.  We typically select a series topic (but not always) and chat over coffee.  We just finished a series called "An Overview of Eschatology" which takes a look at what the Bible has to say about the end times.  (At the time of this post, we're recording a series of podcast with other church planters and pastors, getting a feel for what's happening in the ministry of church planting across the country.)

Eschatology is kind of a funny thing. Either people are excessively into it and it dictates how they think about everything or they really don't have an opinion or thought about it at all.  This, I think, is primarily because people are so influenced by how they've seen others behave rather than what the Bible says.  So Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, Brett Ricely, and I set out to introduce and discuss some of the ideas contained in the study of Eschatology.  And in case you're wondering, we start with "What does Eschatology mean?"

Through this discussion, we cover topics like how we should interpret prophecy, where to find end times stuff in the Bible, why is studying eschatology important, the millenium, the tribulation, and the state of both heaven and hell.  Hopefully this will help you on your journey to better understand eschatology.  Are you a premillennialist, amillennialist, or postmillennialist?  How do you understand books like Revelation, Matthew, Daniel, and Isaiah; and what are they saying about the end?  What's your view on the tribulation and rapture?  Are you a litterlisist, historicists, or something else?  What is the New Heavens and New Earth like?  What's going to happen to this earth?  Why should we care?  We hope to help you answer these and many other questions.  However, we only offer a brief overview.  We don't get too bogged down.

Whether you have an interest in the end times or if you've never thought about it, I hope you'll consider checking out our Salty Believer Unscripted series, "An Overview of Eschatology."

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

Or listen here:

An Overview of Eschatology
-- An Intro of the Terms audio
-- Prophecy: A Difficult Task audio
-- The Near-Far Views of Prophecy audio
-- Scripture, Not Man's Ideas audio
-- Definitions: How We See Prophecy audio
-- Understanding the Millennium audio
-- Why We Should Study for Ourselves audio
-- The Tribulation and Rapture audio
-- The The Glory and Wonder of Heaven audio
-- Hell is for Real audio

*Artwork by user, "Rich" is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission. 

Overview of Eschatology

Salt Believer Unscripted has embarked into the future, that is, we've started a series that looks at eschatology.  This is not to say that we're going to start wearing sandwich boards that read, "The end is near."  We're not going to scream through a bullhorn.  And we don't need to identify The Anti-Christ because the Apostle John already has (in 1 John 2:22 he says he's anybody who denies the Father and the Son).  No, we're simply walking through an overview of eschatology.

If we're not going to get over-excited about end times symbolism and preach every sermon about our view of the end, why are we doing it?  Well, because we want to do our best to understand Scripture.  Avoiding specific Scriptural teaching just because people get crazy about it and it's kind of strange is not a sound practice for a student of the Bible.  Also, because Revelation 1:3 says, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near."  If people are blessed to read the book of Revelation, that is stands to reason that we probably ought to study it.  I suspect the same is true of Isaiah, Matthew, Daniel, the letters of the Paul, and all the other books of the Canon.  And finally, because a listener asked after seeing a trailer for a Hollywood's attempt to explain it.

If you'd like to join us for this series, subscribe to our podcast or find the series on the resource page of

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

*Artwork by Phillip Medhurst is registered under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Playing the Bride

Many little girls fantasize about their future wedding day.  They dream of an amazing dress, flowers, a big beautiful cake, and dancing.  In their aspirations all eyes are on the bride.  Everybody is saying, "isn't she beautiful!"

Many little girls strive to achieve this fantasy as they grow into women.  They design their big day around the plan they've been brewing for a lifetime. It's a lot of work with little chance of living up to the expectation.  But something serious is missing--the groom.

How easy is it find a bride-to-be tasting cake, picking flowers, and planning the ceremony with the groom-to-be simply in tow?  How often do we hear, "this is the bride's day?"  I've been know to say those very words to stressed out grooms.  It seems exhausting on the bride and taxing on the groom.

As I've been 'playing at church,' or rather, working to build a core team to start another Christian congregation in the Salt Lake valley, I've felt as though our little baby church plant is like the little girl dreaming of her wedding day.  Our team is 'trying it on' with ambition and aspiration, but often what we're looking to is the trappings of the local church, not the Groom who calls the Church his bride.

It's so easy to be busy.  It's easy to chase after the 'stuff' of the local church.  Growing leaders desire to have people fellowshipping in their homes with little understanding the fellowship the Bible actually calls for.  We want to build systems that get people connected to our congregation but we don't fully grasp the necessary connection to God's Kingdom.  We want to be heard as wise but are unsure about our willingness to truly get into the messiness of real lives.  We (certainly myself included) get excited about graphics and colors and chair arrangements and sound systems and forget that none of these things have eternal significance.  Potential preachers want to stand in the pulpit and preach a good sermon with little thought of the shepherding and care that the pulpit demands.  All of this is because we hold to a worldly view of the marriage we have with Jesus.  At times we're putting the dream before the reality; we're assembling a wedding day without the Groom.

The Bible provides us with a picture of a bride and a groom.  We are the bride and Jesus is the Groom.

Ephesians 5:25-27 charges the husband to love his wife, but it also gives us a beautiful picture of Christ's love for his bride.  It reads, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (ESV).

Jesus makes his bride beautiful!

How much more joy might the Bride of Christ have if we would get our priorities right?  How much more beautiful would the local church be if Christ were truly our passion and the 'stuff' came second or third or somewhere else down the line?  The stuff is so tempting because we often want all eyes on us as we desire the community around us to look at our local congregations and say, "isn't it beautiful" or "isn't this church cool."  Too often church leaders and preachers (myself included) want people to say, "Wow, great sermon" or "yes, I really like the _________ here" (fill in the blank with your favorite 'stuff').

While it is so easy to say and so hard to do, I believe it's critical that we dump our dreams and fantasies of what the local church should be and look to Jesus because he is not only the groom, he is the Head of the Church.  Jesus is our senior pastor.  And the Senior Pastor cares little for the 'stuff' and much for you and me, his bride.

(If you'd like to see more about what God's Word says about Christ and the Bride, here are some chapters to get you started: Psalm 45; Isaiah 62; Matthew 25; Mark 2; Revelation 19, 21, and 22.) 

*Photo by Amy Ann Brockmeyer is used with permission. 

Don't Hate Your Job

Most people have a season at some point in life where they really don't like going to work.  In fact, some people even hate their jobs.  They don't get along with their employer, or if they are the employer they don't like their employees.  But the Bible teaches that this ought not be the case for Christians.

Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah has been journeying through the book of Ephesians and I was called upon to preach from Ephesians 6:5-9.

Ephesians 6:5-9 is often a text that gets skimmed over because readers think that the slave or the bondservant relationship to an earthy master is outdated in not relevant to life today.  They couldn't be more wrong.  In my sermon, I deal with the instructions to employees and employers.  Then I journey into what the text demonstrates as the larger Master-slave relationship we as believers have as Christians. Everybody is a slave to something, either sin or righteousness.  If Jesus is our Master than we are slaves who are truly free.  I explain this in greater detail in the sermon and you can listen by clicking on the link below.

You get the opportunity to serve Christ when you go to work.  What a grand opportunity!  Remember this as you head into work and have joy in your workplace because of what Christ has done for you.

*I opened my sermon with a very brief discussion of our efforts to plant a church in the Salt Lake valley.  Risen Life is our sending church and a core team is meeting in my home as we seek God's vision for how we are to begin this new work.  My name is Bryan Catherman and if you are interested in learning more about our efforts, praying for us, financially supporting us, or joining our mission, I would love to hear from you.  You can contact me here.


Angels are a source of great fascination.  Speculation, personal desire, and artists' renderings seem to dictate most of what society thinks about angelic beings.  The Bible offers us some insight, but not much.  Many ask why the Bible doesn't give us a better idea on the topic of angels; however, it's important to see that the Bible is the story of God's redemptive history of fallen man.  The Bible is the revelation of God and shows his desire to be in relationship with us.  In this story, angels are just the extras, the bit parts. They play a supporting role in God's plan and what we need to learn from the Bible is not necessarily everything about angels, but as much as we can about the God who loves us and sent is only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die so all who believe in him will have life rather than death.

That being said, Angels are in the Bible and there is an entire field of biblical study on the topic of angels called angelology.  (Much of angelology is spent knocking down misconceptions held by society.)  While most of what the Bible says about angels could be handled in a single post, this post will only deal with a couple questions.

What, or who are angels?

Angels are beings created by God.  Often they are unseen, but when seen they look like lightning or fire, or they seem to have the ability to look like humans (2 Kings 6:15-17, Genesis 18:2-19:22; John 20:10; and Acts 12:7-10 for example).   Hebrews 13:2 even suggests that they can blend in and be completely mistaken for humans.  In these cases, it seems that angels don't have wings; however, we must also remember verses like Isaiah 6:2 where an angelic being called a seraphim is said to have six wings.  In other accounts we see an angelic being called a cherubim.  This is the being that's waiving a flaming sword back and forth to prohibit man's reentry to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).  The cherubim is also the same creature God commanded the Hebrews to sculpt on top of the Ark of the Covenant. These cherubim had wings that touched each other (Exodus 25:17-22).   Demons are fallen angels, cast out of heaven and waiting for the final judgment and not granted forgiveness or salvation through repentance (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that angels were ever human.  We do not become angels when we die and our deceased loved ones are not angels looking over us.  In addition, angels do not become humans; they are not our future family members in some kind of preexistence waiting for a body on earth.  The Bible does not speak of angels or humans in this way and there's nothing suggesting that humans were in a preexistence with God.  These ideas are simply creations of human thinking.  The Bible teaches that humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, not angels (to see this, start reading in Genesis 1 and stop after Revelation 22).

What do angels do; this is, what is their purpose?

Just as is the purpose of man, angels were created to glorify God.  We often see angels worshiping God (Psalm 103:20-21, Psalm 148:2, and Isaiah 6:1-7 for example).  Sometimes they act as God's messengers such as in Daniel 8-9 and Luke 1. They protect God's people (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11,  and Acts 12 for example).  Matthew 18:10 seems to suggest that children have an angel watching over them and Luke 16:22 might suggest that angels have a responsibility at the time of a believer's death.  And most importantly, angels usher in and proclaim Christ at his birth, resurrection, and return.  Angels don't die and they they do not marry (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36).

Too often, people get hung up on the work of angels.  In doing so, they completely miss the bigger work of God as he is redeeming his creation.  Looking to angels, they do not look upon Christ.  In order to see angels rightly, it is best to first see Christ for who he is.  (If you have questions, I am happy to answer them and chat more about this with you.  You may contact me here.)   

* Photo of mourning angel at the churchyard of San Miniato al Monte (Firenze) in Firenze, Italy was taken by Mark Voorendt, April 2001 and is registered under a creative commons license.

Interconnectedness of the Bible: 1 Chronicles 28:9

"It's clear that the Bible is too superintended to be a random collection of books," a pastor friend once said to me.  I agree.  Like watching a good flick, reading the Bible a few times opens up a fascinating realm of things missed on a first or second pass.  This exploration can continue for a life time if you just keep reading the Bible.  It's a supernatural interconnected single story, woven together through the merciful revelation of God to his creation over the course of about 2,000 years through forty or so human authors.  (More technically, the Bible is God's divinely authored revelation of himself to his people, written through his people.  It's a complex dual authorship!)  And it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates new things as you read, learn, and grow; therefore,  as you keep reading you grow more and more convinced of the truth of God's Word, the Bible.

Evidence of the Bible's interconnectedness abounds.  I've not done a formal study or count, but I'd venture a guess that there are thousands of passages that point to other passages in one way or another and they all point toward Christ.  We'll use 1 Chronicles 28:9 as an example.

Chapter 28 of 1 Chronicles opens with David, the king of Israel, giving a speech to the officials assembled in Jerusalem.  He tells them that he had a heart to build a temple for God but God had not allowed him to do so.  He also expressed that Solomon, his son, was chosen by God to be his successor and it will be Solomon who will build the temple.  At verse 9 David shifts his speech directory toward Solomon.  He gives him a charge and some instruction.  "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever" (ESV).

I found well over 100 cross references for the various aspects of this passage, but for the sake of this post, I'll only deal with a couple parts of this very loaded verse, and even in that, I'll only provide a small sample of interconnected verses. 

First, much of the Old Testament talks about God in terms of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, or in other terms--the God of our fathers.  Many times the God of one's father becomes one's own God, as if there's a transition from one to another or a personal acceptance or relationship as the son grows and begins to know the God of his father for himself.  God is no longer the God of someone else, but personal.  This talk of the God of our fathers as well as the transition can be seen in verses like Genesis 28:13, Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 15:2.  In 2 Kings 21:22 Amon walks away from the God of his fathers, whereas Josiah does walk in the way of the God of David, that is, the God of his fathers (1 Kings 22:2). This language is found over and over again until Christ walks among his people and actually calls God his Father! No longer is the worship and service to the God of our fathers, but the Heavenly Father himself. Then, because of Jesus, we too are able to call God our Father because we are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5).  

Next, as early as Genesis 6:5, the Bible indicates that God knows the thoughts and intentions of man.  1 Samuel 16:7, at the time when they boy David was being identified as Israel's king, it is said that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at man's heart.  Psalm 7:9 identifies God as one who tests minds and hearts. Psalm 139:2 says that God can even discern these thoughts from a distance.  The idea of testing thoughts and intentions is present again in Jeremiah 11:20 and again in Jeremiah 17:10.  So it should help us see that Jesus is God when he has this very ability.  In John 1:47 Jesus looks into the deep of Nathanael. Repeatidly, Jesus knew what the Pharases were thinking as well as his disciples (see: Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Luke 1:51; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; and Luke 11:17).  And the disciples new and believed that God searches the heart as is evident in Acts 1:24.  Paul also writes about it in Romans 8:27.

Jeremiah 29:13 says that seekers of God find him.  Jesus, as the Messiah and God, repeats the same seek and you will find  theme in Matthew 7:7-8, and in Revelation 3:20 he extends an invitation for a relationship.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are repeated invitations to enter into a relationship with God, no longer serving the God of our fathers but the Heavenly Father himself.

It is because of the interconnectedness that we use the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The more plain passages help us understand the more complex ones.  The connections between the books, the players, and various smaller stories help us understand the larger story of God's redemption.  It's all interconnected.  It's one story woven together like a beautiful basket.

*Photo of weaved basket by Damian Gadal is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Isaiah 7:14 and the Immanuel Sign

As one reads Isaiah 7:14 in isolation of the New Testament, questions may surface about the identity of the boy named Immanuel, but it would seem less significant than the circumstances surrounding this passage. King Ahaz has not placed his trust in the Lord. Isaiah indicates that Ahaz was instructed to ask God for a sign, likely regarding the future of his kingdom in the face of heated politics and a looming invasion. But Ahaz, indignant, will not ask for a sign, but God says he will provide one anyway, maybe now a different sign in light of Ahaz’s rejection. The sign is that a young woman will give birth and name her child Immanuel, which means God is with us. This, on its face does not seem too unusual considering that surrounding this passage Isaiah has already been instructed to give two other symbolic names to his children. Before the boy Immanuel knows the difference between good and evil, Ahaz’s frightful enemies will be no more. That's it. That's the sign.

Only there's something more in this Isaiah text. The boy’s mother (who is left unidentified) is either young, young and unmarried, soon to be married, and likely a virgin. Or maybe she is a combination of these possibilities. If this is where the story ended, the vast amount of word studies, articles, and books on this passage would seem rather unusual, but this is not where it ends. Centuries later, Matthew writes of Jesus and Mary, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoke by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (Matt 1:22-23, ESV). Matthew is quoting the Isaiah text. Matthew claims Immanuel in the Isaiah passage is pointing to Jesus.  Jesus is the sign and Jesus is the fulfillment.

But if Jesus is the sign and fulfillment of the Isaiah text, how did Ahaz understand the sign that was given to him? How did readers of Isaiah before the Matthew Gospel understand the sign? How did they understand the identity of Immanuel? Who is he?

This presents a number of problems. Is Matthew wrong?  If he is, how are his readers to believe the rest of his Gospel? If Matthew is right, how are readers to view the Isaiah text? Is there a possibility that there was a duel meaning in this text—that is, could there have been two events that fulfill this sign prophecy? If there is indeed a near and a far view of this passage, were both mothers virgins and was there two boys to fulfill the product of a virgin conception prophecy?

Before we go any further, I should say that I believe that Matthew is correct; therefore, any understanding of the Isaiah passage must include Matthew’s statement. Matthew’s text means that Jesus fulfills the sign prophecy given to Ahaz and the Isaiah text was indeed talking about Jesus, at a minimum. But could the Isaiah text have a duel meaning? Some would argue that a text can only have a single meaning, but Matthew seems to find a duel meaning in other passages too. Hebert Wolf, in his article, “A Solution to The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22” calls these duel meanings “secondary interpretations” (Wolf, 456). Matthew uses Hosea 11:1, which spoke of the Exodus from Egypt, as a prophecy of Jesus coming back from his flight to Egypt.   Jeremiah 31:15, where Rachael is weeping for Ramah, is tied to Herod’s mass killing of the young boys in an effort to kill the Messiah. “In an analogous manner,” writes Wolf, “Matthew selected Isa 7:14 to describe the birth of Jesus. The language was perfectly suited to Matthew's purpose; and where he went beyond the normal interpretation, he clearly explained the circumstances” (Wolf 456).

Given that at a minimum, the sign was indeed a prophecy of Jesus, how was Ahaz to understand it? And how is a modern reader to see the Isaiah passage? John Oswalt’s approach seems to shed some light on this matter. “I believe,” states Oswalt, “that the sign originally given had a single meaning but a double significance” (Oswalt, 140). This approach does much to resolve what appears to be conflict. “Its meaning is that God is with us and we need not fear what other human beings may do to us” (Oswalt, 140). To Ahaz, Oswalt argues, the statement would provide significance regarding Assyria. He need not worry because God is with Judah. In this case, a specific child may have been indicated and the significance seen in the physical reality of the sign through the birth of a child named Immanuel. Oswalt even argues, “The fact that ‘almah has the definite article suggests that Isaiah is identifying a particular woman” (Oswalt, 140). The second significance is found in the birth of Jesus. The meaning is the same: God is with us. Even considering that Mary named the boy Jesus, the meaning in Isaiah remains the same. Some may suggest that this sign is too simple because God originally directed Ahaz to ask for a deep and high sign, that is, one that is amazing and miraculous; however, the reality that God is with his creation should been seen with this kind of miraculous wonder. Indeed, God entering flesh is so amazing that for many, they cannot even accept it. Given the larger context of Immanuel in Isaiah, Oswalt’s argument seems valid.

There is still a problem however. Two virgins? The word in Isaiah identifying the woman is the Hebrew word ‘almah. This particular word is a difficult word because it neither definitively points a woman who has never had sexual relations or a young woman. It seems both could be correct. Richard Niessen writes 15 pages and 72 footnotes on the word only to conclude, “The evidence supports both the traditional translation of ‘virgin’ and the modern translation of ‘young woman,’ but each must be qualified. The English term ‘virgin’ does not suggest age limitations while the English phrase ‘young woman’ does not suggest virginity. The word [‘almah] demands both, and so a more accurate translation would be ‘young virgin’” (Niessen, 1470).

It does not become less complicated when we see that the LXX translated the word as parthenos, a word that points more toward a young unmarried woman and mainly by implication is one who has not had sexual intercourse.

At any rate,  it appears that Isaiah is referring to a young, unmarried, virgin who will at some point in the future have a son. There is little in this statement that would demand that she is still a virgin, unmarried, or even young at the time of Immanuel’s birth. Matthew on the other hand, uses the term in the context that Mary had not ever been with a man at any point before the birth of Christ (see Matt 1:25). There is nothing in Isaiah that would dictate that the near and far view of this prophecy are physically the same. The meaning remains.

For the present-day student of the Bible however, we have the far view in our sights and it is much more significant for us today. Seeing Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the Isaiah passage speaks a much more meaningful message to us at this point in time than does a sign to Ahaz that God was with Judah. We should spend more of our time looking to Jesus when we read this text.

Niessen, Richard. “The virginity of the `almah in Isaiah 7:14.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980): 133-50.
Oswalt, John. Isaiah: The NIV Application Commentary: from Biblical Text- to Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2003.
Wolf, Herbert M., “Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972): 449-56.

* Photo by Flickr user, Lawrence OP, and is used by permission. 

The New Self: Colossians 3:5-16

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul encourages his Christian readers to put to death the negative things (sin) that may have been a reality in their pre-conversion life and to put on—like a garment—the better things that should be a normal part of the Christian spiritual life. Just the fact that Paul is encouraging the Colossians to make this change suggests that this kind of transformation is not an automatic aspect of the impartation of the Holy Spirit upon regeneration as one might have hoped. And Paul has some experience in this aspect of Christian living as he confesses that even as a Christian he does the things he does not want to do and fails to do the things he desires to do.1 Yet this is no excuse. Paul still admonishes his readers, to include today’s Christians, and even myself, to make this wardrobe change daily.
Paul starts with the things that must go. He tells his readers that they must ‘put off’ the old self. This old self is the negative actions and attitudes of their earthly ways, which he lists as “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (which he calls idolatry).2 He continues by adding “anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk” and he includes lying to one another in the following sentence.3 Two words are used that liken the removal of these items to garments or coverings. The first is apotithēmi, which Stong indicates is to “put off, case off, laid down, lay apart, lay aside [or a] putting away.”4 The second word is very much like the first. It is apekdyomai, which means, “to put off, take off, [or to] divest wholly of.”5 Both of these words paint a picture of the old ways for old self being shed off like an article of clothing and the same picture is used when Paul discusses which articles should be put on. But Paul’s instruction is not simply to remove the rags of the old ways and drop them on the floor. He says to put them to death.6 And in fact, these old ways are not simply garments, they are the old self, that is, they are what the believer once was. Unfortunately, these rags still clothe the believer from time to time, which is why they must die, so they do not return, so they will never be worn again.

And when the believer takes off these items, metaphorically striped to nothing but nakedness, Paul encourages the believer to put on robes of another kind. Paul says, “put on the new self.”7 This self, it seems, presents the believer as in the image of the Creator. This image is much like that found in Genesis 1:26 before the fall; however, before sin there was no need for clothing, fig leaves, animal flesh, or the attribute robes of which Paul speaks. These clothes, and the image of the new self, are “holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and above these garments like the belt that holds it all together in perfect harmony is love.8 The idea presented to the Colossians, which should also be applied to believers today, is to shed the old self (the sin nature) and replace it with the very image of God. And in doing so, Paul demonstrates what the practical results will look like—peace with one another, gratitude, teaching and admonishing one another for positive growth and worship through “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” all done with thankful hearts.
It is one thing to understand what the text means, and what Paul is really telling his readers to do—that is, to willing move toward sanctification—but it is another thing all together when one thinks of how this is done. Is it as easy as taking off a garment or putting a new one on? The truth of the biblical narrative is that this task is impossible for us to do. We fall short every time when we think in these terms because we often think of taking off and putting on in terms of our own work and our own doing.

Looking at the bigger picture of Paul’s teachings within the context of the Bible, the only way we are to truly mortify and kill these sins and then put on the new self, the very image of God, is through a total submission to God. It is only through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, be it through his conviction, his empowering, his gifting, and by the fruit of the Spirit that any of this is possible. Therefore, it would seem that Paul is actually telling his readers that one must be willing and prepared to be undressed and redressed. After all, the best Adam and Eve could come up with on their own was fig leaves. It was God who clothed them. And one day, God’s people will be clothed by God in robes of righteousness.9
The next question for this post then is this: Is there anything a person can do to be willing and prepared? The answer is yes. This is where spiritual formation is involved. Through a diligent effort to grow and develop in the area of our spiritual desires toward God, we can help prepare our hearts and minds for this continual transformation in our post conversation lives. We can strive for a diet of meat rather than remaining content on a milk like those the author of Hebrews addresses in Hebrews 6. We can engage in prayer and fasting, journaling and service. We can study and know the Word of God. We worship through singing, music, poetry, and many other art forms. Scripture memorization might also help shape the heart. Small groups that encourage open and honest discussion and support are yet another example of activities that help one grow in the spiritual life.

And I would like to conclude with a personal reflection upon my own efforts to grow and develop the spiritual life. I keep a regular habit of morning Scripture reading and prayer. This is not study, just reading as if to drink in the Word of God. I also keep a journal of prayer items and requests that I try to pray for regularly. This journal includes Scriptures that I like to pray through and meditate upon. It also contains a list of every lost person I know so that I may pray for them by name, usually about five a day. Later in the day I work on a Bible study to get much deeper into a specific passage. I teach a Sunday school class for adults and often the topic I teach tends to result in specific aspects of that lesson teaching me much that week. I meet with a group of men in an effort to seek help identifying the things that I need to put off and things I need to put on. Once we have identified them, we pray for God’s work to be done in our lives. This group of men also meets on Thursday evenings in a group that includes our wives where we pray and study together. And as a chaplain at the VA hospital, I often meet with other chaplains in much the same way as I meet with the men of the small group. This helps me serve better. I believe these are among some of the things I do to help me be willing to put off the old self and put on the new. I pray that I am always willing to mortify who I was in myself and put on the image of God as I am becoming the new self God has called me to become.

Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive
Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.

1 See Romans 7:12-25.
2 Colossians 3:5, ESV. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes taken from the Bible will be from the English Standard Version (ESV).
3 Colossians 3:8-9.
4 James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 1594.
5 Strong 2001, 1593.
6 Colossians 3:5.
7 Colossians 3:10.
8 Colossians 3:12, 14.
9 See Psalm 132:9 and Isaiah 61:10.

** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Why Did Christ Have to Die?

Questions that are central to Christianity are worth discussion. For a couple years I've had a desire to create videos that start the conversation in a video format and then make those videos widely available. As I've been thinking through this idea I realized that I could potentially boil down the material I am teaching in a Systematic Theology class and start making videos. I hope they may be useful to individuals but also for community groups where the leader uses the video to simply start the conversation.

The question of this video: Why did Jesus have to die? I hope it is helpful to you. If you have questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Fig Tree or Shade Tree? Luke 13:6-9

Jesus often taught via parables.  I've been blessed to preach again on one of the parables shared by Jesus, recorded in Luke 13:6-9.  In this parable, there's a fig tree that has produced no fruit in three years.  The owner of this tree would like it cut down.  It's my hope and prayer that God will use me in his service as you watch this video and you will learn more about God and his Word (the Bible) and then love him more.

This sermon was preached during a Sunday Night Gathering at Risen Life Church on August 8, 2011.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

John and the Holy Spirit


The Fourth Gospel, that is, the Gospel of John, is often viewed in light of the author’s stated purpose of documenting specific signs “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[1] In addition, this Gospel is often viewed as providing great evidence of the hypostatic union of Jesus’ simultaneous deity and humanity. And Carson and Moo argue, “The elements of what came to be called the doctrine of the Trinity find their clearest articulation, within the New Testament, in the Gospel of John.”[2] However, while the Fourth Gospel’s main focus appears to be on Jesus, the Gospel also demonstrates the person, purpose, and deity of the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

John, the son of Zebedee, walked with Jesus and was his disciple for the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Synoptic Gospels often record that John was among Jesus’ inner-circle of disciples, regularly present for many special events as an eyewitness. And if John, the son of Zebedee, is the beloved disciple and author of the Fourth Gospel (as this author believes he is), there is clear evidence through the Gospel of John that John had a special relationship with Jesus. In addition, John was present in the upper room at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the small group.[3] And the remainder of the New Testament provides an indication that John experienced many aspects of the faith, being animated and moved by the Holy Spirit, which greatly aided him in his calling as an Apostle to teach the world. This post will examine one aspect of his teaching—the Holy Spirit. First, a discussion of many sections of the Gospel of John and one unique word choice will be offered. Next, this post will examine (and speculate) what John may have understood during the time of his narrative compared to what he understood at the point of authoring his Gospel. Then, before the conclusion, this post will look at what aspects of the Holy Spirit would be unknown without the Fourth Gospel.


When attempting to understand what the beloved disciple’s Gospel teaches on the Holy Spirit, it is best to look at the evidence from John’s hand. John uses two words when referring to the Holy Spirit. The first is pneuma, which is the more common use for the Spirit throughout John, as well as throughout the New Testament. Fifteen times this word is used in reference to the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel. Eight times John’s Gospel uses pneuma in reference to the nonphysical part of a person or a person’s soul, and once it is in reference to wind. Looking to John’s other canonical writings, pneuma twice refers to breath, twice to a mood or intention, 12 times to demonic or angelic beings, and 20 times it is used in reference to the Holy Spirit. There are 319 uses of the same word outside the Johannine corpus, all being employed much in the same way as John’s usages. And considering that Klein Bloomberg and Hubbard argue, “[The Septuagint (LXX)] became the Bible of most of the early Christians during the writing of the NT,” there is a possibility that John knew the Hebrew Bible by way of the Septuagint (LXX); therefore, it may be worth noting that pneuma appears 350 times in the Septuagint (LXX).[4] The second word John uses in reference to the Holy Spirit is parakleōtos. This word is used significantly less, only by John, and will be discussed in greater detail below. Attention will now shift to specific passages in John where either one of these two words is used in reference to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit on Jesus: 1:32-33. John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, declared that he did not know who the Lamb of God would be, but that God told him he would know when he saw the Spirit descend and remain on him. In addition, John said of Jesus, “I saw the Spirit descent from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”[5] The Spirit served as an anointing sign to the Baptist. And through John the Baptist’s witness, John, the Gospel author, is able to provide a sign of Jesus’ anointing for his soon-coming ministry. “The descent of the Spirit on Jesus,” states Bruce, “marked him out as the Davidic ruler of Isa. 11:2ff, of whom it is written, ‘the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’, as the Servant of whom God says in introducing him in Isa. 42:1, ‘I have put my Spirit upon him’, and as the prophet who announces in Isa. 61:1, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord as anointed me . . .’”[6]

Baptizing with the Spirit: 1:33. John the Baptist was baptizing with water, but the one who sent him to baptize reviled that another would be coming with a greater baptism. This baptism is different than anything the Baptist could offer, and in fact could only be given by the Son of God. Carson suggests that this Baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit points forward to a new age when God will pour out the Spirit onto (or into) his people, alluding to Ezekiel 36:25-26 where following a water cleansing, God implants within the person a new heart and a new spirit.[7]

Born of the Spirit: 3:5-8. Jesus introduces and interesting concept to Nicodemus, a Pharisee. He tells Nicodemus that he must be born again and that rebirth is of water and Spirit. Morris suggests a couple meanings of this passage. The first is that the water represents a repentance baptism, such as John the Baptist was administering; and the Spirit is, “namely the totally new divine life that Jesus would impart.”[8] The second meaning of being born of water and Spirit could suggest that being born of water points to a natural birth and then being born of the Spirit is a birth of spiritual regeneration. Either way, Jesus is clear that one must be born of the Holy Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God, meaning that the Holy Spirit holds a significant role in this second birth and man’s ability to enter the kingdom of God.

Given without measure: 3:34. Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic words in Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, and 61:1, the Holy Spirit rests upon the Servant. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is suggested as having an empowering quality. Jamieson suggests that while some human-inspired teachers might have the Holy Spirit to some degree, God has bestowed the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in an unlimited measure.[9]

Giver of life: John 6:63. In this passage, Jesus gives credit to the Spirit as the giver of life. The Fourth Gospel has already shared the words of Jesus stating that the Holy Spirit plays a significant role in the new birth. Now he confirms that it is the Holy Spirit that gives life. Carson claims, “One of the clearest characteristics of the Spirit in the Old Testament is the giving of life.”[10] However, in this verse the Spirit as the giver of life is being sharply contrasted against the flesh. And in the very next sentence, Jesus says that it is the words that he speaks that are spirit and life. If it is in Jesus’ words that life and spirit are discovered, than there is a connection between the Spirit and the words of Jesus. To this idea, Morris suggests,
A woodenly literal, flesh-dominated manner of looking at Jesus’ words will not yield the correct interpretation. That is granted only to the spiritual man, the Spirit-dominated man. Such words cannot be comprehended by the fleshy, whose horizon is bound by this earth and its outlook. Only as the life-giving Spirit informs him may a man understand these words.[11]
Receive the Holy Spirit: 7:39; 20:22. At the Feast of Booths, Jesus declared that for anyone who believes in him, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”[12] John writes that this statement is in reference to the Spirit, “whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”[13] Marsh states, “This is written not only from the perspective of this particular narrative of the gospel, but also from the later perspective of the Church, in which every believer has received the Spirit (at baptism).”[14] The Spirit was not yet present in the form that Jesus was stating, but at a point after Jesus’ ascension, man would be in a position to receive the Holy Spirit. The Greek word behind the translation of receive, is lambanō, which means, “to take.”[15] There is an implication of some level of choice or action of willingness involved. Recorded in John 20:22, Jesus breathes on the disciples and commands them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Spirit of Truth who dwells in you: 14:15-17. It is here for the first time that parakleōtos is used in reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is about do depart and he is preparing his disciples for the time when he is gone. But Jesus is not leaving them alone and without a helper or champion; he will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the parakleōtos. But while this coming Helper will dwell among men just as Jesus did, he will also dwell within the disciples. Jesus also declares, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”[16] John, it seems, has painted a picture of an amazing union between the Holy Trinity and the believer.

The Teacher: 14:25-26. Jesus has been with the disciples for some time, teaching and training them. He has taught them many things, and soon it will be their responsibility to teach others. However, it seems that at times, the disciples failed to understand what Jesus was attempting to teach them. Understanding did not come until after they received the Holy Spirit (see John 2:22 and 12:26, among many passages contained in the Synoptic Gospels.) But in this text, Jesus promises them a teacher who will “teach [them] all things and bring to [their] remembrance all that [Jesus had] said to [them].”[17] Bruce points out, “Now they are told that when the Paraclete comes, he will enable them to recall and understand when Jesus taught: he will serve them, in other words, as remembrancer and interpreter.”[18]

The Person and Witness: 15:26. There are two significant aspects about the Spirit in verse 26. First, as time moves forward, the Spirit will serve as a witness to testify about Jesus. Here, as elsewhere, the Spirit is given a purpose. (Subsequently, the disciples are also called upon the testify about what happened while they walked with Jesus.) Second, John says, “he will bare witness about me.”[19] Carson argues that it is no accident; John intentionally used the word ekeinos.[20] The Greek word, ekeinos, is a masculine pronoun and Carson demonstrates that its use is inconsistent with the “(formally) neuter status of the preceding relative pronoun.”[21] John is referring to the Holy Spirit in personal, male terms. He is thinking of the Holy Spirit as a person! Incidentally, John uses ekeinos for the Holy Spirit again in John 16:13-14.

The Guide who only speaks what he hears: 16:13-14. This passage specifically demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is not operating by his own authority, but is declaring what he hears, which glorifies Jesus. Theologically, this is one of many demonstrations of the Trinity’s simultaneous unity and equality of being in perfect submission to one another in the service of their unique purposes. “The Holy Spirit never magnifies Himself,” writes Duffield and Van Cleave, “nor the human vessel through whom He operates. He came to magnify the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Whenever He is truly having His way, Christ, and none other, is exalted.”[22]

Parakleōtos: 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7. In addition to the summary of passages above, there is some value in looking at a special term only John uses for the Holy Spirit. The use of parakleōtos is found only five times in the New Testament—four times in the Gospel of John and once in First John (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1). Incidentally, it makes no appearance in the Septuagint (LXX). Köstenberger states “The translation of this term has proved particularly difficult, since there does not seem to be an exact equivalent in the English language.”[23]

English Bible translations each seem to handle the parakleōtos differently. For example, the English Standard Version (ESV) uses the word “Helper” in all of the Gospel uses and “Advocate” in John’s first Epistle. The American Standard Version (ASV) uses “Comforter” in the Gospel use and “Advocate” in the letter. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) uses “Counselor” in the Gospel, and once again, “Advocate” is used in First John; and the same is true for the King James Version (KJV). The New International Version (NIV) also selected “Counselor” in the Gospel and simply says “one” in the Epistle. “Helper” is the choice for the New American Standard Bible (NASB) except in the letter, where “Advocate” is the selected word. The New English Translation (NET) uses “Advocate” for every occurrence, as does the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).

Turning to dictionaries and lexicon a variety of meanings for parakleōtos are presented. Perschbacher defines it as, “one called or sent for to assist another; an advocate, one who pleads the cause of another, [. . .] one present to render various beneficial service, and thus, the Paraclete, whose influence and operation were to compensate for the departure of Christ himself.”[24] Strong defines it as, “counselor, intercessor, helper, one who encourages and comforts; in the NT it refers exclusively to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus Christ.”[25]


As mentioned above, there are clear indications in the Fourth Gospel that suggest that while John was with Jesus during his earthly ministry, there were many things John did not fully understand. John 2:22 states, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” John 12:16 echoes this same idea. Both of these texts offer strong support for the development of John’s theology, and John 14:25-26 leaves the reader with the impression that the Holy Spirit likely had a profound impact upon John’s understanding sometime after the Pentecost. While it would only serve as speculation to attempt to determine what John learned from Jesus and what he learned from the Holy Spirit, a survey of John’s teaching on the Spirit can be juxtaposed against the Old Testament to determine how much John could have learned from Scripture. And what John teaches that has no counterpart in the Old Testament can then be assumed to have been taught to John either by Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

Before an examination of John’s teaching is contrasted against the Old Testament, it should be noted that there is still a possibility that John was unaware of a specific scriptural teachings on the Holy Spirit; and in fact, it was still Jesus or the Holy Spirit that served to teach John about these things. However, by conducting this examination, it can at least be determined what knowledge might have been available to John prior to encountering Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

John’s knowledge from the Scriptures. Staring with the Spirit being upon Jesus as an anointing power, John may have understood the idea of empowerment of the Spirit upon a person by examples from David and Saul, such as the example in First Samuel 16:13. And he may have understood the idea of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Servant of God as Isaiah’s prophecies dictated (Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 59:21, and 61:1). However as far as the Spirit dwelling within the believer, the Old Testament showed the Spirit coming on someone for a time to empower him, but there is no indication of the Holy Spirit actually dwelling within a person.

As for a baptism of the Spirit, this concept is only alluded to in Ezekiel 36:25-26; but even with this allusion, it likely would have been difficult to formulate a solid understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role in the cleansing and regeneration of the heart. Joel 2:28 provides a picture of a pouring out of the God’s Spirit that leads to an empowerment, but this picture of empowerment is lacking in the regeneration suggested in Ezekiel. Without encountering Jesus or the Holy Spirit, it is unlikely John would understand the baptism of the Spirit as he writes about it in the first chapter of his Gospel. And if baptism of the Spirit was a difficult concept without Jesus or the Holy Spirit’s teaching, being born of the Spirit would have been even more so. Not even Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee understood what Jesus was teaching at the time.

As John came to understand that the Spirit is in some way the giver of life, his thoughts were likely contrasted against passages that declare that God is the giver of life (like Genesis 2:7 and Psalm 80:18, for example). But in reading these passages, one would probably not concluded that that the Holy Spirit is the giver of eternal life as Jesus was teaching. And John would not likely be alone in this lack of understanding because John’s sixth chapter of his Gospel shows many disciples turning away from following Jesus due to confusion of Jesus’ statements about the life found in the Spirit and the lack of life in the flesh.

Psalm 25:8-9 and Isaiah 54:13 are examples of God being the teacher and instructor to his people. It may have been difficult to understand this teacher as being the Holy Spirit, but it certainly would not be a stretch to know that God does want to teach and remind his people of his ways. In fact, Jeremiah 31:33-34 suggests that God would eventually write his law upon the hearts of the people.


The Fourth Gospel provides some unique contributions to the believer’s understanding of the Holy Spirit. Without John’s Gospel, we would not have the discourse with Nicodemus, which includes a unique picture of being born of water and the Spirit as a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. John is also the only one to use the term parakleōtos, offering a different understanding of the Holy Spirit. Yes, John does use this word once in First John, but that use has legal cogitations, where as the other four uses suggest that the Spirit is a helper, counselor, and assisting presence. John’s use of ekeinos clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a thing or force. This is the most articulate argument for the personage of the Holy Spirit; without John, the other arguments may not have led the Church to the same conclusion. And John makes it clear that the Holy Spirit came because of Jesus’ death and glorification. He is present because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.


While John demonstrates the humanity and deity of Jesus, he also teaches a great deal on the Holy Spirit. After reviewing the ten passages of Scripture and reviewing John’s unique reference for the Holy Spirit, it should be clear that John held a strong understanding of the purpose and function of the Holy Spirit. Some of these characteristics of the Holy Spirit are found only in the Fourth Gospel, and given his understanding of the many aspects of Holy Spirit (some demonstrated only by John), the Fourth Gospel should be viewed as a valuable source for teaching on the Holy Spirit. It is the hope and prayer of this author that the readers of this post will be compelled to examine John’s articulation of the Holy Spirit for themselves, so that they will develop a stronger understanding of John’s written demonstration of the person, purpose, and power of the Holy Spirit.

Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1994.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1991.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angles, Cali: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. OakTree Software, Inc., 1871. Version 2.4. [Acccessed by Accordance Bible Software 9.2.1, March 6, 2011.]
Klein, William W., Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson, 2003.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002.
Marsh, John. Saint John. Philadelphia, Penn: Westminster Press, 1977.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1984.
Perschbacher, Wesley J. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.
Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, James A. Swanson, and James Strong. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.

1. John 20:31, English Standard Version (ESV). Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from the Bible will be taken from the ESV.
2. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 278.
3. Acts 1:13ff.
4. William W. Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 253.
5. John 1:23b.
6. F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1994), 53-54.
7. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1991), 152.
8. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans 1984), 216.
9. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (OakTree Software, Inc., 1871 Version 2.4.) [Acccessed by Accordance Bible Software 9.2.1, March 6, 2011.]
10. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 301.
11. Morris, 385.
12. John 7:38b.
13. John 7:39b.
14. John Marsh, Saint John (Philadelphia, Penn: Westminster Press, 1977), 344.
15. James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, James A. Swanson, and James Strong (The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 2986.
16. John 14:20.
17. John 14:26.
18. Bruce, 305.
19. John 15:26
20. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 529.
21. Ibid.
22. Guy P. Duffield, and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Cali: Foursquare Media, 2008), 295.
23. Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002), 157.
24. Wesley J. Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990), 308.
25. Strong, 3884. 

* "Ausgießung des Hl. Geistes" pictured in this post is in the public domain.
** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 3)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Rob Bell explores his thoughts about hell in the third chapter of his book, Love Wins.  With a part of this chapter he challenges the traditional Christian view of a place of punishment, sorrow, and anguish, and it also seems that he is laying the ground work for a future argument about the everlasting aspects of the biblical hell.  But Bell also uses this chapter to present an idea of hell on earth, maybe something like his ideas of heaven on earth. However, this twisted idea of hell that Bell shares speaks against the Gospel of Christ and against the biblical idea of hell; it is a heretical argument and a tragic concept with the potential for epic devastation, a message which no Christian preacher should ever suggest, preach, or teach.

Bell argues that hell on earth is for victims. 

How can this be good news?

(At this point, I realize that readers who love and support Bell and his book will be tempted to stop reading this review, and that's okay.  But it is my hope that those readers remember arguments that they themselves might have made.  "Don't pass judgment," they might have argued, "and don't form an opinion until you've read the book."  Some also argued that I would have to get to the end of the book to see the entire picture.  So if this is you, I hope you continue reading this review.  I hope you are willing to see it through to the end. I invite comments and questions via e-mail or in person.  Please feel free to contact me. And I realize I have just leveled some serious claims about Bell's ideas; so Mr. Bell, I invite you to contact me to discuss your ideas so I can better understand. Come out to Salt Lake so we can discuss this over a cup of coffee.)

In this chapter, Bell shares some of his observations and experiences he has had as a pastor--a trip to Rwanda, a time sitting with a rape victim, a question from a boy about his father who had just committed suicide, the look of a cocaine addict, the ripples of a marital affair, and a cruel dead man.

When Bell was in Rwanda, he witnessed many teenagers missing hands and legs.  They were victims of brutal treatment, forced upon them by no fault of their own. Bell says this was a tactic of a person's enemy.  Cutting off your enemy's hand or leg leaves a brutal reminder of what you did to him.  He is reminded of you every time he looks at his child.  To this, Bells says, "Do I believe in a literal hell?  Of course. Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs" (71).

Bell also asks if his readers have ever sat with a woman as she described what it was like when she was raped.  In another question he asks, "How does a person describe what it's like to hear a five-year-old boy whose father has just committed suicide ask, 'When is daddy coming home?'" (71).   

But here's the problem with these examples.  In the common vernacular, one might suggest that a hot stone massage is "heavenly" or maybe it's a piece of chocolate cake the warrants such a high description.  I even remember once buying a honey-baked ham from a company called Heavenly Ham, but I really don't think I bought a ham from heaven, not even heaven on earth.  This is metaphorical hyperbole.  Heaven is the greatest thing one can think of so we use it to describe great things, as if to say there is nothing better.  But in reality, the biblical heaven is not a hot stone massage or a piece of cake or a ham or even the commercial building where I bought the ham.  That's not what these kinds of statements are attempting to say.  We use the word and idea of hell in much the same way.  Hell is the worst thing we can think of so we make statements like, "War is hell."  We want to dramatically declare that it just doesn't get any worse than this.  So in that usage, armless, legless boys and rape victims and mothers who hear very difficult questions could easily say, "This is hell;" but that would not be the hell described in the bible.

What these horrific examples demonstrate is sin, or rather, the effects of sin.  See, the teens in Rwanda and the raped woman are the victims of sinful acts thrust upon them.  These are examples of sin in motion, the sin of humans; it's sin in the fallen world in which we live.  However, in the model Bell gives us, Abel would have been in hell during the few moments while Cain was murdering him (Genesis 4).  Stephen would have been in hell as he was being stoned to death, despite that the Bible says that he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man was standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7).  In this model, it seems that the early Saints were passing into a hell on earth while Saul was ravishing the Church (Acts 8).

And let us take a look at a parable Jesus shared about a rich man who died and was in Hades. (Bell also examines this parable, but for a much different reason.)  Luke 16:19-31 tells us a parable of this unnamed rich man and a poor begger named Lazarus.  Lazarus sat out side the rich man's gates starving.  Dogs licked Lazurus' sores, while the rich man did nothing for him.  In the parable, Lazarus ends up in heaven while the rich man ends up in hell.  There is a chasm between the two that does not allow anyone to pass from one place to the other (Luke 16:26).  But looking through the paradigm Rob Bell is giving us, it seems that before the two died, Lazarus was in hell, not the rich man.

In this parable, the dead rich man calls out to Abraham (who is with Lazarus) for mercy, but Abraham reminds the suffering man, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received the good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25, ESV).  And even later, the rich man begs that his brothers be warned so that they may repent (Luke 16:30) and avoid this . . . this what?  The rich man says "agony." Agony for what?  Could it be punishment?  But punishment for what?  His sin.  Maybe for neglecting the poor; maybe neglecting Jesus as Jesus discussed in Matthew 25 (another passage Bell examines for entirely different purposes in the previous chapter about heaven).  Doesn't this make sense in light of Romans 6:23 which states that the wages of sin is death?  Doesn't this make the gospel, that is, that Christ created a bridge across this chasm, seem like amazing news!  The painting that was so frightful to Bell is the bridge, and the reason it is a cross is because that is how Jesus made the bridge.

As I thought about those Rwandan teens, I couldn't help but think about the people inflicting "hell" upon these children.  They may have actually lived rather well, like the rich man.  And what about the rapist? And what about the religious people who stoned Stephen to death?  What about Saul?  It doesn't seem that there was a punishment or agonizing hell on earth for them.  Bell's hell on earth seems only to be agony and suffering for the victims.  Does the Bible really teach that the victims suffer hell on earth, a biblical hell, for the sins committed against them?  Or as with the rich man, does it seem that this judgment and punishment comes in the afterlife?

And what about the feelings and experiences of a cocaine addict or how the suffering a man might feel after he has sinned by having a marital affair?  Has God cast any of these living people in to hell, or at least a hell on earth? (And again, we can't say Mahatma Gandhi is in hell but it's okay to declare that these living people could be in hell?)  The answer is no, God has not cast these living people into hell on earth.  For the victims, we might think of this suffering in light of 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Romans 8:28.  These victims are not cast away from God.  And for the perpetrators who are suffering as a result of their own sin, we might call this conviction in some cases, or it may be that the law is acting like a schoolmaster (Galatians 3), all for the benefit of their salvation.  God may feel distant to them, but only because they have pushed him away, done as an act of their own self punishment.  But God has not cast them to the burning trash heap of hell, not yet anyway.  God is not neglecting them; he loves them and desires good things for them.

It may seem that the Bible only talks of hell as a garbage dump as Bell tries to present it.  (He says that the only mention of hell is the Greek word gehenna. But even staying on the surface of semantics, this argument neglects 2 Peter 2:4's use of the word tartaroō.)  And of course it would seem that there are very little mentions of hell or any kind of punishment if we only look for the word gehenna.  And if we neglect Jesus' parables and much of the symbolic hints of punishment and reward, and even much of the direct statements about a punishment for sin after death, we might think that hell is not that big of a deal.  We could falsely draw the conclusion that Jesus wasn't that concerned about hell.  But that would be a mistake.  Before you incorrectly draw that conclusion, read some passages in the Bible again, without anybody's commentary.  Here are just a few examples; there are many more: Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; Numbers 16:30, 33; Deuteronomy 32:22; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Samuel 22:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 11:8; 14:13; 17:13, 16; 21:13; 24:19; 26:6; Psalms 6:5; 9:17; Matthew 3:12; 5:22, 29–30; 7:23; 10:28; 11:23; 13:24-30, 42-43, 47-50; 16:18; 18:9; 23:15, 33; 25:32-33; Mark 9:43–47; Luke 3:17; 10:15; 12:5; 16:23; John 15:6; Acts 2:27, 31; James 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 9:2; 14:9-11; 18:8; 19:20; and 20:13–15

And I propose that if we are to look for any example of hell on earth we must look to the specific moment while Christ was on the cross as a propitiation for our sins; that is, taking on the sins of the world which were laid upon him (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).  In that moment, when it appeared that Jesus was isolated from the Father, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).  In that moment, Jesus was making a way for us.  And if anything were going to make an argument for hell on earth, it must be this moment.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 4)."

* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.
** Photo of "The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door" by James Joseph Jacques Tissot is used with permission from the Brooklyn Museum.

Theology of Missions

The Church today, at least in America, is conflicted about missions. Distinctions are argued between the terms, “mission” and “missions.”[1] In their book, Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One, Roxburgh and Boren spend an entire chapter explaining how and why the term “missional” cannot be defined.2 Some argue that the American Church is becoming inward focused, moving away from local and overseas missions in both sending qualified people and support. Many Christians avoid sharing their faith at home, let alone engage in missionary work beyond the borders of their suburbs. Could a move away from missionary work throughout the world be a result of the Church simply checking out of these theoretical and philosophical arguments? Or might it be that the Body of Christ in the United States is not educated about God’s Word regarding missions? This paper will argue that the problem is a checking out due to a lack of understanding. Therefore, a survey of missions found in the Old and New Testaments will precede a discussion of the theology of missions

The Church’s mission, or the idea that God’s people are to engage in missions,3 finds it start the moment Adam and Eve (after listening to the serpent) decided to rebel against God’s single prohibition in the Garden of Eden.4 As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee state, “As a result of their blatant denial of respect for their creator; God judges them and the serpent.”[5] God’s instruction to Adam (written in Genesis 2:17) indicated that the consequence of violating God’s command was death that very day. Yet, when the first sin accrued, neither Adam nor Eve fell down physically dead. Neither does God completely cast off humanity in judgment without a picture of his love for future humankind or his plan of redemption. On this matter Calvin writes, “For then was Adam consigned to death, and death began its reign in him, until supervening grace should bring a remedy.”[6] Genesis provides the first hint of this supervening grace when God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[7] Moreau, Corwin, and McGee call this hint the “initial promise of salvation, knows as the protoevangelium.”[8]

As the meta-narrative advances deeper into the Old Testament, God calls upon Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 records this contact, which ends with an indication of the necessity of missions and a forthcoming redemption. Verse 3 states in part, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[9] While not entirely clear at that point how all the families of the earth would be blessed, New Testament readers sit at a vantage point that affords them the ability to see this promise come to fruition. On numerous occasions, Old Testament writers look forward to this redemption, but they also serve as God’s agents to bring about his revelation of himself to other people groups. Leviticus 19:33 indicates that decedents of Abraham, the Israelites, were to love foreigners as much as the loved themselves. Kings 8:41-43 outlines how the Israelites were to share the revelation of God to foreigners and allow them to worship him in the temple. The key running through the passage is that “all the peoples of the earth” may know God’s name and worship him.[10] In prophesying the restoration of Israel, Amos declares that all nations called by God will take part in that restoration.[11] And Isaiah 56 shows that salvation is soon coming available to all people.

In light of Old Testament passages that show God’s love for all nations, it is important to see the role of the Israelites in God’s plan of redemption for all people. Too often, new students of the Bible will feel that God’s chosen people were the only ones he loved or blessed; but in fact, God’s people were and are actually called to be his missionaries and servants to the rest of the world. For example, Isaiah says that God has called his people, among other things, to be a light to the gentiles.[12] “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”[13] And in fact, Old Testament readers will find that Jonah—unwilling, but still under the command of God—went on a missionary journey to the gentiles in Nineveh. Ester too seems to demonstrate her God’s glory in a foreign land, as do Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego). As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee conclude, “Mission in the Old Testament involves the individual and the community of God’s people cooperating with God in his work of reversing what took place as a result of the fall.”[14]

The New Testament—coming by way of the fulfillment of promises made many years earlier—is not only the good news of Jesus’ gospel, it is also the call to missions. Even before Christ went to the cross, he presented a picture of a people reaching out to the world in order to proclaim the good news of salvation. Much of the New Testament implores the Church and the individual believers to engage in mission and live sent. Jesus tells his disciples that just as the father sent him, he is sending them; and to help them, Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.[15] On numerous occasions throughout the gospels, Jesus is shown going throughout the towns and villages, teaching, healing, forgiving sins, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The woman who met Jesus outside Samaria at the well became a missionary to the entire town, of which “many Samaritans from that town believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony.”[16] Jesus sent out his disciples, after saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”[17] And Jesus continually preaches that his people must be a light unto the world.[18] Even John’s Gospel was written with a missionary/evangelistic purpose. John writes, “but these [signs in the presence of the disciples] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[19]

As the gospels end, Jesus gives the Church what is commonly known as the Great Commission, the very mission and duty of the Church. Jesus says to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[20] In Acts and the epistles that follow, the very setting is within the backdrop of Christ’s commission for his Church. Paul and others are continually seen journeying to other lands and other peoples, faithfully preaching the gospel. Indeed, these texts provide the models after which most present-day missionaries and church planters structure their missions and church plants. However, it would seem that at times the Church reads over the many calls to missionary work throughout the New Testament. Duffield and Van Cleave remind their readers, “The Church has frequently needed special urging to get on with her assigned task.”[21] But for those who engage in missions, the hope that the biblical meta-narrative points to, which believes long for, is the picture seen in Revelation 7; that is, a multitude from every tribe, people, and language continually worshiping the Lamb of God.

Mission theology is essentially a biblical understanding of evangelistic outreach to the world. It addresses the questions of what does the Bible say about mission, missions, and the Missio Dei, and how these ideas are to be carried out in practical application. Like most aspects of theology, there are internal arguments about the answers to these questions. Theologians and missionaries struggle to land on single definitions. In part, it is the objective of this paper to avoid the minor details of these debates. Instead, this section, in light of the previously offered biblical survey of missions, will address how the nature of God relates to the mission of his Church, how mission theology fits within the broader systematic theology, and some motifs and themes running through mission theology today.

From the highest perspective, God’s people reach out to the lost because we are reflecting God’s desire for the redemption of his creation. This should be only natural for the regenerate believer being made in the image of God. As seen throughout the Old and New Testaments, the believer is sent—from the moment of conversion—on mission for the gospel. Therefore, it is important to understand other theology through the idea of mission. Moreau, Corwin, and McGee argue, “If Gods’ concern is truly that all nations be called to worship him [...], then it is natural to build a theology of mission at the core of all theological studies.”[22]

Balancing various other theologies with mission theology tends to be simple in areas dealing with creation, sin, and the fall of man. It gets difficult in soteriology or the order of salvation for example. Does God’s sovereignty even require missions? This question is sometimes asked specifically by Neo-Calvinist; however, the Bible clearly demonstrates God’s people on mission. Although there are some differences in the theology of the Calvinist and Arminian or Reformed and Free-will camps, there is no doubt that believers in Jesus are to be reaching others, living sent. Packer specifically address this issue in his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, writing, “Always and everywhere the servants of Christ are under orders to evangelize[...].”[23] Paul also speaks of this matter, writing to Timothy, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”[24] If Paul understood the elect like those doubting the need for missions today, why would he “endure everything”? Grudem, a theologian of a Calvinist/reformed position explains it like this: “It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, ‘I guarantee that you will catch some fish—they are hungry and waiting.’”[25] Notice that Grudem’s statement still requires one to engage in the act of fishing, guarantee or no.

Even still, important questions have to be asked even in areas of missiology. Does one work to reach the lost close to home or should the Church still engage in overseas missions? Traditional missions or church planting? Long-term or short-term missions? There are no simple answers, and the Bible demonstrates a variety of different models for mission work. That being said, it is important that those asking the questions spend much time in the Word of God and equally as much time in prayer. Ideally, like for Paul, the Holy Spirit will be the guide and helper.[26]

Primary dependence upon on the Holy Spirit’s lead is one motif or theme of mission theology. Moreau, Corwin, and McGee define motif as “a recurring pattern or element that reinforces the central guiding theme for the house.”[27] Motif is the look or feel that dictates other choices such as furniture style and paint colors. Among mission theology, Moreau, Corwin, and McGee identify a variety of motifs, that is, mission theology preferences. As already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is one motif. Those that gravitate to this theme tend to place the Holy Spirit in the guiding position of all that they do. Another motif is the Kingdom of God, which deals with the paradoxes of the Bible and tends to be driven by the idea of the coming Kingdom in and beyond the end times. The Jesus motif sees the Great Commission as the command and example of Christ. With this motif, Jesus is the absolute focal point and driving force behind missions. With the myriad of books publishing recently on the function of the local church and church planting, there is a high likelihood that the Church motif will also gain in popularity. The purpose and role of the church, in this motif, becomes the primary theme one views mission theology through. This motif seems much more community driven than some of the others and the church—having a strong purpose in this theology—plays a strong role. The Shalom motif tends to place a high priority on the peace of Jesus in world thrust in the conflict between Christ and Satan. And finally, the Return of Jesus is motivated by a strong leaning toward Eschatology. “The coming of Christ,” according to Moreau, Corwin, and McGee, “motivates Christians to be preservers in the lost world.”[28]

Regardless of the motif one’s mission theology might prefer, it is important that one have a mission theology that leads them to live sent, on biblical mission. Considering that God’s mission is assigned upon conversion, it applies to the missionary, church leader, and layperson alike. This paper only offers a brief survey of the vast material in mission theology, most of which is worth further exploration. However, one most eventually leave the theoretical and engage in the practical, as did the many missionaries of the Bible.

Calvin, John. Translated by John King. Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol 1., Genesis. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Moreau, A. Scott, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Encountering mission. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004.
Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Roxburgh, Alan J. and M. Scott Boren. Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

1. Scott A. Moreau, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, Encountering mission (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.
2. Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 27-45.
3. It is not the intention of the author to differentiate between the terms mission, missions, or missional in this paper. Therefore, the terms will be used interchangeably and simply mean the intentional effort to share the gospel with others in the vain of Matthew 28:19-20.
4. Genesis 3.
5. Moreau, 30.
6. John Calvin, translated by John King, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol 1., Genesis (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 128.
7. Genesis 3:16, ESV.
8. Moreau, 30.
9. Genesis 12:3b, ESV.
10. Kings 8:43, ESV.
11. Amos 9:11-12.
12. Isaiah 42:6.
13. Isaiah 49:6, ESV.
14. Moreau, 37.
15. John 20:21.
16. John 4:39, ESV.
17. Luke 10:2, ESV.
18. See Luke 8:16-18 for just one example.
19. John 20:31.
20. Matthew 28:19-20.
21. Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008), 440.
22. Moreau, 75.
23. J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 13.
24. 2 Timothy 2:10, ESV.
25. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 674.
26. For examples, see Acts 13:2, 16:6, 20:23, and 21:11.
27. Moreau, 79.
28. Moreau, 85.

* This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

** Photo by Seth Anderson, registered under a creative commons license.

Purgatory and the Cross

I'm struggling to understand the idea behind purgatory.  No, that's not exactly right.  Purgatory, as I understand it, is something of a refining furnace that extracts the impurities from the soul prior to entering heaven.  Those impurities are the results of sin committed by the Christian. The idea then is that Christians, upon death, go to purgatory (or potentially straight to heaven), while non-Christians go to hell.  In the pre-Reformation church, the Roman Catholic pope could authorize indulgences, a transferable certificate that bought or earned less time in purgatory. However, there was really now way to know how long one would be refined in purgatory.  (These same indulgences were one of the fueling fires behind Martin Luther's swing toward reformation.)

So more accurately, what I don't understand is how purgatory lines up biblically with the cross.  The idea of purgatory is a mockery of the cross.

To the issue of purgatory and daily blasphemies needed to prop it up, John Calvin says,
"We are bound, therefore, to raise our voice to its highest pitch, and cry aloud that purgatory is a deadly device of Satan; that it makes void the cross of Christ; that if offers intolerable insult to the divine mercy; that is undermines and overthrows our faith.  For what is this purgatory but the satisfaction for sin paid after death by the souls of the dead? Hence when this idea of satisfaction is refuted, purgatory itself is forthwith completely overturned.  But if it is perfectly clear, from what was lately said, that the blood of Christ is the only satisfaction, expiation, and cleansing for the sins of believers, what remains but to hold that purgatory is mere blasphemy horrid blasphemy against Christ?  I say nothing of the sacrilege by which it is daily defended, the offenses which it begets in religion, and the other innumerable evils which we see teeming froth from that fountain of impiety" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Ch 5, Sec 6.) 
I realize my statements here may be offensive to my Roman Catholic friends.  I am open to conversation on this topic, but I make no apology.  I hope that there is a mutual realization that purgatory is offensive to the Protestant understanding of passages such as Romans 5:8, Romans 8:1, Hebrews 9:25-28, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:6, and Philippians 1:23.

*Painting by Ludovico Carracci is in the public domain.

Light in a Dark Time: Hope at the Funeral

Jesus was dead and his body had been laid in a tomb. On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, James’ mother, and some other women came to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ dead body and morn. When they arrived, they found that the stone was rolled away from the tomb door and there were two angels there. The angels said to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen” (Luke 24:5-6, ESV). It is only in Christ’s resurrection that hope is found. As one sits at a funeral before a dead loved one, he or she must realize that we are all dead in our trespasses; we have all committed high treason against God, punishable by death. But the good news of the gospel is the hope found in Christ. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and every one who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26, ESV). Romans 6:4-5 paints a beautiful picture of this death-resurrection relationship, reading, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like this, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (ESV). Therefore, if the loved one believed in Christ, there should be joy because of Christ. The one who believes should cling to this hope, and those who are simply dead without hope, must hear the gospel. A funeral should honor the dead, but it is of little value if there is no message of hope, no message of the gospel.

“There is no pastoral ministry,” writes Criswell, “that offers the open door of spiritual opportunity as does the presence of death in the home. [. . .] This is the hour when the loving and caring pastor is needed most” (Criswell 1980, 295). It is in the difficult time of death when the living are grasping for something of God. It may be that they have questions, or it could be that they—now being faced with death—are looking for some kind of hope. They not only expect the pastor to know how to find the hope that overcomes death, but they expect him to share it. Tragedy would be to remain silent or go the way of secular morning. A funeral that only serves to honor the dead does nothing to serve the living, but the funeral that shares the message can honor the dead and care for the living.

Funerals are discussed throughout the Bible, but little is said of the funeral itself. Genesis 50 states that Joseph’s father was embalmed and the Egyptians mourned for him for seventy days. There was a precession of chariots. Israel was buried. Deuteronomy 14:1 prohibited the Israelites from mutilating themselves or shaving their heads as a form of morning through funeral rites. There was often a special dress for the funeral, typically sackcloth, and sometimes even ashes or dirt on the head (see Isaiah 32:11 for example). Luke, chapter 7 tells of a funeral procession that Jesus came across in Nain. It is written that a “considerable crowd from the town was with her [the mother of the dead son]” (Luke 7:12, ESV), suggesting that some funerals were well attended. And devout men, those who knew and understood the hope for Stephen, still wept for him at his funeral (Acts 8:2).

Today funerals are diverse. Some funerals are well organized with rehearsed benedictions and eulogies, while others are haphazard, allowing any in attendance to say a few words. Sometimes there is music, sometimes poetry reading. Special ceremonial honors are bestowed on some based of factors such as military or police service. But the most important aspect of the funeral is the message of hope. Without it, death abounds; but with it, the dead may leave the funeral with hope, alive in Christ.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

* This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.  
** Painting: "Dead Christ" by Mantegna Andrea, in the public domain. Photo by Beverly and Pack is registered under a Creative Commons License. 

One Christian on Capital Punishment and Abortion (Part II)

In an earlier post, I introduced a  question:  How can a Christian be against abortion but in favor of capital punishment?  In Part I, I explained that I am against both, and I discussed what the Bible has to say about the issue of capital punishment.  In this post, I am shifting to the topic of abortion.  I admit that neither Part I or Part II are exhaustive discussions on the matter, but hopefully they contribute to the conversation and offer some food for thought and encouragement toward further study.

Before I get started, I should offer my bias and position right up front.  I am against abortion.  I'm against the practice and I do not approve of the US government supporting or funding the practice.  In addition, my wife and I tried to conceive a child for many years.  The one time we did conceive resulted in a miscarriage, which greatly shaped the way I think about life and children prior to birth.  We have since adopted two boys who I love very much.  Although I do not have biological children and really can't know for sure, there is no way I could love children who share my DNA any differently then I do these two boys. 

My wife's miscarriage was extremely hard on she and I, but the reality is that miscarriages have been around almost as long as pregnancies.  Sadly, miscarriages were not a foreign concept in the Old Testament (see Job 3:10-11 or Exodus 22:26 for examples). I believe the miscarriage might be a part of the curse of sin that came with the fall of man in Genesis 3.  In verse 16, God said to Eve, the woman, "I will surely multiply your  pain in childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children" (ESV).  It is often thought that this in reference to the birth process itself, which it probably is, but it can also be all the other pain women feel for children, born or unborn.  But what about the intentional termination of a viable pregnancy?  (For the purposes of this post, I will use this as the definition of 'abortion.')  It seems that this idea--although not appearing as a medical service preformed by people in scrubs and white lab coats--was not foreign either.  In the book of Jeremiah, the author's lament seems to suggest that his life could have been intentionally ended in the womb.  Jeremiah 20:14-18 reads,
[14] Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!   [15] Cursed by the man who brought the news to my father, 'A son is born to you,'  making him very glad. [16] Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, [17] because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. [18] Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
In Exodus 20:22-25, the legal code made provision for the event of a pregnant woman getting hit in such a way that labor is induced or the baby is lost.  The punishment for the loss of the unborn child's life would result in a penalty of death for the person who struck the woman.   (It's interesting to note that verse 23 reads, "But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life," indicating that the unborn child was a life.)  Now, in fairness, it could be argued that this passage assumes that the mother and father want the baby opposed to the idea that the mother desiring to terminate the pregnancy.  In response, we should start not with the desires of the mother and father to have a child, but instead ask what is life and when does it begin? 

What is life? This is a fairly large discussion, but I'll boil it down to some simple points.  First, God  is the source and creator of life.  We can see this in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2; but another example is found in 1 Samuel 2:6 that says, "The LORD kills and brings to life" (ESV), and Deuteronomy 32:39 in part says "I kill and make alive" (ESV).  Job 1:21 quotes Job saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (ESV).  Job, in 10:8 says to God, "Your hands fashioned me." Isaiah 68:8 says, "But now O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand" (ESV).

Second, we have a general understanding of what is alive and what is not.  Plants--alive.  Rocks--not alive.  Dinosaur  bones--once living tissue, but now, not alive. Of course we can draw a distinction between living tissue and 'life.'  Skin is made of living tissue but we are more likely to see it as part of a system that requires other tissues.  We can look at skin cells under a microscope and see that there's some kind of life activity there, but we don't tend to think of skin as a stand-alone life. However, there is a difference between a single skin cell and a single-cell organism.  That single-cell organism is life.  If we find it on Mars, we will declare that there is life on Mars; but if we find a skin cell we will say we've found evidence of life (and then declare there is life on Mars anyway).  So life, it seems, is a living system, be it one cell, a plant, an animal, a human. Where this gets really interesting is when we think of a seed.  It might be dry and appear dead, but in the right conditions it shifts from that dead-looking thing to life.  If I crushed a seed nobody would say I killed it, but if it had a little white or green shoot growing from it and I failed to give it water or if I put it out in too much sun and it dried up and withered, you would say I killed it. To kill it, it must have had life.

In the debate on the legality of abortion, one issue of contention is the parents' right (specifically the woman's right) to terminate life, if indeed there is any agreement that an unborn child is life, that is, a thing in the womb that can be killed.  I will deal with this more in a moment.  

When does life begin? This is the other issue where a difficulty of the abortion debate resides. This, like the right to terminate life, is the other big question item where differences are found.

Luke, a first-century doctor and writer of one of the four gospel accounts, made a detailed investigation in order to write his Gospel.  In the opening of the book, he records a fascinating event. When Elizabeth greeted Mary (both of whom were pregnant), the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped.  Elizabeth, being filled with the Spirit, understood this to be caused by the presence of the baby in Mary's womb and proclaimed,
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." Luke 1:42-43, ESV.
While we don't know exactly how far along either of these women were in their pregnancies, this passage suggests that it was more than just developing cells void of life in their wombs.  The Greek word used for these babies in utereo is berphos, which we is translated 'child.' Twice Luke uses the same word for the baby Jesus (post birth) in chapter 2.  I think in today's society, we would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that life starts at the point of the doctor's spanking that gets the baby to cry.  I can think of nobody that would say a baby that has been in the womb for 9 months and is making his or her way down the birth canal is not life. Anyone, myself included, that's seen and heard the heartbeat on the monitor is overwhelmed by the awe of life there in the womb.  Where the challenge comes is in answering the question, when (maybe even before the heartbeat) does life begin? 

If we back up to the point of a sperm cell and an egg, we see that we have cells that seem to be more a part of a system than a single-celled, stand-alone organism.  After these to come together, an interesting thing starts to happen.  The little glob of sperm and egg create a cell that can divide and multiply.  Soon, there's an 8 celled organism, then 16, then 32, and so-on.  Is this life?  Maybe.  Is this like the little plant shoot that I killed earlier in this discussion?

God had us in mind before the creation of the world (but do not confuse this with the idea that we were all created and stored in some "pre-existence" before the creation of the universe), but this doctrine does not give us a practical answer as to the moment life begins in the womb.  Some argue at conception, some at the first heartbeat, and some even at viability outside the womb.  The first two arguments bear weight, but the viability argument is greatly flawed.  Here's why:  What is viability?  A full-term baby cannot survive, free of help and care, outside the womb for long on his or her birthday.  If we start looking at 'viability' being earlier and earlier in the pregnancy we have to start looking at the technology that aids in keeping the baby alive.  Therefore, our definition of the beginning of life under the viability definition seems dependent upon outside technology.  This would mean that we define the start of life by our advancements in medicine.

The other two arguments, that is, at conception or at the first heartbeat seem compelling.  No matter how much I think about it, I struggle with the idea of life beginning at the moment of conception.  It seems a little like the seed. There's  something there, but it doesn't seem like life. . . but I am willing to be wrong.  And I'll admit, it is spectacular that something (or more rightly, someone) gets the heart pumping.  That first beat seems like a magic moment for an organism that requires a heartbeat as a sign of life.  The reality however, is that it could be at either of these moments or at some point in between.  The Bible does not clearly identify at what moment  life begins, so I argue it is probably better to lean on the side of caution, closer, much closer to conception.

So, what about the practice of abortion?

We have two issues in tension when it comes to abortion: when life begins and the right, as an individual, to terminate life.  I would like to argue that in practice, the point when life begins is almost irrelevant with the exception of specific types of birth control such as the morning after pill.  To the best of our ability, we should err on the side of caution.  The real issue at hand is the attitude the leads one to have an abortion.

If we can agree that at some point, either at conception or at the heartbeat, life has begun, it seems that terminating that life is killing the life; it's murdering another human being.  "But wait, what about capital punishment?" you might ask.  There are two differences.  The first is that capital punishment is administered by the state, not an individual.  The second is that the life in the womb has not violated a law of the state.  (If for some reason being conceived was against the law, this law would be unjust in that the violator, in his or her very creation, would have absolutely no ability to not violate the law.  The violation and punishment should really fall upon the man and woman who conceive the child.)       

When a woman learns that she is pregnant, time has already passed.  We are now flirting with the very real reality that was is growing in the womb is life, more specifically, a human being.  So to think that one has the ability and right to terminate this life, especially out of mere convenience, is a serious act of self-worship, placing oneself in the position of God.  It says "my rights are more important that the rights and sanctity of the life I'm carrying."  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us (especially those who are in Christ) that we are not our own; our bodies are not ours because we were bought with a price.  We, to include our bodies, belong to Christ.  This runs into direct conflict with the argument that a pregnant woman has the right to terminate a life simply because she is not ready to care for an image barer of God.  

The truth is we do not clearly know the exact moment life begins, so there is the very real potential that an abortion at any point after conception is killing a life.  Abortion is wrong.  The attitude that typically drives abortion is wrong.  And to celebrate abortion as some kind of family planning tool is akin to spitting on the very face of God's creation.

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* Photo/drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is in the public domain.

Scripture: Divine and Human?

When one examines the authorship of the Bible, two possibilities naturally surface.  The first is that the Bible is a collection of books authored by men, not unlike any other written work.  The second option is that God himself authored the Bible.  To the first option, that of human authorship only, Roger Olson asks, “ . . . if God is not in some special and even supernatural way the ultimate author of Scripture, why believe it is unique or even special?”[1]  To the second option, a divine authorship only, Ronald Mayers expresses that those that hold to this view of the Bible “forget that it did come via man in history and did not fall from heaven en bloc.”[2]  The idea that the answer can be only one or the other, according to Olsen, “is a false one that has led to unnecessary and unfortunate polarities of belief about Scripture.”[3]  Mayers, rightly states that, “Scripture is at one and the same time both the Word of God and the word of man.”[4]  Therefore, accepting that Scripture is both divine and human in its authorship, one might ask how to draw correct meaning from a text that is derived from both the Perfect Creator and the imperfect creation.  Through an examination of the various ideas of inspiration and an evaluation of a the common methods of interpretation, this study will attempt, at a minimum, to bring more clarity to a difficult and hazy paradox, if not to identify the more appropriate approach to dealing with the authorship of the Bible.  

            Among the Christian community, the belief of dual authorship is not only commonly accepted, it serves as one of the many guardrails of orthodoxy.[5]  Olson reminds his readers that, “Scripture was not dropped out of heaven as depicted on the cover of one book about the Bible that calls it That Manuscripts from Heaven.  Humans played a role in writing Scripture, selecting and closing the canon, and interpreting the Bible.”[6]  But to the role and ability of the human contribution, John Calvin says, “Let those dogs deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, or, if not, let them refuse credit to the history, still the very circumstances proclaim that the Holy Spirit must have been the teacher of those who, formerly contemptible among the people, all of a sudden began to discourse so magnificently of heavenly mysteries.”[7]  However, while there is great agreement of the dual authorship of the Bible, there is disagreement regarding the nature of this dual authorship.  Questions about the specificity of inspiration are reflected in the various approaches to understanding the text.  What does inspired mean?  To answer this question, that is, to get at the important aspects of the dual authorship, one must survey the more common approaches to the inspiration of the Bible.  And what exactly in the Bible is inspired?  If this question is suggesting that some parts of the biblical text are solely God’s and other parts are solely man’s, than there is no dual nature, but rather portions of text by one author and portions by another.  Saying there could be parts completely free of man’s involvement is again introducing an idea of a text—written only by God—that fell from heaven.  However, could it be possible for some parts of the Bible to be inspired, being dual authored, while other parts and merely the work of man?  Let us begin to examine these questions by looking at five views of inspiration.

Intuition Theory
           In following Millard Erickson’s categorization[8], this study will begin with the liberal Theory of Intuition.  Erickson states that the Intuition Theory views divine inspiration as “ . . . the functioning of a high gift, perhaps almost like an artistic ability but nonetheless a natural endowment, a permanent possession.”[9]  Here, there is essentially no difference between the writers of Scripture and other religious thinkers and philosophers such as Plato and Buddha.[10]  The Hebrew culture could be said to have a “gift for the religious” just as some cultures are gifted in mathematics or the sciences.[11]  This view gives little if any credit to the divine, other than for the natural endowment of religious genius.  “The Bible then,” as Erickson explains, “is great religious literature reflecting the Hebrew people’s spiritual experiences.”[12]

Illumination Theory.
            The Illumination Theory maintains that the Holy Spirit was influencing the authors of Scripture in that they were gifted with a “heightening of their normal powers.”[13]  In combining this theory with the Intuition Theory however, Olson contends that, “the biblical writers were religious geniuses who cooperated with the divine Spirit (or self-expressive activity of God) so completely that their writings achieve an inspiring quality and effect seldom if ever noticed elsewhere.”[14]  Olson’s explanation suggests that the divine exists in the cooperation; whereas, Erickson says, “The Spirit’s effect is to heighten or elevate the author’s consciousness.  It is not unlike the effect of stimulants students sometimes take to heighten their awareness or amplify the mental process.”[15]  However, Olson’s approach agrees with Erickson’s final assessment that, “The result of this type of inspiration is increased ability to discover truth,”[16] whether the illumination is through corporation, stimulation, or both.

Dynamic Theory.
            The Dynamic Theory argues that God gave the writers of Scripture the ideas and then they selected the best words to describe them.  Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave explain that “ . . . God gave the thoughts to the men chosen, and left them to record these thoughts in their own ‘dynamic inspiration.’”[17]  Duffield and Van Cleave call this theory the ‘Inspired Concept Theory,’ which may serve to better explain it.  Concepts then, are inspired while the word choices are not.  John Calvin seems to have held to this view.[18]  This process is the combination of both the divine and the human in a way that differs from the Intuition and Illumination Theories in that God is divinely authoring the text in at least some capacity.  For this reason, the Dynamic Theory is generally categorized as a conservative view.[19]

Verbal Theory.
            Also known as the ‘Plenary Inspiration Theory,’ this view holds that even the words are inspired by God, pointing to 2 Timothy 3:16.[20]  God, in effect, directed the writer to each word of the text.[21]  Potentially the most popular view among Evangelicals, Erickson explains that, “ . . . God being omniscient, it is not gratuitous to assume that his thoughts are precise, more so than ours.  Consequently, within the vocabulary of the writer, one word will most aptly communicate the thought God is conveying (although that word in itself may be inadequate).  By creating the thought and stimulating the understanding of the Scripture writer, the Spirit will lead him in effect to use one particular word rather than any other.”[22]  While this may look like dictation, I. S. Rennie argues that, “Dictation is not involved; there is no violation of the personality of the writer.  God had sovereignty and conclusively been preparing the writers for the instrumental task so that they willingly and naturally recorded God’s revelation in the way he required."[23]

Dictation Theory.
            Few hold to the conservative view of Dictation Theory, also know as ‘mechanical inspiration’ or ‘verbal dictation.’[24]  In fact, Olson suggests that this view is “unorthodox” and relegates the role of human authors to merely that of “secretaries of the Holy Spirit.”[25]  Explaining Dictation Theory, Duffield and Van Cleave write, “This theory states that every word, even the punctuation, is dictated by God, much as a business executive would dictate a letter to his secretary.”[26]  Erickson expands on this explanation further stating that proponents believe “Different authors did not write in distinctive styles.”[27]  However, Wayne Grudem points out that, “A few scattered instances of dictation are explicitly mentioned in Scripture.”[28]  Jesus instructs John to write to the various churches in Revelation[29] (2:1, 2:8, and 2:12, for example).  Grudem also suggests Isaiah 38:4-6 as another example.  Moses’ dictation of the Ten Commandments could potentially serve as a third example.

            Looking at the various ideas of inspiration, one can see that a text with atleast some nature of divine and human dual authorship is different than that of other philosophical writing.  This type of writing, as Steven Smith articulates, is generally referred to as ‘Scripture.’[30]  Second Timothy 3:16a reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God . . .” (ESV).  While this passage is specifically referring to the Old Testament, it sheds light on the inspiration of Scripture.  “The impression here” writes Erickson, “is that they are divinely produced, just as God breathed the breath of life into the human (Gen. 2:7).”[31]  The Greek word that the ESV translates to “breathed out by God” is theopneustos, which James Strong defines as, “God-breathed, inspired by God, referring to a communication from deity: given by inspiration of God.”[32]  Additionally, this is the only occurrence of theopneustos in the New Testament.  James D. G. Dunn suggests that the use of this word clearly indicates the writer’s understanding of the process of inspiration.[33]  “To be noted” writes Dunn, “is the fact that it is the scripture that is ‘God-breathed,’ and not merely the prophet who is ‘inspired,’ unless by that is meant inspired to speak particular words (cf. 2 Pet 1:20).”[34]  Where Dunn fails to go with his commentary, Calvin boldly marches, writing, “This is a principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestions, that that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare.”[35]  Later in the same discourse, Calvin declares, “This is the first clause, that we owe to God; because it has proceeded from him alone, and has nothing belonging to man mixed with it.”[36] 

         If one can accept what Scripture authenticates about itself, than the next part of this question is to identify which portions of the canonized Bible are Scripture, or words written with and by a dual nature, and which parts are only man.  (Understandably, accepting Scripture in this manner may be a challenge for the non-believer if Gottfried Wachler is correct, saying, “Nor will an unbeliever be moved to acknowledge Scripture’s divine authority on the basis of what Scripture says of itself, that is, by means of a doctrine of its inspiration and divine character.  He will not accept statements from Scripture as proof, since he first wants proof that Scripture is the truth.”[37])  While space does not permit an explanation of why the books of the biblical canon are considered Scripture, Grudem[38] provides a succinct summary of the canonization of both the Old and New Testaments and D.A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo[39] offer a detailed explanation of the New Testament canonization.  Both are worth investigation.  Assuming that every book in the Bible is Scripture and therefore both God and man’s words, all one can do is attempt to separate the words of man from those of God within each individual book; however, Wachler argues that, “There is an indissoluble interweaving of both.  It is impossible to sort out man’s words and God’s words or to label Scripture as being man’s word that may not and then become God’s word.”[40]  To the idea that only some parts of the Bible are dual authored, Duffield and Van Cleave warn, “The dangerous part of this view is that it places into the hands of finite, feeble, and fallible man the power to determine what and where God is speaking.  Thus, man is given power over infinite truth rather than taking a place under it.”[41]

            After a review of various views on inspiration, and assuming that all of the Bible is inspired in at least some way, an evaluation of that inspiration is needed.  This evaluation would be simple if the Bible were clear on the nature of inspiration but Walcher reminds his readers that, “Nowhere in Scripture is there a description of the ‘how’ of the process of inspiration.”[42]  However, certain biblical passages lend greater support to some views over others depending on the context.  Examples include the introduction of Luke[43], the personal and human qualities of the confession of Psalm 51, the previously mentioned verses instructing John to “write” in Revelation, Paul’s opinion alluded to in 1 Corinthians 7:12ff, Peter’s understanding of prophecy[44], Jesus authoritative use of “It is written . . . ,” and the many Old Testament uses of “Thus says the Lord . . . .”
            The liberal views of inspiration—intuition and illumination—present a challenge for the believer because although there is no indication of the ‘how,’ unlike the other three views that attempt to rest on Scriptural clues, the liberal views seem void of any scriptural support.  “The liberal approach in Scripture,” writes Olson, “is heretical because it ultimately denies or completely undermines Scripture’s unique authority.  The problem is not that liberal thinkers wish to do justice to the human quality of Scripture but that their model of Scripture’s inspiration cannot do justice to the Bible’s divine quality.  In their hands the Bible becomes a historical novel or a powerful work of fiction that shapes manners and morals by creating a world to inhabit.”[45]  Both of the liberal views present a problem for D. Edmond Hiebert if inspiration is something of a natural ability or “stimulant” of the Holy Spirit.  In reference to 2 Peter 1:19-21, Hiebert writes, “ . . . no prophecy arose out of the prophet’s own solution to the scenes he confronted or his own interpretations of the visions presented in his mind.”[46]  Heibert would then also take issue with the dynamic view.

            Despite Heibert’s concerns, Paul’s statements that believers have been “taught by the Holy Spirit”[47] and have “the mind of Christ”[48] seem to support the Dynamic Theory of inspiration.  And given that Paul does not say, “Thus says the Lord,” there is reason to think he was inspired by something other than a dictation or plenary verbal inspiration.[49]  It was not that Paul’s message was not divine argues Vern Sheridan Poythress, but “Rather, it is (largely) because he has so thoroughly absorbed the message into his own person.”[50]  Polythress argues that in the New Testament at least, the fact that Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit means we are not dealing with “bare” human nature.[51]  “We are already dealing with the divine, namely the Holy Spirit,” writes Polythress.[52]  But even in Paul’s writing, a biblical clue is present that suggests something other than dynamic inspiration.  In 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul clearly says that something he is saying is from the Lord and not himself and then in verse 12 he argues something that is “I, not the Lord” (ESV).  In this case, it would seem that being “so thoroughly absorbed in the message” is not exactly what was going on here, at least with this part of the message.

In an attempt to understand the dynamic nature of inspiration, H. H. Rowely, who leans substantially toward the human authorship of Scripture writes,
If light falls on the eye though colored glass, it is modified by the medium through which it passes. None of the light comes from the glass itself. It comes from the source beyond the glass; yet it is all modified by the glass. So revelation that comes through the human personality is modified, and sometimes marred, by the medium through which it comes—colored by the false ideas and presuppositions of him through whom it is given. Yet all the revelation is from God. It therefore follows that not every inspired writers is on the same level, and our concern must be to know what God was saying through him to his contemporaries and to us.[53]
Rowely further argues, “We but dishonor God when we hold him responsible for every statement in the Bible.”[54]  At stake through this line of thinking is the divine authority of Scripture as well is its infallibility.  In an effort to avoid this potential slippery slope, many Evangelicals have turned to the Verbal or Plenary Theory.  But this theory is certainly not free of problems.  Olson states that theologians that subscribe to the Dynamic Theory “simply cannot see how plenary verbal inspiration differs from dictation.”[55]  To combat this thinking, Erickson stresses that proponents of the plenary view must take great care to avoid slipping into a dictation model and often have to structure their articulation in the form of a defense.[56]  This is seen in A. N. S. Lane’s attack on the Dynamic Theory and support of the plenary view.  Lane writes, “It must not be supposed that God merely put ideas into the minds of the biblical authors and then left them to put them into words as best they could.  But claiming that words themselves are inspired it is not implied that human writers are not also their authors.”[57]  Olson also argues that, “The dynamic model has the advantage of accounting for the very different styles of the authors as well as for the many idioms, cultural forms and trivial asides one finds in Scripture.  It is difficult to see how plenary verbal inspiration accounts for Paul’s poor grammar, including unfinished sentences!”[58]

            Why would those subscribing to the plenary verbal inspiration view diligently try to avoid being accused holding a strict diction view?  Duffield and Van Cleave suggest it is because of its great weakness, that is, “that it eliminates any possibility of a personal style in the writings of the divinely chosen author—a phenomenon which is clearly observable.”[59]  Dictation seems to remove the humanity from the Scriptures.  Duffield and Van Cleave further write, “Fundamentalists are often accused of subscribing to this method of inspiration, but only a small percentage of them actually do.”[60]  But what about passages in Scripture that seem to suggest dictation, such as in Revelation or Isaiah?  To this question, Erickson says, “This is particularly true in prophetic writing and apocalyptic material, but the process described above was not the usual and normative pattern, nor is prophetic and apocalyptic material more inspired than the rest of the Bible.”[61]

            In light of the various approaches to inspiration, one might be tempted to ask which approach best explains inspiration required for the dual authorship of Scripture.  Certainly, the Christian can easily rule out the two liberal views: intuition and illumination.  But given the strengths, weakness, and biblical clues that both support and reject the dynamic, verbal, and dictation ideas of inspiration, how is one to settle on any single approach?  The answer is that they should not.  Inspiration it would seem, is something of a combination of all three views.  This is not to say however, that the Bible is not inspired; quite the opposite is true.  Nor is it to say that one passage is more inspired than any other when the idea of “God-breathed” does not clearly identify the ‘how’ and no passages in the text lead to that conclusion.

Although Olson implies that the writers of Scripture should be seen merely as secretaries of the Holy Spirit,[62] the role of a secretary is an appropriate way to view a proper approach to biblical inspiration.  In explaining the plenary view, Erickson offers an example a personal secretary he employed for many years.  Although Erickson is speaking specifically to the plenary view, his example works well in explaining my multifaceted idea of inspiration.  When the secretary first started, Erickson dictated letters to her.  As she began to better understand Erickson’s mind, he could tell her the “general tenor” of his thinking and she could draft an appropriate letter.  “By the end of the third year,” writes Erickson, “I could have simply handed her a letter I had received and told her to reply, since we had discussed so many issues connected with the church that she actually knew my thinking on most of them.”[63]  Is it unreasonable to think that if Erickson needed to write a letter on a completely unfamiliar matter, he could still return to dictation, even with the secretary of three or more years?  Or maybe he could tell her the basic ideas of the letter?  All three of these methods use a secretary to transmit the message of the executive, and they clearly parallel the three conservative views of Scriptural inspiration and dual authorship.  This multiple method approach is how biblical inspiration should be viewed.  At times, inspiration is dynamic, other times it follows the verbal plenary approach, and on occasion, it is dictated; but no matter the method, it is all inspired.

The dual authorship of the Bible is a complex matter.  In order to develop a solid understanding, one must examine ideas of inspiration, authority, infallibility, the canonization of Bible, and the Scripture itself.  As this is a topic with a long history in the community of the Church, a review of the many theologians’ work on this subject will also prove beneficial.  In this limited space and scope, an examination has been offered, but it is certainly not exhaustive.  It is this author’s hope that the reader will conduct further research on this matter.            

Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 21.  Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, translated by William Pringle. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2009.
Calvin, John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angles, California: Foursquare Media, 2008. 
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001. 
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998. 
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.
Hiebert, D. Edmond. “The Prophetic Foundation for the Christian Life: An Exposition of 2 Peter 1:19-21,” Bibliotheca Sarca 141, number 562 (1984): 158-168.
Lane, A. N. S. “B.B. Warfield and the Humanity of Scripture.” Vox Evangelica 16 (1968): 77-94.
Mayers, Ronald B. “Both/and: the uncomfortable apologetic.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23, number 3 (September 1980): 231-241.
Olson, Roger E. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Poythress, Vern Sheridan. “Divine Meaning of Scripture.” Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986): 241-279.
Rowley, Harold Henry. “Authority and Scripture I.” Christian Century 78, number 9 (March 1, 1961): 263-265.
Smith, Stephen G. “What is Scripture? Pursuing Smith’s Question.” Anglican Theological Review, volume 90, issue 4 (2008): 753-775.
Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001.
The New Interpreter's Bible, v.11. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon, 2000.
Wachler, Gottfried.  “The Authority of Holy Scripture.” Concordia Journal no. 5 (1984): 171-180.

     [1] Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 97.
     [2] Ronald B. Mayers, “Both/and: the uncomfortable apologetic,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23 no 3 (September 1980), 232.
     [3] Olsen, 90.
     [4] Mayers, 232.
     [5] Olson, 99.
     [6] Ibid., 90.
     [7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 41-42.
     [8] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998), 231-233.
     [9] Ibid., 231. 
     [10] Ibid., 232.
     [11] Ibid., 231-232.
     [12] Ibid., 232.
     [13] Ibid.
     [14] Olson, 96.
     [15] Erickson, 232.
     [16] Ibid.
     [17] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, California: Foursquare Media, 2008), 25.
     [18] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 26-29.
     [19] Duffiled, 25.
     [20] Ibid.
     [21] Ibid.
     [22] Erickson, 240.
      [23] Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001), 1242.
     [24] Duffield, 25.
     [25] Olson, 98.
     [26] Duffield, 25.
     [27] Erickson, 232.
     [28] Wayne A. Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids,
     Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), 80.
     [29] See Rev. 2:1, 2:8, and 2:12, for examples.
     [30] Stephen G. Smith, “What is Scripture? Pursuing Smith’s Question,” Anglican Theological Review vol. 90, issue 4 (2008), 753-775.
     [31] Erickson, 227.
     [32] James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 1615.
     [33] The New Interpreter's Bible, v.11 (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon, 2000), 851.
      [34] Ibid.
        [35] John Calvin. Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 21.  Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2009), 248-249.
     [36] Ibid.
       [37] Gottfried Wachler, “The Authority of Holy Scripture” Concordia Journal no. 5 (1984), 171.
     [38] Grudem, 54-69.
     [39] D.A. Carson, and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 726-742.
     [40] Wachler, 178.
     [41] Duffield, 23-24.
     [42] Ibid.
     [43] Luke 1:1-4.
     [44] 2 Pet. 1:16-21.
     [45] Olson, 96. 
     [46] D. Edmond Hiebert, “The Prophetic Foundation for the Christian Life: An Exposition of 2 Peter 1:19-21,” Bibliotheca Sarca 141, no 562 (1984), 165.
     [47] 1 Cor. 2:13.
     [48] 1 Cor. 2:16.
     [49] Vern Sheridan Poythress, “Divine Meaning of Scripture,” Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986), 252.
     [50] Ibid.
     [51] Ibid.
     [52] Ibid.
     [53] Harold Henry Rowley, “Authority and Scripture I,” Christian Century 78, no 9 (March 1, 1961), 263.
     [54] Ibid.
     [55] Olson, 104.
     [56]Erickson, 232.
     [57] A. N. S. Lane, “B.B. Warfield and the Humanity of Scripture,” Vox Evangelica 16 (1968), 80. 
     [58] Olson, 104.
     [59] Duffield, 25.
     [60] Ibid.
     [61] Erickson, 244.
     [62] Olson, 98.
     [63] Erickson, 243. 

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.