Archive for March, 2012

Was Jesus about fifty years old? John 8:57

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

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(Courtesy of ChristArt.com)

In a debate over the age of Jesus, wayseer on Christian Forums makes this statement, ‘Then there is this …. John 8:57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”’[1]

How do we explain your statement? Anglican exegete, Leon Morris, in his commentary on the Gospel of John explained:

The Jews incredulity breaks out in a reference to the age of Jesus. A man not yet fifty years old could not have seen Abraham, they imply. It is curious that they use the number ‘fifty’. Luke tells us that Jesus was ‘about thirty years of age’ (Luke 3:23) at the beginning of His ministry and all the indications are that the ministry occupied no more than about three years. It is not likely that John is presenting us with another tradition as to the age of Jesus.[2] More probably fifty is thought of as a good age, possibly as the completion of a man’s working life and the entrance on to old age. It is the age at which the Levites completed their service (Num. 4:3). Or it may be meant to contrast one short life-time with the centuries that had elapsed since Abraham’s day. In any case we must bear in mind Langrange’s reminded that they thought of Jesus as being out of His mind. They were certainly not discussing his age with any precision accordingly. They simply gave good measure.[3] Jesus was still a young man. He could not claim even to be one of the elders. How then could He possibly have seen Abraham? Notice that the Jews do not repeat Jesus exactly. He speaks of Abraham seeing His day, they of His seeing Abraham (Morris 1971:472-472).

D A Carson’s commentary on this verse is much briefer:

A claim like that of v. 56, if valid, would mean the overthrow of all points they had been arguing. It was easier to interpret Jesus’ words rather crassly, as if Jesus had claimed to be Abraham’s natural contemporary. Then it could be handily dismissed: Jesus was not yet fifty (a round figure, and no indication of Jesus’ age at the time, despite the deductions made by a number of church Fathers), while Abraham had been dead for two millennia (Carson 1991:357-356).

Eminent church historian, Philip Schaff (n d:vol 1, 54, 62) states that

According to Matthew 2:1 (comp. Luke 1:5, 26), Christ was born “in the days of Herod” I, or the Great, who died according to Josephus, at Jericho, A.U. 750 (or B.C. 4), if not earlier….

The day of the week on which Christ suffered on the cross was a Friday, during the week of the Passover, in the month of Nisan, which was the first of the twelve lunar months of the Jewish year…. The Synoptical Gospels clearly decide for the 15th, for they all say (independently) that our Lord partook of the paschal supper on the legal day, called the “first day of unleavened bread,” (Matt. 26:17, 20; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7, 15. Comp. John 18:39, 40)….

The view here advocated is strengthened by astronomical calculation, which shows that in A.D. 30, the probable year of the crucifixion, the 15th of Nisan actually fell on a Friday (April 7) and this was the case only once more between the years A.D. 28 and 36, except perhaps also in 33. Consequently Christ must have been crucified A.D. 30.

To sum up the results, the following appear to us the most probable dates in the earthly life of our Lord:

Jesus’ earthly life Dates
Birth A.U.[4] 750 (Jan ?) or 749 (Dec ?) B.C. 4 or 5
Baptism A.U. 780 (Jan ?) A.D. 27
Length of Public Ministry (three years and three or four months) A.U. 780-793 A.D. 27-30
Crucifixion A.U. 783 (15th of Nisan) A.D. 30 (April 7)

Therefore, in Christian History (online), it is not surprising that Dan Hargraves assesses that a ‘possible date for Christ’s death‘ is AD 30, 7 April.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Schaff, P n.d. History of the Christian church, 8 vols (online), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.toc.html (Accessed 31 March 2012).

Notes


[1] Christian Forums, Theology (Christians Only), Christian Apologetics, ‘Bible contraditions’ #46. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643378-5/ (Accessed 31 March 2012).

[2] At this point Morris has the footnote, ‘Strachan thinks that “the words suggest His youthfulness. The Jewish objectors interpret Jesus’ reply prosaically and ironically as meaning that Abraham had actually seen one who still had his reputation to make, and was as yet undistinguished” (Morris 1971:472 n 114).

[3] At this point the footnote is: ‘Chrysostom reads: “thou art not yet forty years old” (LV. 2; p. 198). Irenaeus argues that Jesus must have been over forty, for had he been less they would have said “thou art not yet forty years old”’ (Adv. Haer. II, 22.6). Cited in Morris (1971:473 n 115).

[4] What is the meaning of A.U.? ‘Ab urbe condita (related with Anno Urbis Conditae: AUC or a.u.c. or a.u.) is a Latin phrase meaning “from the founding of the City (Rome)”, traditionally dated to 753 BC. AUC is a year-numbering system used by some ancient Roman historians to identify particular Roman years’ (Ab urbe condita. Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ab_urbe_condita (Accessed 31 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Is Richard Dawkins an agnostic or an atheist?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Atom Of Atheism Wallpaper 10by16 by kg

(image courtesy Open Clipart Library)

By Spencer D Gear

Is Richard Dawkins an atheist[1] or an agnostic?[2] In a debate on evolution between eminent scientist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, and Rowan William, Archbishop of Canterbury, The Independent [UK] reported:

Could Dawkins disprove the existence of God? He could not, he confessed, describing himself not as an atheist but as an agnostic – to gasps from Twitter, where the unlikely #dawkinsarchbishop hashtag was trending. On his own atheism scale of one-to-seven, the Professor suggested, “the probability of any supernatural creator existing is very, very low, so let’s say I’m a 6.9″….

“I am baffled,” responded Dawkins, “by the way sophisticated theologians who know Adam and Eve never existed still keep talking about it.” God, he said, “cluttered up” his scientific worldview. “I don’t see clutter coming into it,” Williams replied. “I’m not thinking of God as an extra who has to be shoehorned into it” (Walker 2012).

Here is a clip from the debate on YouTube, where Dawkins admits he is an agnostic and not an atheist: See HERE.

The Daily Mail [UK] reported the debate this way:

Professor Richard Dawkins today dismissed his hard-earned reputation as a militant atheist – admitting that he is actually agnostic as he can’t prove God doesn’t exist.

The country’s foremost champion of the Darwinist evolution, who wrote The God Delusion, stunned audience members when he made the confession during a lively debate on the origins of the universe with the Archbishop of Canterbury….

But when Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams suggested that Professor Darwin is often described as the world’s most famous atheist, the geneticist responded: ‘Not by me’.

He said: ‘On a scale of seven, where one means I know he exists, and seven I know he doesn’t, I call myself a six.’

Professor Dawkins went on to say what he believed was a ‘6.9’, stating: ‘That doesn’t mean I’m absolutely confident, that I absolutely know, because I don’t’….

This latest admission by Professor Dawkins comes after he was left lost for words [to] name the full title of his scientific hero’s[3] most famous work during a radio discussion last week in which he accused Christians of being ignorant of the Bible.

In his frustration, he resorted to a helpless: ‘Oh God’ (Hills 2012).

However, this is not a new perspective from Dawkins. As we shall see, this is a similar view to what he has already promoted in The God delusion (2006).

A.  The reaction of other atheists to Dawkins’ claim

How have Dawkins’ atheistic followers reacted to his acknowledgement that he is a 6.9 agnostic on a scale of 1-7 (1 being God exists and 7 being God does not exist)? Some of the comments made by posters following the Mail Online article show the defensiveness of atheists:

An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God. Dawkins doesn’t believe in God. Dawkins is an atheist. Dawkins, like practically every other atheist I’ve ever met, has the humility to admit he doesn’t know everything, and therefore allows for the possibility that he is wrong. Technically, that makes him agnostic; but by that standard every Christian who ever has a moment of doubt is also agnostic. This isn’t a change in what Dawkins believes. The only news here is that the author of this article doesn’t understand the subject she’s covering. And really, that’s not news. (James Huber, Oakland, USA, 26/2/2012) [Walker 2012][4]

Professor Dawkins has ALWAYS said he is an agnostic atheist, which is distinct from a simple agnostic. The Mail is engaging in sensationalism, yet again. (Joseph Martin, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, 26/2/2012) [Walker 2012].

Another perspective in these comments was:

This is a U-turn in his rhetoric. Remember Dawkins wrote a chapter in The God Delusion called “The Poverty of Agnosticism”? Is he now impoverished?? (Juan, Slough, UK, 26/2/2012).

Another used it as a reason to attack the credibility of the Bible:

Comparing religion with science is misrepresenting science. Science is simply the logical application of thought to problems – processing what you currently know to explain things better. It isn’t an alternative belief system, it is a way of teasing out truth from ideas. One truth we have discovered is that lots of things are unprovable. I cannot prove my desk exists but we accept this as a proven ‘fact’. Arguing otherwise is just untenable. We have worked out that the earth is billions of years old. If Jesus is the son of God, the Bible wouldn’t describe the earth as a few thousand years old and there wouldn’t be so many other factual errors. Common sense tells you that, if the writers didn’t know any more than the smart guys of the day, there is no need to look for a supernatural explanation. We may not be able to prove God doesn’t exist, but we *have* proved the Bible to be wrong on many fundamental points (even theologians agree). Belief based on the Bible is untenable (Dave, Cambridge, UK, 26/2/2012) [Walker 2012].

In a Christian apologetics site, Theo-sophical Ruminations (online): Agnostic Front, there is an article, ‘Dawkins is an agnostic? Why certainty is irrelevant to defining atheism’. The author makes this assessment:

During his dialogue-debate with Rowen[5] Williams (the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church under the Queen of England), Richard Dawkins was asked by the moderator why, if he admits that He cannot disprove God’s existence, he doesn’t just call himself an agnostic.  Dawkins response was, “I do.”

This is interesting, particularly in light of his past identification as an atheist, as well as his remarks that on a scale of 1 to 7, with one being “I know God exists” and seven being “I know God doesn’t exist,”  he ranks himself a 6.9.  He is only 0.1 away from being absolutely certain God does not exist, and yet he thinks that is good reason to adopt the agnostic label.  I disagree.

The presumption here is that to be an atheist one must be 100% sure that God does not exist, and if one is not 100% sure then they are agnostic (Christians often make this same mistake in reasoning).  But since when has atheism described the level of certainty one has regarding the non-existence of God?  Atheism describes the position of those who think the proposition “God exists” is false, regardless of their level of confidence that this is so.  Whether they are 99% or 51% sure the proposition is false, it is the mere fact that they think it is false that makes them an atheist….

If one must be 100% certain that God does not exist before it is appropriate to designate one’s position as “atheism,” then I think most philosophers would agree that no one could be an atheist.[6]

In spite of the atheistic promoters disappointment with Dawkins ‘agnostic’ position (even if only 0.1 out of 7.0), he did have a section in The God Delusion on ‘the poverty of agnosticism’ (Dawkins 2006:69-77), but he admitted

the view that I shall defend is very different: agnosticism about the existence of God belongs firmly in the temporary or TAP [Temporary Agnosticism in Practice] category. Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question: one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something very strong about the probability….

God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice. If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour (Dawkins 2006:70, 73, emphasis added).

However, he did write that he was agnostic about the existence of God ‘only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden’ (Dawkins 2006:74). So Dawkins, even in The God delusion (2006), was admitting his temporary agnostic position that, by definition, will lead to full-blown atheism one day when the scientific evidence is eventually found to deny the existence of God.

Dawkins’ examination of evidence is inhibited by his rejection of all kinds of evidence, as exemplified in strident statements such as,

(1) ‘It is impossible to overstress the difference between such a passionate commitment to biblical fundamentals and the true scientist’s equally passionate commitment to evidence’ (2006:19).

(2) ‘Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design) [2006:28].

(3) ‘The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe “religious liberty”’ (2006:45, emphasis added).

(4) ‘Not surprisingly, since it is founded on local traditions of private revelation rather than evidence, the God Hypothesis comes in many versions’ (2000:52).

(5) ‘There is nothing wrong with being agnostic in cases where we lack evidence one way or the other. It is the reasonable position’ (2000:69).

(6) ‘If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour’ (2006:73, emphasis added).

(7) ‘I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence of any kind of deity’ (2006:122-123).

(8) ‘It would be interesting to know whether there was any statistical tendency, however slight, for religious believers to loot and destroy than unbelievers. My uninformed prediction would have been opposite’ (2006:261).

(9) ‘Adherents of scriptural authority show distressingly little curiosity about the (normally highly dubious) historical origins of their holy books’ (2006:267).

(10) ‘Much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and “improved” by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries’ (2006:268).

(11) ‘Let’s charitably put it down again to the ubiquitous weirdness of the Bible’ (2006:273).

(12) ‘The Bible may be an arresting and poetic work of fiction, but it is not the sort of book you should give your children to form their morals’ (2006:280)

(13) ‘when you have been taught that truth comes from scripture rather than from evidence’ (2006:379).

B.  The scientific method: How to determine scientific facts

What is the scientific method? Experiment-Resources.com has provided this brief and helpful overview of the scientific method:

1.  The scientific process[7]

A scientific process or scientific method requires observations of nature and formulating and testing the hypothesis. It consists of following four steps.

1. Observe something and ask questions about a natural phenomenon (scientific observation)

2. Make your hypothesis

3. Make predictions about logical consequences of the hypothesis

4. Test your predictions by controlled experiment, a natural experiment, an observational study or a field experiment

5. Create your conclusion on the basis of data or information gathered in your experiment.

Here it is summarised with this graphic:

clip_image002

Matt Slick, while acknowledging the differences of opinion regarding the exact definition of the scientific method, stated that the main elements of the method are:

  1. Observation – a perception, viewing of phenomena.
  2. Hypothesis – a proposed explanation is developed to account what has been observed.
  3. Experimentation – tests are developed to validate or invalidate the hypothesis.
  4. Prediction – after tests and validation of the hypothesis, predictions are made based upon the evidence gathered in experimentation.
  5. Theory – a theory is based upon a hypothesis, verified by testing, and is generally accepted as being an accurate explanation of phenomena.

What should be emphasised more in this overview is that the scientific method deals with in the measurable, the observable and the repeatable. Therefore, it is used primarily with experiments in the present time that can be observed, have hypotheses created, data accumulated to confirm or disconfirm the predictions of the hypothesis, and further hypotheses proposed to be tested for verification or falsification.

I do not consider that ultimate questions can be decided through use of the scientific method in its strictest sense. In my view, the existence of God and their being reason and purpose in the universe, cannot be analysed according to the scientific method’s use of observing things in the present time and testing them.

Yet, Dawkins regards science as the primary evidence for investigating our world. Take statements like:

  • ‘The implication that the scriptures provide a literal account of geological history would make any reputable theologian wince’ (Dawkins 2006:377);
  • A promotion of a young earth by a creationist in teaching science was designed ‘to subvert evidence-based science education and replace it with biblical scripture’ (Dawkins 2006:378);
  • ‘… when you have been taught that truth comes from scripture rather than from evidence’ (Dawkins 2006:379);

Because of this exclusive priority given by Dawkins to the primacy of science, scientist and theologian, Alister McGrath, has stated of Dawkins’ view:

Science is the only reliable tool that we possess to understand out world. It has no limits. We may not know something now—but we will in the future. It is just a matter of time. This view, found throughout Dawkins’s body of writings, is given added emphasis in The God Delusion, which offers a vigorous defense of the universal scope and conceptual elegance of the natural sciences…. The point is simple: there are no “gaps” in which God can hide. Science will explain everything—including why some still believe in such a ridiculous idea as God. Yet it is an approach that simply cannot be sustained….

Dawkins does, I have to say with regret, tend to portray anyone raising questions about the scope of sciences as a science-hating idiot (McGrath & McGrath 2007:35-36).

Dawkins has confirmed his short-sightedness with his support for the exclusivity of natural explanations, and he is subject to severe critique as McGrath & McGrath (2007) have demonstrated. I highly recommend McGrath & McGrath’s analysis of Dawkins’ worldview. It is devastating as they conclude that

The God Delusion is a work of theatre rather than scholarship…. Many have been disturbed by Dawkins’s crude stereotypes, vastly oversimplified binary oppositions (science is good; religion is bad), straw men and hostility toward religion. Might The God Delusion actually backfire and end up persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant, doctrinaire and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer?… Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric rather than the evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case…. Might atheism be a delusion about God? (McGrath & McGrath 2007:96-97, emphasis in original).

C.  God himself could clinch the argument

Let’s get back to Dawkins challenging statement about God: ‘If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour’ (2006:73).

So Dawkins is the master of evidence on the existence of God and he challenges God to ‘clinch the argument’, not in just some robust fashion, but God could do it ‘noisily and unequivocally’ and this would be in God’s favour – if only God would take Dawkins’ advice and do it as Dawkins wants.

D.  Wait a minute, Richard Dawkins!

God has already revealed Himself unequivocally and Dawkins does not accept the evidence. Why? His presuppositional bias to atheism, naturalism, and the scientific method, prevents him from accepting God’s unequivocal evidence that is available elsewhere and in ways that God states are available to all. This is some of how God has stated the evidence:

  • ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1 NIV).
  • ‘Since what may be known about God is plain to them [godless, wicked people], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse’ (Romans 1:19-20 NIV, emphasis added).
  • They [Gentiles, non-Jews] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:15 NIV).
  • Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9 NIV).

The Scriptures have stated that God has revealed himself, noisily, unequivocally in his own favour and not one human being in the world can make excuses like: “God I’m a 6.9 points out of 7 agnostic and I didn’t know for sure you exist”. “I’m a 99.9% atheist and I don’t believe in your existence”. “I was in a country where I never heard your Gospel and there was no Bible, so how can you send me to the place where the ungodly go?”

The Bible verses above confirm that God has done all he is ever going to do in three ways:

  1. He has revealed Himself through natural revelation – in the heavens, through what has been made in the natural world.
  2. A person’s heart/conscience has the law of God on it.
  3. If you’ve had knowledge of Jesus through the proclamation of the Gospel and through access to the Scriptures, you have seen God, the Father, in action. You know of God’s invisible attributes and you know some of what he does. To be a 99.9% atheist is not acceptable before the holy and just God who ‘does not show favoritism’ (Romans 2:11).

Therefore, Richard Dawkins and all of the ungodly people in the world, you are without excuse. Not one person who has ever existed will be able to stand before God on judgment day and say, ‘You did not reveal yourself to me, God, to clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in your favour’.

E.  What are Richard Dawkins and all unbelievers up to?

Former atheist, scientist and now historical theologian at Oxford University, Dr. Alister McGrath, admitted his disillusionment with Dawkins’ antagonism towards God. He wrote:

When I read The God Delusion I was both saddened and troubled. How, I wondered, could such a gifted popularizer of the natural sciences, who once had such a passionate concern for the objective analysis of evidence, turn into such an aggressive antireligious propagandist with an apparent disregard for evidence that is not favorable to his case? Why were the natural sciences being so abused in an attempt to advance atheist fundamentalism? I have no adequate explanation. Like so many of my atheist friends, I simply cannot understand the astonishing hostility that he displays toward religion. Religion to Dawkins is like a red flag to a bull—evoking not merely an aggressive response but one that throws normal scholarly conventions about scrupulous accuracy and fairness to the winds (McGrath & McGrath 2007:12)

Terry Eagleton is a cultural and literary critic. His blistering critique of The God Delusion (2006) begins with these words:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be (Eagleton 2006).

Eagleton describes Dawkins as being ‘theologically illiterate’ and Dawkins has provided ‘vulgar caricatures of religious faith’ (Eagleton 2006).

Well said, Terry, and your entire review is a scintillating assessment of Richard Dawkins’ ineptitude when it comes to theology.

F.  How reliable is the Bible?

When discussing the Christian Gospel and defending Christianity, I have often heard comments such as: ‘You can’t depend on the fairytales of the Bible. Go tell somebody else your nonsense’; ‘Try that on somebody else. I’m not that gullible. Your Bible is a bunch of trash’. Let’s see how Dawkins attempts to undermine the reliability of the Bible:

  • ‘How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath and for cheeking your parents? If we reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus (as all enlightened moderns do), by what criteria do we then decide which of religion’s moral values to accept? Or should we pick and choose among all the world’s religions until we find one whose moral teaching suits us? If so, again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?’ (Dawkins 2006:81, emphasis in original)
  • ‘To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird’ (2006:268).
  • ‘Despite the good intentions of the sophisticated theologian, a frighteningly large number of people still do take their scriptures, including the story of Noah, literally. According to Gallup, they include approximately 50 per cent of the US electorate’ (2006:269).
  • ‘Scientists may think it is nonsense to teach astrology and the literal truth of the Bible’ (2006:367).
  • ‘Jesus was not content to derive his ethics from the scriptures of his upbringing. He explicitly departed from them, for example when he deflated the dire warnings about breaking the sabbath. “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” has been generalized into a wise proverb’ (2006:284).
  • ‘There are other teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support. I refer especially to the central doctrine of Christianity: that of “atonement” for “original sin”. This teaching, which lies at the heart of New Testament theology, is almost as morally obnoxious as the story of Abraham setting out to barbecue Isaac, which it resembles’ (2006:284).
  • ‘What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?’ (2006:285).
  • ‘The Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life’ (2006:285).
  • ‘I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment?’ (2006:287).
  • ‘Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact -excusably unknown to Paul but presumably known to an omniscient God (and Jesus, if you believe he was God?) – which fundamentally undermines the premise of the whole tortuously nasty theory [of the atonement] (Dawkins 2006:287).
  • ‘The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror’ (2006:51).
  • ‘For a more sophisticated believer in some kind of supernatural intelligence, it is childishly easy to overcome the problem of evil. Simply postulate a nasty god – such as the one who stalks every page of the Old Testament’ (2006:135).
  • Begin in Genesis with the well-loved story of Noah, derived from the Babylonian myth of Uta-Napisthim and known from the older mythologies of several cultures. The legend of the animals going into the ark two by two is charming, but the moral of the story of Noah is appalling. God took a dim view of humans, so he (with the exception of one family) drowned the lot of them including children and also, for good measure, the rest of the (presumably blameless) animals as well’ (2006:269).
  • ‘Why should a divine being, with creation and eternity on his mind, care a fig for petty human malefactions?’ (2006:270)
  • ‘Look it up in Judges 19:29. Let’s charitably put it down to the ubiquitous weirdness of the Bible’ (2006:273).
  • ‘Yet the legend [of Abraham] is one of the great foundational myths of all three monotheistic religions’ (2006:275).
  • ‘Modern morality, wherever else it comes from, does not come from the Bible’ (2006:279).
  • ‘And the Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. The Bible may be an arresting and poetic work of fiction, but it is not the sort of book you should give your children to form their morals’ (2006:280).

Those assaults by Richard Dawkins should stir you to realise that there is a tirade of antagonism, not only from Dawkins, but also from others. That should give you enough ammunition to indicate that there are people in university land who have a deep hostility towards the Bible and the God of the Bible. In being an apologist for the Christian faith in the twenty-first century, you’ll need to defend the reliability of the Scriptures. I refer you to my four articles that deal with this matter in an introductory way.

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

For further reading on the reliability of the Bible, I recommend: Blomberg (2007); Bruce (1960); Kaiser Jr (2001); Kitchen (2003); Montgomery (1984); Montgomery (1986).

G.  God has declared!

God has declared exactly what Richard Dawkins and all the ungodly are doing with their denial or rejection of the existence of God. All the evidence they will ever need is before them, but this is what they are doing:

  • ‘God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Rom 1:18 NLT, emphasis added).

Suppression of the truth of God’s evidence in creation, conscience and through Jesus, is what is being done by Dawkins and everyone else who rejects the evidence for God’s existence.

However, God needs more than release from the suppression of the truth, to effect reconciliation with God Himself. This is God’s requirement: “Repent and believe the good news [the Gospel]” (Mark 1:15). Jesus said to his disciple, Thomas, ‘Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”’ (John 20:29).

I pray that Richard Dawkins and all ungodly people will have their eyes opened to the evidence that is unequivocally before them and they will repent of their sins and believe in Christ for salvation (eternal life). As long as they have breath, they have the opportunity to respond in faith to Christ.

H.  References:

Blomberg, C L 1987. The historical reliability of the gospels. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Bruce, F F 1960. The New Testament documents: Are they reliable? rev ed. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Dawkins, R 2006. The God delusion. London: Black Swan (a division of Transworld Publishers).

Eagleton, T 2006. Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching (a review of Richard Dawkins’ The God delusion) [online], 19 October. London Review of Books, vol 28, no 20. available at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching (Accessed 23 March 2012).

Hills, S 2012. ‘I can’t be sure God DOES NOT exist’: World’s most notorious atheist Richard Dawkins admits he is in fact agnostic. Mail Online, February 24. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2105834/Career-atheist-Richard-Dawkins-admits-fact-agnostic.html (Accessed 20 March 2012).

Kaiser Jr., Walter C 2001. The Old Testament documents: Are they reliable & relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Kitchen, K A 2003. On the reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

McGrath, A & McGrath, J C 2007. The Dawkins delusion. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books.

Montgomery, J W 1984. The testimony of the evangelists, examined by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Montgomery, J W 1986. Human rights and human dignity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Walker, T 2012. Science vs God: Richard Dawkins takes on Archbishop of Canterbury. The Independent (online), February 24. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/science-vs-god-richard-dawkins-takes-on-archbishop-of-canterbury-7440051.html (Accessed 20 March 2012).

I.  Notes:


[1] An atheist is ‘a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings’ (dictionary.com), available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheist?s=t (Accessed 26 March 2012).

[2] An agnostic is ‘a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience’ (dictionary.com), available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agnostic?s=t (Accessed 26 March 2012).

[3] This was Charles Darwin and the full title of On the Origin of the Species was, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The correct spelling is ‘Rowan’.

[6] The article was written on 2 March 2012. Available at: http://theosophical.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/dawkins-is-an-agnostic-why-certainty-is-irrelevant-to-defining-atheism/ (Accessed 20 March 2012).

[7] Scientific observation. Experiment-Resources.com, available at: http://www.experiment-resources.com/scientific-observation.html (Accessed 25 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.

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Froth and bubble churches

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Martyn Lloyd-Jones.png
D Martyn Lloyd Jones (Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

How would you respond to this comment by Bill Muehlenberg of Culture Watch?

I must confess that I would easily trade 50 of today’s sermons for just one sermon by a great expositor such as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of last century. His deep and rich treasure chests make most sermons today look like mere tap water. So much preaching today leaves me cold I must say. But I just love to soak up some of the older great preachers, whether a Spurgeon, or a Boice, or a Stott, or so many others.[1]

image

My reply is that Lloyd-Jones was an exceptional expositor. Not many preachers will achieve that gifted standard. However, the desire to be an expositor is far from the thinking of most preachers I hear in Australia today. The ‘fluff’ from the pulpit goes with the shallowness in some of the rock ‘n roll lyrics of the songs that are sung. The focus on God Himself, the glory of Christ and the cross, salvation through Christ alone, is minimised. Go along to your local contemporary church and take a listen to the content of what is sung. If you know your biblical theology, you could find the content extremely disappointing – even superficial.

I find many of the tunes unsingable[2] for a very ordinary singer like me in the congregation! Then there is the added problem that many of the lyrics do not promote profound worship of our Almighty God, Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They do not present the solid theology of an earlier day when we could sing hymns like:

And Can It Be

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Refrain

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.[3]

image

Charles Wesley

At the time of writing this article, it is 8 months since my wife and I moved to Brisbane and the only expositor of Scriptures we have found is in a Presbyterian Church, but the preacher is as dry as dust to listen to, along with a service of traditional hymns led by someone who is not gifted in music. The preacher doesn’t know how to grab the attention of God’s people, illustrate and apply the message.

I’m of the view that we have a crisis in the pulpit. We visited a local Baptist church a couple of weeks ago and when a retired pastor in the congregation met us as we left the service, he said that this new church plant had to ‘meet the culture’. My response was that it was accommodating to the culture. He did admit that the lyrics of the songs they sing are ‘shallow’. Imagine that from an older man and retired pastor who is supporting this church that offers ‘shallow’ worship songs. We had to stand for the first 15 minutes of the service as a person with a guitar led us in singing these trifling lyrics. However, I have to admit that one of the songs did include the words of Hebrews 4:12, repeated over and over with unsingable music. The verse states:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (NIV).

Another church we visited

In trying to seek out another church alternative to the dry as dust Presbyterian Church we have been attending, my wife and I visited an evangelical church of a well-known denomination in Australia, in one of the northern suburbs of Brisbane on 25 March 2012. I had emailed the pastor with these questions (after finding the church’s webpage online). Before attending the church, I emailed the pastor with these questions:

  1. Is your worship contemporary? Does it include some of the grand old hymns of the faith? Is there any opportunity for interaction of the gifts of the Spirit when the church gathers or in mid-week groups? Is your church charismatic, cessationist, or ??? His response was that it was a ‘modern contemporary church’ (his influence) in music with the occasional hymn, but not sung ‘in a traditional way’.  They were not against the exercising of the gifts of the Spirit, but they ‘have not experienced that publicly’.
  2. Do you have any mid-week groups that incorporate an interactive Bible study? They have KYB (Know Your Bible) group and one for young adults, but that is an ‘area that we need to work on’.
  3. Do you promote any preferred version of the Bible? (i.e. are you KJVers or NKJVers). I read the NIV, ESV and NLT. He uses the ESV for preaching but also uses NIV, NLT and CEV for his own study. He didn’t push any particular version but encouraged people to move away from a Bible paraphrase.
  4. What would be the representation of age groups in your church? Does it have a youth focus? Since I have just retired, I’m asking whether oldies are welcome and would fit in. They had the range from 80s to newborns and he has ‘a great relationship with all’. Older folks are considered when organising a service but they understand that new and young people are attending ‘who may not connect with some things of old’. They want to be a ‘welcoming community’. The pastor felt very well supported and loved by the older folks – even though he is ‘not a typical looking minister’. He has tattoos and piercings. A lot of young children are at the church but the youth group ‘is small but alive’.
  5. What evangelism do you do in your community? He claimed this was ‘the heart of the church’ as they reach out to the wider community with a tutoring programme for young people and conducting soccer at a local State School. Families come to the church through these outreaches. The youth group is mainly from outside the church.
  6. Do you have any ministry to the social needs of the community? He considered that the tutoring programme was meeting a social need; A.A was using the building and they are connected with the denomination’s care programme.[4]

What did we find when we visited this church? Discovering the front door of the building was not obvious from the parking lot at the rear of the church. There was nobody to greet new people at the door. We received a church bulletin that was handed to us. We arrived about 8 minutes before the start of the service, so there were few people sitting in the pews.

The pastor came to introduce himself to us. He had about 5 studs in piercings in his face, but the tattoos were covered by a daggy white T-shirt that could not camouflage the rolls of fat around his belly. He wore long, untidy jeans that were tattered at the bottom as they dragged on the floor around his shoes. He played the lead rhythm guitar in the band. I thought that he was dressed for ministering to the drug addicts in the streets of Fortitude Valley in downtown Brisbane (I have previously worked with the down-and-outs in that region). See, ‘Body piercings and tattoos: A slip into secularism

The pastor was one of two rhythm guitarists in the worship band that also included a very loud drummer (who at least could keep the beat in time), a bass guitar and a singer.

As expected, the lyrics of the songs that were sung, as we stood for the first 10 minutes, were shallow, trifling, me-centred, fluff that were led by a singer who did not have a strong voice. There was no lead instrument like a keyboard or piano to give us the melody lines – I need a melody line for congregational singing. Not one of the songs sung was known to my wife and me (we have been evangelical Christians for about 50 years), so we were not able to sing any of them. We noticed that a good number of people also were not singing the songs.

The church bulletin told us that the church giving was $360 per week worse than this time last year. I wonder why! There is more to come.

Around the Lord’s Supper, The Message paraphrased Bible was read of Phil. 2:5-11. There was no focus on why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or the relevant passages from Scripture. While there was an isolated verse of Scripture read here and there in the service, there was no reading of the Scriptures as a group of verses as part of worship. No Scripture was read for the sermon.

As for the sermon, it was an ad lib ramble on ‘Hearing God’ as the pastor referred very little to notes and spoke of God speaking to Samuel whose response was, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant hears’, and Moses at the burning bush. He said that last week he dealt with seeing God as with Job and Joseph’s multi-coloured coat. This was the second in a series on ‘sensing God’. The series includes seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching God. The sermon was a shocker by a pastor who doesn’t have a clue about or desire to exegete a text so that he can expound the meaning of Scripture.

When the service was over, my wife and I left the building (even though it was said that there would be morning tea, but no directions were given as to where it was held). There was not a single person in the foyer to greet people and speak with them as they left the church building. The guitars and drummer were still playing as we left. Who knows why this was, as there was no melody line. To be honest, we were glad to be out after such a shocking experience that was supposed to be worship of our almighty God and edification by preaching of the Word of God.

My wife’s comment as we left the building was, “They seemed like a bunch of lemmings”, speaking of the people in the congregation who appeared to  be mindlessly following what was done up front. A lemming is an Arctic rodent, but it also is ‘a member of any large group following an unthinking course towards mass destruction’ (dictionary.com). The online slang dictionary says lemming means ‘a person who blindly follows others’. That’s what the group of about 60 people seemed to be doing yesterday. They were blindly following that rock-a-billy fluff, all in the name of a contemporary, evangelical church’s worship and preaching.

We will never return to that church. I’m convinced the elders and pastor have a lot to answer before God (how dare I be so judgmental)! I left grieving over what is happening to the evangelical church. So far we have visited 9 churches in our region since coming to the northern suburbs of Brisbane 8 months ago and the only one that we have visited that preaches from the biblical text is one where the pastor preaches expositionally but the atmosphere is as dry as dust in a very staid brand of Christianity. Do I have to put up with the Presbyterian anti-Arminian, anti-Pentecostal, hyper Calvinism to get something that is reasonable worship and teaching?

I am anguished over what is happening here in the northern Brisbane suburbs with the dumbing down of the evangelical church with froth and bubble Christianity, with little to no teaching of basic Christian doctrine from the pulpit. These churches are sick spiritually with their violation of Ephesians 4:11-16, where it is stated that Christian people can be ‘tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming’ (4:14) when the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are not functioning properly in the church.

Paul exhorted the Thessalonians: ‘Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good’ (1 Thess. 5:19-21, emphasis added).

How does this contemporary kind of evangelical church compare with the church after Christ’s resurrection?

The early church

The church of the first few centuries of the Christian church ‘met the culture’ and influenced the Roman Empire. How was this done? Paul the apostle, in writing to the Romans, about 25-35 years after Christ’s resurrection,[5] stated this of the Roman Christian church, ‘Your faith is being reported all over the world’ (Rom. 1:8).[6] Evangelical commentator, Leon Morris, states that ‘world is largely a Pauline and Johannine term in the New Testament.[7] In Romans the word normally means the world at large, as here, or else the inhabitants of the world’.[8]

Eminent Yale University church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, wrote:

When we come to the era in which Christianity began,… the roots from which it sprang appeared to promise no very great future for the faith… It is one of the commonplaces of history that in its first three centuries Christianity met persistent and often severe persecution, persecution which rose to a crescendo early in the fourth century, but that it spread in spite of opposition and was even strengthened by it…. So radical are the claims of the Gospel, so sweeping are its demands on the faithful, so uncompromising does it render those who yield themselves fully to it, that opposition and even persecution are to be expected…. Constantine came out more and more pronouncedly in favour of Christianity. Whether he was a Christian from political motives only or from sincere religious conviction has been hotly debated…. Under this prolonged patronage by the Emperors the Christian communities grew rapidly…. Christianity gave to the Graeco-Roman world what so many were craving from a religion…. Whence came these qualities which won for Christianity its astounding victory? Careful and honest investigation can give but one answer, Jesus. It was faith in Jesus and his resurrection which gave birth to the Christian fellowship and which continued to be its inspiration and its common tie…. In this victory of Christianity was also something of defeat. The victory had been accompanied by compromise, compromise with the world which had crucified Jesus, compromise often made so half-consciously or unconsciously that it was all the more serious a peril to the Gospel.[9]

It was the Gospel of the power of God to salvation through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 1:16) that won the Roman Empire. But what do we get in many of today’s contemporary churches – even evangelical churches?

I’m tired of the froth and bubble from the singers and the fluffy, light content preaching. We are in desperate need of a Holy Spirit revival that gets us back to faithful preaching of the Scriptures – from the text – and not some “story” that doesn’t relate to the text. We urgently need a debunking of the CEO pastoral role, a return to shepherding the sheep, and a renewed opportunity for every member of the body of Christ to function when the church gathers. That sure would be radical Christianity!

I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to change as this contemporary approach seems to be coming from the training colleges and is dominating the churches of most evangelical denominations in my part of the world (South-East Queensland, Australia). It will need to be sent by the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

There is one exception that I have encountered in a region where I have lived in S. E. Queensland and that is Fraser Coast Baptist Church, Hervey Bay (Qld., Australia), where there is excellent expository preaching by the senior pastor, Steve Sauvageot (but not by the other preachers in the church), along with the singing of traditional hymns. By the way, the church building is so full that additional seats are in the foyer to accommodate the congregation. However, the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of ministry does not take place in this church, which my wife and I attended until we moved from the region.

A fundamental fault [10]

In response to Bill Muehlenberg’s article and my comment, Graham Wood from the UK replied:

I fully sympathise with your description of what you meet by way of a church meeting in Brisbane. It is typical of what can be found in the great majority, almost without exception right throughout ‘western churches’ – UK, USA, Australia and elsewhere. [I am] leaving aside Dr DMLJ[11] for a moment as somewhat special and unique in his gifts and ministry. I suggest that there is a fundamental and basic fault line running through all of these churches, namely that they are closed systems which exalt and institutionalise things which God has not sanctioned and which cut us off from the source of real spiritual growth, namely one another.

These are churches which have largely abandoned the New Testament criteria for meeting together which is for mutual edification.

Radical and revolutionary as it may sound our meetings are not to perpetuate the practice of a “worship service” (not found in the NT), or of a ‘sermon’, or the role of a monologue by a ‘preacher/pastor’ week by week, or of a passive non participatory ‘audience’, in complete neglect of the NT clear teaching about the functioning of the priesthood of ALL believers in an open meetings as given us in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The early church meeting was the God-created environment that produced spiritual growth, both corporately and individually (Eph. 4:11-16). We grow into spiritual maturity (and blessing) when we allow the many varied parts of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) to actually function and to minister Christ to us. (1 Cor. 12:7) As somebody rightly asked: ‘How is [it] that in many people can hear good preaching all their lives and yet not know who or what God is?

I am not against preaching in its rightful context as primarily an evangelistic activity (not to be confused with teaching) aimed at the unconverted and outside the Christian gathering.

Inside the church, with preaching directed at Christians it is merely a tradition, a one way monologue, and which is the greatest single barrier to a church functioning with mutual ministries as intended.

Please explain why we totally ignore the NT pattern and substitute instead the closed ‘system’ which has minimum benefit, and minimum corporate edification which Paul teaches is the object of our meeting? (the word ‘edify’ occurs 8 times in 1 Cor. 14 – all in the context of ‘body ministry’) Much more could be said, but I believe this identifies a major element of error in the majority of our churches.[12]

Which is the better way?

I’m of the view that a radical church will get back to faithful teaching of the Scriptures (‘Preach the word of God’), but especially to this kind of functioning church:

1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV).

The New Living Translation provides this version of the meaning of the text:

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you (1 Cor. 14:26 NLT).

In our contemporary ‘froth and bubble’ churches, there is a close down of the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of ministry, not only in the large gatherings (which make such function very difficult), but also this every-member ministry of the gifts often doesn’t happen in the home groups of the local church either.

From the pulpit, my experience is that there is more of an interest in:

(1) Preaching that is topical and that does not involve itself with an exegesis and exposition of the biblical text. (I as a preacher know that exegesis and preparation of expository messages involves a lot of hard work) ;

(2) Preachers who think that it is better to tell stories or parables than deal with the content of the text.

(3) Hype and excitement rather than faithfulness to the biblical text.

(4) Excluding or minimising the theological content of the text.

See my article, ‘Can the sermon be redeemed?

We have an interesting example of an admission of failure from one of the leading churches in the world that has promoted the seeker-sensitive kind of church. Take a read of

Willow Creek’s[13] admission: ‘We made a mistake’

Leadership Journal’s, Out of Ur in 2007 made this assessment of what was happening at the Willow Creek Community Church led by Bill Hybels:

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing”….

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.

Hybels confessed:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.[14]

I have a deep ache for a return to the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of functioning church where every Christian is regarded as a minister who is available for the ministry of the gifts of the Spirit when the church gathers. See my article, “I have a heartache for the church”.

See my article, “Is theology important?

Notes:

[1] Bill Muehlenberg 2012, Culture Watch, ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 1:18’, 20 March. Available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/20/martyn-lloyd-jones-on-romans-118/comment-page-1/#comment-262957 (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[2] The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online) defines unsingable as ‘not fitted for singing’. Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unsingable (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[3] Lyrics and other details available at: http://songsandhymns.org/hymns/lyrics/and-can-it-be (Accessed 23 March 2012). Charles Wesley, one of the founders of British Methodism, wrote the hymn in 1738. The music was composed by Thomas Campbell in 1825 and the tune is known as ‘Sagina’. These details are from the Center for Church Music, Grand Haven MI.

[4] I have deliberately left out the details here so as not to identify the specific name of this church.

[5] Leon Morris (1988:6-7) – bibliographical reference in next endnote – stated that dating the Book of Romans ‘with any precision is something of a problem’, but he places the date in about A.D. 55, but admits that there are ‘many uncertainties’.

[6] Douglas Moo considers that ‘a measure of hyperbole is undoubtedly present in the phrase “in all the world”; but it must be remembered that Paul is thinking of fellow Christians and thus of places where the gospel had already been preached’ (Moo, D 1996. The epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 57.

[7] At this point Morris notes that ‘kosmos occurs 185 times in the New Testament, of which 78 are in John, 24 in the Johannine epistles, and 47 in Paul (nine in Romans). Outside these two writers the most in any one book is eight in Matthew’ (Morris 1988:57 n 108).

[8] Morris, L 1988. The epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company / Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, p.57.

[9] Latourette, K S 1975. A history of Christianity, vol 1 to A.D. 1500 (rev ed). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, pp. 6, 81, 92, 107, 108.

[10] Graham Wood, 22 March 2012, Culture Watch, available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/20/martyn-lloyd-jones-on-romans-118/ (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[11] This is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

[12] Graham Wood, 22 March 2012, available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/20/martyn-lloyd-jones-on-romans-118/comment-page-1/#comment-262957 (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[13] Willow Creek Community Church is in South Barrington, IL, USA. South Barrington is a wealthy suburb of Chicago. This article in Wikipedia on ‘South Barrington, Illinois’ states that ‘the village is known throughout the area for its extreme affluence, and is on the list of the 100 wealthiest towns in the nation’. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Barrington,_Illinois (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[14] ‘Willow Creek Repents’, Leadership Journal: Out of Ur, October 18, 2007, available at: http://www.outofur.com/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html (Accessed 23 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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The myth that the Genesis record is based on mythology

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Moses in the bulrushes by johnny_automatic - a drawing of the baby Moses in the bulrushes from a pre-1920s program from the Library of Cnngress

Alleged myth: Moses in the bulrushes

(Courtesy: Open Clip Art Library)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to hear statements like this to try to associate the Genesis record with mythology:

The Bible begins by simply plagiarizing ancient Babylonian myths. They weren’t anything new or divinely inspired….. Genesis 2 doesn’t coincide with the other parts that were clearly taken from Babylonian myth. It was purely Hebrew. Whether it was inspired or just plain made up is the disagreement![1]

Another statement of this ilk, came from Peter Bycroft, writing in The Australian newspaper. He was reflecting on the Australian Anglican church, which secular humanists like the most. Then in discussing the decline in interest in the Christian story in Australia, he stated:

For some, this “awakening” of Australians reflects, in part, the progress of archeological, cultural and historical research that is defining the Bible as essentially a book hybridised by well-meaning authors from previous mythologies, built on half-truths, Bronze Age fables and inaccurately referenced historical events.[2]

These claims are often made in association with the Enuma Elish (EE) which is a Mesopotamian or Babylonian myth about creation that described a struggle between order and chaos in the cosmos. It has been described as “a myth of the cycle of seasons”. The EE name comes from its opening words which are recited on the fourth day of the ancient Babylonian New Year’s festival. You can read a copy of the EE at: “Enuma Elish: ‘When on high’”, by Dennis Bratcher.

Bratcher explains that the story exists in a number of forms from the Babylonian area and his translation is from

“Akkadian, an old Babylonian dialect, and features Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon. A similar earlier version in ancient Sumerian has Anu, Enil and Ninurta as the heroes, suggesting that this version was adapted to justify the religious practices in the cult of Marduk in Babylon”.

This version of EE had been estimated to have been written about the 12th century BC in cuneiform[3] on seven clay tablets. The tablets were found in the mid 19th century in the ruins of the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. They were first published by George Smith in 1876 as The Chaldean Genesis.

Because there are parallels with the Genesis account, some have contended that the Genesis record adapted the Babylonian accounts/myths/story. Because of the nature of the authority of Scripture, some have maintained that there are no parallels with this Babylonian account. However, there are some parallels between the two accounts and some considerable differences. Bratcher states:

There are simply too many similarities between the accounts to deny any relationship between the accounts. There are significant differences as well that should not be ignored. Yet there is little doubt that the Sumerian versions of the story predate the biblical account by several hundred years. Rather than opting for either extreme of complete dependence or no contact whatever, it is best to see the Genesis narratives as freely using the metaphors and symbolism drawn from a common cultural pool to assert their own theology about God

Archaeologist, Alfred J. Hoerth (1998:187), explains that while the sequence of creative acts is similar in Genesis and the Babylonian account (firmament, dry land, celestial luminaries, humans) and both stories commence in a watery chaos and end with God or gods at rest. He says that ‘the similarities are not meaningful; they can be explained as expected coincidences in two works on the same theme’. While he rightly states that archaeology cannot excavate the remains of creation, texts such as EE reveal what these ancient cultures had to say about creation events. He explains that while the biblical account of creation is not as complete as many would like it to be,

it owes nothing to other ancient cultures or their myths. The complete Enuma Elish reveals many dissimilarities with Genesis. The omnipotent God in Genesis is very unlike the frightened, feuding, and foul gods of the epic. Necessarily there are similarities, but the Genesis account shows no dependence. The fledgling Hebrew nation should have been thankful when God brought them out from the “bewildering variety” of opinions on their origin and, through Moses, told the story as it happened. Viewed only as a creation story, Genesis is unique, but viewed in comparison with these other stories, Genesis is lucid and complete.

For another statement on how unlikely it would be for Genesis to be based on the Babylonian myth, see, ‘Does the Genesis creation account come from the Babylonian Enuma Elish?’, CARM. Its view is that,

Knowing the issues of the differences, the monotheistic and polytheistic natures, the obvious influence from the Mesopotamian region, and the unsettled dating of the recording, it is safe to conclude that it is highly unlikely that Moses borrowed or was influenced by the Enuma Elish.  Genesis is far different in nature than any of the ancient Near Eastern creation myths and therefore must not be considered among that fold.

The view of Genesis being based on a Babylonian myth has been refuted over and over by competent OT scholars but it is pushed rather frequently on the www.[4] Of course there will be theological liberals and sceptics who want to promote this view, as they have a very low view of Scripture.

Here is the conclusion by Gary Brantley, “Pagan mythology and the Bible”, at Apologetics Press:

We need not deny that some similarities exist between pagan and Hebrew literature. But, these similarities do not imply that pagan mythical texts directly influenced biblical writers. The literary quality of biblical poetry argues against such dependence. To illustrate, scholars have identified at least one pagan modification of a Hebrew Psalm (an Egyptian adaptation of Psalm 20, dating to ca. 125 B.C.), whose literary quality is far inferior to the original. This Egyptian document (written on papyri) was discovered sometime before the turn of the century. Egyptian philologists soon identified the script as demotic—a cursive kind of hieroglyphic writing which came into use around 650 B.C. For years, however, its contents remained an enigma to experts.

Progress in deciphering the text occurred in 1940 when Professor Raymond Bowman and Egyptologist George R. Hughes discovered that, though the text was written in demotic script, the actual language was Aramaic. The Egyptian document contains Jewish words such as YHWH (i.e., Yahweh) and ‘adonay, but it also mentions an assortment of pagan gods (e.g., Horus, Sahar, Mar, and Baal). These features, and its familiarity of language and composition to Psalm 20, indicate that it was adapted from the Hebrew Psalm. The text, however, is riddled with scribal errors of such nature that indicate the scribe did not understand what he transcribed (see Shanks, 1985). Such is not characteristic of biblical poetry. Its literary quality, according to some scholars, is far superior to that of pagan stock (see Wheeler, 1992). This certainly would be one indication of its originality.

Further, along with its distinguished literary quality, the Bible’s ethical and spiritual concepts are unparalleled by pagan sacred literature. For instance, the gods of pagan myths are guilty of degenerate behavior of all sorts; the true God is infinite in purity. Practitioners of pagan religions constantly worked to pacify their angry gods; worshipers of Yahweh, Who was quick to forgive, received undeserved blessings from His gracious hands (Psalm 32:1-5). Thus, the similarities between biblical and pagan literature are eclipsed by the enormous differences. Actually, there is no better indicator of the Bible’s inspiration than to put it side by side with its pagan counterparts. Such comparative literary analyses bolster our conviction that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Tony L. Shetter has written, “Genesis 1-2 In Light Of Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths” to refute this view. His conclusion is that

the author/redactor(s) of the Genesis creation accounts share certain concepts of the makeup of the world with other ancient Near Eastern cultures. However, it is especially with Egypt’s worldview that the author/redactor(s) are familiar. Evidence for this lies in the many allusions to Egyptian creation motifs throughout the Genesis creation accounts. But, rather than being a case of direct borrowing, they demythologize the Egyptian concepts and form a polemic against the Egyptian gods. Thus, they elevate Yahweh-Elohim as the one true God, who is transcendent and who is all powerful. He speaks his desire and it comes to pass. He does not require the assistance of other gods to perform the acts of creation. He alone possesses the power and means necessary to effect the creation of the world. This paper has compiled a list of the more significant parallels between Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts, and has shown that Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts share more affinity with one another than the Genesis creation accounts share with Babylonian cosmology.

The article, “Is Genesis stolen from Babylonian myths?” by Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministry, refutes this view.

Our summary conclusion: The views of EE proponents simply do not correspond with the data – and thus it is not surprising that most borrowing-proponents have sought their parallels elsewhere. (For more on those other stories, see the series here by the Christian ThinkTank.)

A better conclusion is that while there may be parallels with early mythology, parallels do not equate to the biblical text plagiarising Babylonian or Egyptian mythology. While there may be convergences with Babylonian mythology, the radical differences are too great to promote a view that the Genesis record, for example, was built on mythology.

The Genesis record promotes Yahweh-Elohim as the one true, transcendent and all-powerful almighty God of creation and of His people. This is very dissimilar to the gods represented in the Babylonian epic.

This leads to the obvious question of the nature of the OT. What was Jesus’ view of the OT? He spoke of the events, including miracles, and people of the OT as historically factual. We see this in how Jesus affirmed the authenticity of the destruction of Sodom including the death of Lot’s wife (Luke 17:29-32). The manna fell from heaven (John 6:31) according to Jesus. Who was Daniel? Jesus affirmed him as a genuine prophet (Matthew 24:15). Jesus confirmed the validity and historicity of Jonah and the whale. (Matthew 12:39-40). Jesus spoke of those who were created male and female in the creation account (see Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Jesus directed us to the OT, asking, “Have you not read what was spoken to you by God?” (Matthew 22:31).

When 2 Tim. 3:16 as “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (ESV), he was referring to the OT as the NT canon was not yet formed.

References

Hoerth, Alfred J 1998. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Notes


[1] KhaosTheory #11, a post on Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “Understanding the Bible”, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7640465-2/#post60032437. My response, OzSpen, is at #17, and includes the material that refutes this plagiarism of the Babylonian mythological view.

[2] Peter Bycroft 2011. Sometimes love, even if a gift from Jesus, is not good enough. The Australian, 25 June. Available at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/sometimes-love-even-as-a-gift-from-jesus-is-not-good-enough/story-e6frg8nf-1226080049755 (Accessed 19 March 2012).

[3] ‘One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform was (probably) invented in Uruk, Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. The word is from the Latin, meaning “wedge shaped”; we don’t know what the script was actually called by its users. The symbols are formed from wedge-shaped objects pressed into soft clay tablets which are then fired (accidentally or intentionally), “Cuneiform”, Archaeology. Available at: http://archaeology.about.com/od/cterms/g/cuneiform.htm (Accessed 15 March 2012).

[4] Another example is the Religious Tolerance site and the article, ‘Comparing two creation stories: From Genesis and Babylonian pagan sources’ (Accessed 15 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Those who live and believe in Jesus Christ shall never die

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

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By Spencer D. Gear

What happens to Christians when they die? It is standard Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) teaching that the soul sleeps at death. It is the doctrine known as ‘soul sleep’. Let’s check out what these two cults believe about this doctrine:

Seventh Day Adventist:

We, as Adventists, have reached the definite conclusion that man rests in the tomb until the resurrection morning. Then, at the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4, 5), the resurrection of the just (Acts 24:15), the righteous come forth immortalized, at the call of Christ the Life-giver. And they then enter into life everlasting, in their eternal home in the kingdom of glory. Such is our understanding (At Issue 1957: 520).

Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower):

The dead are shown to be ‘conscious of nothing at all’ and the death state to be one of complete inactivity. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ps. 146:4). In both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures death is likened to sleep, a fitting comparison, not only due to the unconscious condition of the dead, but also because of the hope of an awakening through the resurrection (“Condition of Human Dead” in Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 431, cited in MacGregor n.d.).

Thus the JW’s view of life after death is that the dead enter a place of unconsciousness or sleep. Because of the many years of exposure to the false doctrine of soul sleep (see my article, “Soul sleep: A refutation), many SDAs find it difficult to grasp the biblical teaching on what happens at death.

Here is an example from Harold, the SDA:

What is false about Jesus calling it ‘sleep’ when that is what He said Lazarus was doing?  What is false about Paul telling us that ‘not all of us will sleep’?  What is false about Daniel saying that ‘many of them will sleep’?  What is false about Jesus saying that, ‘those in their graves shall hear His voice’?  What is false about the writer of 1 Kings telling us that ‘David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David’?
What is false about sixty or so more texts exactly like those???[1]

What is false is what Harold does. He takes the metaphor of ‘sleep’ (what a dead person looks like), and then he makes it into a doctrine of soul sleep or unconsciousness at death, which conflicts with other Scriptures. Of course, he does not believe in the immortality of the soul.

Let’s consider what the Bible teaches.

  1. We know that Jesus did not believe in soul sleep because this is what He believed: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV). Does this SDA person believe this? No he doesn’t!
  2. There is not the faintest indication of soul sleep in these two verses. Jesus stated, “Whoever lives by believing in me will never die“. We need to understand this clear statement: The one who lives and believes in Jesus will NEVER DIE, even though his/her physical body perishes to dust in the ground. No matter how often the SDAs and JWs want to use the metaphor of ‘sleep’ to convince themselves that soul sleep is real, Jesus does not and never will agree this false teaching. That’s Bible. These cults, SDA and JW, need to quit their metaphorical imposition on what the Jesus said about what actually happens at death.
  3. What is false about their trying to impose on us that Paul taught soul sleep? Paul’s own words should convict the soul sleepers: ‘Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8).
  4. Daniel said, ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Dan 12:2). He was talking about the metaphor of what people look like at death and that at a time in the future, there will be a joining of the body and the soul. No matter how hard he tries, people like Harold, can’t get past the truth that soul sleep is not taught in the Bible.
  5. We know what happened at death for the OT believers. What did Jesus say about Abraham, Isaac & Jacob? ‘And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not God of the dead, but of the living’ (Matt. 22:31-32). So, when Jesus was alive on earth, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive. God is not the God of the dead (or those who soul sleep in the grave) because he is the God of the living. What was true of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was true of Daniel. Even though Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Daniel had looked like they were sleeping at death (metaphor), they were alive and well. How do we know so? It’s on the authority of Jesus.
  6. If soul sleep is what happens at death for believers, Jesus would not have met with Moses and Elijah at his Transfiguration. This is what we read in Matthew 17:1-4 (NIV):

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

One possible soul sleep application of these verses could be that Moses and Elijah had been ‘asleep’ and Jesus woke them for the event at the Transfiguration. However, we know that this would not be true because it would conflict with John 11:25-26: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”’

I have written on this and related topics elsewhere:

References

At Issue 1957, Seventh-Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C. Question 41, available from: http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/books/qod/q41.htm (Accessed 17 March 2012).

MacGregor, L. n.d., Jehovah’s Witnesses, soul sleep and the state of the dead. Available from:  http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/_PDFArchives/apologetics/AP2W0901.pdf (Accessed 17 March 2012).

Notes


[1] This was in a Christian Fellowship Forum (CFF) response in the directory, “Bible Study & Discipleship”, thread, “What does this mean?”, Harold #777, dated 3 March 2012, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=760&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=120846 (Accessed 17 March 2012). Some of what follows I provided as a response to Harold, as ozspen, #780, on the CFF topic.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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Richard Dawkins won’t debate creationists

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

(Richard Dawkins, public domain)

creation research
(Ask John Mackay)

By Spencer D Gear

I hope as many people as possible view this discussion between Richard Dawkins and John Mackay HERE

It’s an interview of a basic Aussie geologist and creationist, John Mackay, by Richard Dawkins, PhD scientist at Oxford University.

My estimate was that Mackay found gaping holes in Dawkins worldview. This down home geologist who knows science, the Scriptures and his God, exposed the superficiality of Dawkins’ worldview. Dawkins tried to make this creationist who believes in a young earth, look like a fool before Dawkins who believes in a universe that is aged millions of years.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins stated: “I never take part in debates with creationists” (2006:318), but his footnote at this point states,

I do not have the chutzpah to refuse on the grounds offered by one of my most distinguished scientific colleagues, whenever a creationist tries to stage a formal debate (I shall not name him, but his words should be read in an Australian accent): “That would look great on your CV; not so good on mine”.[1]

On the Richard Dawkins Foundation website, Dawkins explains “Why I won’t debate creationists”. Some of his reasons are:

  1. He has ‘a spellbound delight in the wonders of the natural world, and a passionate conviction that such wonders deserve nothing less than a purely natural explanation’.
  2. Creationists distort ‘the theory of punctuated equilibrium so that it appeared to support their preposterous (but astonishingly common) belief that there are no intermediates in the fossil record’.
  3. He does not accept the creationist admission that there are no transitional forms in the fossil record.
  4. Creationists need the publicity; evolutionists don’t. He encouraged other scientists not to debate creationists for the same reason. Here he stated: ‘I hope that my recollection of Stephen Gould’s wise words will encourage others to refuse all debating invitations from pseudoscientists avid for publicity’.

However, on Bible-bube.com, in an informal debate, with crowds gathering in a public auditorium in the background to hear John Mackay, Richard Dawkins is debating a creationist geologist with an Australian accent – informally – and not in a public debate.

After watching this video, I can assess another reason why Richard Dawkins would not want to enter into a formal debate with this Aussie geologist and creationist. John Mackay would expose the holes in Dawkins data and worldview and for a PhD scientist that would not look good on his resume.

There is another person Richard Dawkins refuses to debate. See Richard Dawkins article in The Guardian [UK], “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig: This Christian ‘philosopher’ is an apologist for genocide. I would rather leave an empty chair than share a platform with him” (20 October 2011).

References

Dawkins, Richard 2006. The God delusion. London: Black Swan (a division of Transworld Publishers).

Notes


[1] Dawkins (2006:318).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Was Jesus a hermaphrodite? Did Jesus have both male and female sex organs?

Friday, March 16th, 2012

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(image courtesy www.naij.com)

By Spencer D Gear

You might ask: What weird questions you ask? Are you serious? Yes, I am, because of what follows.

It is becoming predictable how depraved liberal theology can become in desecrating who Jesus Christ is. But this one must come close to the top of the list of false teachings. Take a read of this article in The Telegraph [UK] in which a feminist theologian at Manchester University, Susannah Cornwall, claims that “Jesus may have been a hermaphrodite, claims academic“. A hermaphrodite has both male and female sex organs.

I had better define theological liberalism first. How better to do that than to incorporate its definition from one of the prominent opponents of liberalism, Dr. J. Gresham Machen from Christianity & Liberalism (1923:2):

This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so varied in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (emphasis added).

These are some of Cornwall’s points from The Telegraph:

  • It is ‘simply a best guess’ that Jesus was male;
  • In her blog she states that she specialised in ‘research and writing in feminist theology, sexuality, gender, embodiment, ethics and other fun things like that’.
  • In her paper, ‘Intersex & Ontology, A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision’, she promotes the view there is no certainty that Jesus did NOT have an intersex condition, with both male and female organs.
  • She makes the outlandish statement that “It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness”. Has she been reading Minnie Mouse comics instead of the Bible?
  • We cannot know if Jesus had a body that appeared externally to be male, but he might have “hidden” female physical features. This proposal is that Jesus could have been a hermaphrodite.

Are sons male or female?

There is not a single piece of evidence in the New Testament to support Susannah Cornwall’s claim that Jesus was not male. Speculation by liberalism is classical fare. It demonstrates that Cornwall does not take any notice of what the New Testament states.

The birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son” (Matthew 1:23). Sons are male, but that seems to escape Cornwall’s academic abilities. Jesus step-father, Joseph, had no intercourse with Mary “she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25). Sons are male.

I’ll just about die of theological heart-failure when I hear liberals like Cornwall take the Bible seriously. The evidence is right before her, but she doesn’t seem to have any qualms about inventing her false teaching.

In an extraordinary paper she stated:

“There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some “hidden” female physical features”.[1]

Dr Cornwall argues that the fact that Jesus is not recorded to have had children made his gender status “even more uncertain”.

She continues: “We cannot know for sure that Jesus was male – since we do not have a body to examine and analyse – it can only be that Jesus’ masculine gender role, rather than his male sex, is having to bear the weight of all this authority.”

Let’s check some further evidence. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:6). He did not describe him as the daughter or hermaphrodite of God.

What was the purpose of John’s Gospel?

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

Dr Cornwall, are you blind or are you pushing your own agenda that is contrary to what the Scriptures state? You are imposing on the Scripture your presuppositional uncertainty of Jesus’ masculine gender. The Bible is unequivocal. Jesus is the Son. He is a male. There is no doubt about it as we see also that….

New Testament Greek uses the male pronoun to refer to Jesus

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In a follow-up, brief article to refute Cornwall’s theology, Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen[2] wrote:

The gospels were written in Greek and they always use the male pronoun to refer to Jesus. Not once do they use the equally available feminine or neuter pronouns. So the gospel writers seem to have assumed that Jesus was a man. And if masculinity is recognised by particular characteristics, there is a pretty huge pile of circumstantial evidence. In the infancy stories, Jesus is referred to as a male child. On his ritual pilgrimage to the temple when he was twelve, he is described as a boy. So can we hazard the suggestion that he grew up to become a man? I don’t think they had sex change operations in first century Galilee….

No irreverence meant, but I think if Jesus were in Manchester today and could read Dr Cornwall’s thesis, he would laugh out loud.[3]

Was Jesus circumcised as a male or female?

Luke 2:21-24 states:

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.

Notice these features from this passage in Luke 2:

1. Jesus’ human parents were having this child circumcised eight days after birth. Was the child a male, female or hermaphrodite? This was the Jewish tradition that is articulated in Genesis 17:12-14 and Leviticus 12:2-3. These verses from the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, confirm that Jewish circumcision was only for a male child.

2. This circumcision is confirmed by Luke 2 to be following the ‘Law of Moses’, which is ‘the Law of the Lord’, and was applied to male babies.

Dr. Cornwall’s argument for Jesus as a possible hermaphrodite is again found wanting. She’s into practising her liberal, feminist invention.

The inventions of liberal theology

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

All theology of the liberal type involves at some point—and often involves throughout—the claim that the real behavior and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only be modern scholars. The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous.[4]

In an interview with J. I. Packer when he was teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada, he said that he expected congregations in The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, which are

being fed on liberal theology will continue to wither on the vine as they have done for the last half century. Liberal theology, without the gospel, proves to be the smell of death rather than of life.[5]

While Common Cause[6] is a minority group today that is committed to orthodox doctrine in the Anglican Church of North America, Packer expects that will change ‘as liberal churches get smaller and smaller and become in turn a minority’.

Dr. Susannah Cornwall is an example of a liberal, feminist theologian who invents things about Jesus. This kind of thinking kills churches and denomination. She is promoting a false doctrine of Christology and is therefore defending heresy.

Conclusion

Paul, the apostle, instructed Titus that false teachers ‘must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain’ (Titus 1:11).

This is the instruction that must be given to false teachers such as Susannah Cornwall. They must be exposed and silenced. It is not a GUESS that Jesus was a male. It is an invented false teaching by Dr. Cornwall. The biblical evidence is that Jesus is a male, a son.

I refer you to my article, ‘Is liberal theology heresy?

Notes:


[1] Cited in the article by John Bingham, ‘Jesus may have been hermaphrodite, claims academic’, The Telegraph, 2 March 2012, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9116974/Jesus-may-have-been-a-hermaphrodite-claims-academic.html (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[2] This article stated this about the Dr who wrote the article: The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is a priest of the Church of England and former Rector of St Michael, Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London. He has written for many publications including the Wall Street Journal’.

[3] Peter Mullin 2012. Jesus was a man: look at the evidence, Dr. Cornwall, The Telegraph [UK], 2 March. Available at: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/petermullen/100141058/jesus-was-a-man-look-at-the-evidence-dr-cornwall/ (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[4] C. S. Lewis 1981. ‘Modern theology and biblical criticism’, now titled, ‘Fern-seed and elephants’, available at: http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[5] David Virtue 2008. ‘Liberal theology without the gospel has the smell of death: J. I. Packer’, 25 January. Virtueonline, available at: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=7564#.T2K2UHnwqnK (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[6] Anglican Churches from four states in the USA form ‘Common Cause’, which is ‘committed to working together for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. “We are united in Biblical truth and love of the Anglican worship tradition and are striving to improve relationships with faithful Anglicans worldwide”’. Available from VirtueOnline at: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/print.php?storyid=4087 (Accessed 16 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.

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Is the New Living Translation gender-inclusive in its translation?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Tyndale House Publishers

By Spencer D Gear

Gender-inclusive language is where there is an attempt not to be specific about gender, whether male or female. It is meant to have a neutral meaning. This is found in certain more recent Bible translations. Consider James 1:2:

KJV: My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

NKJV: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials;

NASB: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials;

ESV: Count it all joy, my brothers,[a] when you meet trials of various kinds.

[the footnote for the ESV,[a] , states: “James 1:2 Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church; also verses 16, 19″]’

NRSV: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy;

NIV (1984): Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds;

NIV (2011): Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds [The footnote, [a] , states:”James 1:2 The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in verses 16 and 19; and in 2:1, 5, 14; 3:10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19];

NLT:: Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

Of all of these translations, only the NRSV, NIV (2011) and NLT are gender neutral, by translating the Greek, adelphoi, as “brothers and sisters”. This is the meaning in Greek when it is referring to siblings (brothers and sisters) in the body of Christ. Why don’t you trace the use of the Greek, adelphos (nominative case, singular) and anthropos (nominative case, singular in the NT Greek? Do you have access to an interlinear NT (English translation under the Greek) where you could do that?

Differences with translations of gender

Notice the difference between the use of the Greek, anthropos [man, mankind, people) in the ESV versus the NLT:

James 1:12 ESV: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12 NLT: God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

The NLT is accurately gender-inclusive in its translation in certain areas. This is what the “Introduction to the New Living Translation” states:

Gender-Inclusive Language
The English language changes constantly.  An obvious recent change is in the area of gender-inclusive language.  This creates problems for modern translators of the ancient biblical text, which was originally written in a male oriented culture.  The translator must respect the nature of the ancient context while also accounting for the concerns of the modern audience.  Often the original language itself allows a rendering that is gender inclusive.  For example, the Greek word anthropos, traditionally rendered “man,” really means “human being” or “person.”  A different Greek word, aner, specifically means a male.”

There are other occasions where the original language is male-oriented, but not intentionally so.  For example, in the Pentateuch most of the laws are stated in language that is replete with masculine pronouns.  But since it is clear in many cases that the recipients of these laws were both male and female, we have used gender-neutral language where appropriate.  Another example is found in the New Testament epistles, where the believers are called “brothers” (adelphoi).  Yet it is clear that these epistles were addressed to all the believers- male and female.  Thus, we have usually translated this Greek word “brothers and sisters” or “Christian friends” in order to represent the historical situation more accurately.

Finally, we have attempted to use a gender-neutral rendering where the text applies generally to human beings or to the human condition.  For example, a traditional rendering of Luke 9:62 reads:  “No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  We have translated it:  “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”  In many instances we have used plural pronouns (they, them) in place of the gender-specific singular (he, him).  For example, a traditional rendering of Proverbs 22:6 is:  “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  We have rendered it:  “Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it (1996. Holy Spirit Encounter Bible, New Living Translation. Orlando, FL: Creation House, p. xlii).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

The SIL controversy: Are Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL being subversive?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

clip_image002(Images courtesy Wycliffe.org.au)

By Spencer D Gear

In January–February 2012, there was an eruption in certain quarters about the translations of Father, Son and Son of God, that Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT) and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) are using for translations in countries that are mostly Muslim. I was alerted to this issue by a retired pastor friend who sent a group email to others and me  and he stated that this new Bible translation is “ABSOLUTELY SHOCKING!” (his emphasis)

He asked who had the right to change a biblical text for political correctness. He gave Revelation 22:18-19 for support (See Appendix A, below, for an interpretation that these verses do not apply to the entire Bible, but only to the Book of Revelation). These verses state:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (ESV).

My pastor friend who wanted to apply these verses to all of Scripture, also used Psalm 12:1, 6-7 to support his claims of what happens when Scripture is changed, as SIL is alleged to be doing. He wanted to challenge SIL and stated that what it was doing was ‘blasphemous’ and he hopes that there is sufficient protest to cause the publishers to cease publication.

Why the kafuffle?

This pastor friend sent me a link to the article by Jihad Watch, 29 January 2012: ‘Report: American Bible translators bowdlerize scriptures to avoid offending Muslims: no “Father” and “Son”‘.

What are the issues? It was over WBT, SIL, and Frontiers for allegedly removing the words, Father, Son and Son of God, and replacing with different words in a translation for the Muslim world. Jihad Watch quoted an article from Yahoo! Contributor Network, ‘“Father” and “Son” ousted from the Trinity in New Bible Translations‘. This article claimed that

Concerned Christian missionaries, Bible translators, pastors, and national church leaders have come together with a public petition to stop these organizations. They claim a public petition is their last recourse because meetings with these organizations’ leaders, staff resignations over this issue and criticism and appeals from native national Christians concerned about the translations have failed to persuade these agencies to retain “Father” and “Son” in the text of all their translations.

Biblical Missiology, a ministry of Boulder, Colorado-based Horizon International, is sponsoring the petition.

The Petition

Based on the reactionary statements by my pastor friend, ‘absolutely shocking’ and ‘blasphemous’, I read no further and proceeded to sign my name to this public petition sponsored by Horizons International, Colorado, USA on its homepage.[1] Based on my further research, I emailed Horizons International and asked them to remove my name and address from the Petition as I am not convinced that the Horizons’ Petition is what I want to support, as I explain below.

Within 24-hours of asking for my name to be removed from the Petition, I have received 4 different email responses from around the world, from those associated with Horizons International and Biblical Missiology, including one from a pastor in the Arabic-speaking world. All of them opposed the WBT and SIL translations regarding God, Son, and Son of God in Muslim countries. These were some of their emphases:

  1. Native believers in Turkey and the Arab world ‘completely disagree’ with the Wycliffe translations.
  2. Former Muslims want the literal translation of Father and Son of God.
  3. ‘Wycliffe consistently refuses to address’ this issue.
  4. The claim that the NT Greek, huios (Son), should not be translated as ibn Allah (son of God), is ‘strange’ and is certainly not based on linguistics.
  5. All Christians want to communicate the clear meaning of the Bible, but what concerns us is the removing the words Son and Father from the biblical text as these are critical words to describe the nature of God and Christ.
  6. There should be no replacement words for Father and Son, such as Messiah, the one and only, the beloved of God, etc., that SIL is using.
  7. ‘The whole plan of salvation is at stake’ with the SIL translations.[2]
  8. God as Father is a most attractive attribute of God for Muslims.
  9. I have evidence of hundreds of Muslims who have become Christians, who have been attracted to the Fatherhood of God, rather than the stern image of Allah from Islam.
  10. The humble God who loves people enough to sacrifice his only Son drew many Muslims to Christ.
  11. One survey of 100 Muslim converts to Christ found that 85% said that the fatherhood of God drew them to Christ.
  12. No commentaries can explain adequately the nature of the Trinity and the Father-Son relationship. The matter is spiritual and has to be revealed to people.[3]
  13. Please don’t deny Muslims the translation of the intimate attributes of God and Jesus.
  14. Please do not be fooled by the words WBT-SIL has claimed.
  15. WBT state they are committed to accuracy, but then they remove Father and Son from the Middle Eastern Bible. This brings confusion. National churches are angry about what WBT are doing.
  16. It is a ‘shame’ that American Christianity is giving up on this doctrine of the Father and the Son.
  17. We, Horizons International/Biblical Missiology, are ‘legitimate’ and have found ‘many unfaithful translations’.[4]
  18. They want the Petition against WBT’s translations of Father and Son to cause WBT to think twice before eliminating Father and Son from translations.
  19. The issues are complex and translations shouldn’t be a commentary. In their view, they consider that Father should still be Father and Son to be Son as all cultures understand the Father-Son relationship.
  20. They can give further explanations in footnotes.
  21. The Pakistan Bible Society has severed relationships with WBT/SIL. The Presbyterian Church of Pakistan has objected to what WBT is doing.
  22. Before SIL makes changes to the current Bible translation it should ‘take into confidence all major Christian denominations and church leaders’.
  23. Church leaders in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia have called for an end to the WBT translations of Father and Son, ‘but to no avail’.
  24. Those who speak Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Bengali and other majority-Muslim languages reject the Wycliffe rationale for removing and redefining Father, Son, and Son of God.
  25. If the Holy Spirit does not apply the message to the person, passion for lexical work and exegesis will come to naught.[5]
  26. An underlying presupposition in this debate is that the problem with Muslims is ‘informational’, that by ‘massaging’ the message going to them, they will be more ready to come to the Lord. Historically, this involved the great divide between Augustine and Pelagius. This person wanted to place the blame with the assumption that a human being has an ability of choose Christ and correct information will help to guarantee that kind of result.[6]
  27. As for dynamic equivalence vs formal equivalence (literal), that is found in above-ground structures, but the stuff below the ground involves the doctrines of ability or inability (of a person to choose salvation or not to choose salvation in Christ). This person stated that it is always good to examine the foundation.[7]
  28. WBT dismisses the view that the disagreement is based on WBT presuppositions.[8]
  29. I, a person living in the Arabic world, have no problem using Allah for the God of the OT and NT as it is not disputed by Arabic Christians because Allah was used for God before Islam commenced.
  30. There is a long list of Turkish pastors (former Muslims) who have spoken out against the WBT-SIL translation into Turkish. There is no need to change it in 2012.
  31. What do you think Muslims could say when they note that Bible translations Christians have used for centuries with Son of God and Father are suddenly being changed?[9]

There are certainly some valid concerns expressed here

These include:

1. Since God, Son, and Son of God have been used in Arabic and other Middle Eastern translations for centuries, why change to dynamic equivalence now?

2. Since Allah was used for God before the entrance of Islam, it is valid to continue such use in modern translations.

3. The Father and Son relationship in the Trinity and its familial relationship, attract Muslims to Christianity when compared with the strict kind of monotheism of the Allah of Islam.

4. There is a mystery in the nature of the Trinity.

5. The Petition against the WBT-SIL translation of God, Son, and Son of God, has gotten a response from WBT-SIL and they have put a moratorium on all such translations which some linguistic experts examine the issue.

6. How does one determine if a translation is correct or incorrect?

7. Presuppositions are important in any kind of writing or translating.

8. When Christians change translations that are centuries old, Muslims could be suspicious about what they are doing.

In this article, I examine some of these matters.

Here is another opposing article against the WBT position, ‘Wycliffe Bible Translators accused of downgrading Jesus “for Muslim sensitivities”‘, which states: ‘There is absolutely no question of Wycliffe Bible Translators being engaged in some subversive activity to undermine the Christian faith in order to make Scripture somehow more palatable to Muslims’.

Subversive? Questionable, maybe! But this evangelical organisation (Wycliffe/SIL) that works closely with local churches when engaging in Bible translation in a new language group, could not be charged with being subversive as, to my knowledge, they are openly discussing translational issues with local churches. However, where these SIL translators are working is, and should remain, a secret for their own security.

After investigation, my conclusions are that WBT and SIL are not being subversive, undermining the Christian faith and being blasphemous, to make the Bible palatable for Muslims. What then are the issues?

My response

The main issues in this controversy seem to be:

(1) Are Wycliffe and SIL orthodox mission organisations? And

(2) How does a translator communicate the meaning of “son of God” in a new culture, especially a Muslim culture, where “son of God” would have a meaning quite different to what the Greek text states?

(3) Explaining to people in the receptor language that it is not the translation that is inspired of God, but the original documents.

Let’s be fair in our analysis of what is happening, by looking at these three issues:

(1) We know that WBT and SIL are orthodox evangelical organisations and from their statement of belief, they are clearly Trinitarian, stating in, Our Doctrine, that ‘we believe in one God, who exists eternally in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. Also, their view of Jesus, the Son, is orthodox as this statement from ‘Our Doctrine’ indicates:

We believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, is fully God and fully human; He demonstrated God’s love for sinners by suffering the penalty of death in their place, rose bodily from the dead and ascended to heaven where He intercedes for His people.

(2) When translators translate for a new culture, they want to convey the meaning, say, from the Greek NT to the new culture. This is a translational issue. ‘Son of God’ (huios tou theou) for the Muslims has a different understanding to what I understand, as I have been raised in orthodox, evangelical Christianity.  Since I’m an expository preacher, when a term such as Father, Son or Son of God appears in a text, I expound what it means after I’ve obtained the meaning from my Greek exegesis (grammar) and use of using Arndt & Gingrich Greek lexicon (1957) and the word studies of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols, Kittel & Friedrich 1964-1976), Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (3 vols, 1975-1978).

Bible translators don’t have the luxury of using more detailed exposition when translating. How do they communicate that message in a translation? Many of them translate meaning-for-meaning as is done in the NIV and NLT (New Living Translation). This type of linguistic translation makes sense to me in a new culture. In fact, I’m finding that new and older Christians love the NLT because it explains the meaning so simply.

I was experiencing this kind of translational problem in writing my PhD dissertation the day prior to writing this article, when I came across the German word, Sachkritik, that was used in an English volume (Thiselton 1980:266). I knew that it meant content-criticism but I was unsure what that meant exactly, so I went searching for its fuller meaning in order to better understand the dimensions of this word’s meaning. I found this, thanks to Tom (N T) Wright’s excellent work on the historical Jesus. Here is what I discovered:

Sachkritik is the criticism of a writer by an interpreter, using the inner logic of the interpreter’s own ideas. Wright (1992:56 n 21) explained that an example would be when Bultmann relativised Romans 9-11 based on the assessment that if Paul had thought through his ideas properly he would not have stated it that way. Others accused Bultmann of not following his own Sachkritik to its logical conclusions by still holding onto belief in the historicity of the cross when Bultmann maintained that most of the Gospels had to be demythologised and could not be trusted. In Sachkritik, the critic understands the thoughts of an author better than the author himself or herself (Wright 1992:101 n 35).

It is obligatory that interpreters of ancient texts allow the texts to speak for themselves, even if the interpreter is in disagreement with the texts’ statements. Sound methodology does not presume that a contemporary writer has a better understanding than the ancient author or another contemporary author, on what that author wanted to state.

Now, try putting that information into a small sentence to communicate with the people in the pew in Australia! It would be difficult enough for Aussies. Imagine how to do that for people in Syria or Rwanda. Because I read and have taught NT Greek, I know the difficulties of translating from one language to another.

I think that this is the kind of issue that SIL translators run into when trying to translate the Greek NT into a native language, wherever that might be in the world. How would I explain to an English speaker the meaning of Sachkritik with the simple translation of “content-criticism”. That’s not good enough in explaining what it really means. A simple explanation could be something like, “imposing the interpreter’s ideas on the text”. Since I’m examining J. D. Crossan’s historical Jesus in my dissertation, this is exactly what he does in rejecting physical miracles in the Gospels. He claimed that ‘miracles are not changes in the physical world so much as changes in the social world, and it is society that dictates, in any case, how we see, use, and explain that physical world’ (1994:82).

He’s saying that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John could not get it correct, but he can in his late twentieth-century publications by imposing his postmodern interpretation on the text.

(3) In considering the issue of dynamic equivalence translations of Father, Son, and Son of God, especially when sharing Christ with groups such as Muslims, I’m of the view that this issue of accuracy of meaning relates to what exactly is the meaning of ‘all Scripture’ in the verse, ‘all Scripture is breathed out by God’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV). In context, ‘all Scripture’ here refers to the OT, as the NT had not yet been compiled.

Is it a translation that is “breathed out by God” or is it the original biblical writing? Too many preachers and Christians make it refer to translations when in reality, only the original documents (known as the autographa), whether in Hebrew or Greek, are God-breathed. (See Greg Bahnsen’s article, ‘The inerrancy of the autographa’.)

It is not in any translation, but it is in the original Greek of the NT and the Hebrew of the OT, from which there are translational issues in whatever language one uses. We should not have to argue that a translation is the inerrant Scripture that is ‘breathed out by God’. It is not.

A brother in Christ who is in an Arabic-speaking nation witnessing to Muslims shared with me what is happening to him when he is witnessing for Christ on the streets with Muslims. He is concerned when Muslims compare translation with translation of the Bible in Arabic and say to him that the ‘the Bible is corrupted’. They use the SIL change of Father, Son, and Son of God to demonstrate to him that the Bible has changed and they have proof.  My brother in Christ said that these Muslims are correct when they compare a literal Arabic translation with a dynamic equivalence translation. They see two different meanings for a word or concept.

He wrote of a situation where he was in a situation among a group of Muslims and was trying to defend the Scriptures when the Muslims claimed a ‘corrupted’ Bible comparing literal versus dynamic equivalence Arabic translations. The Muslims were showing him verses from another translation that contradicted what he was preaching. He concluded that the Muslims were correct because Western translators had changed the scriptures in a well-meaning attempt to contextualise. His conclusion was that these translators had sinned against Muslims by damaging the reputation of the Word of God and that they should be ashamed for doing it.

But wait a minute! Is this brother being accurate with what he is saying to the Muslims about different Arabic translations? I don’t think he is, as the objections by the Muslims should lead to a discussion about translational models, especially dynamic equivalence and formal (literal) equivalence. Also, as I’ve indicated above, it is not the translation that is ‘breathed out by God’. That only applies to the original documents.

As an example, I face a similar problem with the New International Version’s translation of the Greek, hilasmos, in places like 1 John 2:2; 4:10, as ‘atoning sacrifice’ for our sins, when I understand that it means ‘propitiation’ (see ESV). The New Living Translation uses “the sacrifice that atones“, but this is inadequate if it means ‘appeasing the wrath of God’.[10] In commenting on 1 John 2:2 and noting the different translations of hilasmos as ‘propitiation’ (KJV, NKJV, RV, ASV, NASB, Moffatt), ‘expiation’ (RSV[11]), ‘atoning sacrifice’ (MLB, NIV), and ‘remedy for the defilement of our sins’ (NEB), Simon Kistemaker (1986:252-255) notes that

God initiated his love to a sinful world by giving his Son to cover sin and remove guilt…. With his atoning sacrifice, Christ removes sin and guilt…. Hilasmos … describes an action performed by Jesus Christ that appeases God the Father. A noun with a –mos ending denotes action; a noun with a –ma ending indicates the result of that action.

However, another evangelical, exegetical commentators, such as R. C. H. Lenski (1966:399-401), prefer the translation of ‘expiation’ to ‘propitiation’, particularly when compared with the only other NT appearance is in 1 John 4:10.[12] The Link & Brown (1978:162-163) word study states that

words of the hilaskomai word-ground fit in naturally with the terminology of blood, cleansing, and sin (1 Jn. 1:7ff) and come naturally to anyone familiar with this area of the thought-world of the LXX…. Atonement is not regarded as something that man does to God, but rather as the expression of God’s love to men (1 Jn. 4:10).

So, it is not clear whether an expiation or propitiation meaning should be used in 1 John 2:2; 4:10. If I were preaching on this, I would give the issues for either translation and if I were uncertain (as I now am) I would tell the people this conclusion.

I am of the view that the fuller explanation of what the word means should not be left to translators, as they require the use of minimal words. It should be done by biblical expositors (preachers) of whom there are not many in my part of the world. I find few pastors locally who have a fair understanding of NT Greek or OT Hebrew. My local pastor does know his Greek reasonably well.

From this brother in a Arabic-speaking country who is witnessing for Christ to Muslims who are saying that “the Bible is corrupted”, I am persuaded that any pastor, evangelist or translator must get back to saying something like, ‘It is the Bible in the original documents that is inspired Scripture and not any Arabic/English translation. Let’s see what that word means in the Hebrew or Greek’. However, when on the streets it is not possible to engage in the kind of discussion needed to understand the nuances of a Greek or Hebrew word.

Equivalence translations

I’ve given this extensive explanation as it is what I’ve been working on in my dissertation and it is relevant to the Wycliffe and SIL controversy. I have deep sympathies for what the SIL translators want to do to convey accurate meaning in the Muslim world. A word-for-word translation of, for example, “Son of God”, doesn’t communicate the meaning of the Greek text to Muslims. By using a different kind of translation to convey this meaning, is not engaging in compromise, but is engaging in necessary dynamic equivalence translation principles. A more literal, word-for-word, translation is known as formal equivalence.

The Simply Bible website explains dynamic equivalence:

Translation is not accomplished by merely substituting words in a word-for-word equivalence. More often than not, this will not produce the force (or dynamic) of meaning. The translator will therefore modify the form of words so as to achieve the same force of meaning. The jargon for “the same force of meaning” is “dynamic equivalence”.

Strict formal equivalence means

translates word-by-word, matching each Hebrew or Greek word with one or more English words. Strict formal equivalence would produce very difficult English.

For an explanation of the differences between formal and dynamic equivalence, see the article by Vanessa Leonardi.

This is how a literal, Greek-to-English translation of John 3:16 reads in English, “Thus for he loved the God the world so that the son the only begotten he gave that all the believing into him not he/she may not perish but he may have life eternal”. That is word-for-word and in English that would not be acceptable as a translation. It does not make grammatical sense in my native language of English.

This is how the dynamic equivalence of the New International Version translates it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This is how the dynamic equivalence of the New Living Translation translates it: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Even though these two translations do not give literal word-for-word as I gave with my unintelligible literal translation from Greek to English of John 3:16, the NIV and NLT do not violate translational, linguistic requirements for a meaning-for-meaning translation. Surely you want your Egyptian people to understand the meaning of the OT and NT. Dynamic equivalence is a linguistic valid means of accomplishing that. I do it when I preach an expository sermon. Why should not an Arabic translation allow dynamic equivalence. Do you object to dynamic equivalence? If so, I’d be pleased if you would tell me why dynamic equivalence, as opposed to formal equivalence, is not a valid means of translating from one language to another.

Some further aspects to consider

A person who is opposed to the Wycliffe, SIL, Frontiers translation, wrote to me, ‘Are you really of the opinion that “khalifatullah” (caliph of God) is an acceptable translation of “Son of God” in Arabic? Isn’t that worthy of protest?’

My response was “Yes” and “No”. I also shared the following, which are some further things I keep in mind:

1. SIL has suspended printing the very few translations with controversial renderings while the dialogue progresses with competent and responsible translation consultants and biblical scholars. That seems to show integrity and wisdom on behalf of Wycliffe, SIL and Frontiers.

2. I read, translate and have taught NT Greek. I know from practical translation experience that strict agreement in the receptor language (RL) of every occurrence of the same term in the source language (SL) has been repeatedly shown to be problematic and could introduce zero meaning, or wrong meaning (error). Even the KJV didn’t do it, often translating the Hebrew “sons of Israel” as “children of Israel” (about 140 times) because the translators knew the term in certain passages referred to the collective group, and not just the males.

3. Think of translations that always translate the highly diverse meanings of the Greek, sarx as “flesh”, even in passages where it means “humanity” in some contexts, or “human nature” in others. An example would be, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). The New Living Translation has correctly translated the meaning as, “All people will see the salvation sent from God”. This kind of translational difficulty has proven to be confusing to today’s generation that was not raised in the church to learn this highly artificial sense of English “flesh”—which, if we are honest, does not have the same extended or figurative senses that the Greek has.

4. “Kingdom of God” is another term that highlights different aspects of the kingdom in different contexts. Sometimes the focus is on God’s ultimate sovereignty, or on God’s people on earth, or on God’s authority on earth, or on God’s influence, or on God’s salvation for His people, etc. I once read some research that there were over 30 senses of understanding the phrase “kingdom of God”. All you need to do is read the Greek word studies of basileia (kingdom) in Colin Brown’s (ed) New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology[13] to understand the diversity of meaning of “king” and “kingdom”. What do we do in languages where the people have no kings or kingdoms? Always using a single rendering for the “kingdom of God” in all contexts can skew the focus and obscure the point of the passage.

5. It is somewhat misleading to ask something like, “What has SIL done in this particular translation?” SIL has not done anything. Individual SIL translators discussing things with local translators trying to follow recognised and accepted translation principles, have explored what might be the best rendering in that passage in that language. The checks and balances of accountability through the external checking processes that SIL uses, have said “let’s not publish this yet; we still need to think about this; and we need to think about the implications”.

6. In all of this controversy I have not seen any indication that any translation wants a single alternate rendering to always be used for all occurrences of “Son of God”. Therefore, it is highly misleading to assume or imply that khalifatullah is an across-the-board replacement for “Son of God”, as the person who contacted me seemed to be suggesting.

7. I have spoken with a friend who knows a little Arabic and he told me that khalifatullah is actually more likely a candidate for “Christ” or “Messiah”, than for “Son of God”. If this is so, it seems like a reasonable possibility to consider for “the anointed one”, “the chosen one”, “the special one”, “the one designated from long ago”. Does this person know his facts are correct about the translation of khalifatullah that Wycliffe/SIL is using?

8. I won’t second guess a translation team without having all the facts. That would be both irresponsible and unfair.

9. I have asked for my name to be removed from the petition instigated by Horizons International. They would not do that for me, even though this organisation was the one that instigated the petition. I was directed to http://www.change.org/ and asked them to do this, because the issues are bigger than this attempt to denigrate Wycliffe/SIL/Frontiers.

10. When translating from a SL to a RL, it can be so difficult when trying to gain the best meaning in the RL. I’m willing to give some space for this thing to play itself out, and trust that the translation consultants involved with Wycliffe & SIL will give wise guidance and counsel to the very few teams even considering contextualised options on this issue. And I am willing to pray for that wisdom on their behalf.

11. I continue to find that it is irresponsible to paint all translators and those that support them with the same broad brush. It is detrimental to the kingdom (in several senses of the word).

Should Allah be used for Jehovah God?

I have addressed this topic in my article, ‘Is the God of Islam the same God as Elohim of the Christian Scriptures?

There are a few other issues that need examination.

I made the following statement to the Arabic pastor who contacted me: ‘I do not agree with the Hebrew and Greek words from OT and NT for God being translated as Allah, because the Muslim concept of Allah, a Unitarian god, is not the Trinitarian Lord God Almighty whom I worship’. Is this short-sighted of me to conclude that Allah does not coincide with Jehovah/Yahweh?

On 10th February 2012, I received an email from this pastor who wrote: ‘In all Arab Bibles, Allah is the word for God. This is not disputed by Arab Christians. It was actually the Arabic-Christian word for God even before Islam came into existence’.

Origin of Allah

So, is it appropriate for the Christian to speak of Allah as equivalent to the Almighty God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures? This is what a research investigation found. I am particularly indebted, but not exclusively so, to Robert Morey’s, Islam Unveiled (1991:45f) for alerting me to the following information that exposes the origin of Allah as coming from the ‘cult of the moon-god’ (although this is questioned by others sources). These are but a few references to demonstrate this point:

1. The word, Allah, is from the Arabic, al-ilah, where ‘al’ is the definite article, ‘the’, and ‘ilah’ is the Arabic word for ‘god’. There is no Allah in OT Hebrew or NT Greek, so Allah refers to an Arabian deity (Morey (1991:45-46).

2. A well-known Scottish Middle Eastern scholar, H A R Gibb[14], stated:

From the Koran itself it is clear that monotheistic ideas were familiar in Western Arabia. The existence of a supreme God, Allah, is assumed as an axiom common to Mohammed and his opponents. The Koran never argues the point; what it does argue is that He is the one and only God. La ildha illcfllah “there is no god but Allah”. But it is more doubtful whether this is to be regarded as the direct deposit of Christian or Jewish teaching (Gibb 1962:38).

3. The ‘Answering Islam‘ website states: ‘Some people argue that Allah is the moon-god[15] of the pagan Arabs before the advent of Islam. Whatever the merits of this theory, there is a clear consensus: the name “Allah” is not unfamiliar to the Arabs. Muhammad was not bringing a message about a new and so far unknown God’.

4. Dr Arthur Jeffery, a leading Western professor of Semitic languages at Columbia University (USA) wrote, ‘The name Allah, as the Quran itself is witness, was well known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Indeed, both it and its feminine form, Allat, are found not infrequently among the theophorous names in inscriptions from North Africa’ (Jeffery 1958:85).

5. According to Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Allah is a pre-Islamic name that corresponds to the Babylonian Bel (Hastings, 1908:326)

6. The Encyclopedia of Islam stated that ‘the Arabs, before the time of Mohammed, accepted and worshipped, after a fashion, a supreme god called allah’ (Houtsma 1913:302).

Are you getting the picture? The name of allah was not new to Islam through Muhammad’s prophecies from AD 622, the year in which Muhammad went from Mecca to Medina. See ‘a brief history of Islam‘.

What are the differences between Allah and Jehovah?

Ergun M Caner & Emir F Caner are former Muslims who have come to know Christ as Lord and Saviour and were disowned & disowned by their father because they became Christian (Caner & Caner 2002:15). They are ‘former insiders who are now Christians’ and have written, Unveiling Islam (2002) and state that

orthodox, biblical Christianity assumes the existence of truth. Truth implies the existence of error, and mutually exclusive claims of truth cannot both be correct. Such is the case with Islam and Christianity. Either Islam is correct in the assumption that “there is only One God, Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet,”[16] or Christianity is correct when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).[17] They cannot both be correct (2002:16).

They tell of the memorial service held in a baseball stadium a few days after the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. Oprah Winfrey, the American talk show host was there, as was a Christian minister who began, ‘We pray in the name of our God-the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam’ (Caner & Caner 2002:102). Is Allah the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam? Is Jehovah/Yahweh the God of Islam, Christianity and Judaism?

Here is a list of contrasts that Caner & Caner (2002:102-119)[18] present of the differences between Allah and the Judeo-Christian God (Elohim/Jehovah/Yahweh)

The nature of Allah

The nature of Jehovah

1. ‘Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was an upright man who had surrendered (to Allah), and he was not of the idolaters’ (Surah 3:67) 1. Abraham was the founding father of the Jewish nation, Israel (see Ex. 2:24-25; 32:28; Acts 7:2-8).
2. Is Allah the Triune God? If he isn’t, we are not referring to the same God. Surah 112states,’1 Say: He is Allah, the One!2 Allah, the eternally Besought of all!3 He begetteth not nor was begotten.4 And there is none comparable unto Him. 2. The Trinity[19]. God is one (Deut. 6:4, Isa. 44:6, Rom. 3:30, 1 Cor. 8:6, Eph. 4:6, 1 Tim. 1:17). God Trinity (Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 12:3-6): the Father is God (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6, 2 Cor. 6:18, Eph. 4:6; 5:19-20, 1 John 3:1); Jesus is God (John 1:1-4; 5:18; 20:28-31, Col. 2:9, Hebrews 1:8; the Holy Spirit is God(John 15:26, Acts 5:3-4, 1 Cor. 2:10-11, 1 Cor. 12:4-6).
3. Allah has no son (see Surah 19:88-92). 3. There are a number of New Testament verses that affirm that God has a Son, Jesus Christ. See: Matt. 1:18-20, Luke 1:34-35, John 3:16, Gal. 4:4-5,
4. Allah is not the vicarious Redeemer[20], the atoning Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.[21] ‘Al-Ghaffar, the Pardoner (71:10). As “Pardoner,” Allah conceals and overlooks sins. He turns in forgiveness to whomever repents, even to someone who has committed deep sin (shirk). But Allah only conceals sin. Islam does not have the concept of cleansing from guilt’ (Caner & Caner 2002:112). See Surah 4:99-100 for Allah, the Pardoner. 4. God the Redeemer (See Isa. 44:6; 49:7, Col. 1:14, Titus 2:14, Heb. 9:11-12). By redemption, we mean that sinners are in bondage to sin and to Satan and someone needs to redeem them from bondage & the idea of ‘ransom’ is in view, the ransom being the price paid to redeem someone from captivity. Jesus said, ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Paying the ransom for redemption is not assigned to the work of Allah.

Therefore, it is promoting falsehood to state that the nature of the Muslim God, Allah, is same as the nature of the Judeo-Christian God, Yahweh. We are speaking of two different views of God.

However, it is quite common for English-speaking people to enter a gathering where there are two people of the same first name in the group but nobody with confuse them by saying they have the same identity. John Smith is a different person from John Jackson (both names are my invention), but they both have the same first name in a group of friends, ‘John’. I appreciate that there are greater fundamental differences between the deities of Allah and Jehovah and my view would be to find a translational equivalent for Jehovah God in a Bible translation that is different from the translation of Allah in that language. Why? To avoid issues like that involved in the Wycliffe-SIL controversy.

There is a further essential doctrine that Wycliffe-SIL must not confuse in its translations and that is the nature of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (see comparison above).

See, ‘The true origin of Allah: The archaeological records speak‘.

What are SIL translators and administrators saying about this?

I wrote to an SIL translator whom I know, who is translating in a native language, and he said that there were only 1-2 translators that he knew of who were trying to communicate the meaning of ‘Son of God’ to an almost 100% Muslim community in language that some English speakers find objectionable. My friend wrote:

I am not aware of any issues with ‘Father’, and the actual controversy is relating to translation of the term ‘Son of God’.

To put things in perspective, this controversy is only relevant to a very small group of translators working in nearly 100% Muslim groups trying to find innovative ways to break through some of the stumbling blocks that prevent many Muslims from even considering the message of the Injil (gospel). Even in those situations, most Bible translators err on the conservative and safe side of a faithful and literal rendering of the original text. Only a few are even considering other possibilities. Even fewer are actually arguing for other renderings, and these are the squeaky wheels that are the source of the public controversy (but the Jihad Watch stuff is badly and inaccurately misrepresenting the issues, and it shouldn’t be propagated). I have only actually heard of one or two individuals who think some alternate renderings might be a good idea.

A core part of AuSIL’s[22] identity is deliberate partnering with churches. Where we work in AuSIL,… this controversy is NOT a relevant issue; we follow the original text relating to translating the term ‘the Son of God’; and we preserve the familial father-son relationship as a high-level recurring metaphor theme throughout the whole of Scripture, and in accord with established principles of translating any recurring metaphor theme—regardless of how unfamiliar it might be (e.g. grapevines, Lamb of God, shepherd, high priest, king, etc.). We accept that some aspects of the gospel will, by their very nature be ‘stumbling blocks’ to different social groups (Paul wrote a bit about that). Many (I think most, nearly all) mainstream translators and consultants do not support the suggested innovations for technical reasons, and the debate is vigorous and on-going, but not directly impacting us in AuSIL. It would be grossly irresponsible and an unwarranted generalisation to paint all Bible translators and those who support them with the same brush.

I emailed Barry Borneman, CEO of Wycliffe Australia, and he has given me permission to share my translator friend’s response and Barry’s own response to the controversy. Barry wrote:

Thank you for taking the time to write and send your concerns surrounding translation in a Muslim context. Since the petition has been circulating we have been getting many enquiries from long-time supporters of Wycliffe and the Bible translation movement. We definitely appreciate the enquiries rather than simple acceptance of the claim in the petition.

The accusation would also concern me and I can assure you that you do not need to be disappointed. Wycliffe is not translating ‘a Muslim friendly’ Bible by omitting key family relational terms to describe the relationship between the father and Jesus.

For a Wycliffe Global Alliance response to this accusation I suggest you read an article by Susan Van Wynen entitled The Wycliffe Global Alliance Speaks to Issues of Contextualization at www.wycliffe.net

Susan is writing on behalf of the Wycliffe worldwide Bible translation movement though the article is written into primarily into a USA audience. In the article Wycliffe affirms the following:

The Wycliffe Global Alliance organisations and their personnel are not omitting or removing the familial terms, translated in English as “Son of God” or “Father,” from any Scripture translation. Erroneous information and rumours on the internet have recently raised questions concerning this issue.

Wycliffe never has and never will be involved in a translation which does not translate these terms. To say that we are removing any familial terms from the Bible is simply not true. Wycliffe continues to be faithful to accurate and clear translation of Scripture. The eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father must be preserved in every translation.

Wycliffe personnel from nations around the world are committed to working alongside language communities and other partners to translate God’s Word with great care from the original languages of Scripture into the languages of the world’s people so that all may know the redeeming love and glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Like you, I love the work of Wycliffe Bible translation and have committed my last 32 years to serving in the Bible translation movement. You can be assured Wycliffe Australia takes its commitment to the Word of God and the authority of the Scriptures very seriously.

If you are wanting an in depth assessment of the issue you may want to go to www.ijfm.org/translation.htm. Translation into a local language and culture is a specialized and difficult task and in all cases we aim for accuracy to the original meaning and clarity of language. This has not changed since Wycliffe first started translating and remains our objective today.

However, my SIL translator friend emailed me on 7 February 2012, with the news that, since this controversy has erupted, Wycliffe-SIL ‘has just put a moratorium on publishing scriptures with the alternate phrasings to “the Son of God” under debate in the very few cases where it is relevant, while the translation experts take the time to sort things out and try to get on the same page on this. Pray for them’.

This report from the Christian Post stated:

Wycliffe Bible Translators denied allegations that it removed the terms “father” and “son” from Bible translations meant for Muslim countries and said any problematic texts are no longer being distributed.

Russ Hersman, senior vice president of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, told The Christian Post that many of the works that critics like the organization Bible Missiology have pointed to as changing familial terms for God and Jesus have either done no such thing or have already been pulled from circulation.

“[Lives of the Prophets] was an audio drama that originally substituted inadequate familial terms in the mid-1990s. Since that time, the translation has been removed from circulation and will not be re-released until it has been corrected and revised,” said Hersman (Gryboski 2012).

It’s sad that this has to happen because the concept of translating meaning-for-meaning of, say, ‘Son of God’, is necessary to convey accuracy to people who have a very different understanding of the literal ‘son of God’ language.

I’m supportive of Wycliffe and SIL on this one. They are trying to communicate the meaning of a word or phrase from the biblical languages and people seem to be confusing WBTs beliefs with a method of translation. Here’s an article that helps to explain some of the issues in “The Son of God in the Bible and Qur’an“.

Some issues with older translations

Consider some of the challenges we face with accepting the translation of the KJV. The Greek, katargew, is found 27 times in the Textus Receptus NT from which the KJV is translated (The KJV is actually a revision and not an original translation), but it has translated katargew in 18 different ways, including abolish, cease, cumber, deliver, destroy, do away, become (make) of no (none, without) effect, fail, loose, bring (come) to naught, put away (down), vanish away, make void.

Also in the KJV, one English word is used to translate several Greek or Hebrew words. So variations of different meaning that are important for a correct understanding of the meaning of a passage, are not made clear. Take the word, ‘trouble’. The KJV has used this one word to translate about a dozen different Greek words. The word, ‘bring’, is used to translate 39 Hebrew words. The KJV uses the one word, ‘destroy’, to translate 49 Hebrew words (I obtained this information from Metzger 2001:74-75).

I recommend Metzger (1992) for a scholarly understanding concerning the textual issues in Scripture. This evangelical scholar with an international reputation takes a different view to those who oppose dynamic equivalence. I am closer to Metzger’s understanding. Metzger is now in the presence of the Lord whom he served so faithfully in this difficult area.[23]

An SIL translator provided me with this comparison of English with Indonesian languages and the translations that SIL have made:

To get down to actual evidence in English-Indonesian, *anak = “offspring, child” unmarked for gender [a very stable etymon across 1,200 languages]; gender is known from the name (e.g. John, Susan) or from gendered activities (e.g. weaving, building). In a few verses we also specify the gender, but that is a highly marked construction, and only on first mention in a discourse (for example in John 1:1-18, the male gender is only mentioned once—but it is there; more than that would be heavy, unnatural, and unnecessary, John wouldn’t have written it more often if he had been writing in these languages).

Just as English sibling terms mark gender but not relative age (sister/brother), English-Indonesian sibling terms mark relative age, but not gender (elder sibling/younger sibling). So there is an inherent mismatch with the Greek semantics, but when we do community testing, all the necessary information is there.

(Note that these examples below are all recent/current Wycliffe translations in a Muslim dominated country. ISO codes are provided for language identity.)

Amarasi     [aaz]:   Uisneno In Anah = God’s Child/Son

Buru           [mhs]:  Oplahtala nake Anat = God’s Child/Son

Dhao          [nfa]:   Ana Ama Lamatua = Child/Son of Father Lord/Father God

Helong       [heg]:  Ama Lamtua Allah Ana  = Father Lord God’s Child/Son

Kupang      [mkn]: Tuhan Allah pung Ana  = God’s Child/Son

Tetun        [tet]: Na’i Maromak Oan = [honorific: Lord/Master] God’s Child/Son

All of these languages are as close to the literal Gk ho huios tou theou as the semantics of the languages allow without over-translating, skewing the focus, and forcing things to be badly unnatural.

I also find it a bit hard to accept the accusation that “Wycliffe consistently refuses to address…”[24], particularly since they are addressing it publicly, have been addressing it for over a year, and are spending good money to get some of the best translation consultants in the business together to talk about it – which is an on-going dialogue.

How could Wycliffe and SIL fix this controversy?

I am not a translation authority with the experience of WBT and SIL translators, but I’m simply a committed Christian who exegetes and translates the Greek NT into ordinary English for my study and preaching. I would make 4 simple recommendations:

  1. Continue the dynamic equivalence translational philosophy of translating meaning-for-meaning. It’s the best way of translation for any culture if we want to understand the meaning of the original biblical languages. BUT …
  1. With each of these controversial items of translation, use a footnote that states something such as, ‘The original was “Son of God”, but this means […]’. Make sure to give the bibliographical references that cause SIL to make this translation.
  1. When WBT or SIL translators or representatives speak at local churches, convey the understanding from points #1 and #2. However, there will always be those in local churches who will not accept dynamic equivalence as a valid method of translation. This is especially so among congregations that have been taught the supremacy of the Textus Receptus, and by extension, the KJV as the best translation. When I receive this opposition, I give them a word-for-word literal translation in English of John 3:16, directly from Greek to English (see above). Then I ask, ‘Do you know of any English translation that gives this kind of literal translation?’ The answer is obviously, ‘No’. Then I exhort, ‘Then please give the Bible translators the liberty to convey the meaning of the Greek text in an English text that is meaningful, just like you expect from English translations of John 3:16. Meaning-for-meaning translation from one language (source language) to another language (receptor language) represents the sanest way to do Bible translation. Give that same liberty to WBT and SIL that we give to the translators of the known English translations of the KJV, Douay-Rheims, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB, NAB, NJB, REB, NRSV and NLT’.
  1. However, I believe that Wycliffe-SIL must continue to promote this theology: The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity must NOT be compromised by any translator. Here is a sample of articles that promote the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity that Wycliffe-SIL must continue to promote in their dynamic equivalence translations:

I consider this to be a reasonably simple response that could begin to solve some of the current controversy.

Appendix A

The NIV translates ‘this book’ (Rev. 22:18 ESV) as ‘this scroll, which more accurately conveys the meaning of the Greek, tou bibliou. There was no understanding of twenty-first century books in the first century when the Book of Revelation was written. The verses of Revelation 22:18-19 are not referring to the entire Bible, as the whole New Testament had not been collected into the canon of Scripture at the time the Apocalypse was written, which is estimated to be about the years AD 81-96 (Ladd 1972:8)[25].

These two verses apply to the Book of Revelation. It’s sad when a pastor doesn’t know that these two verses were written to apply directly and only to the Apocalypse. Alan F. Johnson’s (1981:602-603) commentary makes it clear that these two verses only apply to the Book of Revelation:

These verses should not be taken as a warning against adding anything to the Bible. Early interpreters understood them as a warning to false prophets not to alter the sense of John’s prophecy—i.e., Revelation (so Irenaeus Contra Haereses[26] 5.30.1[27])…. Verses 18-19 are a strong warning against any one who would tamper with the contents of ‘this book’ (Rev), either textually or in its moral and theological teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 16:22).

Kaiser et al’s (1996:783-784) comments are responsible:

1. There is no certainty that the Book of Revelation was the last book of the whole Bible to be written. Some date Revelation as early as AD 68 and books such as 2 Peter, Jude, Gospel of John and the Epistles of John were later still.[28]

2. When John wrote, the Jews had not concluded discussion of ‘their own canonical issues’. While there was discussion by them, AD 70-90, and some discussions at the rabbinic centre of Jamnia, there is no evidence that the shape of the Jewish canon changed as a result of these deliberations.

3. The Book of Revelation was written before there was any sense of a NT canon. No evidence is available that suggests that John had seen another written Gospel (besides his own) and it was two centuries before a fixed selection of books was considered for inclusion in the canon.

4. While the Apocalypse is the last book in English translations of Scripture, in the first three centuries of the church, there was a shifting of the placing of Revelation, some rejecting it entirely, while some put 1-2 Clement after Revelation. Others put it earlier in the list that was to become the NT canon. ‘There is no reason to think that this verse would have come almost at the end of the Bible for most Christians until the fourth century’ (Kaiser et al. 1996:783).

Kaiser et al (1996:783) concluded that John’s curse at the end of the Book of Revelation

stands as a warning. Its true literal sense applies only to his own book, Revelation, but given that similar concerns were shared by Paul[29] and others it is reasonable to argue that none of the writers of Scripture would have agreed to tampering with their works.

George Ladd (1972:295) stated that the form of the warning of these verses comes from Deut. 4:2 and is not meant to apply to the whole Bible, but was John’s way of authenticating the prophecy of Revelation. John is not concerned about mechanical errors in transmission or mistakes in interpretation, but is referring to ‘deliberate distortions and perversions of it’.

One of the most prominent NT Greek language grammarians and exegetes of the twentieth century was A. T. Robertson. He wrote of Rev. 22:18,

This warning is directed against perversions of this book, not about the New Testament or the Bible as a whole, though it may be true there also. Surely no warning was more needed when we consider the treatment accorded the Apocalypse, so that Dr. Robert South said that the Apocalypse either found one crazy or left him so (Robertson1933:487)

Robert Mounce’s (1977:395-396) commentary on Revelation contends that the severe warning against adding to or taking away from ‘the book’ applies to John’s prophetic message. It was address to future scribes who could tamper with the text and to members of the 7 churches to which the Book of Revelation was addressed, where the book would have been read aloud. ‘The warning is against wilful distortion of the message. I tis not unlike Paul’s stern words in Galatians 1:6, 7 to those who would pervert the gospel’ (1977:395).

Conservative, dispensationalist commentator, Robert Thomas, observed that it ‘is true that this warning [Rev. 22:18-19] applies specifically to the book of Revelation only, but by extension it entails the termination of the gift of prophecy and the NT canon also’ (1995:518). Thomas is a cessationist with regard to the gifts of the Spirit and the view that this applies to ‘the termination of the gift of prophecy’ is controversial, to say the least. I take an opposing view. See my articles:

  1. Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?
  2. The gift of prophecy as non-binding revelation;
  3. Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?
  4. Cessationism through church history;
  5. St. Augustine: The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing.

For the above reasons, it is appropriate to conclude that Rev. 22:18-19 was written to apply to the prophecy of the Book of Revelation and not to the entire Bible or full NT.

References

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (rev edn). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (Limited edn licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Brown, C (ed) 1975. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 1. Exeter, Devon, UK: The Paternoster Press.

Bruce, F F 1970. The Epistles of John: A Verse by Verse Exposition. London/Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis.

Caner, E M & Caner E F 2002. Unveiling Islam. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Crossan, J D 1994a. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Gentry Jr, K L 1989. Before Jerusalem fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (e-book). Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics. Available at: http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/1989_gentry_before-jerusalem-fell.html (Accessed 11 February 2012).

Gibb, H A R 1962. Mohammedanism: An historical study (2nd edn). New York: Oxford University Press (A Galaxy Book). Available at: http://ia600301.us.archive.org/8/items/mohammedanismanh027895mbp/mohammedanismanh027895mbp.pdf (Accessed 11 February 2012).

Gregg, S (ed) 1997. Revelation: Four views (a parallel commentary). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith (ed by J Purswell). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Gryboski M 2012. Wycliffe reaffirms it did not delete ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ from

Bible translations. Christian Post, 7 February. Available at: http://global.christianpost.com/news/wycliffe-reaffirms-it-did-not-delete-father-son-from-bible-translations-68836/ (Accessed 13 February 2012).

Hastings, J (ed) 1908. Encyclopedia of religion & ethics, vol 1. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, available at: http://ia700304.us.archive.org/16/items/EncyclopaediaOfReligionAndEthics.Hastings-selbie-gray.13Vols/01.EncyReligEthics.v1.A-Art.Hastings.Selbie.1908..pdf (Accessed 11 February 2012).

Houtsma, M T (ed) 1913. The encyclopedia of Islam, vol 1. Leiden: E J Brill.

Jeffery, A (ed) 1958. Islam: Muhammad and his religion. New York: The Liberal Arts Press. Available at: http://www.bible.ca/islam/library/islam-quotes-jeffery.htm (Accessed 11 February 2012).

Johnson, A F 1982. Revelation, in Gaebelein, F E (gen ed), The expositor’s Bible commentary, vol 12, 397-603. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

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

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament commentary: Exposition of James, epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 1. Tr and ed by G W Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Ladd, G E 1972. A commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (2nd print). Originally assigned to Augsburg Publishing House.

Link, H-G & Brown, C 1978. hilaskomai. In Brown, C (ed), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, 148-166. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Marshall, I H 1978. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, B M 1992. The text of the New Testament: Its transmission, corruption, and restoration (3rd edn). New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Metzger, B M 2001. The Bible in translation: Ancient and English versions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Morey, R A 1991. Islam unveiled: The true desert storm. Shermans Dale, PA: The Scholars Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word studies in the New Testament: The general epistles and the Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Robinson, J A T 1976. Redating the New Testament. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Thiselton, A C 1980. The two horizons: New Testament hermeneutics and philosophical description with special reference to Heidegger, Bultmann,

Gadamer and Wittgenstein. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Thomas, R L 1995. Revelation 8-22: An exegetical commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).


Notes

[1] See ‘Sign This Petition’ on the Horizons International website, ‘Lost In Translation: Keep “Father” & “Son” in the Bible’, available at: http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible (Accessed 6 March 2012). Horizons International uses www.change.org to organize its petition, as was indicated to me in an email from Horizons International. Therefore, any changes to this Petition that I wanted to make, had to be arranged through www.change.org.

[2] I explained to this person that I am not convinced the whole plan of salvation is at stake because of dynamic equivalence translations of Father, Son, and Son of God, these are attempts to communicate meaning-for-meaning from one language to another.

[3] However, this person provided me with a link to his explanation of the Trinity. I ask: If the matter is spiritual and needs to be revealed, what is the practical purpose of teaching on the Trinity? Is it essential or unnecessary?

[4] I encouraged them to use the same principles with the KJV (see examples in this article).

[5] There is no need for this dichotomy. The Holy Spirit can and does apply lexical and exegetical work. The Holy Spirit’s critical ministry is not a replacement for exegesis.

[6] This is the underlying presupposition of this person’s view of the doctrine of salvation. The person obviously prefers a Calvinistic view over that of Arminianism, or irresistible grace vs free grace.

[7] I agree with this view that presuppositions are foundational and must be uncovered, but this person is promoting his Calvinistic views as the correct ones. ‘Choose today whom you will serve’ (Joshua 24:15 NLT) is not among his presuppositions.

[8] He is referring to informational presuppositions.

[9] See the brief discussion of this theology below.

[10] However, leading evangelical scholar, F. F. Bruce (1970:50), stated that the translation of the Greek, hilasmos, as ‘”propitiation” or “atonement” will do well enough, if we use either word in its biblical sense – not as something which men must do to placate God, but something which God has provided in His grace to bring men into His presence with the assurance that they are accepted by Him, since He has removed the barrier that kept them at a distance’. Another evangelical scholar, I. Howard Marshall (1978:118), shows that the word group that includes hilasmos in the OT (presumably referring to the Septuagint Greek translation), communicated ‘the idea of placating the wrath of God or some other injured party’ and that the meaning in 1 John 2:2 was ‘that Jesus propitiates God with respect to our sins. There can be no real doubt that this is the meaning’.

[11] The NRSV uses ‘atoning sacrifice’ instead of ‘expiation’ in 1 John 2:2.

[12] Lenski (1966:400) stated that ‘in his love God commissioned his Son as expiation regarding our sins. The thought is not that this expiation propitiated, placated God, for he was full of infinite love when he sent his Son; we needed expiation, needed it “regarding our sins,” need it regarding them every day when we still sin. The fact that this expiation was brought about by “the blood of Jesus, God’s Son,” we know from 1:7’. What does expiation mean? It refers to a removal or covering for sin, hence the ‘atoning sacrifice’ translation of the NIV & NLT.

[13] vol. 2, p. 372ff (1976. Exeter: The Paternoster Press)

[14] This article stated that he was an historian on Orientalism. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_Alexander_Rosskeen_Gibb (Accessed 11 February 2012).

[15] That’s the title of one of the chapters in Morey (1991:45f).

[16] This is a constructed sentence obtained by combining these verses which are from the Qur’an, Muhammad 47:19 and al-Fath 48:29.

[17] This translation is from the New King James Version of the Bible.

[18] This chapter is titled, ‘Allah: Names of Terror, Names of Glory’.

[19] Briefly, the Trinity of God is ‘the doctrine that God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God’ (Grudem 1999:494). Some information also was obtained from ‘Theology 101 Notes: Doctrine of God‘ (Accessed 12 February 2012).This is a brief explanation of the Trinity, a word not found in the Bible, but its teaching is there.

[20] A Redeemer is one who provides redemption, which means ‘the act of buying back sinners out of their bondage to sin and to Satan through the payment of a ransom’ (Grudem 1999:492).

[21] This is from Caner & Caner (2002:108).

[22] He is referring to SIL Australia.

[23] Christianity Today reported on 15 February 2007 that Bruce Metzger died of natural causes at the age of 93. See: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/februaryweb-only/107-42.0.html (Accessed 10 February 2012).

[24] This was the statement in an email I received from pastor of a church in the Arabic world.

[25] Robinson (1996:252) dates to the years AD 68-70, while Crossan (1991:431) is in agreement with Ladd, dating Revelation ‘toward the end of the first century C.E.’.

[26] Meaning “Against Heresies”.

[27] Johnson wrongly cited Against Heresies 30.2 when it is Book 5.30.1, which states, ‘There shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture [at this point the footnote reference is to Rev. 22:19] under that such a person must necessarily fall’. Interestingly, Irenaeus applies these verses to ‘the Scripture’ and not just to the Book of Revelation.

[28] Robinson (1976:252) dates the Book of Revelation to ‘late 68 or early 70’. Gregg (1997:15) stated that most modern scholars place the Book’s dating in the time of the Emperor Domitian, about AD 96, but there are many preterist evangelicals who date it during the time of the reign of Nero, thus predating the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. ‘Among the well-known scholars who have held to the early date of Revelation have been Jay Adams, Adam Clarke, Alfred Edersheim, J. B. Lightfoot, John A. T. Robinson, Philip Schaff, and many others. The early date was the prevalent theory among Bible scholars of the nineteenth century. Dr. Kenneth Gentry lists over 130 notable scholars and commentators who favored the early dating of Revelation (Gregg 1997:15). Gentry (1989), which was Gentry’s doctoral dissertation, ‘gives ‘one sustained defense for the early date of Revelation’ (Gregg 1997:46 n7). On Gentry’s website he labels his view as postmillennial, reconstructionist, partial preterist. Available at: http://www.preteristarchive.com/StudyArchive/g/gentry-kenneth.html (Accessed 11 February 2012).

[29] See 1 Cor. 16:22 for an example of Paul’s ‘curse’.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.

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Did the thief on the cross go to Paradise at death – with Jesus?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Crucify

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Where did the thief on the cross beside Jesus go when he took his last breath? Jesus’ words were: ‘And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”’ (Luke 23:43 ESV). Let’s look at a few committee translations of the Bible and see how they translate this sentence:

1. KJV: And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

2. NKJV: And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

3. D-RB: And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise

4. NIV: Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

5. NASB: And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

6. NLT: And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

7. RSV: And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

8. NRSV: He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

9. NAB: He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

10. NJB: He answered him, ‘In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’

All of these translations have the comma before “today”, but there is the occasional exception. One of them comes from the JWs. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation gives this translation of Luke 23:43: ‘And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise’.

Please note that the comma is AFTER “today” and not BEFORE “today” as in the major committee translations of the Bible.

Why the change of comma?

There were no punctuation marks, breaks between words, or clearly defined sentences (as we understand them in English) in the original Greek of the NT.[1] Therefore, how do we interpret this statement? Greek scholars have called the SDA, JW, and Christadelphian interpretation of Luke 23:43 (with the comma after, ‘today’) various things, including “grammatically senseless” (Lutzer 1997:49) because it was obvious that Jesus was speaking to the thief on that very day. Jesus could not have been saying it in the past or in the future. Why would Jesus add the word, “today” to this sentence if it were only referring to Jesus’ and the thief’s existence on that day in which they were both alive and going to die?

It is getting into illogical nonsense to get Jesus to say that it was that very day on which he was saying it. That is obvious. It needs no reinforcement from Jesus that he is speaking to anyone today! If I am speaking to someone today, I don’t say something like, “I am speaking to you today and because it is today, I ask you to help me with carrying the groceries from the car to the house”. It is useless, redundant, superfluous, pointless, senseless, meaningless, worthless, stupid and inane to say that I am speaking to you today when I am speaking to anyone on this very day. The same adjectives can be used to describe the SDA, JW and Christadelphian interpretation of Luke 23:43.

Instead, Luke 23:43 should read as all of the committee translations at the beginning of this article state, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV).

Christ was giving assurance to the thief that on that very day they would both meet in Paradise, the place where all believers go at death.

It is obvious why the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Christadelphians do not want the thief on the cross to be in Paradise with Jesus that very day. They do not believe in the teaching of believers going into the presence of the Lord at death. They believe in the false doctrine of soul sleep or unconsciousness at death. Let’s check out their statements about what happens at death for the believer:

Jehovah’s Witnesses on what happens at death: “When a person dies, he ceases to exist. Death is the opposite of life. The dead do not see or hear or think. Not even one part of us survives the death of the body. We do not possess an immortal soul or spirit…. Jesus compared death to rest and sleep*

Seventh-Day Adventists on what happens at death: “The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people [this is commonly called ‘soul sleep’]” (Adventist fundamental beliefs #26, ‘Death and Resurrection’.

Christadelphians on what happens at death: “While awaiting this inheritance, all await resurrection in the sleep of death, where there is no consciousness (Psalm 146:3-4, Ecl. 9:10)”.

What happens for believers at death, according to the Bible?

From Luke 23:42, the thief on the cross asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (ESV). Jesus’ response was, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. But we have a few pointed questions to answer:

1. Jesus said that the thief would be in Paradise with him that very day, but wasn’t Jesus in the grave (the tomb) for 3 days? (See Luke 23:50-56).

2. Didn’t Jesus go to Hades between death and his resurrection? (See Job 38:17, Psalm 68:18-22; Matthew 12:38-41; Acts 2:22-32; Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:7-10, 1 Peter 3:18-20, and 1 Peter 4:6. The Apostles’ Creed states of Jesus Christ that he “was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell”).

3. What about this idea that Jesus didn’t go to Paradise until after his resurrection? If this is the truth about what happened to Jesus at death, Jesus could not make a promise to meet the thief that very day in Paradise. A Christadelphian website quotes Acts 1:3 (NKJV) that states that Jesus presented himself alive after his suffering by ‘many infallible proofs’ during the 40 days after his resurrection. Therefore, say the Christadelphians, ‘it was after these forty days that Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven. Therefore, if Paradise is indeed heaven, it was 43 days before Jesus got there, so by saying to the thief “You’re going to be there with me today”, Jesus would be lying’.

Christ’s promise to the thief on the cross was “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Stephen, the martyr, prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). He did not pray, “Lord Jesus, send me to the grave to sleep until the resurrection of the just and unjust”.

Why is the destiny of the redeemed, whether immediately at death or in the future, variously described in the NT as heaven (Col. 1:5), Paradise (Luke 23:43), and Abraham’s bosom/side (Luke 16:22)? We have no difficulty referring to a house as a residence, mansion, dwelling, and perhaps a palace for some. I once lived in an old weather-board house on a Queensland cane farm, but later graduated to a brick-veneer house. God has no difficulty referring to what happens after death by these various designations (see also 2 Corinthians 12).

Where was Jesus between death and his resurrection?

1. Yes, his body was in the tomb (Matt 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55; John 19:38-42). Matthew indicates that the tomb was sealed with a large stone (Matt. 27:62-65). This should guarantee that the tomb contained the body of Jesus for the 3 days. However, what happened to Jesus’ soul/spirit? Nothing is said in these verses about it. Remember the words of Jesus: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy bot soul and body in hell’ (Matt 10:28 NIV).

2. What was Paul’s view of what happened at death? Paul stated that ‘we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8). This is parallel with what happened to the thief on the cross, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

3. There are passages of Scripture that indicate an intermediate state following death and before the resurrection. It is a state in which the soul of the individual continues to live in conscious existence. For an indication of what happens to believers, see Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:1-9, esp. v8; Phil. 1:23 and Heb. 12:23. For unbelievers, see Luke 16:24-26 and Heb. 9:27.

4. What about unbelievers at death? Bible.org has an article by Greg Herrick which states that ‘the intermediate state for unbelievers (i.e., what happens to them after death) seems to involve conscious punishment in Hades where they await a future, bodily resurrection to eternal punishment in Hell, the final place of the Devil, his angels, and the wicked (Matthew 25:41; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thess 1:8-9)’. Therefore, the Christian belief (also included in late Judaism) was that at death, Christians go immediately into the presence of God (this is not going to their final residence, heaven) as Paul indicates in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 5.

5. So, in Luke 23:43, Jesus was affirming what happened to believers at death. Their spirit/soul would go to Paradise (Luke 23:43). It is also called Abraham’s bosom/side in Luke 16:22.

6. The view, based on Christian tradition, that Jesus’ soul/spirit was in Hades between his death and resurrection comes from passages like Eph. 4:9; 1 Peter 3:19 and 1 Peter 4:6. The KJV and ESV translate Eph. 4:9 as ‘the lower parts of the earth’. The NIV and the NLT get to the meaning: (a) “descended to the lower, earthly regions” (NIV); (b) “descended to our lowly world” (NLT). The meaning from Eph. 4:9 is that this is not speaking of Jesus’ experience between his death and resurrection, but that He came down from heaven to earth at his incarnation. The evidence is fairly questionable that Jesus spent any length of time in Hades (‘prison’) between his death and resurrection.

7. John 20:17 (NIV) might be an indication that Jesus was not in heaven (as opposed to Paradise) until after the resurrection. The verse states, ‘Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’”.

8. If Jesus was incorrect and he was NOT in Paradise when he died in order to meet the thief there, we are only left with theological guesswork as to where Jesus was between his death and resurrection – the cults vs orthodox Christianity. The Scriptures are more specific than that. Jesus went at death where all believers go – to Paradise or Abraham’s bosom/side. When Jesus proclaimed that the thief would be in Paradise with Him on that very day, Jesus was not only confirming where believers go at death (it is not to sleep), but also he was declaring that the work of salvation was complete. The vicarious and substitutionary atonement, and propitiation had been completed and justification by faith was available to all who would believe in Christ alone for salvation (points 1-8, with help from Kaiser et al 1996:488-489).

I have written a detailed refutation of the false doctrine of soul sleep in “Soul Sleep: A Refutation”. See also Dr. Richard Bucher’s exposition, “Where does the soul go after death? (Paradise or Soul Sleep)?” Dr. Bucher has stated:

But the soul sleep argument depends on all of these passages being taken literally. But is that really the case? Is it not possible, or even probable, that the “death as sleep” passages are intended to be understood in a figurative sense? Someone who has died looks like he is sleeping, which is why people of many cultures have described death in this way. Even if the soul and body are sleeping in some real sense, who can be sure that it is a sleep exactly like the sleep of the living, that is, a totally unconscious sleep? Who can be sure what the sleep of the dead is exactly like?

A valuable contribution is in, “Where did Jesus go after he died on the cross?

Works consulted

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

Lutzer, E W 1997. One Minute after You Die: A Preview of Your Final Destination. Chicago: Moody Press.

Notes:


[1] I read NT Greek and have taught NT Greek at theological college level.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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