Theology


It’s amazing to me how we can interpret a passage to mean almost the exact opposite of its intended meaning simply because the intended meaning seems to conflict with our theology. A great example of this is Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)

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Many unbelievers have dismissed the testimony of the Biblical writers regarding the resurrection of Jesus on the basis that these witnesses are Christians. They argue that as Christians, the Biblical authors were biased to believe in the resurrection, making their testimony unreliable. Greg Koukl discussed the merits of this argument on his radio broadcast many years ago. I would like to share some of his ideas with you, as well as add a few of my own.

This objection presumes that rational objectivity is impossible if one has taken a position on a matter (in this case, the resurrection of Jesus Christ), but this ignores the fact that rational objectivity may be what led these individuals to believe in the resurrection in the first place. The evidence could have been so strong in favor of that conclusion that they were incapable of remaining intellectually honest without affirming that Jesus rose from the dead.

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For many years now I have harbored concerns about the way many churches practice the Lord’s Supper:

— We practice it too infrequently
— Our “supper” differs in appearance from that of the early church
— We make it a time of sadness and fear rather than joy and hope.

Too Infrequent

Biblically and historically, the Lord’s Supper has been a regular part of the Christian gathering. Only after the Reformation did the sermon replace the Supper as the most significant part of a service. Now, the Supper is rarely celebrated in many Protestant churches.

The early church seemed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on a regular, if not weekly basis. In Acts 2:42 we read, “They [the Christian converts] were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (NET Bible) While this could be a reference to general communal eating, the context suggests otherwise. First, eating is not a Christian practice to which converts must devote themselves. Eating is a practice common to everyone regardless of their religious affiliation. Secondly, the surrounding activities are religious in nature: doctrinal teaching, fellowship, and prayer. It is best to understand this eating as the Eucharist meal.

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My friend, William Arnold, once made an observation about “the rapture” that is worth sharing.

The debate over the timing of the rapture in relationship to the second coming of Christ presupposes that the rapture and the second coming are both events, and then seeks to determine when each event will take place in relationship to the other. Is that a valid presupposition? Does the Bible describe the rapture as an event?

The only clear passage in Scripture that describes a rapturing of the church is 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Paul wrote:

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

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This is a difficult question. It’s not difficult theologically, but practically. If we give a simple “yes” answer, it makes Christianity and the God of Christianity look petty or bigoted. So how can we communicate the answer in a way that is both truthful and tactful? Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason has some tips for answering this question in a tactical manner.

First, clarify why it is that people go to hell. It’s not because they fail a theology test, but because they fail a moral test. People will be sentenced to hell for their moral crimes against a holy God, not for their failure to believe in Jesus. Sin is like a disease. Both will kill you (one physically, one spiritually) if they go untreated. Those who die of an untreated disease do not die because they haven’t visited the doctor, but because of their disease. Likewise, people do not go to hell because they have failed to believe in Jesus, but because of their sin.

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If God is omniscient, then He knows everything that will happen in the future – including everything you will ever do. God knows that on x date at time t1 you will stub your toe, and on q date at time t5 you will forget where you placed your keys. God has had such knowledge from eternity past. Since God cannot be mistaken, it is certain that you will stub your toe on x date at time t1 and forget your keys on q date at time t5. How, then, can our “choices” be free? Does God’s knowledge of the future eliminate free will, reducing us to mere actors who simply perform the parts of a cosmic play written for us by God from eternity past? Are we puppets with no control over our own destiny? Is our experience of free choice illusory? Darwinist, Robert Eberle, sums up the problem nicely:

[Francis] Collins asserts that there is still free will, but fails to explain his logic for arriving at this extraordinary conclusion. Either what will be is known and fixed or it is not. An infallible god that knows what is going to happen is in conflict with the idea that there is free choice and thus a responsibility for one’s actions.[1]

I am not persuaded that God’s knowledge of the future determines our fate for two reasons. First, knowledge is not a cause of anything. Knowledge of some x is not what causes x to be. The truth of x must precede the knowledge of x.

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Traditionally, the fourth gospel is ascribed to the Apostle John, who is understood to be the mysterious beloved disciple that makes so many appearances in the book. However, based on the internal evidence, I am persuaded that this identification is mistaken. Lazarus is the beloved disciple, not John. Since the beloved disciple is identified as the author, wouldn’t that make Lazarus the author of the fourth gospel? In a sense, yes, but authorship is rightly attributed to John given ancient standards.

I think Lazarus penned a written testimony to the life of Jesus, and John used Lazarus’ material as his primary source (similar to how Matthew and Luke used Mark as their primary source, or how Mark used Peter as his primary source). John edited Lazarus’ material and added some of his own to compose the fourth gospel shortly after Lazarus died (a second time), in part, because he needed to clear up a misunderstanding in the Christian community about Lazarus’ relationship to the return of Christ. What better way to do so than by using Lazarus’ own testimony as the basis for the gospel!

Check out the evidence I present in the paper linked below and let me know what you think.

Who Wrote the Gospel of John?

I believe in the concept of heresy. To be a Christian, one must believe in a core set of ideas (what some refer to as “primary doctrines”). If you deny or sufficiently distort those doctrines, you are not a Christian and will not be saved.

While there are disagreements about which doctrines qualify as primary, most would agree that the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, and the physical resurrection of Jesus are on that list. Most people would also agree that there is some latitude for disagreements on these issues, but nobody agrees on just how much latitude can be tolerated before one moves from the realm of orthodox to the realm of heresy. For example, many consider Nestorianism to be a Christological heresy, whereas others, such as myself, have argued that it should only be considered a Christology error. In other words, I think the doctrine of Christ is flexible enough that a Nestorian can still be considered a Christian and saved, despite his theological error.

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Is gender something more than our biology? Are our souls also gendered?

I tend to think our souls are also gendered given how differently men and women are. We think differently, we value different things, etc. Since these are functions of the mind, and the mind is a function of the soul, it seems to follow that there are different kinds of souls: male and female. Of course, it’s possible that these differences could be caused by hormonal differences between men and women. What do you think, and what are your reasons?

People often misunderstand and misapply the term “hypocrite.” A hypocrite literally refers to an actor. They are pretenders. In the realm of morals, a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be moral. They tell you not to do something, but have no intention of following their own commands. They are people who do not think their own rules apply to them. They might pretend to keep these rules, but secretly they flout them.

On the other hand, there are those who believe the moral commands they preach to others apply equally to themselves, and they do their best to live up to those moral ideals. However, they fail to do so perfectly or consistently. When they fail their moral standards, they regret it and repent. These people are not hypocrites. They are simply fallen humans doing their best to do what’s right, but failing to do so perfectly.

It seems to me that most Christians have chosen to ignore Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. I realize that the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is not crystal clear, and that even conservative Christians hold to a number of different interpretations of the Biblical teaching. That said, I think it’s abundantly clear that Jesus only permitted divorce and remarriage in a very narrow set of circumstances.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Mt 19:3-10, ESV)

It’s pretty clear that Jesus opposed no-fault divorce, which is tantamount to our modern “irreconcilable differences.” Jesus only provided one justification for divorce, and it has to do with some kind of sexual sin (opinions differ as to what constitutes this sin). Unfortunately, I would venture to say that most confessing Christians get a divorce for irreconcilable differences as opposed to sexual sin.

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I have long been concerned by the modern, therapeutic view of forgiveness. On this view, forgiveness is primarily about ridding oneself of anger toward those who have hurt us, and this can be done completely independent of the sinner. He does not need to repent, and he does not need to know we have forgiven him.

In the paper linked at the end of this post, I argue that Biblical forgiveness is about restoring relationships that have been fractured by sin (Mt 5:24; 18:15; 2 Cor 5:19), not ridding ourselves of anger toward those who hurt us. Forgiveness is an act whereby we release the offender from his moral debt against us and choose to treat him as if he had never sinned. If we are no longer angry at our offender, but have not reconciled the relationship, then we have not forgiven. If we reconcile the relationship, however, treating our offender as we did prior to their sin, then true forgiveness has been achieved – even if we still feel anger toward them. Feelings typically follow actions, so our feelings of anger will typically subside as we begin to treat our offender in a loving way.

Forgiveness is not something that can be done from afar, privately affirming our forgiveness to God in prayer. Forgiveness is something we grant directly to our offender, letting him know that we agree to restore the relationship. Of course, this requires that the offender seek to restore the relationship through repentance for his sin. Biblical forgiveness is not automatic or unconditional. We can only forgive those who have repented of their sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Luke 17:3-4). If they do not repent, they cannot be forgiven. We may release our anger against them, choose to love them, and determine to live peaceably with them, but the relationship cannot be restored to its pre-sin state until they repent.

Forgiveness – The Misunderstood Virtue

 

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

While most people rightly understand the baptism of the Spirit as a reference to regeneration, there is no shortage of interpretations of what the “fire” refers to.

Some understand this as referring to two separate Spirit baptisms for believers: the baptism of the Spirit is for salvation (regeneration), while the baptism with fire is an empowerment for ministry. Others agree that “fire” refers to anointing and empowerment, but only see one baptism in view. When we receive the Spirit, we experience both salvation and ministry empowerment simultaneously. An appeal is often made to Acts 2:1-4, where fire appeared over the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit.

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I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:5-8, ESV)

What is the “gift of God” that Paul enjoined Timothy to fan into flame? Many interpreters, including Pentecostals, tend to view this gift as the gift of the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. I’ve heard a number of messages about stirring up the Holy Spirit inside of me, based on this verse. It’s not hard to see the connection. The laying on of hands is associated with receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6, and this experience is intimately connected with “power” being given to the believer (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 4:33; 6:8; 10:38).

While this is a plausible interpretation, I do not think it is the best. Let’s consider other possibilities. (more…)

If you think “God just wants me to be happy,” you are going to be very disappointed in your Christian life, and inclined toward sin and doubt. False expectations never end well.

The notion that God just wants us to be happy has led many believers to question God’s existence when some evil befalls them or their life is not working out the way they wanted. It has led others to disobey God’s Word, reasoning that God can’t possibly require them to do X since X does not bring them happiness. I see this all the time when it comes to matters of sexuality and divorce/remarriage.

This isn’t to say God wants us to be sad, but merely that God’s purpose for our lives is not our personal happiness per se. His purpose is that we live our lives for His purpose and that our character be conformed to His image. He is primarily interested in our obedience, our dedication, and our faithfulness – not our happiness. While obedience often leads to happiness, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it leads to loss, sorrow, and personal difficulty.

No, God does not want you to be happy. He wants you to obey Him. He wants you to take up our cross and follow Him. Doing so will always bring ultimate fulfillment, but not always ultimate happiness.

When it comes to Biblical interpretation, some tend to think that they don’t need to study or engage in deep thinking on the Scripture. God will simply tell them what the Bible means. On the other end of the spectrum are those who tend to think that they don’t need any spiritual illumination of the text. They can discover the meaning through study and deep thinking alone.

Paul rejected both of these approaches to Scripture. He told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). Paul didn’t see it as an either-or, but a both-and. We must do our best thinking on the words of Scripture, and Jesus will help us understand Scripture in the process.

I am temporarily reviving an old series I did on hermeneutics called “straight outta context.” For this installment, I want to look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-17.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:10-17)

I had always heard verses 10-15 used to exhort people to good works. As Christians, we need to make sure that we are doing works that will endure for eternity (gold, silver, precious stones) and for which we will receive a reward, rather than doing things that have no eternal value (wood, hay, stubble). However, in context, this is Paul’s warning to teachers to make sure that they are discipling God’s people correctly.

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In John 20:21-22, during Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the apostles, He said, “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” Did the apostles receive the Spirit at that moment, or did the fulfillment of Jesus’ words await the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)?

Many interpreters have concluded that Jesus was speaking prophetically in John 20 of the future Pentecost experience. They do so, however, because they assume that both John and Acts refer to the same event. In the paper linked below, I argue that this assumption is mistaken. The authors of John and Acts are referring to two different works of the Spirit for two different purposes that occurred on two different occasions. In John 20, the apostles experienced the regeneration of the Spirit, whereas in Acts 2 the apostles experienced the empowerment of the Spirit that equipped them to be a witness for Jesus and His resurrection.

Did the Disciples Receive the Spirit in John 20:22?

More than 80 fragments of Nahum and Zechariah (not all have text written on them) were recently discovered in the Judean desert. These are the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 60 years. Apparently, these fragments belong to a scroll of the Minor Prophets that was discovered in this same cave more than 60 years ago. That scroll, and these new fragments, are written in Greek rather than Hebrew. One of the interesting features of this scroll is that the name of God is written in paleo Hebrew, which is the ancient Hebrew script. Hopefully more scrolls will soon be discovered.

See:

Biblical Archaeology Society

The Jerusalem Post

Why doesn’t God give people a second chance to be saved after death (Heb 9:27)? Surely those who go to hell would want to repent once they are faced with the consequences of their sin, right? Wrong. This idea underestimates these people’s disposition toward God. They know God exists (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:18-32; 2:12-16), but they hate Him and refuse to acknowledge Him by repenting of their sins (Ps 83:2; Jn 3:20; 7:7; 15:18,23-24; Rom 1:30; Rev 9:20; 16:9,11). They reject His moral authority over their lives. While they do not like their punishment, they don’t want the alternative either. They don’t love God, and they don’t want to be with Him for eternity. It’s not so much that God will not give them a second chance to repent as it is that they would not take Him up on His offer if He were to give it.

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