Serendipity Bible: For Personal and Small Group Study

Why do Bible teachers regularly try to reinvent the wheel?  Is it our ego?  Do we hold an idea of the teacher that he or she must be the creator of every idea we teach?  I wrestled with these questions when I was turned on to the Serendipity Bible: For Personal and Small Group Study

Zondervan publishes the Serendipity Bible using the NIV84 or the KJV translation.  Basically, it’s a book with lots of pre-made group discussion outlines.  Every chapter (and sometimes there are more than a outline per chapter), has icebreaker questions, text study questions, and application questions. Most of the time they’re great.  If you want to lead a small group study or just study with your family, this is a great resource that can save you some time.

In addition to questions for every chapter, the Serendipity Bible also contains 60 small group study plans on various topics.  These plans each include 6 lessons and each lesson points the teacher to a chapter or section of text.  Once there, the teacher or group discussion leader simply needs to use the chapter questions.  

Teachers and preachers might ask why they would want to use this book.  "I've been to seminary;" they might say, "I know how to write my own lesson plans."  The teacher may be concerned that the class will think less of him or her because of this book.  First, the teacher or preacher who asks these questions needs to examine the purpose of teaching.  Is it for the teacher to look smart or for the class to learn something and grow closer to Christ?  Second, if there is a helpful resource that may improve the quality of learning, why would a teacher opt not to use such a tool?  If nothing else, why not consult the questions and at least see if there's something helpful?

But maybe the best reason for using the Serendipity Bible is that it's extremely reproducible.  Nearly any believer could take this material and lead a Bible study or discussion around the text.  The teacher could easily hand the Bible to someone else and encourage him or her to lead.  In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul encourages Timothy to teach men who can teach others.  If this instruction also applies to us--and I think it does--than the Serendipity Bible is a useful tool for teaching others to teach future teachers.  

Here is a sample taken from Psalm 51: 

Icebreaker Questions: 
1.  Do you recall getting caught with your “hand in the cookie jar” as a child?  As an adult?  What happened each time?  
2.  Read aloud Psalm 51. 

Getting Into the Text:
1.  In how many ways did David sin (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27)? 
2.  In light of his arrogance, adultery, deception, and murder, how does he dare approach God?  What does he feel? 
3. Murder is a capital crime under Jewish law.  Why also adultery (see Deuteronomy 22:22)?  
4. Since such sins involve others, what is the meaning of verse 4? What does this show about the nature of sin? 
5.  How can an unborn child be considered “sinful” (v. 5)?  If God created all things “good,” why does mankind tend to sin (See Romans 5:12-14)?  
6.  In light of all this, what does David ask God to do (vv.7-12)?  What is “cleansing with hyssop” (see Leviticus 14:4-7)? Why does David request this? 
7.  How does David hope to escape God’s wrath (vv. 13-17)? On what basis does he hope for a restored relationship? 
8. Why does David generalize his prayer to include the whole nation (vv. 18-19)?  What does this say about the nature of sin? 
9.  What kinds of sacrifices does the Lord desire in verses 16-17? In verse 19? When is a broken spirit or contrite heart enough?  When are acts of sacrifice due? 

Application Questions:
1.  Has covering up sin backfired in your life?  How have you seen God’s mercy when you owned up to your sin?  
2.  Are there really any victimless crimes?  How do personal failings affect God? Others? Self? Society?  
3. Are you more sensitive to sin and brokenness in yourself as a Christian then beforehand?  Why?

You can purchase the Serendipity Bible: For Personal and Small Group Study here. 

Scriptures Every Christian Should Know

Jared Jenkins and I set out to record a Salty Believer Unscripted series called "Scriptures Every Christian Should Know."  It seemed easy enough.  What Scriptures should every Christian know?  But it's really not that easy.

How do you determine which Scripture is more important that other Scripture.  We had a hard time narrowing them down.  Are the Scriptures in red more important that the others because Jesus spoke them during his earthly ministry?  That's a faulty question because John 1:1 tells us that Jesus is the very Word of God.  And we find in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is breathed out by God.  How can one verse be important enough to know and the others be on the list of Scriptures not worth knowing.  Are the ones that go nicely on a coffee mug more important than others?  The truth is, Christians should read and know all the Scriptures.

In addition, Jared and I were often tempted to discuss the verses that might not be as popular but still very important to the Christian life.  This is probably not right, but we found this cropping up in the moments just before we hit the record button.  (We don't script or plan much and a series like this probably takes more planning than we generally allow ourselves to do for this podcast.)

We eventually ended this series, although we could have continued it for months.  In any case, here are the 12 verses we did end up discussing.

Scriptures Every Christian Should Know
-- Introduction and John 3:16 audio
-- Ephesians 2:8-10 audio
-- Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and Isaiah 64:5-6 audio
-- Isaiah 26:3-4Isaiah 32:8, and Acts 9:26-31  audio
-- Romans 8:28-30 and Jeremiah 29:11 auido
-- 1 John 1:9 and Matthew 5:17-20 audio
-- Philippians 4:13 and Philippians 4:6 audio

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*The photo used in this post comes from 

Reformation Day!

On October 31, 1517 a German monk nailed a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. The monk was Martin Luther, the grievances are technically called The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, and October 31, 1517 (Reformation Day) often marks the opening bell of the Protestant Reformation.

Why was the monk so concerned? First, it should be said that he was also a professor and did a great deal of study.  He studied the Bible in a time when Scripture was often unavailable.  And second, he grew concerned about what he saw because he read his Bible. Studying God's Word, it became clear to Luther that Pope Leo X had steered the Catholic Church far from the doctrines taught in the Bible. For example, ideas of salvation and grace were dependent upon the mercy of Pope Leo X rather than Jesus Christ and his resurrection. We see the error of this false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, which reads,

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

It should probably be said that at the university where Luther taught, it was actually a common practice to nail a thesis for discussion to the large door.  This was a way to signal an intellectual discussion or academic debate.  It is believed that Luther was not originally intending to fire such a bullet but instead start a conversation.  However, the thesis launched much more conversation than Luther intended, possibly because the printing press had recently been invented and allowed a publisher to remove the thesis from the door, print it, and distribute it to a wider audience than the university.   Regardless of the intention, The 95 Thesis launched a discussion that still lives today. 

On this, the 495th anniversary of the 1st Reformation Day, take a moment to ask yourself, first, is Jesus Christ your mediator before God or are you depending upon another (or maybe some specific works)?  Also ask yourself, are you studying God’s Word, reading the Bible like that German Monk who took a step of faith and changed the world?

Happy Reformation Day! 

*The famous 1529 oil painting by Lucus Cranch der Altere is in the public domain. 

Tough Texts on Salty Believer Unscripted

January 1, 2013

Jared Jenkins and I are working through a series on Salty Believer Unscripted called "Tough Texts."  Inspired somewhat by the guys at Credo House as well as our desire to diligently keep our exegetical work sharp, we identified some biblical texts that are difficult to interpret, confusing, shocking, or greatly misunderstood without a little labor.  On the whole, the Bible is written in simple language and is easy to understand, but that does not mean that we don't at times find its words difficult.  Our listeners helped us out by e-mailing us some passages they've struggled with over the years and we selected some of our own to add to the list.

Examples include Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 where he talks about women being saved through childbearing.  Genesis 6:1-5 has this strange thing with the Nephilim.  Can people be baptized on behalf of the dead or does 1 Corinthians 15:29 get at something different?  Does Paul suggest that parts of his Epistle are not inspired by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 7:12?   1 Samuel 28 contains a shocking story of Saul consulting a witch-like medium and raising Samuel to talk with him.  Uzzah is struck dead for touching the ark in 2 Samuel 6:5-7. How in the world can the psalmist write about smashing babies on the rocks in Psalms 137:9?  Romans 1:26-27 discusses unnatural relations and something about God giving these people up to their own desires.  Is total genocide to include even the animals what 1 Samuel 5:13 is getting at?  Peter is the rock has many meanings in the Church today based on how people understand Matthew 16:18.  1 Corinthians 11:27-30 seems to suggest that some believers have died for taking the Lord's Supper incorrectly.  And 1 Peter 3:21 has at times been taken to mean that baptism is an act that actually brings about salvation; how can this be?  We're dealing with all of these and we're still open to add some to the list if we get more tough texts before the end of the series. (You can contact us with a difficult passage you'd like us to address by using this contact form.) 

Jared and I believe that if it's in the Bible, we need to be able to deal with it, understand it, and allow it to change us no matter how difficult or shocking.  It absolutely cannot be that students of the Bible simply skip over parts of God's Word because it's tough, and it is for this reason that we want to discuss the tough texts and help those who truly seek the whole counsel of God.

You can find these podcasts as well as many other resources on the Resources pages of and or you can subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast.

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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.  

*The picture use in this post is in the public domain. 

Kick-Starting Your Prayers

Prayer is a necessary part of the joyous and full Christian life.  Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13) and we see Jesus praying often--maybe most intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is the act of talking with God and the Bible records many men and women praying.  (Some of those prayers are even written down.)

God wants us to talk with him often, always in fact (Luke 18:1, Acts 10:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:8 for example). Yet, many Christians find themselves in seasons where it is difficult to pray.  As surprising as that may sound, it might be a result of unresolved spiritual conviction but it could also be due to a lack to a strong understanding of prayer or a lifestyle of habitual prayer.  The best way to work through spiritual conviction, especially that of unconfessed or hidden sin, is to pray!  And the best way to develop a better understanding of prayer comes through studying the Bible and engaging in a regular routine of prayer.  Regular prayer is about a submissive attitude, faith, and habit and there are seasons where these things don't come easy. 

One tool I've found to help me in my prayer time is a prayer book.  No, this is not a journal, nor is it a Puritan book of pre-written prayers, although both of these things are good.  (When it comes to journaling,  I've often struggled to write my down prayers, and I would almost never look back to review my prayers at a later date.  This is not to say that journaling is bad, it's just not something I personally do well or find as useful.)    

Instead, I have a prayer book that serves as a kick-starter for my prayers.  It's a reminder and makes it easy to pray in dry seasons (and when I haven't yet fully woken up with a good cup of coffee).  Here's how I've organized my prayer book, but if you're going to use a prayer book, your book really aught to be customized to your needs and preferences.  You really need to make it your own.

On the opening page of my book, I've written 2 Corinthians 10:4, as a personal reminder of the importance of prayer.  There are many passages that could serve as a reminder, but this one was on my mind when I made my most recent prayer book.

The first section of my prayer book is a list of lost people who I pray for often.  My list has grown ever sense reading Concentric Circles of Concern by Dr. Oscar Thompson so I typically pray for 10 to 15 people by name each day.  The list however, helps me remember lost people to pray for and keeps them in front of me and on my heart.  It is also a place where I can add the names of new people I meet who are in desperate need of Christ.  (At it's thrilling when I can cross a person's name off on this list because they become found!)  I've also written some scriptures in this section that serve as an encouragement to me.  They remind me that God cares more than I do and they help shape my thinking about the importance of praying for the lost, which is why they are penned in the first section of my book.

The next section is pages of scriptural passages that I like and often pray through.  Many of them serve as an encouragement but some are the prayers of others written in the Bible that I have found  particular significant in my own life.  Many are from the Psalms, but not all.

The next section opens with some Scripture that moves me, followed by some simple one-line prayers that I could (and should) pray for the rest of my life.  They are prayers of thanksgiving, praise, worship, and life-long petitions such as a request for wisdom as outlined in James 1:5.

The final section in my prayer book is a list of all the praises, thanksgiving, and petitions that are more timely.  These include the many intersessions for my family, church, and many others.  I have the names of our church's community group leaders, lists of friends, other pastors laboring all around the world for the gospel, special projects, and the specific requests made by others.  I also have many of my own prayer needs and praises written in this section.  I put a date by all the listings.  When I cross them off, I date them again and write a brief explanation of why I'm crossing the item off.  For example, I'm praying regularly for a young woman who has embarked on a year-long mission trip around the world.  When she returns safely, I'll cross off that prayer item and praise God for his provisions.

My book has pages and pages of people, praises, petitions, Scriptures, thoughts, and other things I can be talking with God about.  It also has lots of blank pages for more to be added.  I don't have to pray for everything in the book but it's nice to have the tool to prime the pump when I feel like I'm praying on empty.  It's interesting just how quickly my prayers start flowing without the book only a short time after I get started by using the book.  It's also worth noting that this book has greatly helped me form a more regular habit of personal prayer.

Here's a short video with a little more info about my little prayer book and how one may help you in your prayer life:

If you'd like to start a prayer book, it's easy.  All you need to get started is some kind of notebook and a pen. Then start praying!

*'Child at Prayer' by Eastman Johnson, circa 1873 is in the public domain. 

Unscripted: Sean Patrick

Salty Believer is starting to get up on it's feet with this, the third installment.  I'm thrilled to see this thing moving forward and I hope people are finding some value in these podcasts.  This particular podcast is an audio only version, which is what most will be moving forward. 

There's a part of me that wishes the production was better and the technology could help me create podcasts with better technical quality; yet at the same time, there's something about the rawness.  And by only using a smart phone to record, any time and any conversation might make for a good podcast.  I'm playing around with upping the file size and quality and doing a little editing to the opening and closing--meaning having some kind of intro and something that concludes the thing.  We'll see.  Maybe it's not necessary?

This week on Salty Believer Unscripted, Bryan interviews Sean and they discuss insights gained from Sean's 12 years in ministry.  If you'd like to listen in, you'll need to subscribe to the Salty Believer audio podcast.

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

The Tasks of a Pastor?

While many well meaning people could generate lists of what a pastor should be or do, it is best to start with what God's Word, the Bible says of the pastor.

First, every pastor should already be doing the work of every believer. That is, he or she should be making disciples, loving one another, serving, and above all, keeping a growing relationship with God. Second, it would be reasonable to examine the Apostles' practices and assume that many of those things could also be the task of a pastor. Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep" and it seems that this could extent even to the pastor today. All of these things are seen repeatedly throughout the Bible.

But what does the Bible specifically say for the pastor? What instructions are available? to answer these questions, the Greek words presbytersos, episkopos, poimēn, kērux, or didaskalos are where a study like this should focus. These are the words that translate to elder, overseer, shepherd, preacher, and teacher, respectively. For the sake of this post, the uses and instruction to the overseer or episkopos will be examined. This is the word that is most often translated in English as bishop, pastor, or overseer.

In Acts chapter 20, Paul shows some concern that some wolves may slip into the church and teach false doctrine. He encourages the leaders to "pay careful attention" to themselves and to the "flock which the Holy Spirit has made [them] overseers" (Acts 20:28, ESV). He further encourages them to remain alert for those who would do harm to the church. And in this task of protector and caregiver to the church they must give much to the Church, just as Paul did.

Philippians is addressed to the saints, overseers, and deacons. This letter provides lots of instruction, especially that they would grow and mature in love and knowledge. In 1 Timothy, Paul provides of list of attributes and characteristics to examine when looking for an overseer for the church. But among this list he provides two clues about what the pastor seems to be expected to do. He says in 1 Timothy 3:2, that the overseer should be "able to teach" and in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 he writes, "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?" (ESV). It would seem from this question, that the pastor is to care for the church in like manner to caring well for his household.

And finally, in Titus 1:9, Paul says of the overseer, "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (ESV).

Based on this instruction as well as the others, it would seem that the primary duty of the overseer is to teach sound doctrine and protect the flock from those who may try to teach otherwise. The teacher must also be the protector. And while the pastor is many things, these are the instructions specifically given to the overseer.

Don't Neglect Salvation? Hebrews 2 & 3

Hebrews 2:2-3 provides a warning against neglecting such a great salvation, that is, neglecting the great message the author and his readers have heard, which is being introduced in the previous chapter of Hebrews. This is the message of the gospel and the author of Hebrews says, “don’t overlook it.” The word the ESV translates as ‘neglecting’ comes from the Greek word amelesantes (a transliteration), which is derived from ameleo (also a transliteration). Strong’s states that its meaning is to neglect, make light of, ignore, and even be negligent of (Strongs 2001, 1590). The word appears four times in the New Testament—in Matthew 22:5, 1 Timothy 4:14, Hebrews 2:3, and again in Hebrews 8:9.

In 1 Timothy 4:14, the warning is to avoid neglecting the gift that was given to the reader. In Hebrews 8:9 the neglect or ignorance was God’s approach to the people of the exodus who did not continue in his covenant. Matthew 22:5 however, seems to shed some light on the Hebrews 2:3 passage where there is a picture of a neglectful attitude toward salvation. In this passage, Jesus shares a parable of a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Everything was ready, but when the servants went out with the invitation, the people paid them no attention—the messengers were rejected, turned away, treated poorly, and in some cases even killed. The king was angered by this reaction so he sent his troops to kill those who murdered his messengers and then he had their cities burned. Eventually, the king sent his messengers into the streets to invite anybody the messengers could find.

The author of Hebrews is cautioning his readers not to neglect this message for he knows the consequences are grave. But he is not acting as if he has received this invitation and that is the end of it. He includes himself in the warning saying, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1, ESV). It seems that paying much closer attention is to understand the details. And it also seems that we need to follow this warning to the extent that the author takes it, later writing, “Take care, brothers, lest there be any of you of an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-3, ESV). Paying much closer attention would appear to be an ongoing thing; and being an ongoing thing, it seems that neglecting the message of salvation and the blessing that come from it is a very serious matter.

This warning in Hebrews 3:12, is a warning to be cautious and even avoid having an unbelieving heart. This unbelieving heart the author warns about, it seems, is evil and can cause one to fall away from, or even rebel against the Living God. In verse 13, the reader is encouraged to exhort one another daily to avoid the hardening of the heart caused by sin. Genesis 8:21 says, “ the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (ESV) and Deuteronomy 11:6 warns “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (ESV). Therefore, it seems that the default or natural desire of the human heart is toward this hardened state, and this hardness causes our faith in, and love for God to be less than our 'all' as Deuteronomy 6, 10, 13, and 30 instruct (which Jesus teaches as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)

Hebrews 3:13 shows that the way to avoid this frightful hardening is to engage in daily exhortation with, and among other Christian believers of the living God. (In light of Hebrews 1 and 2, this faith should be in Jesus, to be more specific.) It is a daily effort in study, prayer, discussion, openness, honesty, and accountability with the other believers that fights the natural desire of the ever-hardening, sinful heart. This will hopefully help the reader follow the instruction of Hebrews 3:14 to “hold our original confidence firm to the end” (ESV).

In addition, this message was written to believers so while it could be a discussion about completely forfeiting salvation after one is regenerated (or born again), it is a strong possibly that is is about missing out on the many good things God has for his people.

While verses 12 and 13 are counted in Chapter 3, they seem to fit better heading into Chapter 4 because the call to take courage and keep the heart soft and faithful is compared to God’s people who stepped in faith to leave Egypt but eventually sinned by turning from God. They eventually took their faith and placed it elsewhere, in other words, they allowed their hearts to return to the default hardness and unbelief of all God was doing for them. While they still counted themselves as God's people, they did not trust that he had their best interests in mind. The result of this sin was a prohibition of the blessings and rest found in the Promised Land. The author continues to compare rest (or lack thereof) to the condition of the heart, and those with no rest had hard hearts. The author is encouraging the readers (then and now) to take caution and avoid the same pitfalls of those who did not remain completely faithful to the end.

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.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 4)

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

At this point, I have two confessions.  First, I put the book down after Chapter Three for a while.  I was feeling frustrated that I set out on this journey through Bell's book.  Second, I have now completed the book, having read the remaining chapters during a flight across the country.  This is not to say that the review from this point forward will not capture my thoughts and impressions as I was reading each chapter.  I've been taking notes and recording my thoughts in the margins and in the bizarre spaces between each paragraph that make the book seem as if were intended to be one long blog post rather than a bound book.  I guess now I'm thankful for the abnormal formatting.

The title of Chapter Four asks, "Does God Get What God Wants?"

But first, Bell opens the chapter with jabs at doctrinal statements found on other church websites.  It is clear that he is in disagreement with their approach of sharing their beliefs on what he feels should be a welcoming, seeker-friendly website.  (Interestingly, while Bell defends his own ideas saying, "[Christian faith] is a deep, wide, diverse, stream that's been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences" (x-xi), he seems for forget to leave room for these other churches.  Is the stream only so wide and so diverse that other churches are only accepted if their ideas are flowing the way Rob Bell wants? It does seem so.

Chapter Four is about universalism, and thus far, if any chapter has demonstrated that Bell has beliefs in the universalism camp, it's this one.  (I realize that outside of the book, Bell has been declaring that he is not a universalist, but there are aspects of this chapter that would argue otherwise.)   Here, Bell discusses universalism--that is, his views of universalism, specifically two views.  The first is that heaven is "a universal hugfest where everybody eventually ends up around the heavenly campfire singing 'Kumbaya,' with Jesus playing guitar" (105).  Through jabbing questions, he implies that this is incorrect and nobody would want this anyway.  The second view is that a person has rejected God so much so that he or she is no longer human; thus all humans go to heaven but all non-humans do not. But this implies that there are people that are not human and that kind of implies an us verses them. Then he argues that these are long standing and traditional views starting with the early Christian church (107).  But while Bell argues against these views (or I should say, he asks loaded questions of them), he conveniently never takes a position for himself.  He doesn't ever seem to suggest a correct answer; he only questions the ideas for which which he doesn't care for or agree.  And in the way he questions, he seems to takes a stand against these views, much like his approach to the other Christian's websites.   

Back to the question of the chapter title:  "Does God Get What God Wants?"  The bulk of this chapter--and I might argue much of the books thus far--hinges on a verse in First Timothy 2.  Bell quotes it as, "God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (97).  The passage itself comes from First Timothy 2:3-4 and this translation looks very similar to the NIV version.  The ESV translates the verses as, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4, ESV).  Bell's argument goes like this: If God wants something and doesn't get it, he's not powerful and therefore not a good God.  However, Bell argues, God does indeed get everything he wants and therefore everybody WILL be saved and have a knowledge of the truth. . . eventually.  And if Bell's way of thinking about this is not correct, according to his own argument, then God must be a failure.

To support his understanding of this specific Scripture, Bell looks at some other verses (citing only the chapters from where they come).  First he looks at Isaiah 45, Malachi 2, Acts 17, and Romans 11, to argue "What we have in common--regardless of our tribe, language, customs, beliefs, or religion--outweighs our differences.  This is why God wants 'all people to be saved'" (99).   Then using other Scripture, Bell works to show his readers that the Bible says everybody will be saved.  Many of the Scriptures are interpreted with questionable methods.  Here's the list of Scriptures Bell uses to support his unrealistic view that everybody will be saved.  I highly recommend you turn to each of these chapters and read them yourself, in their entirety. 

Psalm 65 -- "all people will come" to God (99)
Ezekiel 36 -- "The nations will know that I am the Lord" (99)
Isaiah 52 -- "All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God" (99)
Zephaniah 3 -- "Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder"
Philippians 2 -- "Every knee should bow . . . and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (99)
Psalm 22 -- "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him." (100)
Psalm 22 -- "All the rich of the earth will beast and worship; all who do down to the dust will kneel before him--" (100)

Shifting to the idea that God does not fail, Rob uses Psalm 22 to say, "So everybody who dies will kneel before God, and 'future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!'" (100).  Following this passage, Bell again says that God does not fail and it is this idea that the prophets were affirming.  They turned to this theme again and again (100).  To support this claim, Bell turns to more chapters. Again, I suggest these chapters be read in their entirety.

Job 23 -- "Who can oppose God?  He does whatever he pleases" (100)
Job 42 -- "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (100)
Isaiah 46 and 25 -- "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save nor his ear too dull to hear?" (101)
Jeremiah 32 -- "Nothing is too hard for you" (101)

Then Bell shifts to God's purpose and love by looking at these chapters.

Psalm 145 -- "is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made" (101)
Psalm 30 -- "lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime" (101)
Psalm 145 -- "is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love" (101)
Philippians 2 -- "it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose" (101)
Luke 15 -- God never ever gives up until everything is found (101-102)

After sharing his understanding of these passages, Bell rhetorically asks,
"Will 'all the ends of the earth' come, as God has decided, or will only some? Will all feast as it's promised in Psalm 22, or only a few?  Will everybody be given a new heart, or only a limited number of people? Will God, in the end, settle, saying: 'Well, I tried, I gave it my best shot, and sometimes you just have to be okay with failure'?  Will God shrug God-sized shoulders and say, 'You can't always get what you want?'" (103).
These questions seem to lead to a specific answer, and that answer looks a lot like universalism.  But before we come to a definitive answer for any of these questions, it might be helpful to look at some other Scriptures. While there is intense debate on both sides of this argument (as well as the one regarding how much free will man may have) it may be valuable to at at least look at these chapters and verses and ask how they compare to the presentation Bell has provided.  I realize that different interpretations will lead to different answers (a strong reason for good exegesis and hermeneutical  practices).  If all are saved in the end, why are these Scriptures in the Bible?  Look at Daniel 12:2; Matthew 18:8, 25:42-46; John 5:29; Romans 14:12; Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Jude 7; and Revelation 14:11.  Also, I realize that a universalist may argue that even though everybody ends up in heaven in the end, the reason for accepting Jesus now is to receive the blessing that he provides now.  But still, is that the only reason then for Matthew 28:18-20?

Another thing one should do before forming conclusions from this chapter is look at the passage that drives it-- First Timothy 2:3-4.  The critical aspect of this argument depends on the words "wants" or "desires" (from the NIV or ESV translation.) and 'all people.'  'Want' or 'desire' is translated from the Greek word thelō, which means, to choose or prefer, wish, will, desire, intend, to have, to be inclined to, to be disposed to, to purpose, to resolve to, to love, and Thayer even says it could be "to seize with the mind" or to "have in mind." Obviously in the English language, when we have a word with such a wide range of meaning, context is very important.  This is true in the Greek too.  (To get a good idea of this word, here are all the places thelō, or its negation appear in the New Testament: Matt 1:19; 2:18; 5:40, 42; 7:12; 8:2–3; 9:13; 11:14; 12:7, 38; 13:28; 14:5; 15:28, 32; 16:24–25; 17:4, 12; 18:23, 30; 19:17, 21; 20:14–15, 21, 26–27, 32; 21:29; 22:3; 23:4, 37; 26:15, 17, 39; 27:15, 17, 21, 34, 43; Mark 1:40–41; 3:13; 6:19, 22, 25–26, 48; 7:24; 8:34–35; 9:13, 30, 35; 10:35–36, 43–44, 51; 12:38; 14:7, 12, 36; 15:9, 12; Luke 1:62; 4:6; 5:12–13, 39; 6:31; 8:20; 9:23–24, 54; 10:24, 29; 12:49; 13:31, 34; 14:28; 15:28; 16:26; 18:4, 13, 41; 19:14, 27; 20:46; 22:9; 23:8, 20; John 1:43; 3:8; 5:6, 21, 35; 6:11, 21, 67; 7:1, 17, 44; 8:44; 9:27; 12:21; 15:7; 16:19; 17:24; 21:18, 22–23; Acts 2:12; 7:28, 39; 10:10; 14:13; 16:3; 17:18; 18:21; 19:33; 24:27; 25:9; 26:5; Rom 1:13; 7:15–16, 18–21; 9:16, 18, 22; 11:25; 13:3; 16:19; 1 Cor 4:19, 21; 7:7, 32, 36, 39; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:3; 12:1, 18; 14:5, 19, 35; 15:38; 16:7; 2 Cor 1:8; 5:4; 8:10–11; 11:12; 12:6, 20; Gal 1:7; 4:9, 17, 20–21; 5:17; 6:12–13; Phil 2:13; Col 1:27; 2:1, 18; 1 Th 2:18; 4:13; 2 Th 3:10; 1 Tim 1:7; 2:4; 5:11; 2 Tim 3:12; Philem 1:14; Heb 10:5, 8; 12:17; 13:18; James 2:20; 4:15; 1 Pet 3:10, 17; 2 Pet 3:5; 3 John 1:13; Rev 2:21; 11:5–6; 22:17.)

What does Paul mean in his letter to Timothy when he says God 'desires' or 'wants'? And what is meant by 'all people'? It seems this passage may have been written in the same light as John 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.  How should we understand God's desires in light of John 6:40 which reads, "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (ESV)?  As the Timothy passage is examined, one must ask if 'wants' is the same as 'wills' or 'decrees.'  Can God have a desire for his people that does not come to pass?  Did God have a desire for Adam and Eve to avoid the forbidden fruit?  I believe the answer is yes.  And when man does not do what God wants or desires, who has failed, man or God?  Does God desire that little Rwandan kids get their limbs cut off by their parents' enemies?  Does God desire that women be raped?  The answer is no!  But according to Bell's argument, if God doesn't get what he desires, God has failed.  The Bible teaches that man has failed and has acted against God's desires.  The definition for this is sin.

Also, 'all people' might be in reference to every person throughout all of time, or it could be in reference to all kinds of people, every tribe, tongue, age, sex, and nation.  Either way, it is reasonable that God would like to see everybody turn back to him and profess their submission and love for their Creator even though the sin nature, depravity, or even free will could keep some from doing so.  In light of what the meta-narrative of the Bible teaches, it seems that  salvation is universal in its availability, but this availability does not necessarily suggest that it is automatic or guaranteed that all will be saved. 

Towards the end of the chapter, Bell sets up his safety net, first asking,
 "[W]e read in these last chapters of Revelation that the gates of that city in the new world will 'never shut.' That's a small detail, and it's important we don't get too hung up on the details and specific images because it's possible to treat something so literally that it becomes less true in the process.  But gates, gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out.  If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go. 

Can God bring proper, lasting justice, banishing certain actions--and the people who do them--from the new creation while at the same time allowing and waiting and hoping for the possibility of the reconciliation of those very same people?  Keeping the gates, in essence, open?  Will everyone eventually be reconciled to God or will there be those who cling to their version of their story, insisting on their right to be their own little god ruling their own little miserable kingdom?" (115).
Immediately following this he asks, "Will everybody be saved or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?" (115).  Then in a rare moment that exists hardly anywhere else in the Love Wins, Rob Bell tires to answer his own questions.  He writes, "Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact.  We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom love requires" (115).  Um, Mr. Bell, didn't you just argue that God does in fact get what God wants?  And according to the way you understand First Timothy 2:3-4, doesn't God want everybody to be saved?  So based on the argument you've constructed, won't everybody be saved in the end, eventually?  Everybody will be in the new creation as God wills; isn't that what you argued?  Doesn't it seem more like your universalist answer is, 'Yes, everybody will be saved, nobody will perish apart from God forever because of their choices'?  The answer Bell provides for his own question seems to run counter to the entire chapter.    

Personally, for a book "About heaven and hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived" I find Bell's attempt to provide answers a bit lacking.  This answer says nothing about the fate of anybody and therefore suggests that Bell has failed to deal with the basic premise that his books claims to address. According to Bell, the fate of every person who ever lived is, 'I don't know. We can't know. Don't worry about it, but leave room for love,'

Can I have my money back?

Up next, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 5)."

* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.

What is the Kingdom of God?

I once taught a class where the kingdom of God was of chief interest.  For the sake of time, we didn't read all of the Scriptures listed below, but I did print this material as a handout to the class and I felt it would be worth posting here.  The question at hand is, what is the Bible referring to when it mentions the kingdom of God? 

A Systematic View

The kingdom of God (nearly interchangeable with kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, kingdom of our Lord, and sometimes just the kingdom) is discussed often throughout the Bible. It can seem complex, because it is inside creation, outside creation, and above creation. Like the Trinity of God, there is no earthy analogy to adequately describe it. Presently, we only see it in bits and pieces but our understanding of it comes through faith.

“[The kingdom of God] is simply the reign of God in human hearts wherever obedience to God is found.”1

The Kingdom of God is not the Church. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In the biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men.”2

The kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) is not strictly speaking of the afterlife or future place or future existence. It has an “already/not yet” aspect about it present in many of the discussions about it throughout the Bible.

The kingdom of God should not be mistaken with the sovereignty or rule of God. God is sovereign over all of creation. However, presently, one can be inside or outside of the kingdom of God. And we do not truly, positively experience it until we are within the kingdom of God.

There are 66 uses of “kingdom of God” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of God.” (Matt 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43; Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14–15, 23–25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28–29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; John 3:3, 5; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Col 4:11; 2 Th 1:5.)

There are 32 uses of “kingdom of heaven” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19–20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11–12; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44–45, 47, 52; 16:19; 18:1, 3–4, 23; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1.)

There are 2 uses of “kingdom of our Lord” in the New Testament. (2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15.) There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of our Lord.”

There are 3 uses of “gospel of the kingdom” in the New Testament, and all of which are found in Matthew. (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “gospel of the kingdom.” Matthew also uses the “word of the kingdom” in Matt 13:19.

There is 1 use of “The kingdom of Christ and God” and it’s found in Eph 5:5.

Not every use for kingdom without the various above qualifiers in the New Testament is referring to the kingdom of God, but many do. (There are 55 uses of kingdom not followed by either "of God" or "of heaven.") Significant examples include Matt 4:23; 6:10; 8:12; 9:35; 13:19, 38, 41, 43; 16:28; 20:21; 24:14; 25:34; 26:29; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:33; 11:2; 12:31–32; 22:29–30; 23:42; John 18:36; Acts 20:25; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 1:6; 5:10; and 12:10.

The Hebrew word for kingdom is used though the Old Testament mostly for earthly kingdoms but there are references to the Kingdom of God. Examples include: Ex 19:6 (Kingdom of Priests), 2 Sam 7:10–16 & 1 Chr 17:9–14 (near/far picture of Kingdom), Psa 45:6; 103:19; 145:11–13 (Blurred lines between Sovereign rule and the Kingdom of God), Dan 4:3 (everlasting Kingdom), and Dan 7:18, 22 (future view of the Kingdom).

1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1998), 1163.
2 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; quoted by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 863.

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.

Church Government

Which form of church government appears to have the most warrant from a biblical perspective?

It is rather difficult to find clear support for one form of church government over another in the Bible, mostly because the authors and original readers were already in that government. A governmental system was assumed and did not need explaining. We only see glimpses of how it was done. On the other hand, we do see qualifications for elders and deacons. This does not clearly lay out the structure of either offce, but it does clearly tell us the type of people (or men) they should be. We also see the expected duties of the deacons in Acts when the selection of deacons was being made.

While some will disagree, Jesus did not appoint one leader over the Church—he set a plurality of leaders. His appointed twelve did have members that seemed more influential, but in the mater of the Church, they were equals. In Galatians, Paul is able to rebuke Peter, which would not seem reasonable if Peter was the single appointed archbishop of the Church. Collectively, these men were leaders lead by the Holy Spirit and were appointed for life; and it seems as if this group was able to be added to—accounting for Paul and James. First Timothy 4:14 shows that Paul was sent by a council of elders, suggesting a council rather than a single leader. We also see in James 5:14 that a sick person should call for the elders, plural; and it is unreasonable to think this meant the single pastor/elder in the local church and the single pastor/elder from the next town over.

It is also worth noting that in Acts 15, we see apostles and elders and the “whole church” making the decision to send Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. And regarding something as is seen in some churches where a bishop or archbishop is somehow more holy, we must remember Hebrews 4:16.

I am of the idea that because God did not clearly outline how a church is to be governed, there is no absolute right or wrong way so long as it is a church submitted under the authority of Christ as revealed in Scripture, and guided and led by the Holy Spirit. In this regard, Acts and the New Testament seems more descriptive; however, if I were to say which of the three models is the most “biblical” I lean, only slightly, more toward presbyterian than congregationalism and lastly episcopal (although in the early church went quickly to this model or always was this model which should be taken into consideration).

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.

75 Years of Southern Baptist Faith

In a letter written to Timothy, Paul encourages his friend to, “Take hold of the eternal life which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presences of many witnesses.”[1] The exact nature of this confession is a mystery, but hints throughout the New Testament suggest that Timothy was certainly not alone in making a public confession of faith.[2]  In the early Church, simple statements may have served to publicly demonstrate belief or doctrinal positions. Norman and Brand suggest that the phrase, “Jesus is Lord” was a confessional expression used to determine those who were generally saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.[3] These statements are often called confessions of faith or creeds. “These proclamations,” state Norman and Brand, “are intended to declare the doctrinal perspective of the group on the matters addressed in the document.”[4] In addition, statements of doctrine by their nature, create theological guidelines or boundaries of belief used to communicate to others, but also to address heretical ideas. John includes the delectation that “Jesus came in the flesh” in two of his letters, potentially to deal with a heresy at the time.[5] And even included in the New Testament canon are longer statements of doctrine that include greater detail.[6]

Examining confessions of faith and creeds offer insight into what was most important to the authors of the statement. Through their confessions, one can also glean clues about what doctrinal battles were being waged at the time. For example, a review the Waldensian Confession of Faith (1120) shows a strong argument against specific Roman Catholic beliefs such as papal intersession, the veneration of Mary, the existence of purgatory, and the status of sacraments. As a group of people change or rewrite their doctrinal statement of faith, one can see either shifts in the most important matters of doctrine or a need to address changing heresies, or both. By comparing and contrasting the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 1925 Baptist Faith and Message with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, this post will attempt to identify shifts in doctrinal focus and changing heresies over 75 years of Southern Baptist history. While the SBC revised their 1925 statement in 1963 and 2000, this post will only focus on the change between the first and the most recent statements.

The most obvious addition to the 1925 statement was the presence of more biblical references. At the end of each section, lists of biblical passages that support and guide the ideas of the section are provided. Each section has nearly twice as many references listed in the 2000 statement compared to the earlier statement. There are various reasons for this—possibly due to greater time and reference material, or to stress the importance of Scripture—but most likely, they are included to biblically address challenges to the statement with even more scriptural material.

Moving to the content itself, it is easiest to handle the additions in a linear fashion. There are many minor additions—a word here or there—but for the sake of brevity, this post will only address those that may offer changes to orthodoxy or orthopraxy, address heresies, or serve as points of interest. Starting in the first section, titled “Scripture” in both statements, the phrase, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” was added.[7] A declaration such as this appears to be addressing Old Testament Scripture where the physical appearance of Christ is not present in the narrative; however, this inclusion argues that the meta-narrative is wholly centered on Jesus Christ, placing a significant and equal importance on both the Old Testament and the New.

“God,” the title of the next section, is where the majority of added material appears. In 1925, the SBC felt that 65 words were sufficient in expressing their position and doctrinal beliefs about God. The word count jumped to 264 in 2000. What was a simple statement about God in 1925 has been expanded to specifically cover and describe correct belief about the three members of the Holy Trinity. Nothing changed theologically, however. And when the 1925 statement cited 14 Bible verses for support, the 2000 statement appeals to approximately 187 scriptural references. Why the need for the addition (which primarily occurred in the 1963 revision) is open for debate, but it appears as if this addition was specifically made in an effort to deal with heresies. For example, a modified version of second century modalism—associated with individuals such as Noetus of Smyrna, Praxeas, and most notably Sabellius[8]—found popularity again in the twentieth century among Oneness Pentecostalism, also know as the Jesus Only movement.[9] Mormonism, although birthed in the nineteenth century, was also gaining popularity in the twentieth century. These additions found in the 2000 statement address ideas such as modalism or the wickedly-mutated idea of Christ’s deity by sects and cults.

The next notable addition to the 2000 statement is found in the section called “The Church,” (titled “The Gospel Church” in the 1925 statement). The twentieth century witnessed many social changes in race relations as well as a shift in the understanding of the roles of the sexes. This shift is likely the reason behind the addition of the sentence, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”[10] While this statement is not addressing heretical ideas and practices infiltrating the Church, it does attempt to answer the changing social question of the role of women in the office of pastor. Addressing this matter, Grudem asks,
Most systematic theologies have not included a section on the question of whether women can be church officers, because it has been assumed through the history of the church, with very few exceptions, that only men could be pastors or function as elders within a church. But in recent years a major controversy has arisen within the evangelical world: may women as well as men be pastors? May they share in all the offices of the church?[11]
Grudem’s questions are just as relevant today as they were the day he originally penned them; so it seems that the SBC has included this statement and additional scriptural references to clearly answer these questions.

Another two additions worth noting are found in the section titled, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” and “Education.” The first addresses a theological issue while the latter deals with issues practical arising in a changing society. Over the 75 years between the two Baptist Faith and Message statements being reviewed in this post, people have grown more aware of differences among religious practices. In some circumstances, churches have attempted to syncretize differing areas of faith and practice. One such practice is that of the Lord’s Supper and the result is often a practice that is decidedly not Baptist in theology. Therefore, a line has been added to clearly identify what the Lord’s Supper is and how it should be understood. At stake is the departure of churches not adhering to this understanding of the Lord’s Supper; although many would argue that right practice and belief is more important than stout membership rolls. In similar fashion, additions were made to the “Education” section of the 2000 statement in order to guide and shelter the Christian educator but also allow the school or institution to remove the educator for teaching outside the “pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.”[12]

The final addition discussed for the purposes of this post is the section titled, “Family.” This section does not appear in the 1925 version in any form. In 270 words, the 2000 statement attempts to define the role and purpose of the family unit within society. In reading the section on family, it is clear that this addition is offered to not only to identify the worldview of the SBC and the understanding of the differing roles within the family unit, but also as a defense of the family within society. On the family, the committee charged with drafting the 2000 statement state in the preamble, “The Convention added an article on "The Family" in 1998, thus answering cultural confusion with the clear teachings of Scripture.”[13]

Unless items addressed in a previous statement of faith are no longer issues among society or heresies no longer in practice, theoretically, there should be little reason to remove any material from faith statement. Deeply held beliefs should not be so fluid that they change every 75 years or it would seem that they were not doctrines worth holding so deeply. An organization entrenched in the social aspects of society, such as a political party might be expected to exhibit statements of purpose and ideology that change from year to year, decade to decade. And if a church organization is likewise entrenched in the politic of the social and moral aspects of society, one should expect to see this same pattern of change. If on the other hand, the Bible simultaneously speaks to humanity today and remains timeless, one should see little to no change among those who allow the Bible to dictate their beliefs. Therefore, one might ask what the SBC held deeply in 1925 that they are so quickly willing to drop. As it turns out, very little, if anything was removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message in the drafting of the 2000 version. Instead, items were redacted, which will be addressed in the following section. It should be noted that not a single redaction changes any theological doctrine contained in the 1925 and 2000 statements.

As previously stated, nothing was outright removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message. Neither was any doctrinal position reversed. There are a number of redactions or rewrites present, however. Some redactions expanded a section to allow for more explanation. Other modifications shortened sections because either the material has become commonly accepted knowledge or a less lengthy paragraph, sentence, or word choice presents a thought more precisely. At times, word choices are made in order to combat a heresy that uses the same words with different meanings. While many specific examples can be provided, only a small selection is necessary to examine to understand the reason for nearly every change.

Section III, “Man” for example, changed the title from “The Fall of Man” and explains the fall of man through an explanation of creation, transgression, a sin nature, and the likeness of man and woman in the image of God. The original paragraph placed more focus on the fall of man; whereas, the new sections looks at a holistic view of man as a creation of God. Another redaction took the 1925 sections IV-X, “The Way of Salvation,” “Justification,” “The Freeness of Salvation,” “Regeneration,” “Repentance and Faith,” and “Sanctification,” and consolidated them into one section titled “Salvation.” The new section not only includes each of the areas previously addressed, it also presents them as a connection chain of the bigger picture and progression of salvation.

In what might look like an addition to the 2000 statement, the single 1925 word “unchangeable” in the ninth section sentence, “It is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” is turned into a full paragraph in the 2000 version.[14] This paragraph, while not changing anything theologically, attempts to greatly expand on the idea of unchangeable. Essentially the argument it makes is that one cannot lose salvation after genuine election and regeneration. From time to time, this issue is debated within the Church; and therefore, by offering more detail, the SBC has staked out their position in the debate. Should one attempt to argue that this redaction adds theological material to the statement, it is important to realize that in actuality, the paragraph is simply trying to remove the ambiguity that could be present in the single word “unchangeable.”

Another redaction, while seemingly short, addresses church offices in the 1925 section titled, “The Gospel Church.” In 1925, the offices were called “bishops or elders and deacons.”[15] In the newer version, the titles are changed to “pastors and deacons.”16 In our present day, one might see a Roman Catholic bishop or a Presbyterian elder and feel these positions are not comparable to a Baptist pastor. However, this is not a matter of duty, but rather, a change in the generally understood meaning of the words. For example, the Greek word episkopos, which the King James Version of the Bible often translated as “bishop” is translated overseer or pastor by recent translations. With the change in words, confusion was more likely without the redaction. Therefore, to remain true to the meaning of the 1925 statement, the 2000 statement made these changes, changing nothing theologically.

As one examines the SBS’s Baptist Faith Messages from 1925 until 2000, additions  and redactions are present, but the theological under girding remains intact over the 75-year history. The 2000 statement demonstrates the doctrinal confession and beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention just as the 1925 original did. Not only is this significant in showing consistency of belief over this period of time, it also continues to announce to the world the major ideas as demonstrated by the Bible and held by those who adopt the statement. However, neither the 1925 nor the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements were provided here, so it is the hope of this author that the reader will find these statements and examine them for oneself.

Brand,  Chad, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003. Under “Confessions and Credos.” Prepared
by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9. (Accessed October 2, 2010).
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Hindson, Edward E., and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008. “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.” Southern Baptist Convention. (accessed October 2, 2010).

1. 1 Timothy 6:12b, ESV.
2. See Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 9:13, Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 10:23.
3. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), under “Confessions and Credos,” prepared by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9 (accessed October 2, 2010).
4. Brand, 2003.
5. See 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7.
6. See Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Hebrews 1:1-3, Philippians 2:5-11.
7., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), I.
8. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998), 360.
9. Edward Hindson and Ergun Mehmet Caner,  The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 371-376.
10., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section VI.
11. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 937.
12., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section XII.
13., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, Preamble.
14., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, IX.
15., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, XII.
16., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, VI.

*SBC logo is listed as released to 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.


Ordination—from the Latin word ordinare—means, “to set in order,” “to arrange,” “to organize” (Elwell 1984, 869). This is not exactly how we understand the word when we think about ordination in terms of a pastor. But Elwell says, “In later Latin [ordain and ordination] came to mean ‘to appoint to office” (ibid.). Criswell defines ordination today as, “the setting aside of a God-called preacher for a particular office, it may be that of a pastor, or of a chaplain, or of a staff assignment, or of an evangelist, or of some other specified assignment in the church or in the denomination” (Criswell 1980, 219). Some, having seen an ordination ceremony, might think it nothing more than a public ceremony; others claim ordination is something more than that. The question for this post, however, is if ordination as we see it today is scriptural. It is if we see it not as a title but an attitude toward a person and ministry.

Although ordination is found in both the Old and New Testaments, the best understanding of the concept for pastors is found in the New Testament. In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus choose and appointed (epoieson in the Greek) twelve men to do a number of tasks including preaching and casting out demons. Eventually most of these twelve also became the leaders of the Church as Apostles. In this instance, it is seen that Jesus, that is, God incarnate, “called to him those whom he desired” (Mark 3:13, ESV). In today’s vernacular, pastors often feel called by God in to ministry. What is not seen in the account recorded in Mark is any kind of public ceremony, likely because there was not one.

In Acts chapter 6, seven men were chosen to serve the Church as deacons. Once they were selected, they were presented to the Apostles. The Apostles then “prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6, ESV). In this instance, there is a lying on of hands associated with the ordination of the deacons. Another event recorded in Acts shows that after worshiping and fasting, the Apostles were instructed by the Holy Spirit to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). Here, God called and set apart two men for his appointed task. The Acts 13 passage continues, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hand on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3, ESV). This event of ordination demonstrates both calling at a public ceremony of sorts. Note, there is first prayer and fasting after God’s call. On the matter of prayer and fasting in nearly every case of ordination, Grudem states that it is “perhaps in connection with the process of selection of elders (Grudem 1994, 918). Calvin says, “It is certain, that when the apostles appointed anyone to the ministry, they used no other ceremony than the laying on of hands. This form was derived, I think, from the custom of the Jews, who, by the laying on of hands, in a manner presented to God whatever they wished to be blessed and consecrated” (Calvin 2008, 708). Therefore, it seems that the ordination is first God’s choice and calling, followed by the public acceptance of God's calling which is often little more than a public announcement and conformation of God’s will.

Paul, in instructing Timothy, outlines the qualifications for selecting elders and deacons. First Paul says, “If any one aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task,” suggesting that the desire should be present, likely a calling from God (1 Timothy 3:1, ESV). However, there is also a list of criteria, indicating that the selection, possibly like the duel nature of scripture, is also inclusive of man’s actions and choices. It is probably that the selection is influenced and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul also told Timothy that he should not be “hasty in the laying of on of hands,” indicating that the selection, public announcement, and conformation of God’s called one should not be done without serious prayer, fasting, consideration, and contemplation (1 Timothy 5:22, ESV).

In conclusion, given even the brief treatment of Scripture here, it is clear that ordination as seen as a setting apart for the purpose of ministry is not only biblical, it is necessary and should be conducted in accordance with the Word of God. An elder-pastor (and even deacons) should be installed to office only after prayer and fasting, in order to know and work in conjunction with God’s calling upon his people. It is not a suggestion of Scripture; it is a direction.

Calvin, Jean. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.

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

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids,
Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.

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

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.

Jesus in Every Book of the Bible

The Bible is God's revelation of himself to creation.  It's God's Word.  2 Timothy 3:16 says it's "breathed out by God." Hebrews 4:12 says that it's "living and active," and "discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart," which is significant considering 1 Samuel 16:7 teaches that while man looks at the outward appearance, God looks on the heart.  "In the beginning was the Word," says John 1:1, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And then John tells us that the Word--the revelation of God to his Creation--became a man.  He writes in John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of truth." The man John is talking about is Jesus.

Therefore,  is it too much of a stretch to think that the entire Bible is about Jesus, the Word of God?  "Of course," you might say, "the New Testament tells us about Jesus, but the old Testament is about the Father."  Well, consider this: reading through even the Old Testament, there are many prophecies about Jesus, but there are also many types or pictures of the Christ.  Why would this not be the case?  Consider the purpose of Word of God.  Consider who and what the Word is.

There are many studies demonstrating the presences of Jesus throughout the Old Testament, but maybe you should hear it from Jack Stockton, an 11-year-old boy who can stir you to see my point far better than I.

So if Jack is right, and I believe he is, this should change the way you read the Bible.  Keep your eyes open for Jesus; be on the look out.  Thanks Jack!

Children's Ministries

The church of tomorrow is seen in the children of today. Beyond the reality that a church that tends well to children will draw more families to their congregation, the church leaders must be cultivating and training children if they hope to invest in the future of the Church. A good children’s ministry is a necessity to any church reaching an area where children are present. Children’s ministry is a strong tool to help teaching and guide mothers and fathers in their role as parents. Jesus demonstrated a strong passion and love for the care of children, and the Bible dictates that parents and communities have a responsibility to train and correct children if they are to be brought up right in Christ.

What is Children’s Ministry and Why
Children’s ministry is any organized effort to minister to and train children. They can be found in many forms, but they must have a correct focus and purpose. Criswell says, “All the programs for children in the church ought to have an outreaching, evangelistic appeal. Everything done ought to mean something for Christ” (Criswell 1980, 258). Children’s ministry programs should understand and come under the teaching of the Bible. Much of the teaching is directed at parents, but the church can be a service to both the child and the parent if guidance comes from Scripture.

In Matthew 18, Jesus is asked who the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is. He calls to himself a child and says,
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes on of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:3-6, ESV).
This passage shows that Christ cares for children and loves their humility. But in addition, he charges those present (and by extension, the student of the Bible today) to receive children and keep them from sinning. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 demonstrates God’s desire that the children be taught Scripture and the ways of God. And when Paul writes to encourage Timothy he says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:14-15, ESV, emphasis added). This passage clearly demonstrates that Timothy new the Scriptures from his youth, and it is from those Scriptures that he learned and knows of the salvation through Christ. While not prescriptive, it does show the value of teaching children of Scripture, salvation, and of Jesus Christ.

Examples of Children’s Ministry 
The most common from of children’s ministry is found in Sunday school. Criswell argues this is the most important and it has a great value because it works in conjunction with the entire family as each member has something for him or her at church on Sunday (Criswell 1980, 258). Sunday school for children generally offers the ability for children to socialize with one another, but it also includes some age-appropriate worship and teaching. In addition to Sunday school, mid week programs can serve children well. MOPS, that is Mothers of Pre-Schoolers is another opportunity to minister to children and train and teach mothers.

Something else to consider is the single parent environment become prevalent in many communities. Clinton and Hawkins claim, “40 percent of American children are being raised in homes where no father is present. These children have more physical, emotional, and behavioral problems than children whose father is present, and it is more likely that they will be incarcerated” (Clinton and Hawkins 2009, 182). This certainly does not mean that the church is solely responsible to fill the void of a missing father; however, a children’s ministry program might have an opportunity to provide a child aspects missing in his or her life, as well as continually introduce the child to Jesus. Regardless of the program, the key is for a pastor to see the need and generate programs for children that will fill that need in a Christ-centered way.

Clinton, Timothy E., and Ronald E. Hawkins. The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical
Counseling: Personal and Emotional Issues. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.
*Photo property of D Sharon Pruitt and used by permission. 

A Pastor and His Staff

A pastor is a leader, but not just to his1 congregation; he is a leader for his staff, whether they are financially compensated or volunteer. The pastor has, if the church structure allows for it, the responsibility to select the right staff. He then must organize them, develop relationships with them, lead them with vision and direction, see that they grow personally and professionally, and he must compensate them for their service. Pastor—from the Greek work, poimēn—generally means ‘shepherd.’ And although it only appears once in the New Testament in reference to a church officer, there are numerous analogies of a leader as a shepherd and the church as a flock (Grudem 1994, 913). Therefore, the pastor as the shepherd of the flock must also ensure that his staff properly looks after and protects the flock.

According to Criswell, “The qualifications of a good staff member are what they would be in the secular world of teaching, administration, education, business, public relations, personality, appeal, and all the rest, with this one additional accompaniment—the staff member ought to feel a real affinity for the work of the Lord, ‘called’ of God to do the task if at all possible” (Criswell 1980, 85). However, Criswell almost seems to say that calling is a secondary matter. It must be the first in the selection of a staff. It is the responsibility of the pastor as a leader to gage potential staff members for calling, because if indeed they are called, the rest of the attributes may not be what they seem. Jesus called a tax collector and a band of fishermen, and none of them used their secular skills much for the Church once they were called.

Once on staff, the individual staff members must know how they fit within the organization and the vision. In order to understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses, the leader must be familiar with his people, and do to his, he must form relationships with them. He must know them. And they must know the leader and his vision. Clearly defined roles and regular staff meetings will help the leader accomplish this communication necessity. “They are ready to follow, to work, to build, to go,” writes Criswell, “if they have a man of God and a man of vision to lead the way” (217). The pastor is and must be a visionary leader for the staff.

A leader must be one who can generate future leaders within (and even outside) the church. To do this, he must see to it that the staff is growing, learning, and reaching their full potential. Each person must be in the word of God and in prayer; both things the pastor should highly encourage. Also, sending staff members to conferences, is not only a good way to see them receive more training, it is also a good way to show appreciation for them as staff members. Occasionally, volunteers will give an enormous amount of time to the church. Sending them to a conference is a good way to compensate them, but also remembering the birthdays and major events of the staff members’ lives is one way to show them the pastor cares about them. And it is important that the staff is compensated well; First Timothy 5:18 says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (ESV).

And finally, the pastor is also the protector of his staff. David, the great shepherd of the Old Testament carried a sling to defend his sheep from hungry lions. Jesus, drawing on imagery the shepherd would understand said to his disciples, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mat 7:15, ESV). The pastor must guard against false doctrine and poor theology. It can be more destructive if false doctrines are being taught to the congregation from a staff member. Therefore, the pastor must train up his staff correctly, but also be watching for incorrect theology and deal with it immediately. The staff is also charged with the care of the flock. And the flock as well as the staff depends upon the pastor’s courage and leadership.

Reference List
Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester,
England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

1 It is not my intention to engage in a debate about women in ministry. So given my position on women serving in as elders or senior leaders in the church, and considering that the great majority to senior pastors are men, I will refer to the pastor as a male throughout this paper. If the senior pastor is a woman, the same principles apply. 

* 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 is registered under a Creative Commons License.  

Training Programs: Sunday School, Small Groups

Throughout the New Testament, believers are warned of false doctrine and charged with the responsibility to make, train, and encourage disciples.  Jesus, after instructing the eleven disciples to, “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,” told them that they must also, “[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20, ESV).  Too often it seems that preachers will preach on a passage and follow it up with an invitation for non-believers to accept Christ as Savior, right then and there; not after years of training to understand all that Jesus commanded those eleven disciples.  There is nothing wrong with this, but it is extremely limited in its training extent.  Therefore, it seems that the believer’s journey with the preacher or teacher is not done.  And if a Christian is to understand what is good and what is false doctrine, a process of biblical education is necessary.  Traditionally, disciples spent a lifetime listening to elders teach on the Scripture, and they (if they could read or had access to scriptures) would keep a regular routine of Bible reading.  Eventually, additional training programs were implemented, generally called "Sunday school."  In recent years among some churches, this training has shifted to a mid-week gathering in members’ homes.  Although the name (and the format) has changed, the principle remains—“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 29:20, ESV).

For the sake of brevity, only a brief offering of scripture will be offered here.  In Acts 17:11, Luke, the author, praises the brothers in Berea for “examining the Scriptures daily” (ESV).  Paul instructs Titus in Titus 1:9 that an elder or overseer “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (ESV).  To Timothy, Paul suggests that elders should be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and discern the difference between sound and false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, Timothy 6:3). In Ephesians 4, Paul suggests that a poor understanding of doctrine is like a child “tossed to and fro by the waves” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV). Training is expected of the members of the Church, as Paul sees teaching as a gift given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:28); and it is a reasonable assumption that in teaching, he means teaching the Word of God and sound doctrine.  And remember, Jesus warns that false prophets will come in sheep’s clothing, but will be recognized by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-16). It is clear even from these few selected passages that the Church must understand correct doctrine and to do so requires teaching from those able and spiritually gifted to teach. In the modern church, Sunday school programs and small groups fill this role, in part.

W. A. Criswell sees Sunday school programs as an evangelistic tool. He writes of Sunday school, “This is the great outreaching arm of the church. This is our primary instrument of visitation, soul-wining, and Bible teaching” (Criswell 1980, 176). While this may have been true some years ago, and it might be (or was) happening in Criswell’s church, my observations in my area suggest something different.  And based on the Scripture provided above, evangelism and training differ in that one is a starting point and the other is lifetime of teaching and learning.

In the church today, Sunday school and home group programs serve to build up the body.  As members learn the teaching of the Bible, they grow.  As they grow, they tend to become bold.  As they understand the gospel and doctrines of the Bible, and as they become bold, they become powerful evangelists in their circles of influence, such as in their places of work and circle of non-believing friends.  It is in this way that Sunday school programs and small groups strengthen evangelist work.  But that is not where it should end.  Leaders do have a responsibility to build up the believers.  Sunday school programs and small groups are also are inline with the scriptures directing members to know doctrine.  Classes, taught by believers that are gifted with the ability to teach, help build the foundation, under girding, and framework that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about spiritual formation in the lives of the believes.  Therefore, Sunday school is a natural extension of Jesus’ instruction to teach all that he commanded.

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

* I have no material connection to this book. 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 taken by Flickr user Old Shoe Woman and is registered under  Creative Commons License. 

Tithing: It's About Heart

Introduction.  In First Corinthians, Paul writes (in part) to the church in Corinth about a collection that is being taken up (16:1-4).  The money will support and care for the believers in Jerusalem who were likely in hiding during a time of persecution.  Malachi 3:10a says “Bring the full tithe to the storehouse.”  Twice Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, that “you shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading the grain” (ESV), and in his first letter to Timothy he says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (ESV), making an argument that ministers of the gospel should be paid.  While all of these passages are used in support of giving or tithing to God through the Church, the means of ministry funds is not what God is after.  God, as the Bible teaches, is after the believer’s affection.   Giving the first fruits, be it money or otherwise, is more a work happening within the believer than anything else.

God does not NEED your money It is a mistake to think the work of God’s desire will not happen if we, the Church, do not raise the money for his will.  While reflecting on God and his own life, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21, ESV).  Job understood that he came into the world with nothing.  All that he had and all that he lost was a blessing from God, but he did not have a greater claim than God to any of it because it was all God’s to give and take.  Leviticus 27:30 teaches that every tithe, whether it is willfully given to God or not belongs to God, and the rest of Malachi 3:10 says that withholding this tithe is actually stealing from God.  Psalm 50:8-12 reads, "I have not complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.  But I do not the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens.  For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it" (NLT).
When the King Ahasuerus’ edict demanded to have all the Jews killed, Mordecai asked Esther to appeal to her husband, the king, in order to save the Jews from genocide.  In verses 4:13-14, Mordecai says to Ester, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish.  And who knows whether your have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  (Esther 4:13-14, ESV, emphasis added)  Mordecai understood that God will have it his way whether it works through Esther or through some other avenue or person, but Esther had the opportunity in that moment to be faithful and obedient to God.  Giving to the Church is much the same way—we can be obedient to the Bible and give or not, but our disobedience will not keep our Sovereign from accomplishing his will.  However, this is not a reason not to give our tithes and offering to God as he as instructed. 
It is about the heart.  In the 18th chapter of Luke (also Matthew 19 and Mark 10), a rich man asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus asked him if was he had kept the last five Commandments.  The man had since his youth.  But then Jesus went after the real issue—the man's idol, that is, the love of his great wealth.  The rich man had placed his love of money above his love of God, thus violating the First Commandment.  Every sin we commit can generally be tied back to placing something above God, worshiping an idol rather than the living God.  One of the most prevalent idols in the West today is money. 
Money itself is not bad; but both Hebrews 13:5 and First Timothy 6:10 say that the love of it is.  Like the rich man, the believer must strip away the idolatry and the love of money if he is going to follow Christ.  This, at times, comes with resistance.  Criswell writes, “The true gospel preacher is confronted today by a new-time antinomian. . . . Where stewardship of money is concerned they are antinomians; elsewhere they are satisfied to preach the moral code of Jehovah” (Criswell 1980, 148-149).  However, the gospel preacher must continue to call men and woman to give cheerfully, not because God needs the money, because God wants the heart. 

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

*Photo is licensed under a creative commons license.  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.

Origins of the New Testament Canon in the West

Followers of Jesus Christ stand under the authority of new covenant Scripture, that is, the 27 collected books commonly called the New Testament.  Together with the Old Testament, this canon is to be the sole measure of absolute truth and authority for protestant Christians.  Separated from the Third Council of Carthage by over 1,600 years, some Christians today unknowingly seem to think that the biblical canon came straight from God in its final and complete form; however, Ronald Mayers expressed 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.”[1]  Roger Olson, like Mayers stated, “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.”[2]  D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo on the other hand, argued, “It was not so much that the church selected the canon as the that the canon selected itself.”[3]  Understanding how the New Testament canon came to its present form is important if modern Christians are to rightly trust the authoritative books that make up the Bible most commonly published today.[4] 
Reviewing the development of the entire canon and understanding the duel nature of the human and divine authorship that gives the Bible the authority it holds over all other writings is an ambitious task, too much so for the scope of this post.  To focus on the development of the New Testament canon in the Western Church, some related topics will be avoided or given only light treatment, such as the development of the canon in the Eastern Church, the Apocrypha, and the pseudonymous and pseudepigraphal documents.  In addition, to avoid getting bogged down in another controversy, it should be assumed (even if only temporarily) that Carson and Moo were correct in arguing that the Old Testament canon was generally accepted and closed prior to the events that lead to the formation of the New Testament canon.[5]  In what follows, this  post will examine the meaning of ‘canon,’ briefly discuss the nature of divine authority and its relation to other documents, review canon criteria, and then survey the historical developments from the early known lists to the councils that eventually solidified the canon as it is accepted today.    

            When referring to ‘the canon,’ Wayne Grudem’s simple definition is usually enough for today’s church or Bible study setting.  Grudem defined canon as, “a list of all the books that belong in the Bible.”[6]  Following this definition, the New Testament canon then, is simply understood as all the books that belong in the New Testament of the Bible.  Grudem’s definition, although good for specific settings, does not capture the background, nuances, and significance of the word itself.  In tracking the history of the word canon in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English, Bruce Metzger explained that this word is “used in a kaleidoscopic variety of senses.”[7]  According to Metzger, in the earliest Hebrew use, it meant ‘a straight reed’ or ‘rod.’[8]  The Greek usages follow suit.  “[F]rom this comes numerous derivative uses of the term,” wrote Metzger, “in many of which the ides of straightness is manifest.”[9]  Other early uses of the word canon indicate that it meant ‘plumb line’ and ‘level.’  Both in Greek and Latin, ‘canon’ also took on metaphorical uses, such as ‘criterion’ and ‘standard.’[10]  As Metzger explained, “Aristotle described the good person as ‘a canon and measure’ of the truth.”[11]  And in later years, canon, the word, was used for ‘role model,’ ‘a collection of classical works,’ a standard of perfection in sculpture and music, and even as “the schedule or ordinance fixing the amount of grain or other tribute to be paid by a province.”[12]
            Of the uses of the word canon by Christians, its most common uses fall within the scope of ‘rule’ or ‘norm.’  The word itself is rarely used in the New Testament, and even then only by the Apostle Paul.  Most of his uses are typically translated into the word ‘rule’; however, in 2 Corinthians 10:13, Paul seems to use the word in regard to an area, maybe identified by boundaries.  As the New Testament canon started to form into a fixed set of authoritative books from which to be read publicly, Metzger demonstrated that the word took on meanings more in line with “a list, index, or table—terms that carry the suggestion of something fixed and established, by which one can orient oneself.”[13]  Neil Lightfoot provided a good explanation of how Christians use the word today, writing of the word canon, “. . . and when so applied to the Bible denotes the list of books which are received as Holy Scripture.  Thus if one speaks of the ‘canonical’ writings, one is speaking of those books which are regarded as having divine authority and which comprise our Bible.”[14] 

            If Lightfoot’s definition of ‘canon’ (mentioned above) is correct, an understanding of authority is necessary, specifically the authority referred to as ‘divine’ or ‘biblical’ authority.  “There is a difference between the canonicity of a book and the authority of that book,” wrote Lightfoot, “A book’s canonicity depends on its authority.”[15]  While Lightfoot’s statement, in part, addresses the criteria of inclusion into the canon (which will be discussed in the next section), it also implies a limited understanding of the authority of the documents.  What is this authority?  Are all books, on any subject, written by any person, in any time, equal; should the information they contain be given the same treatment, the same response?  The answer is another controversy that will be given only light treatment here.  In the simplest understanding, most Christians believe that God has reviled himself and his will to humanity.  People eventually recorded these events and experiences in written form.  Part of this belief also includes and idea that God guided and inspired these writings, himself becoming the duel and significant author of the text.  In one of these documents, Paul, writing to Timothy, stated, “All Scripture is breathed out by God . . .”[16] By exercising control over the documents that record his revelation and will to humanity, God gave these documents a greater position over others.  These God-breathed books, backed by God’s authority, are often identified as ‘scripture.’  Millard Erickson says about the authority of the scripture of the Bible, “By the authority of the Bible we mean that the Bible, as the expression of God’s will to us, possesses the right to supremely define what we are to believe and how we are to conduct ourselves.”[17]  The next question is how to identify which documents are authoritative scripture and which are not, which is the topic of the next section.  But before examining various canon criterion, it is important to recognize the difference between the scripture and the canon.  Geoffrey Hahneman said, “Whereas the concept of canon presupposes the existence of scriptures, the concept of scripture does not necessarily entail the notion of canon.  It is entirely possible to possess scriptures without having a canon, and this was in fact the situation in the first few centuries of the Church.”[18]

            The first followers of Christ had none of the New Testament scriptures because these books and letters had not yet been written.  As each book or letter was authored, it was typically copied and distributed, but the circulated was a slow process.  Thomas Lea and David Black explained, “When the New Testament books did begin to circulate, many other writings, such as additional gospels, acts of Christian leaders, additional epistles, and apocalypses appeared.  Some groups accepted these additional writings; others rejected them.  Some of the writings now in the New Testament required a long time to gain acceptance throughout the church.”[19] 
Reading publicly from the various gospels and epistles along with the Old Testament canon became a common practice in Christian gatherings.[20]  The challenge, however, was understanding which writings were Scripture backed by the authority of God and which writings were not.  As individual church leaders worked to determine from which books should be publicly read and treated as God’s Word, the canon was starting to take form, although not at all unified it its early beginnings.  Carson and Moo wrote, “The church’s role is not to establish what books constitute Scripture.  Rather, the scriptural books make their own way by widespread usage and authority, and the church’s role is to recognize that only certain books command the church’s allegiance and obedience, and not the others—and this has the effect of constituting a canon, a closed list of authoritative Scripture.”[21]  To recognize and identify the authoritative Scripture from the collection of writing making its way through the early churches, criteria generally acted as the judge.  If the work passed evaluation, it was included with the library of Scripture that governed and guided the people of the church.  A book excluded from this library was not necessarily a bad book; it was simply not duel-authored by both man and God. 
            Each person or local church evaluating books and letters had a specific but individual set of criteria, giving weight to specific matters as was best seen fit; however, there are some general similarities among most the criterion.  Following Harry Gamble’s categorization, the first criterion is Apostolicity.[22]  This criterion is a reference to the author being one of the Apostles or being connected to one in some way.  However, this individual criterion alone might not have been enough; as Lea and Black indicated, “Christians did not use the criteria for canonicity in a mechanical fashion.  Sometimes one criterion was more important than another.”[23]  To make it into the canon, a work often had to soundly meet more than one criterion or fit well within a wide breath of criteria.  The other common categories of measurement were Catholicity, Orthodoxy (also known as regula fidei, or the rule of faith), and the one criterion that was applied later called Established Usage.[24]  In addition to these guidelines for establishing canonicity, John 10:27 should also be considered.
            Apostolicity suggests that a work written by an Apostle should be included in the canon; and this statement works if considering the work of John, Mathew, or Paul.  Metzger’s research added strength to this argument when he wrote, “When the writer of the Muratorian Fragment declares against the admission of the Shepherd of Hermas into the canon, he does so on the ground that it is too recent, and that it cannot find a place ‘among the prophets, whose number is complete, or among the apostles.’”[25]  But what about other works not written by Apostles that did find a place in the canon?  In the case of Luke and Mark, for example, a connection to an Apostle is present.  However, although only speculation, it seems reasonable that there were other writers connected to Apostles whose work was not included.  Polycarp, for example trained under the Apostle John, but his work is not among the canon.  Gamble said The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Barnabas, and the Gospel of Peter all claimed apostolic authorship but remained rejected.  And, according to Gamble, James, Jude (which could easily make a connection to at least one of the Apostles), and even 2 Peter were only accepted with hesitation.  Apostolicity, while a strong criterion, is not enough on its own to have warranted inclusion into the canon.
            Catholicity is the idea that the “document had to be relevant to the church as a whole and even so intended by its author.”[26]  However, even after providing the previous definition, Gamble concedes that this factor would have caused concerns for the canonicity for some of Paul’s writings.  This criterion however, might have held much less weight compared to Orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy is the idea that the writing was consistent with the existing doctrine or belief of the community of Christians.  To modern Christians who turn to the canonized Scripture in order to determine and evaluate doctrine and belief, this criterion might appear circular in nature.  However, it is important to remember that the early Church was much closer to the events in question and was thoroughly dedicated to carrying on the faith and teaching of Jesus and the first generation of Christians.  As letters and books were beginning to circulate, witnesses who could validate the written work and author were, in fact, still alive.[27]  Unlike Orthodoxy and Catholicity, Established Usage came into consideration in the later years of the canonization process.  This criterion examined not the document itself, but how the document was used in the employment of worship and teaching across the many local churches.[28]  Given that enough time had passed, one could ask if the document were obscure or new, or rejected or accepted by a large number of believers from many different church communities. 
            One additional consideration comes from the book of John.  In recording the teaching of Jesus, verse 27 of chapter 10 reads, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  In light of this passage, Grudem said,
It should not surprise us that the early church should have been able to recognize Hebrews and other writings, not written by apostles, as God’s very words . . . . It should not be thought impossible or unlikely, therefore, that the early church would be able to use a combination of factors, including apostolic endorsement, consistency with the rest of Scripture, and the perception of a writing as ‘God-breathed’ on the part of an overwhelming majority of believers, to decide that a writing was in fact God’s words (through a human author) and therefore worthy of inclusion in the canon.  Nor should it be thought unlikely that the church would be able to use this process over a period of time—as writings were circulated to various parts of the early church—and finally to come to a completely correct decision, without excluding any writings that were in fact ‘God-breathed’ and without including any that were not.[29]

It should be remembered that if indeed the works in question are authoritative and duel-authored by God, then the teaching within these writings is to be trusted and believed.  The New Testament canon includes teaching that the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer and serves to help and direct the church that Jesus will, and is building.  As the standard of truth, the New Testament canon has the ability to speak of its own identity and authority, regardless how circular this may seem to non-believers.

            With an understanding of the general canon criteria, this post will now examine the result of applying general criteria to the various documents as the early church began to form what is now the commonly accepted canon of the New Testament.  Initially, the early canon was not straightforward.  People were forming lists of what should be included.  Many of these lists did not agree.  But over time, as more lists were developed and discussed, the canon of Scripture grew wider acceptance, eventually being confirmed by councils. 
It could be argued that the earliest Church Fathers were, unknowingly developing a canon of scripture simply by which books they quoted and treated as authoritative.  But ultimately, this reasoning does not provide a closed list of Scripture.  Another unintentional factor contributing to the canon was the codex.  Prior to the codex, books were written on scrolls with a maximum length of about 35 feet.[30] The longest scrolls could only contain Luke and Acts at best.  But the invention of the codex—a bound stack of pages—many more books could be assembled together.[31]  Where before the canon of scrolls would be cumbersome, the entire collection of documents considers Scripture could be bound in one book.  The bound leaf-books would start to reasonably indicate which documents belonged together and which should be excluded.  Carson and Moo argued that there is “early and widespread attestation of our twenty-seven New Testament documents being bound together in various configurations.”[32]  But still, these were not canonical lists of the Scripture as the canon is thought of today.
            Credited with being the creator of the first official canon list, Murcion, a man who was formally excommunicated in A.D. 144, developed a list of what he believed was authoritative Scripture.  His list was contained in a book he titled Antithese, which is lost to history.  All that is known of Antithese has been taken from works that wrote against it.  Form what can be determined, Murcion’s list contained stripped down versions of Luke and ten epistles of Paul, nothing more.  He rejected the Old Testament and removed all references to the Jewish God from the books he did include in his canon.[33]  As Metzger wrote, “It was in opposition to Marcion’s criticism that the Church first became fully conscious of its inheritance of apostolic writings.”[34]  Throughout the Church, lists began surfacing, mostly to combat the heretical ideas of Murcion and others.  The canon was developing.
            Three early lists worth noting are the Muratorian Fragment, a comprehensive list written by the Church historian names Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Easter Letter by Athanasius.  The Muratorian Fragment is a second century, 85-line middle section of a document, written in Latin, and named after the man who discovered it sometime before 1740.  From this document, there is evidence that a fixed canon boundary was in place, but there were still books that had yet been fully accepted throughout all of the Church.[35]  And the Fragment not only contained a instruction for which books were Scripture and should be read publicly, it hinted at some of the debate surrounding the developing canon.  Hahneman stated, “[I]n the Fragment it is acknowledged that some do not want the Revelation of Peter read in the churches (ll. 71-3) and that the Shepherd ought to be read privately, put not publicly (ll. 73-80).”[36]   The accepted books listed in the Muratorian canon are Luke and John (with Mathew and Mark assumed by the language describing Luke as the 3rd Gospel and John as the 4th), Acts, 13 of Paul’s works, a letter to the Laodiceans, a letter to the Alexandrians which might be Hebrews but this is disputed, Jude, and two letters from John plus his book of Revelation.  Peter’s Apocalypse is included, but as indicated above, there is mention that this book should not be read publicly and might be considers not a part of the canon.[37] 
In like manner, Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) places books in the categories of ‘definite Scripture without dispute (which he called “homolegumena”), books that are not fully agreed upon, and books that are in no way authoritative documents.  In Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius listed the four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s Epistles (of which he includes Hebrews), 1 Peter, 1John, and Revelation as soundly part of the canon.  In the disputed but recognized list, Eusebius mentions James, Jude, two more of Peter’s Epistles and two more Epistles from John.[38]  However, it was Athanasius’ Easter Letter for the Alexandrian church written in 367 that included only the same 27 books found in the New Testament today.[39] 
            Over time, the books of the present New Testament canon had gained widespread acceptance, while others were clearly rejected.  In 363, the Council of Laodicia, in an effort against heresy, recognized the entire present canon with the exception of the book of Revelation.[40]  By the Third Council of Carthage in 397, little dispute existed to challenge the council’s reorganization of 27 books of Scripture, the duel-authored word of God.[41]  From this point forward, the canon has been generally accepted as it exists today.  And while the scope of this post is the development of the canon in the Western Church, it should serve as an additional conformation that the Eastern Church came to recognize the same 27-book New Testament canon.[42]    

            From what has been demonstrated here, Christians should feel confident knowing the New Testament canon is indeed the word of God, encompassing only the books that God intended to be viewed as new covenant Scripture.  The canon was not a creation of man but a process of time, discussion, and the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about (through man) a collective recognition and identification of Scripture by the early church, for the sake of all who came after them.  Carson and Moo were right in stating “It was not so much that the church selected the canon as the that the canon selected itself,” but it should also be added that the books that became the canon are the books of God’s word, authoritative, which all Christians should humbly submit to as the ultimate source of truth.[43]  
This post merely scratches the surface of a rich history full of lists and arguments regarding which books should have been included in the canon and which should have be left out.  There were many documents falsely attributed to apostolic authorship that were quickly rejected.  Some books were almost immediately accepted as the word of God.  There was a small collection of letters and books that were slow to gain acceptance but eventually found inclusion in the canon.  The criterion was disputed, some given more weight than others.  Arguments arose on the nature of divine authorship and by extension, authority.  Debate ensued.  And amazingly, the Eastern Church Fathers drew the same conclusions.  It is the hope of this author that additional interest will drive further studies in any of these facets of the New Testament canon development.

Bettenson, Henry, and Chris Maunder. Documents of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford
     University Press, 1999.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids,
     Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Christian Classic Ethereal Library, Book III, [accessed March 8, 2010].

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998.

Gamble, Harry Y. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Guides to biblical
     scholarship. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol I. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids,
     Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.

Hahneman, Geoffrey Mark. The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon.
     Oxford theological monographs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003.

Mayers, Ronald B. “Both/and: the uncomfortable apologetic.” Journal of the Evangelical
     Theological Society 23, number 3 (September 1980): 231-241.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance.
     New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Olson, Roger E. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity.
     Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

     [1] Ronald B. Mayers, “Both/and: the uncomfortable apologetic,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23 no 3 (September 1980), 232.
     [2] Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 90.
     [3] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 735.
     [4] Most commonly published” refers to the protestant Holy Bible made up of 66 books, 39 of the Old Testament and 27 of the New Testament.  This Bible does not include the Apocrypha as the Roman Catholic Church understands the canon. 
     [5] Carson & Moo, 727-732. 
     [6] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), 54.
     [7] Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance) New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 289. 
     [8] Metzger, 289.
     [9] Ibid.
     [10] Ibid.
     [11] Ibid. 
     [12] Ibid, 290. 
     [13] Ibid. 
     [14] Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003), 152. 
     [15] Ibid, 153.
     [16] 2 Tim 3:16.  All biblical references, unless otherwise indicated, will be taken from the New English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. 
     [17] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998), 267. 
     [18] Geofree Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon (Oxford theological monographs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 73. 
     [19] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 69-70.
     [20] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, Vol 1 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 62.
     [21] Carson, 741.
     [22] Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning, Guides to biblical scholarship (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 67-71.
     [23] Lea, 72, 
     [24] Gamble, 68-70.
     [25] Metzger, 253. 
     [26] Gamble, 69. 
     [27] For example, see 1 Cor 15:3-8. 
     [28] Gamble, 70-71. 
     [29] Grudem, 63-64. 
     [30] Metzger, 109. 
     [31] Ibid. 
     [32] Carson, 734.
     [33] Metzger, 90-99. 
     [34] Ibid, 99. 
     [35] Hehneman, 89. 
     [36] Ibid. 
     [37] Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 31-32
     [38] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Christian Classic Ethereal Library, III-xxv, [accessed March 8, 2010]. 
     [39] Carson, 734-735.
     [40] Ibid, 735. 
     [41] Ibid.
     [42] Ibid. 
     [43] Carson, 735.

 *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.   The formatting and sentence structure was in accordance with a class specific crib sheet.
** Photo of 3 Bibles is registered under a creative commons license: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.  All other photos are 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.