Archive for September, 2015

Belief in fate is false doctrine

Monday, September 28th, 2015

(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear

I was flabbergasted to see the language of ‘fate’ being used by a Christian on an Internet Christian forum when he started a topic, ‘Fate vs Free Will’. For any Christian to use such language, he or she is making a statement about a lack of knowledge of biblical doctrine. Let’s investigate to examine if my statement is true.

This person wrote:

The seed has been planted in my heart! I believe that we have free will which in turn is our fate.

Do you believe one way or the other?

I believe in Fate so much so that it comes down to the very moment you wake up everyday to the very moment you go to bed. I believe our whole lives are predestined and everything that happens to us, the good the bad and the ugly, is all a package God wrote in his Book long ago.

“Is there anything of which can be said this is new? It has already been here in ancient times before us.”
Can you come up with bible verses?[1]

He clarified further:

‘To clarify why I believe in our free will becoming our fate, I give you this example:

You wake up in the morning and you sit in front of the stove and you are deciding whether or not to eat a banana. Should I eat the banana or not? I believe that God knows the “outcome”; this word is key! God knows the outcome!.. of either and both choices. Thus our free will becoming our fate’.[2]

A. Fate equated with predestination

The original poster clarified: ‘Very briefly, I believe that our every action (free will) is known and predestined by God … even though it is our free will’.[3]

B. Other Christian responses

This is a sample of responses to this post:

clip_image002 ‘I am interested how you can reconcile free will, with being fate? I never heard it quit (sic) mentioned like that before’.[4]

clip_image002[1] ‘Calvinists believe God creates those to be roasted in hell and God makes those who won’t have to roast in hell. Man has no free will. If they get sick, God already planned that. I am not so sure they go as far as to what color tooth brush you picked in 1984.

Arminianism believes man has a free will, but the Sovereignty of God is kept by God knowing what choices that man will make. Man has free will, but God knows what those choices will be.

Molinism believes God gives man free will, unless man is about to do something to alter a time line God does not want. God then intervenes so that the time line is the way he planned it, otherwise man is free to do what he wants as long as it does not cross over into God’s plan for the man and change the time lines. God knows the outcome of all alternate realities, and gets involved only if a reality is not what God wanted.

If you have come up with a new one, we should at least name it after you, right? Might as well get the credit and create that Wiki page with your name’.[5]

clip_image002[2] ‘People seem to make the word fate more then it really is. Some say it takes away will but, that couldn’t be any more wrong. Fate is just the predermination (sic) if our will, choices, ect (sic)’.[6]

clip_image002[3] Take a read of this kind of content from a Christian: ‘Most [of] the scriptures you posted are not related to fate, and God just knowing something is not fate. Fate would be more Election, Predestination. Foreknowledge or knowing opposes that doctrine.

How does God know what choice we are about to make? Would God know what choice we might make say 10 years from now?’[7]

clip_image002[4] ‘Keep in mind, God is not tracking everything. Lots of things happen, that the Lord is not aware of, or even cares to know. Things that get his attention, he check it out.
‘And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know’. (Gen 18:20-21).[8]

clip_image002[5] ‘How is it free will if it’s already predetermined, the two are mutually exclusive’.[9]

clip_image002[6] ‘God doesn’t plan everything, indeed Scripture even states such. ‘And have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind’ — Jeremiah 19:5 (ESV)
God states that the sacrificing of children by Baal worshipers did not even enter his mind, which seems to me a clear indication that God was not casually responsible for planning that it come to pass’.[10]

C. The challenge of Jeremiah 19:5

This verse is a particular challenge to the teaching on God’s sovereignty if it is true that the burning of children as offerings to Baal did not come into his mind, thus inferring that it was outside of God’s sovereign will.

Let’s check a few English translations of this verse:

checkmark fat 32 clip art ESV: ‘and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind’.

checkmark fat 32 clip art NASB: ‘and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My [11]mind’.

checkmark fat 32 clip art NIV: ‘They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind’.

checkmark fat 32 clip art NLT: ‘They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!’

checkmark fat 32 clip art NRSV: ‘and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt-offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind’.

checkmark fat 32 clip art HCSB: ‘They have built high places to Baal on which to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, something I have never commanded or mentioned; I never entertained the thought[12]’.

checkmark fat 32 clip artNET: ‘They have built places here[13] for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices[14] are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!’

This verse raises a potential dispute. If God is absolutely sovereign over everything in the universe (see below), then how can something not ‘come into my [the Lord’s] mind’? What’s the meaning of this statement in relation to what the Lord says, ‘I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind’?

This same content is in Jeremiah 7:31 (ESV) and Jeremiah 32:35 (ESV).

The NET Bible translation of Jer 7:31 is, ‘They have also built places of worship in a place called Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom so that they can sacrifice their sons and daughters by fire. That is something I never commanded them to do! Indeed, it never even entered my mind to command such a thing!’[15]

The footnote in the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) gives us a clue. The statement in the text is, ‘I never entertained the thought’. The footnote at this point is, ‘‘Lit mentioned, and it did not arise on My heart’. So, the meaning of that sentence is that the Lord never mentioned it and it did not arise on his heart – his inner being.

Wayne Grudem’s explanation seems reasonable and consistent with the remainder of biblical revelation:

Another objection to the biblical teaching about God’s omniscience has been brought from Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; and 31:35, where God refers to the horrible practices of parents who burn to death their own children in the sacrificial fires of the pagan god Baal, and says, “which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind” (Jer. 7:31). Does this mean that before the time of Jeremiah God had never thought of the possibility that parents would sacrifice their own children? Certainly not, for that very practice had occurred a century earlier in the reigns of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and Hoshea (2 Kings 17:17), and God himself had forbidden the practice eight hundred years earlier under Moses (Lev. 18:21). The verses in Jeremiah are probably better translated quite literally, “nor did it enter into my heart “ (so KJV at Jer. 7:31, and the literal translation in the NASB mg.—the Hebrew word is l?b, most frequently translated “heart”), giving the sense, “nor did I wish for it, desire it, think of it in a positive way” (Grudem 1994:192, emphasis in original).[16]

Grudem explained further about the relationship of God’s sovereignty, omniscience and providence to a human beings ‘freedom’:

Another difficulty that arises in this connection is the question of the relationship between God’s knowledge of everything that will happen in the future and the reality and degree of freedom we have in our actions. If God knows everything that will happen, how can our choices be at all “free”? In fact, this difficulty has loomed so large that some theologians have concluded that God does not know all of the future. They have said that God does not know things that cannot (in their opinion) be known, such as the free acts of people that have not yet occurred (sometimes the phrase used is the “contingent acts of free moral agents,” where “contingent” means “possible but not certain”). But such a position is unsatisfactory because it essentially denies God’s knowledge of the future of human history at any point in time and thus is inconsistent with the passages cited above about God’s knowledge of the future and with dozens of other Old Testament prophetic passages where God predicts the future far in advance and in great detail.[17]

How then are we to resolve this difficulty?… Note the suggestion of Augustine, who said that God has given us “reasonable self- determination.”[18] His statement does not involve the terms free or freedom for these terms are exceptionally difficult to define in any way that satisfactorily accounts for God’s complete knowledge of future events. But this statement does affirm what is important to us and what we sense to be true in our own experience, that our choices and decisions are “reasonable.” That is, we think about what to do, consciously decide what we will do, and then we follow the course of action that we have chosen.

Augustine’s statement also says that we have “self-determination.” This is simply affirming that our choices really do determine what will happen. It is not as if events occur regardless of what we decide or do, but rather that they occur because of what we decide and do. No attempt is made in this statement to define the sense in which we are “free” or “not free,” but that is not the really important issue: for us, it is important that we think, choose, and act, and that these thoughts, choices, and actions are real and actually have eternal significance. If God knows all our thoughts, words, and actions long before they occur, then there must be some sense in which our choices are not absolutely free (Grudem 1994:192-194).

D. Fate is not biblical teaching

I do not find ‘fate’ to be a biblical doctrine. Nowhere in Scripture do I find such language as God’s doctrine of fate. So, my response was:[19]

The idea of ‘fate’ is not a biblical doctrine. However, the teaching on God’s sovereignty of the universe is core Christian teaching as the following verses demonstrate:

  • In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, Jesus said: ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ (Matt 20:15 ESV).
  • To the Romans, Paul wrote: ‘But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?’ (Rom 9:20-21 ESV)
  • Could anything be clearer than Eph 1:11 (ESV)? ‘In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will’.
  • This verse from the OT makes it clear that not fate, but God’s sovereignty, rules the universe: ‘Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all’ (1 Chronicles 29:11).

E. Conclusion

I conclude that the biblical teaching is that God, as Creator of the visible and invisible world, is the owner of all there is and he has an absolute right to rule the universe according to his holy and wise counsel. This includes God’s designated use and affirmation of government. Romans 13:1 (ESV) states of government: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’.

And that includes the evil governments of the Roman emperors in the early Christian centuries AD, Hitler, Eichmann, Stalin, Pol Pot , Idi Amin, and corrupt governments around the world. God has not told us why he has allowed this evil to reign in world governments. But this we know:

(1) God is sovereign. He ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11),

(2) God will be glorified in all that happens in our world. ‘To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever’ (1 Peter 4:11), and

(3) All nations of the world will stand before God’s judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). All evil will be judged by the absolutely pure and holy God.

Works consulted

Augustine 1887. On grace and free will (online). Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis, rev B B Warfield. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5. P Schaff (ed). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight. Available at: (Accessed 8 July 2015).

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House. An online copy is available at: (Accessed 9 July 2015).


[1] JesusBoy86#1, Christian, ‘Fate vs Free Will’, June 20, 2015. Available at: (Accessed 8 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., JesusBoy86#18.

[3] Ibid., JesusBoy#3.

[4] Ibid., Brother Mike#2.

[5] Ibid., Brother Mike#4.

[6] Ibid., JoJoe#11.

[7] Ibid., Brother Mike#12.

[8] Ibid., Brother Mike#14. This poster had lots of other Scripture with which he interacted briefly. I recommend a read of his post online.

[9] Ibid., Butch5#22.

[10] Ibid., Doulos Iesou#25.

[11] A footnote stated, ‘Lit heart’.

[12] The footnote here was, ‘Lit mentioned, and it did not arise on My heart’.

[13] The footnote was: ‘The word “here” is not in the text. However, it is implicit from the rest of the context. It is supplied in the translation for clarity’.

[14] The footnote here stated: ‘The words “such sacrifices” are not in the text. The text merely says “to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal which I did not command.” The command obviously refers not to the qualification “to Baal” but to burning the children in the fire as burnt offerings. The words are supplied in the translation to avoid a possible confusion that the reference is to sacrifices to Baal. Likewise the words should not be translated so literally that they leave the impression that God never said anything about sacrificing their children to other gods. The fact is he did. See Lev 18:21; Deut 12:30; 18:10’.

[15] The footnote at this point was, ‘Heb “It never entered my heart.” The words “to command such a thing” do not appear in the Hebrew but are added for the sake of clarity’.

[16] Grudem’s footnote at this point was: ‘The same phrase (“to have a thought enter into the heart”) seems to have the sense “desire, wish for, long for” in all five of its occurrences in the Hebrew Old Testament: Isa. 65:17; Jer. 3:16 (where it cannot mean simply “have a factual knowledge of” ); 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; as well as in the equivalent Greek phrase  in Acts 7:23.

[17] Grudem discusses this question further in his chapter on God’s providence (chapter 16, in Grudem 1994:347–349).

[18] Grudem did not at this point provide a bibliographic reference for this citation (Grudem 1994;192). However, Augustine does use the language of human beings having ‘free choice’ with this statement: ‘Now He has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in a man a free choice of will. But how He has revealed this I do not recount in human language, but in divine. There is, to begin with, the fact that God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards’ (Augustine 1887:2)

[19] Christian, OzSpen#35.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:  26 April 2016.

Josephus: Women unacceptable witnesses

Monday, September 28th, 2015 (Josephus – From William Whiston’s translation of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. Public Domain)

By Spencer D Gear

When someone makes this assessment of an historian, his writings are worthy of further pursuit: ‘In spite of his limitations, Josephus conducts us through that strange time and world which was home to Jesus and the Evangelists and so enables us better to hear and see the Word in the world in which it appeared’ (Scott 1992:394).

Who is this Josephus?

Josephus (ca. AD 37-100), a wealthy Jew, attempted to justify Judaism to cultured Romans through his writings (Cairns 1981:46) but he was called ‘a Jewish historian’ who ‘when measured against his own canons of objectivity and truthfulness, often failed to be a good historian’ (Herrick 2015 n. 16). He was ‘a historian writing principally about the Jewish people’ (Herrick 2015).

He also provided the earliest reference to Jesus outside of the New Testament and he also wrote of ‘the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James’ (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).

In the foreword to one edition of Antiquities of the Jews, William Sanford LaSor wrote:

Josephus, or more accurately Joseph ben Matthias, was born the year Gaius acceded to the throne of the Roman Empire, A.D. 37, and died sometime after A.D. 100. He was born of a priestly family and through his Hasmonean mother could boast of royal blood….

In brief we can divide his life into two parts, each about thirty-three years in length: the first half could be described as the life of Joseph ben Matthias, Jewish priest, General, and prisoner; the second half, with some reservations, as the life of Flavius Josephus the Roman citizen and author….

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Josephus was given a tract of land near Jerusalem, a number of books, and a chance to retire to a life off quiet contemplation. He chose, to return to Rome with Titus, where he became a client of the Flavian family, received Roman citizenship, and was commissioned to write a history of the Jewish people….

Josephus’ first literary work was the Wars of the Jews, published in the closing years of the reign of Vespasian. Since at that time Josephus was not confident of his ability to write in good Greek style, he composed the work first in Aramaic…. The Wars of the Jews was written under the commission of the Emperor, and can be looked upon as a bit of propaganda, designed to deter others who might have been tempted to revolt (Wars of the Jews III, v, 8). The title, on the analogy of Caesar’s Gallic War, is probably to be understood from the Roman viewpoint: the war against the Jews, rather than the Jewish War against Rome. It is Josephus’ most carefully written work.

His Antiquities of the Jews was published about fifteen years later (A.D. 93 or 94)….

The Life was written … shortly after the year A.D. 100, principally as an apology for his own life, to defend himself against charges made by Justus of Tiberias concerning Josephus’ conduct during the war in Galilee.

Against Apion is an apology for Judaism in which Josephus evaluates the ideals of Hellenism and shows its deficiencies while at the same time showing the excellencies of the Jewish religion (LaSor 1960:VII-IX).

Josephus and Jesus

Of Jesus he wrote:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,[1] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day;[2] as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3).

This passage is often regarded as containing Christian interpolations, but ‘most scholars agree that this basic information … is most likely a part of the original text. Josephus was not a friend of Christianity, and thus his mention of Christ has more historic value’ (Cairns 1981:46). However, this statement is found in all of the Greek manuscripts from the 11th century and is in Eusebius in a couple of places (Ecclesiastical History 1.11.7 and Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5.124).[3]

I have found Greg Herrick’s article helpful in coming to a better understanding of ‘Josephus’ Writings and Their Relation to the New Testament’ (Herrick 2015).

His view of female witnesses

There is an unusual emphasis in Josephus for the 21st century. He has a major problem with women as witnesses. Josephus, in his major work, Antiquities of the Jews, stated: ‘But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex‘ (4.8.15, emphasis added).

The editor of this edition of Josephus stated after the citation about women, ‘I have never observed elsewhere, that in the Jewish government women were not admitted as legal witnesses in courts of justice. None of our copies of the Pentateuch say a word of it. It is very probable, however, that this was the exposition of the scribes and Pharisees, and the practice of the Jews in the days of Josephus’ (4.8.15, n. 21).

Even though he seems to have stated that Jesus ‘appeared to them alive again the third day’ (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3), with his attitude towards women as witnesses, he would encounter major difficulties with the NT emphasis of the first witnesses of Jesus after his resurrection being women. Matthew 28:1-10 (NIV) gives this description:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”.

Imagine it! The greatest event in world history, the physical resurrection of the crucified Jesus from the dead, was found by two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. These women met the risen Jesus, clasped his feet, worshipped him and went to tell the brothers to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus. That kind of information should blow Josephus’ mind as he was a contemporary with Jesus.

See the article by Ben Witherington, Why Arguments against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical.

The reliability of Josephus

The accuracy of Josephus as a Jewish historian has been questioned because ‘he is self-serving in his accounts, overly gracious and generous in his presentation of the Romans, and molds the facts of Jewish history to suit his own ends. He is notorious for his exaggeration of numbers’. This is seen when his works are examined in parallel and they ‘have unreconcilable variants’ (Scott 1992:393).

However, new data were found in the 1960s with the excavations of Masada and these ‘add credibility to Josephus’ handling of at least the major features of his subjects’ (Scott 1992:393).

Herrick essentially agrees with this assessment:

It is no mystery that many scholars hold that Josephus is woefully inaccurate at times. And, it would appear from the work of Schurer, Broshi, Mason, Mosley and Yamauchi that such a conclusion is fairly warranted.[4] Yet this skepticism does not need to be thorough-going, for there are many places where it appears that he has left for us a solid record of people and events—especially as regards the broad movements in history at this time. These might include facts about the Herodian dynasty, the nature of the Jewish religious sects, Roman rule over Palestine and the fall of Jerusalem. Boshi agrees that in many places Josephus errs, regarding numbers and names, but this is no grounds for dismissing all that he said as without foundation. Once again, the historical trustworthiness of Josephus, is perhaps not a flat declaration, “he is” or “he is not” but rather it proceeds on a case by case basis[5] (Herrick 2015).

Works consulted

Broshi, M 1982. The Credibility of Josephus, Journal of Jewish Studies 33, 379-384 Spring / Autumn. Now available at: (Accessed 26 September 2015).

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Herrick, G 2015. Josephus’ Writings and Their Relation to the New Testament. (online). Available at: (Accessed 26 September 2015).

LaSor, W S 1960. Foreword to Josephus: Complete Works 1867, VII-XII. Works tr W Whiston. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications.

Mason, S 1992. Josephus and the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Mosley, A W 1965. Historical Reporting and the Ancient World, New Testament Studies, October, 10-26.

Schürer E 1973. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.D. – A.D. 135), 3 vols, rev & ed G Vermes & F Millar. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Scott, J J 1992. Josephus, in J B Green & S McKnight (eds) & I H Marshall (cons ed), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 391-394. Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Yamauchi, E M 1980. Josephus and Scripture, Fides et Historia 13, Fall, 42-63.


[1] The footnote here stated, ‘A.D. 33, April 3’.

[2] The footnote at this point was, ‘April 5’.

[3] The 124 is in the text as (124).

[4] Here the footnote was: ‘Cf. Scott (1992:393); Schurer, 57, 58. He says, that the War is superior in accuracy to the Antiquities in the recording of details and therefore of greater [historical] value; Broshi (1982:383, 84); Mason (1992: 81, 82); Mosley (1965: 24-26) and Yamauchi (1980:58). [Note: Schurer is possibly referring to Schürer (1973) as in the bibliography on the article about Josephus by Scott (1992:394)].

[5] The footnote was: Broshi (1982:383, 84). It should be Broshi (1982:383, 384).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Should churches have female deacons?

Friday, September 25th, 2015

(image courtesy cliparthut)

By Spencer D Gear

We can be in personal discussion among Christians or in an Internet interaction, but raise the issue of women in ministry among evangelical Christians and you can expect to get some strong views both ways. Mostly I’ve heard the anti-women in ministry view defended most vigorously. Certainly, conservatives are opposed to women pastors.

Two prominent Christian leaders disagree

Leading California pastor, John MacArthur, uses 1 Tim 2:8-15 as his foundation for this conclusion:

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. That is true not because women are spiritually inferior to men but because God’s law commands it. He has ordained order in His creation—an order that reflects His own nature and therefore should be reflected in His church. Anyone ignoring or rejecting God’s order, then, weakens the church and dishonors Him (MacArthur 2013).

N T Wright, who teaches at St. Andrews University, Scotland, takes a different perspective. He concludes with this understanding of 1 Tim  2:8-15, after an examination of this passage:

How then would I translate the passage to bring all this out? As follows:

8So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence (N T Wright, ‘Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis’, 2004).

I visited a Christian forum on the Internet where there was a thread on ‘female deacons.’[1] Some argy-bargy was there to read between traditionalists who oppose female deacons and those who are open to another view from Scripture. The latter are sometimes called progressives. I would prefer to use the terminology, ‘They let the plain meaning of Scripture speak for itself’ when interpreted in context.

The topic began with a comment about the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) convention adding to paragraph VI that stated that ‘the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture’. The person could only speculate why this change was necessary but said it was now ‘time to add [that] the office of deacons is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. I base this on 1Timothy 3:10-12’. The person brought this up because a local Southern Baptist Church (SBC) has female deacons and he considered this to be wrong. He said he was interested in any Scripture that would cancel this anti-female deacon Scripture and what we know about these verses.[2]

Others chimed in with these kinds of messages:

bronze-arrow-small It was a common thing for women to be teaching women and children. The person attended a ‘very traditional Baptist church’ where women sang, had exclusive Bible studies among women and were engaged in activities that pertained to children. ‘But when it comes to the main sanctuary, it is only men at the pulpit’. Why? ‘Everyone knows’ that is what the Bible teaches, or more specifically, ‘it is what Paul teaches’.[3]

bronze-arrow-small They can be in leadership roles according to Romans 16:1-2, but they cannot teach over the assembly, based on 1 Tim 2:13-14, 1 Cor 14:40 [Is this meant to be 14:34?] Women can be in leadership because Scripture allows them to be equal in worth to men (Gen 2:23). But this person insisted that women cannot be pastors according to 1 Tim 2:9-12. The view was that this maintained the divine order of accountability as articulated in Eph 5:21-33. The role of ultimate headship has been assigned to men (1 Cor 11:3). Women [cannot] be pastors, but they can have words of instruction in the church (1 Cor 14:26). This was a similar kind of ministry to that of Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the OT and Anna in the NT as well as the four daughters of Phillip who prophesied. However, it’s important to note that they didn’t teach in an official capacity over the assembly.[4]

bronze-arrow-small ‘Paul said women cannot preach in the church, but they can serve in other ways’. If you want to be upset with anyone, get upset with Paul. He is the one who wrote those letters and was influenced by God to do it.[5]

bronze-arrow-small Women can be elders in the Baptist church I attend, but it’s usually with their husbands. However, ‘the men teach the men and the women teach the women. This is how it ought to be’. It is not that women can’t teach men and men can’t teach women because we can learn together. When it comes to being authoritative over each other in certain aspects of gender, this is the way it is because men and women are not alike.[6]

bronze-arrow-small ‘We should take the Bible for what it says. If it says women are not to do certain things then they should not’.[7]

Then came …

Archaeology, tombstones & women presbyters

(image courtesy Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome)

It was pointed out that in the first four centuries of the NT era, archaeology has found grave sites that confirmed there were women presbyters. ‘One tombstone reads, (don’t remember the names in order) ___ the daughter of Lois the presbyter’.[8] He stated that in many areas around the Mediterranean Sea, there have been discovered paintings of women in leadership positions and inscriptions in churches and on tombstones. These women are named and their positions are that of bishops and deacons. His view was that ‘archaeology demands that we reconcile what we have from Paul with the evidence’.[9]

What is the evidence from archaeology? ‘As far as the statement that there is no tradition of women priests, there’s good evidence from archaeology and iconography, in areas of what is now the former Yugoslavia, and southern Italy, that there were women presbyters, leaders of Christian communities in those places, in the early centuries. And a presbyter is what we would call a priest today’ (Johnson 2010:98).

Aisha Taylor, a Roman Catholic, researched the archaeological evidence for women’s leadership in the early centuries of the church. She found that

there are iconography pieces all throughout the Mediterranean region … and they are not only mosaics[10] and frescos.[11] They are also inscriptions on tombs and artwork. They are on catacomb walls and on church walls, in very holy places. One of these is in the Catacombs of Priscilla.[12] It’s a second century fresco and it pictures a woman presiding at Eucharist, which is a role reserved specifically for priests, and only for priests. Another example is the fourth-century inscription on a tombstone in Jerusalem where it says in Greek, “Here lies the minister and bride of Christ, Sophia the Deacon, a second Phoebe.” This is also important in that it relates to the biblical person of Phoebe, a New Testament woman, who Paul references as a deacon. And the other important thing about that is the word for deacon, diakonos, is the word that’s used for Paul’s ministry as well. So it really shows an egalitarian form of ministry in the early church. These women had the same ministry as Paul….

I think the evidence is very convincing and one of the reasons is because of the large number of archaeological finds around the Mediterranean. In almost every major Christian community in the early church, you’ll find images of women as priests, bishops or deacons. And that’s convincing evidence. The other pieces that are important are the inscriptions on tombstones. People wanted future generations to remember these women as leaders in the church. They put them in the holiest places they could: in churches and on tombstones….

We know that in the first nine centuries in many places in the church, women were serving in ordained deacon roles. The scholarly evidence shows that there are sixty-one inscriptions and forty-one literary references to women deacons in the church.

One of the foremost scholars on women’s ordination is John Wijngaards. He was a former Roman Catholic priest and he actually left the priesthood over women’s ordination. In 2006, he published his book, Women Deacons in the Early Church,[13] so evidence is getting out there’ (Aisha Taylor 2010:92, 93). The claim: No women deacons in NT

What about this line of reasoning?

There were no women deacons. Scripture does not show us any. It of course speaks of the qualifications for being a male deacon and we know of Stephen’s being chosen to be a deacon, etc., but nothing about women as deacons. Unfortunately, and as has been noted, the root word (diaconos), meaning a “servant,” can be translated either as deacon or deaconess. But we know from history what deacons did and what they were considered to be …. and we also know what deaconesses were and what they did. When Pheobe (sic) is called a diakonos, therefore, we know that it means a deaconess, not a deacon, because we know that there was a difference, both from scripture and from history.[14]

I will be challenging that judgment below.

Another became quite aggressive with what I regard as an incoherent argument. He asked if another believed it was suitable for women to hold authority in the world and not in the church. Are there two sets of standards? If so, that’s hypocrisy![15]

Then there was one who pointed to Gal 3:26-28 and the egalitarian nature of the body of Christ,

‘In Galatians 3 … Paul says:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

If there is no “male or female”… how can we then decide that what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2 [this refers to 1 Tim 2] is a rule for women specifically to be silent in church and for authority to be held over to men? And what authority? Is Christ not the Head? Either Paul contradicts himself, or he is speaking to [a] specific incident.

If we are all “one in Christ” where is the distinction?[16]

What kind of response would that elicit? The rejoinder came that there are three persons with three absolute roles in the Godhead. The Father’s role is not the Son’s and the Holy Spirit doesn’t complain about the Helper role or not being the commander in chief. That role is the Father’s. This person pointed out that the issue was context, context, context. His complaint was with Christians who practise eisegesis and don’t care about the context. He blamed this on the influence of a modern/postmodern world that affects the minds of Christians so they are afraid to affirm the importance of context. He also blamed ‘extreme eisegetical (sic) conservative Christians’ for hindering sound exegesis.[17]

The reply to this emphasis was: ‘I’m glad you mentioned context, because in the original context 1 Timothy 2:11-12,’ ‘woman’ can be translated as ‘wife’ and ‘man’ for ‘husband’. He was prodding: ‘Just some food for thought’.[18] This back and forth continued:

If God gives a woman the ability and blessing to speak His Word through her, via the Holy Spirit, which we all are told we are to possess once born again, should we not listen?
Does the Holy Spirit silence a woman simply because she is a woman?[19]

Biblical evidence: A woman as deacon


(image courtesy Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome)

Is there no evidence of any female in Scripture being designated as having the ministry of a deacon? My investigations of Scripture lead me to the following understanding:[20]

Talking of what Paul wrote, I do not know why we are arguing over whether a woman can be a deacon in the church when there is a clear example of a female deacon in the early church in Romans 16:1 (NIV), ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.’ What was Phoebe’s ministry (Rom 16:1)? Paul states, ‘She has been helpful to many, and especially to me ‘ (Rom 16:2 NLT). So Phoebe, a female deacon, was ‘helpful to many’ and especially to a male – Paul. What that ‘helpful’ meant, we are not told directly in this text. K Hess points out that in Rom 16:1, the role of a female deacon is ‘left undefined’ (Hess 1978:549). Hess is careful to point out the difference between doulos (slave) and the feminine, diakonia (serving at table). This

is important for our understanding of diakonos. doulos stresses almost exclusively the Christian’s complete subjection to the Lord; diakonos is concerned with his service for the church, his brothers and fellow-men, for the fellowship, whether this is done by serving at the table, with the word, or in some other way. The diakonos is always one who serves on Christ’s behalf and continues Christ’s service for the outer and inner man; he is concerned with the salvation of men. Hence, Paul can see himself as a servant of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), a servant through whom the Christians in Corinth had come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the church (Col. 1:2 5)….

The work of a deacon finally developed into a special office, whose beginnings can be traced already in the NT (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). In the course of the church’s history the office developed a standardized form, though its precise form is not clear from the NT. Nor was it evidently universal in the church. Originally all the manifold functions exercised in the church could be called “services” or ministries (1 Cor. 12:5). Hence, the various office-bearers (apostle, prophet, etc., cf. Eph. 4:11 f.) were “servants”, diakonoi, of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; Col 1:25). But in the more specialized sense the concept was narrowed down to the material care of the church, which was closely linked with the office of the bishop (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, 8-13; 1 Clem. 42:1 f.; Ignatius, Mag. 2:1; 6:1; Trall 2:1). This means that for the “servant” there was always a task for spirit and body expressed by his role in public worship, care of the poor and administration. The service of God and of the poor were, after all, a unity, as the agape, the common meal implied. Originally it was obvious that all the “servants” stood in a brotherhood of service, but the concept was increasingly eroded by the growth of a hierarchy with its different grades….

The NT knows also the work of the female deacon, but her role is left undefined (Rom. 16:1; perhaps also 1 Tim. 3:11. The position is still recognized in some churches today. It was closely connected with that of the widow (Hess 1978: 548-549).

However, according to a leading Greek lexicon, the ministry of being a deacon is that of a ‘servant of someone’ or ‘helper’ and may include women (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:183-184). Thayer’s lexicon gives that meaning as ‘one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master; a servant, attendant, minister’. When used of a deaconess, it refers to ‘a woman to whom the care of either poor or sick women was entrusted’ (Thayer 1962:138).

In Romans 16:3 (NIV), Paul discusses the ministry of ‘Priscilla (female) and Aquila (male), my co-workers in Christ Jesus’- possibly a wife and husband duo. In 5 mentions of Priscilla/Prisca and Aquila in the NT (Acts 18:2-3, 18, 26; Rom 16:3 and 1 Cor 16:19), we know that this female and male couple (perhaps a missionary husband-wife team) ministered with Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:18) and then he left them at Ephesus (Acts 18:19).

Then Apollos was speaking boldly in the synagogue at Ephesus and needed some further instruction. Priscilla and Aquila heard him and ‘invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately’ (Ac 18:26 NIV). This woman Priscilla was involved in ministry to a man. She was not ministering to women as indicated here; a man was included.

In some of these examples in the Greek text, Priscilla precedes Aquila in the naming of them (see Ac 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3). It is uncertain why Priscilla, a female, is mentioned before Aquila, a male, in a male-dominated culture. Donald Moo indicated that ‘scholars have suggested that she may have been the more dominant of the two, the more gifted, the one who brought most money into the marriage, or the one who was most significant in their “home-based” ministry’ (Moo 1996:919, n. 11).

To the church at Corinth, Paul in his first letter was able to say, ‘The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord and so does the church that meets at their house’ (1 Cor 16:19 NIV). The inference is obvious: The husband-wife team was engaged in ministry in a house church – in their own house. There is no indication that Priscilla was involved only in ministry to the women and children in that house church.

I commend to you the article, ‘The Neglected History of Women in the Early Church‘ (Christian History Institute), by Catherine Kroeger. One of the points she makes is:

Paul also mentions Phoebe in Romans 16, “a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” [Rom 16:1 Interlinear]. He calls her a prostatis or overseer [Rom 16:2 Interlinear]. This term in its masculine form, prostates, was used later by the Apostolic Fathers to designate the one presiding over the Eucharist. And Paul uses the same verb, the passive of ginomai (to be or become), as he uses in Colossians 1:23 [Interlinear]: “I was made a minister.” In the passive, the verb sometimes indicated ordination or appointment to an office. Thus one might legitimately translate Paul’s statement about Phoebe: “For she has been appointed, actually by my own action, an officer presiding over many.” The church in Rome is asked to welcome her and assist her in the church’s business.

Becoming impatient

One fellow became rather intolerant towards those who close down women in ministry: ‘See what i mean OZ. Oh women can teach the word of God just not in church, ahh what? the church is God’s children, no its not, ahh what?’[21]

I urged him[22] to be more tolerant towards those who maintain the conservative line with silence of women in ministry. We need to provide the counter evidence.

In Brown’s Greek word studies from the NT, Hess did an extensive investigation on the meaning of diakonos (deacon, servant) that I’ve quoted at length below.

What was Phoebe’s ministry (Rom 16:1)? Paul states, ‘She has been helpful to many, and especially to me ‘ (Rom 16:2 NLT). So Phoebe, a female deacon, was ‘helpful to many’ and especially to a male – Paul. What that ‘helpful’ meant, we are not told directly in this text. K Hess points out that in Rom 16:1, the role of a female deacon is ‘left undefined’ (Hess 1978:549). Hess is careful to point out the difference between doulos (slave) and the feminine, diakonia (serving at table). This

is important for our understanding of diakonos. doulos stresses almost exclusively the Christian’s complete subjection to the Lord; diakonos is concerned with his service for the church, his brothers and fellow-men, for the fellowship, whether this is done by serving at the table, with the word, or in some other way. The diakonos is always one who serves on Christ’s behalf and continues Christ’s service for the outer and inner man; he is concerned with the salvation of men. Hence, Paul can see himself as a servant of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), a servant through whom the Christians in Corinth had come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the church (Col. 1:2 5)….

The work of a deacon finally developed into a special office, whose beginnings can be traced already in the NT (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). In the course of the church’s history the office developed a standardized form, though its precise form is not clear from the NT. Nor was it evidently universal in the church. Originally all the manifold functions exercised in the church could be called “services” or ministries (1 Cor. 12:5). Hence, the various office-bearers (apostle, prophet, etc., cf. Eph. 4:11 f.) were “servants”, diakonoi, of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; Col 1:25). But in the more specialized sense the concept was narrowed down to the material care of the church, which was closely linked with the office of the bishop (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, 8-13; 1 Clem. 42:1 f.; Ignatius, Mag. 2:1; 6:1; Trall 2:1). This means that for the “servant” there was always a task for spirit and body expressed by his role in public worship, care of the poor and administration. The service of God and of the poor were, after all, a unity, as the agape, the common meal implied. Originally it was obvious that all the “servants” stood in a brotherhood of service, but the concept was increasingly eroded by the growth of a hierarchy with its different grades….

The NT knows also the work of the female deacon, but her role is left undefined (Rom. 16:1; perhaps also 1 Tim. 3:11. The position is still recognized in some churches today. It was closely connected with that of the widow (Hess 1978: 548-549).?

According to a leading Greek lexicon, the ministry of being a deacon is that of a ‘servant of someone’ or ‘helper’ and may include women (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:183-184). Thayer’s lexicon gives that meaning as ‘one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master; a servant, attendant, minister’. When used of a deaconess, it refers to ‘a woman to whom the care of either poor or sick women was entrusted’ (Thayer 1962:138).

Here are the two links I was thinking about.[23] I recommend that you listen to the interview with N T Wright. However, the first article is an excellent overview.

  1. Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis. Note his explanation of 1 Tim 2.
  2. Why I support women in ministry‘ (an interview with Wright).

As Wright points out, 1 Corinthians cannot be referring to the absolute silence of women when the church gathers (as traditionalists want to interpret 1 Cor 14:33-34). How do we know this? First Corinthians 11:3 teaches that ‘every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head’. These women were not praying and prophesying with their mouths closed.
In addition, 1 Cor 14:26 (NIV) tells us what should happen when the church gathers (which is a long way from most churches today): ‘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’. It does not say, ‘each of you, except women.’
We need consistent exegesis and interpretations.
There is some interesting information about women in ministry in ‘Women teachers in the early church‘ (Rev Kathryn Riss).

What about women’s ministry in the Old Testament?

A person asked about Deborah and I raised the person of Huldah, Old Testament ministries by women.[24]

(image courtesy


I have had anti-women in ministry, males and females, use Deborah as an example of someone who was not in a leadership position in the church. I have a fairly standard answer:

I must be reading a different Bible to yours. Judges 4:4-6 (ESV) states,

‘Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgement. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun’.?

Therefore, Deborah, the prophetess, most certainly had a leadership role in judging Israel.

Second Kings 22:15 says of Huldah, the prophetess, that ‘she said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord. . .”’

The OT prophetess was a public person who heard the voice of God and delivered it publicly to God’s people, Israel, and to individuals. She was a ‘thus says the Lord’ person in ministry.

My conclusion is that there were definitely prominent women in active ministry to men in the Old Testament.

Ambiguity of office of deacon

A person gave a detailed and engaging comeback:

Where I may quibble is in the ambiguity of the office of deacon. In Acts 6:1-6, the deacons were appointed for a very specific reason. Allow me to dwell in the land of literary analogy here, but I see the deacon / deaconess role as one of physical service, the hands of the church whereas elders were the mouth of the church. The Apostles were pretty clear in their pronouncement that they were to preach and / or teach over addressing the physical needs of the widows in this Acts passage.

From what we later read in qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13), there isn’t really a way to glean that there was any teaching or preaching requirement placed on them. So yes, in that sense, there is a bit of ambiguity. However, implicit in the aspect of being hands is that there would be some “teachable moments” in their service, the most obvious lesson being taught through love and selfless sacrifice of comfort in their service.

For the record, I find that the “wives” of translations like the ESV should probably be translated “women” based on various commentaries I have come across. This makes sense from a contextual viewpoint and would be a clear Scriptural approbation of the deaconess role.

So, if we then take the preceding passage about elders and the Titus passage about eldership into view, it really begins to clear up.

Elders are required, in both cases, to be able to teach. This requirement is not covered with deacons because they’re not teaching in a more formalized position of overseeing a local church. I would draw a line between what the Apostles did in preaching or even my pastor does now in preaching, for instance, versus what I do when I sit down to talk to someone about the gospel. Even though both are technically teaching / preaching, there is a difference in the office of what’s being done. This is consistent with Paul’s orderly instructions for prophesying and speaking in tongues, because something being done in church requires some structure.

That said, women teaching and / or preaching is a different discussion than this discussion of female deacons. I actually hesitate to lump the two together because I find the case to be much murkier for female preaching and teaching.

The only way I see to “circumvent” the above would be in finding things too ambivalent to make a decision upon; which would make the roles of elder and deacon essentially one in the same. That seems problematic from the standpoint of the clear juxtaposition of Acts 6:1-6 to the Apostles, and the fairly reasonable resemblance of the apostolic role to the elder role. Many Baptists seem to have confused the two, as most Baptist churches I know appoint deacons who oversee. I find this to be in error.[25]

That was a thoughtful piece of input. My response was:[26]

You have given the example of the practical ministry to those in need, according to Acts 6:1-6 as being that of deacons. I hope you noticed that the noun, ‘deacon’ (feminine form) is in Acts 6:4 (Interlinear), ‘But we to prayer and the diakonia of the word’. However, in Acts 6:2 (Interlinear), the verb is used for ‘serve (deaconize) tables’. So one can be a ‘deacon’ of the word of God and a ‘deacon’ in serving those in need. How about that?

It seems to me that this person has defined ‘deacon’ in a much narrower view than that of the NT. If he considered the word study of diakonos above that I quoted by K Hess, he would note that Paul was a deacon and this is the specific language:

Paul can see himself as a servant (diakonos) of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), a servant through whom the Christians in Corinth had come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the church (Col. 1:25)’.?

In Col. 1:23,[27] Paul states, ‘of which I became a diakonos’ (minister, servant, deacon). First Cor 3:5 asks, ‘What, therefore is Apollos and what is Paul? Diakonoi (plural), i.e. servants/deacons/ministers, through whom you believed’. Second Cor 3:6, ‘Who also made us competent diakonoi (plural) of a new covenant’. In the context at 2 Cor 3:3, Paul uses the verbal form diakoneo, ‘Having manifested that you (Corinthians) are an epistle deaconized (ministered to) by us….’ Then we have the verses that affirm that they are diakonoi (plural) of Christ (2 Cor 11:23); in 2 Cor 6:1, Paul describes his colleagues and himself as ‘working together’ and then in 2 Cor 6:4 he states, ‘in everything commending ourselves as diakonoi (plural) of God’. Paul states in Col 1:24 that he rejoices in what he has suffered for the Colossians, but in the next verse, Col 1:25, he states, ‘of which I became a diakonos‘.

So, a deacon (diakonos) has a much broader understanding in the NT than that of serving with practicalities to those in need as in Acts 6:1-6 (Interlinear).

Therefore, your statement needs to be questioned: ‘In qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13), there isn’t really a way to glean that there was any teaching or preaching requirement placed on them’. Yes there is, when we understand the broad use of diakonos in the NT that I have described above. Paul and Apollos were deacons through whom the Corinthians came to believe (1 Cor 3:5 Interlinear). Are you suggesting the Corinthians believed without any preaching / teaching by Apollos and Paul?

To both the Ephesian and Colossian Christians, Paul declares he is a servant (diakonos) of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23). Surely there is a speaking, teaching, preaching role in being such a deacon of the gospel? That is what is affirmed in 1 Cor 3:5.

I quibble with the narrow definition of deacon that does not involve a speaking, teaching function as that is not what I find in the breadth of illustrations of its use in the NT. However, ‘to deaconize / serve’ is the Greek infinitive used in Acts 6:2 (Interlinear), ‘to serve tables’. Yes, this Acts 6 passage does speak about gathering the disciples and not neglecting the word to serve at tables (Acts 6:2), but that is addressing a local issue and does not deal with the breadth of meaning of ‘serve’ (diakonos – noun or verbal forms). However, Acts 6:4 (Interlinear) affirms they were diakonos of the Word. So the breadth of meaning here indicates serving at tables and serving with the Word.

I want to note that our understanding of the role of pastor today seems to have evolved to a role that does not seem to be evident in the NT church. The pastoral ‘position’ today seems to be closer to that of a formalised teaching elder. But I have no problem with that gifted person being male or female. I especially recommend to you the interview with N T Wright on women in ministry (above). See also my articles:

cubed-iron-sm Must women never teach men in the church?

cubed-iron-sm The heresy of women preachers?

I want to say that my position is in no way influenced by feminism in Australian society. My understanding is based on exegesis of the biblical text in context. I find there are biblical inconsistencies when we close down women in teaching ministry to all people.

(image courtesy


I speak from personal experience as one who was a die-hard traditionalist in women-only as teachers in the evangelical church. I was a difficult nut to crack as my Baptist church was rigid in its adherence to men-only in the teaching ministry – except for teaching other women and children. And have a guess where else? On the mission field! The mission field would be in sad shape if it were not for women who were in teaching ministry on the field – teaching to men and women. Some of my family is from the Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) denomination which is staunchly anti-women in ministry. I have known outstanding Brethren women teachers on the mission field who come home on furlough and were not allowed to do in the local church in Australia what they could do overseas. It’s called hypocrisy!

Strange emphasis

This one came from out of left field:

A deacon is a servant of a priest. They do not preach or assume authority in any traditional Christian church unless they are men working in place of the vicar. This is presumably the case with the early Christians.

Every traditionally secure church has rejected female leadership under explicit canon law- the Scriptures simply do not allow it.[28]

That is not my understanding of Scripture.[29]

That is not what I have gleaned from exegesis and exposition of the NT. I’ve attempted to expound a biblical view in this article. Paul was a deacon who preached and assumed authority but his ministry was also designated as that of a diakonos (deacon/servant).
I think this person introduced some personal presuppositions that intruded into his response here, especially in his view of ‘servant of a priest’ and ‘men working in the place of the vicar’. He wants to associate the vicar with early Christians. Where is such a concept in the NT?

What is ‘every traditionally secure church’? Is that meant to exclude Pentecostal charismatics? Is that meant to exclude traditional evangelical churches and women in active teaching ministry to men on the mission field where there are not enough ‘men in ministry’ to cover the need?

In addition, take a read of Romans 16, where we have these women in ministry:

  • ‘Phoebe, a deacon/servant of the church in Cenchreae’ (Rom 16:1);
  • ‘Greet Priscilla and Aquila, fellow-workers (sunergoi) of me (Paul) in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 16:3). Priscilla is the woman and she is named before the male (possibly her husband), Aquila, indicating she might have had the more prominent ministry. She and her husband were ‘fellow-workers’ with Paul. She was not relegated to teaching only women and children as nothing of that kind of restriction is mentioned here.
  • Rom 16:3 states that Priscilla and Aquila had a church that met in their house. Imagine that – a woman and a man leading a house church!
  • Rom 16:7, ‘Andronicus and Junias, my relatives … outstanding among the apostles’. Junias is a female and is an apostle among the larger group of apostles (beyond the 12).
  • Rom 16:12, ‘Tryphaena and Tryphosa, the ones labouring in (the) Lord’. We are not told exactly what this ‘labouring’ was, but it does not say, ‘labouring, except for labour among a group that includes men and women’. In Douglas Moo’s commentary, he notes that these two ‘were probably slaves or freedwomen and may have been sisters’. He noted that both names, as Lightfoot noted, are found at about Paul’s time for servants in the imperial household’ (Moo 1996:925, 925 n. 53).

Husband of one wife

Image result for husband and wife clipart public domain

(image courtesy


This kind of emphasis often comes up in a discussion of men and women in ministry: ‘1 Timothy 3 gives a list of requirements for being in the leadership of a church. One of them was being a man of one wife. That should automatically rule out female preachers and deacons’.[30]

This was another view by one who abandoned the traditional line. His claim was that only males were legally permitted to commit adultery in the first century through an addition to marriage. Therefore, Paul had no reason to affirm “a woman of only one husband” as that is all that could have existed at that time in the NT world. The person stated that sexism has no place in the body of Christ. He would list Bible verses, do the exegesis, and discuss history, but he has found men are more interested in telling women what not to do that the men have little interest in the truth. These men are interested in power.[31]

One response was: ‘How would you explain Paul’s clear reference to Phoebe as a deaconess? What about women speaking instructions to the church in 1 Cor. 11:5?’[32] He continued:

I know extra-biblical writings aren’t inspired, but it does suggest accepted practice in the early church. Pliny wrote there were female deacons in the church at Bithynia. (G. H. R. Horsley, ed., New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1979 (North Hyde, N.S.W.: The Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1987), 122.)

That would have been just after John’s death, timewise. If they’d been there even a few years they’d have been operating in that office while John the Apostle was living. [33]

Another chimed in,

Yes, the husband of one wife, not two or three wives. There were Jewish men in the assembly who may have had more than one wife because they were coming from Judaism, where polygamy was allowed. It would not be necessary to make this rule for women seeing that women were never allowed, even in Judaism, to have more than one husband.[34]

Should this rule out women preachers? I wrote:[35]

The 1978 edition of the NIV for 1 Tim 3:12 is translated, ‘A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and household well’. The latest edition of the NIV renders this verse as, ‘A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well’. Why the change? It is because the Greek word translated ‘wife’ is gune and it can mean either wife or woman. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning as ‘woman … of any adult female’ or ‘wife’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:167). A&G support 1 Tim 2:11ff as referring to a ‘woman … of any adult female’. So the meaning is that ‘a deacon must also “be faithful” to his own wife [1 Tim 3:2] and must manage his children and his household well [1 Tim 3:4]’ (Fee 1988:89).
This letter was written to Timothy who was in an Ephesian culture (see 1 Tim 1:3) where there were false teachers. Ephesus was a provincial capital in Asia Minor where the Temple of Artemis (Diana) was located. This cult of Artemis was a syncretism of various religions but was a cult of ‘Oriental fertility rite, with sensuous and orgiastic practices’. We don’t know the fuller details of how this cult influenced the false teachers in Ephesus but Paul was concerned to root out the error that was infiltrating this new church (Fee 1988:40).

Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1 Tim 3 Paul is addressing the need to deal with faithfulness of a man to his woman/wife in a sexually promiscuous culture. We must not impose our understanding of ‘husband of one wife’ on this text (are bachelors prohibited from being church leaders?) when ‘man of one woman’ or ‘faithful to his wife’ could be better translations.

It is sometimes difficult for us to get to the core of what was happening in the culture of the first century and not to impose our understanding of marital fidelity onto the text, based on our 21st century perspective.

It’s time for a logical fallacy

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)Fallacies index

I’ve encountered it over and over where Christians can’t deal with the heat of discussion so they use logical fallacies to divert attention from the hot topic under discussion. That’s exactly what Mike did with this reply to me:

I did deal with Deborah. By dealing with all Judges spoken of. They were sent to fight. They have nothing about them to translate to preacher. Maybe we should take from them to put fleeces in our yard to determine what God wants us to do. Gideon did it. As far as we know, no blacks were Judges. Should we then conclude only whites can be preachers?

The leaps progressives make to fight for women ordination into the priesthood is absurd. Were priests in the temple women? No. Does NT clearly and prescriptively say in 1 Tim 3 the. I overseer is to be a husband of one wife?[36]

My reply was: ‘That’s a red herring logical fallacy. This kind of fallacious reasoning leads to a breakdown in logical conversation. That’s what you have done with this kind of response’.[37] A fellow challenged me on this. His view was that I didn’t deal with the arguments on this Christian forum. It isn’t a university and discussions are ‘pretty fluid’ and his claim was that I ‘come across as pompous and conceited. Plus, like I said, it looks like you cannot deal with his argument and that you are trying to deflect from that’. His view was that in the time it took to respond to his two posts I could have responded to the one promoting a logical fallacy. He was trying to be helpful in how I ‘come across’ and the need to be ‘gentle and helpful’, both ways, and that I ‘appear disrespectful to those on the outside looking in’.[38]

Off topic for the sake of communication

I, therefore, decided to take a lot of time to respond to Mike, who promoted the logical fallacy,[39] and to take up the challenge that I did not answer Mike’s questions. Now to his points:

1. Deborah was a prophetess (Judges 4:4) who judged Israel. You say that judges in the OT were sent to fight, inferring that Deborah was one such fighter. However, that is not what Judges 4:5 states. She sat under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She questioned Barak, ‘Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you…’ Then in Judges 4:14, Deborah said to Barak, ‘Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?’

Without a doubt, Deborah, the prophetess, had a speaking and leadership role in Israel. It is true that Deborah was not a preacher but she had a public speaking role as a prophetess. We cannot claim silence for Deborah. She was eminently a public person and with a vocal dimension to her ministry.

2. Your statement, ‘Maybe we should take from them to put fleeces in our yard to determine what God wants us to do. Gideon did it’, is unrelated and irrelevant to our discussion. This is one example of a red herring fallacy. We are not discussing a public speaking role. If you want to use Gideon, perhaps you should go to Judges 6:22-24 for Gideon’s public speaking example where the angel of the Lord ministered to him and Gideon said, ‘”Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die”. Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, “The Lord is Peace”‘. We are dealing with public speaking issues. Here Gideon is speaking to the Lord God.

We are not discussing what God wants us to do, so the ‘fleeces’ episode (Judges 6:36-40) is a red herring.

3. You say ‘no blacks were judges’. How do you know and what has that to do with eminent public speakers in the OT? Zilch! Hence it is a red herring fallacy.

4. Should only whites be preachers? That’s a horribly racist suggestion and an irrelevant spin off from our discussion. It’s another red herring.

5. Your claim is, ‘The leaps progressives make to fight for women (sic) ordination into the priesthood is absurd’. Firstly, I’m not a ‘progressive’; I’m an exegete of Scripture. I have no other thoughts in mind but to determine what the Scriptures state. I’m finding that the leaps traditionalists make to ignore the archaeological evidence from the early centuries (that I’ve documented above) that female deacons were presbyters, bishops and deacons, is amazing. To skip over this evidence causes me to ask, who are the ones being ‘absurd’?

6. ‘Were priests in the temple women?’ Not to my knowledge! But are there ‘priests’ in the Protestant church today? Just because there are examples of male-only ministries in the OT, does not exclude the eminent females in ministry in the OT such as Miriam,[40] Deborah and Huldah. Let’s not overlook Anna, the pre-crucifixion prophet (Luke 2:36), an eminent female in ministry.

7. You perceptively ask: ‘Does NT clearly and prescriptively say in 1 Tim 3 the overseer is to be a husband of one wife?’ Some translations use ‘the husband of one wife’ (1 Tim 3:2 ESV) but the ESV has a footnote at this point, ‘Or a man of one woman; also verse 12’. The latest edition of the NIV translates as, ‘faithful to his wife’ (1 Tim 3:2 NIV). The NRSV translates as, ‘married only once’ (1 Tim 3:2 NRSV).

Commentator and Greek exegete, Gordon Fee, notes that there are at least 4 options in the meaning of this phrase, which the poster only wanted to interpret one way. Fee states that the options are:

a. Require that overseers be married as the false teachers were forbidding marriage and that Paul urges marriage for wayward widows (1 Tim 5:15; cf 2:15).

b. It could prohibit polygamy with its emphasis on ‘one wife’, but polygamy was rare in pagan society.

c. It could be prohibiting second marriages. This is supported by much data including ‘all kinds of inscriptional evidence’ that praises women who were married.

d. It could refer to marital fidelity. The New English Bible translates the phrase, ‘faithful to his one wife’ (1 Tim 3:2 NEB). So it refers to living an exemplary married life in a culture where marital infidelity was common. It was assumed it would happen in that culture.
Fee concludes that the fourth option, ‘the concern that the church’s leaders live exemplary married lives seems to fit the context best – given the apparently low view of marriage and family held by the false teachers (1 Tim 4:3; cf. 3:4-5)’ (Fee 1988:81).

Therefore, the meaning of ‘husband of one wife’ is not as straight forward as it seems at first glance. There is the additional factor that ‘until the reforms of Justinian[41] [for Hebrew women], a Jewish man might legally have more than one wife at a time, a practice that may be in view in the stipulation that an elder should be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:12). Polyandry [a woman having more than one husband], however, was not possible for a woman, and adultery was punished harshly’. As for Greek women, the extant Greek literature defines Greek women according to their sexual function: courtesans,[42] concubines[43] for the daily pleasure of the master, wives to bear legitimate children and keep house. Wives were neglected socially and sexually (Kroeger 2000:1278-1280).


On the Internet, the topic of female deacons led to a negative conclusion. Although most supported the service ministries of women to practical needs as deacons, but not in the teaching role. There were a few, including myself, who tried to show that the nature of the ‘deacon’ ministry – without a preaching / teaching dimension – cannot be supported by exegesis of the biblical text.

I showed this in relation to Paul’s ministry where diakonos was used also to apply to more than ministry to practical needs. There is also a post-NT period when women were engaged in ministries of elder, deacon and bishop. The archaeology of the first few centuries AD demonstrates this through paintings in catacombs and on inscriptions on tombstones.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[44] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Fee, G 1988. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). W W Gasque (NT ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hess, K 1978. Serve, Deacon, Worship, in C Brown (ed), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3, 544-549. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Johnson, A 2010. Roman Catholic Woman Bishop, in M E Fiedler (ed), Breaking through the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own Words, 96-99. New York, NY: Seabury Books.

Kroeger, C C 2000 Women in Greco-Roman world and Judaism, in C A Evans & S E Porter (eds), Dictionary of New Testament Background, 1276-1280. Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

MacArthur, J 2013. Can Women Exercise Authority in the Church? Grace to You (online), August 29. Available at: (Accessed 24 September 2014).

Moo, D J 1996. The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Taylor, A 2010. Former executive director, Women’s Ordination Conference on the archaeological evidence for women’s leadership, in M E Fiedler (ed), Breaking through the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own Words, 91-96. New York, NY: Seabury Books.

Thayer, J H 1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] Christian, Christian Communities, Baptists, ‘Female deacons’, August 26, 2015. Available at: (Accessed 23 September 2015).

[2] Ibid., Larry Smart#1.

[3] Ibid., Crowns&Laurels#9.

[4] Ibid., Poor Beggar#3.

[5] Ibid., Mr.Stepanov#7.

[6] Ibid., Goodbook#13.

[7] Ibid., mizzkittenzz#88.

[8] I have not located this statement in an online search.

[9] Christian Forums, ibid., Hank77#23.

[10] A mosaic is ‘a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small pieces of stone, tile, glass, etc.’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v mosaic).

[11] A fresco is ‘a painting done rapidly in watercolour on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colours penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v fresco).

[12] They are in Rome. ‘The Catacombs of Priscilla sit on the Via Salaria, with its entrance in the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Priscilla. It is mentioned in all of the most ancient documents on Christian topography and liturgy in Rome; because of the great number of martyrs buried within it, it was called “regina catacumbarum – the queen of the catacombs.” Originally dug out from the second to fifth centuries, it began as a series of underground burial chambers, of which the most important are the “arenarium” or sand-quarry, the cryptoporticus, (an underground area to get away from the summer heat), and the hypogeum with the tombs of the Acilius Glabrio family)’ (Catacombs of Priscilla, available at:, accessed 25 September 2015).

[13] The full details for author and book are, J N M Wijngaards 2006. Women Deacons in the Early Church: Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company (Herder & Herder).

[14] Christian ibid., Albion#33.

[15] Ibid., Bluelion#6.

[16] Ibid., 98cwitr#74.

[17] Ibid., mikedsjr#76.

[18] Ibid., mikecwitr#77.

[19] Ibid., 98cwitr#80.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[21] Ibid., Bluelion#114.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#116.

[23] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#119.

[25] Ibid., Striver#122.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#125.

[27] All verses in this paragraph are from an Interlinear version of the Bible.

[28] Christian, ibid., Crowns&Laurels#123.

[29] Ibid., OzSpen#126.

[30] Ibid., classicalhero#26.

[31] Ibid., LaSorcia#48.

[32] Ibid., Poor Beggar#27.

[33] Ibid., Poor Beggar#28.

[34] Ibid., Hank77#37.

[35] Ibid., OzSpen#129.

[36] Ibid., mikedsjr#136.

[37] Ibid., OzSpen#138.

[38] Ibid., John Robie#148.

[39] Ibid., OzSpen#152.

[40] See Ex 15:20-21 (ESV).

[41] Justinian was an important late Roman and Byzantine emperor who reigned from AD 527 – 565 (The Ancient History Encyclopedia 2009-2015. S v Justinian I).

[42] A courtesan was ‘a prostitute, especially one with wealthy or upper-class clients’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v courtesan).

[43] A concubine was ‘chiefly historical (in polygamous societies) a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v concubine). In contemporary society she would function like a mistress.

[44] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’, 4th rev and aug ed, 1952 (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Does God have a physical body?

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Hands by inky2010

inky2010 (courtesy openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

It is unusual to find a person on a Christian forum online who is promoting the view that God has a physical body. I found such a person on a smallish Christian forum. He wrote:

To be made in God’s image is to be formed in a body like God’s. It is not related to being spiritually or morally like God…. God the Father and God the Son have physical bodies according to multiple scripture. The only part of the Trinity that is bodiless spirit is the Holy Spirit.[1]

A. Responding to God having a body

My initial response was, ‘This is an error of fact because ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24 ESV)’.[2]

In reply to his second post,[3] I wrote the following:[4]

You have committed the question begging logical fallacy. You have started with your own belief, ‘God the Father and God the Son have physical bodies’ and then you set out to prove your presupposition by providing a list of Scriptures. That’s what a question begging fallacy does. Your conclusion is in your premise and that is what you have created here.

I notice that you conveniently left out John 4:24 (NIV), ‘God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth’. This verse DOES NOT say, ‘The Holy Spirit is spirit’. It says God (the Trinitarian God revealed in the NT) is spirit.

The verses you use to try to prove that God has a body do not prove that at all. Let us look at the first two verses you gave to try to support your view:

Gen 1:26-27 (ESV) and man being made in God’s image. There is little in that text to tell us exactly what it means for the first man to be made in God’s image. There is nothing here to demonstrate that it means that human beings have a body, just like God has a body. That is not stated here. It can’t be, because ‘God is spirit’ (John 4:24). Note the beginning of Gen 1:26, ‘And God said, “Let US make….”‘ Since God is a plurality here with the use of ‘us’, it must refer to the Trinity. It is simply stated. It is not fully explained. That happens further in the Bible.


Hermaphrodite.png (Wikimedia Commons)


In Gen 1:26-27 we have the double description that the man will be made by God ‘in our image, after our likeness’. These terms ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God do state that human beings are patterned after God, but that does not state that God is a physical being, just as a human being is physical. HOWEVER, verse 27 affirms that ‘man’ made in the image of God included ‘male and female’. To require that human features  be attributed to God, which will they be, male or female? Is God a hermaphrodite, having both male and female sex organs (Oxford dictionaries)? This is a ridiculous and blasphemous conclusion.

We get some further insight into what they mean in Eph 4:24 (ESV): ‘Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’. Ah, there we have a glimpse of what the ‘likeness of God’ means. It refers to righteousness and holiness. Col 3:10 (ESV) explains further: ‘And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’. So the image of the Creator includes knowledge, renewed knowledge.

Martin Luther  wrote, ‘I understand this image of God to be … that Adam not only knew God and believed in Him that He was gracious; but that he also led an entirely godly life’ (in Leupold 1942:89). Don Stewart has refuted your view that God has a body in ‘Does God have a body?

So, your interpretation of God having a physical body is NOT supported by your use of Gen 1:26-27.

In other verses, you seem to be confused by the use of anthropomorphisms in Scripture. What are they?

‘Anthropomorphisms [from Greek ???????? (anthr?pos) = man/human + ????? (morph?) = form] are figures of speech which represent God as having human characteristics, form or personality. They are symbolic descriptions, which help to make God’s attributes, powers and activities real to us’ (‘Does God have body parts?‘).

They are figures of speech used in Scripture and are not descriptions of God having physical attributes.

I encountered ewq1938 in another thread where I said to him, ‘Your view of God having a body does not come from the Scriptures, no matter how much you protest’.[5] His reply was:

Yes it does. You simply misinterpret it through the dark glass of the doctrines of your denomination.

God had a face that Moses could not see, but he could see God’s hand and back. That cannot be disputed. Claiming they are figurative contradicts the obvious and plain context of the event that transpired. If God has no actual face then Moses could not have seen it and not died but the truth is God has a literal face and if Moses saw it he would have literally died. Not a figurative face, not a figurative death.[6]

How do we know this language uses anthropomorphisms and not literal language? John 1:18 (NIV) states: ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known’.

My response at that time was:[7]

When will you ever get it that John 1:18 (ESV) is true: ‘No one has ever seen God…’, and your interpretation is wrong. The fact of the matter is that when it speaks of God’s face, hand and back in relation to Moses, it is a theophany, using anthropomorphic language, i.e. ‘The attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object’ (Oxford dictionaries).

When will you ever admit you are wrong? ‘No one has ever seen God’, full stop, period, end of story, but ewq1938 wants to go on and on about God being ‘seen’ and having a body. Your failure to understand the hermeneutics of Scripture is causing you to come to a false understanding of the essence of who God is. He DOES NOT have a body with face, hands and back. Yes, he is described as having face, hands and back, but that is the use of an anthropomorphism (figure of speech). Or is that too big of a word for you to understand?

I presented more details to refute the view that God has a body:[8]

In Walter Kaiser Jr’s commentary on Exodus 24:9-10, he wrote:

That Moses and his company see “the God of Israel” at first appears to contradict 33:20; John 1:18; and 1 Timothy 6:16; but what they see is a “form [‘similitude’] of the Lord” (Nu 12:8), just as Ezekiel (Eze 1:26) and Isaiah (Isa 6:1) saw an approximation, a faint resemblance and a sensible adumbration [foreshadowing] of the incarnate Christ who was to come. There is a deliberate obscurity in the form and details of the one who produced such a splendid, dazzling effect on these observers (Kaiser 1990:449).

In Scripture, we will meet passages that speak of God being ‘seen’ by people such as Abraham, Moses, one of the prophets, or others. We are to understand this as these people seeing either a theophany (a visible manifestation of God), or that they did see God but it was not and could not be the full glory of God. We know that Moses asked for this according to Exodus 33:18 (ESV), ‘Please show me your glory’.  What was God’s reply? ‘You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live’ (Ex 33:20 ESV). So, nobody can see the full glory of God. God denied this to Moses and he denies it to everyone else.

We have examples in Scripture of how God made himself known to people in various forms:

(1) For Abraham and Lot it was from passing visitors;

(2) For Moses it was through a burning bush;

(3) The people of Israel encountered a pillar of fire and a cloud.

However, God has made it clear in Scripture that NOBODY can see the pure essence of God and live. God made this blatantly clear to Timothy: ‘… he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen’ (1 Tim 6:15-16 ESV).

This agrees with John 1:18 (ESV), ‘No one has ever seen God’. That is, nobody has ever see the pure essence, the full glory of God – ever!

Tim Challies explained that to see God in his pure essence or radiant holiness, is ‘like trying to stare at the sun—it cannot be done without destroying your eyes’.

B. His view is unorthodox – heretical

(public domain)

I told him[9] that his position is outside that of orthodox Christianity. What is your theological persuasion? From where do you gain these unorthodox views of the nature of God?

You are promoting a Mormon view of God having a body of flesh and bones. See HERE.

Your doctrine of God conforms with that of Mormonism. Here they defend your view of God in, ‘The Nature of God / Corporeality of God‘. This is a Mormon source and it aligns with what you have been stating in this thread about the corporeality of God – God having a body. Thus, your view of God harmonises with that of the cult of Mormonism.

To refute the idea that God has a physical body, see, ‘Does God have a physical body?

I asked sincerely: Are you a Mormon or Mormon sympathiser? His reply was:

It doesn’t matter if it’s non-orthodox as being orthodox is completely meaningless. The fact that the Father has a physical body comes directly from scripture. I don’t make lame excuses to explain the verses away….

No, I am promoting a biblical view of God having a body. I am not Mormon and do not agree with a great deal of their beliefs because they aren’t biblically based. They simply happen to be correct about him having a body….

[In answer to whether he was a Mormon or Mormon sympathiser] Not in the slightest. I am a person whose beliefs come solely from scripture, regardless of what orthodoxy says about those scriptural things and regardless of what various cults agree with or not agree with.

This is a typical used fallacy when you can’t dispute the scriptural facts you try to claim it must be false if a cult promotes it. It just happens this is one of the rare things a cult happens to get right which is amazing given the same people think they will become God’s and live on other planets lol.   It reminds of the old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day.[10]

That could not go unchallenged so I responded:[11]

If being orthodox in theology is meaningless to you, then you are promoting unorthodox theology, which you are with your requirement for God having a physical body. That is a Mormon view of God. I’ve demonstrated that to you. No matter how much you try to demonstrate that God has a body, you happen to be dead wrong. How do I know? Scripture tells us so in John 4:24: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.

No matter how much you try to mount a case for God having a body, you fail because the Scriptures are adamant: ‘God is spirit’. End of story!

You are promoting a Mormon God whose theology of God comes straight from Joseph Smith and not from the Bible. Your view, ‘It just happens this is one of the rare things a cult happens to get right which is amazing given the same people think they will become God’s and live on other planets lol’, demonstrates how wrong you are when I’ve already given you the link to where Joseph Smith taught your view of God in Doctrine and Covenants 130:22. The Bible teaches ‘God is spirit’, therefore, he cannot have a body. We are not talking about the incarnation of Jesus here.

So what is the fallacy I’m using? You didn’t name it. I am not using a fallacy because what you are doing is twisting Scripture to make it agree with your presuppositional view of God. I’ve already demonstrated to you that you have used a question begging fallacy. It is you who is engaged in a circular reasoning fallacy.

Is Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, telling the truth when he wrote: ‘The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us’ (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22).

Is Scripture telling the truth when it says, ‘God is spirit’ (Jn 4:24)?

C. What does John 4:24 mean?

Concerning John 4:24, he wrote: ‘You don’t understand what that verse is saying. It doesn’t say “God the Father is spirit” does it?’[12]

How should I respond? Here goes:

1. I DO understand what John 4:24 states: ‘God is spirit’. It is speaking about God’s essence. He is completely spiritual – spirit! Ho theos (the God) is not a deity of stone, tree, or mountain where he has to be worshipped on a mountain like Mt Gerizim. Ho theos is the one and only true God and the context of John 4:23 tells us John is talking of the Father. The Father God is the God of spirit – not the God of flesh that you are trying to make of him.

2. God CANNOT be the God with a body when John 4:24 clearly states the essence is: ‘The God is spirit’.

3. I’m not lying about your view. The view that God has a body is a Mormon view of God (and of Audianism). You have already acknowledged to me in a post that this is one area when the Mormon cult got it right. Do you remember your saying that? I asked you if you were a Mormon or Mormon sympathiser and you said you were not. I accept that. However, your view of God having a body coincides with the Mormon doctrine of God and you’ve already stated to me that this is one area where the cult got it correct.

4. I’m not in any way suggesting that all of your theology agrees with Mormonism. I never said that, so to go into the Mormon view of Messiah is irrelevant. I was simply comparing your view of God with that of Mormonism. They synchronise.

5. I do NOT insert my own belief into ‘God is spirit’. I try to exegete the text.

6. You say, ‘in Genesis when Adam could hear God walking. That alone proves God had a physical form because walking requires a body’. No it doesn’t! Gen 3:8 (ESV) states that Adam and his wife ‘heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden’. Since we know that ‘God is spirit’ and here Scripture states that they heard the sound/voice of Yahweh God walking about in the garden, ‘there is extreme likelihood that the Almighty assumed some form analogous to the human form which was made in His image. Nor is there anything farfetched about the further supposition that previously our first parents had freely met with and conversed with their heavenly Father’ (Leupold 1942:155). This could have been a theophany – a manifestation or appearance of Yahweh to a human being. However, it does not demonstrate that God has a permanent physical body since ‘God is spirit’ by essence.

7. God appearing to Adam & Eve in a theophany must not be confused with anthropomorphism, which is ascribing human attributes in describing God and his activities – by use of figures of speech.

D. It’s a heresy from the early church

The view promoted by ewq1938 on this Christian forum that God has a physical body is now new. This is a heresy from the fourth century known as Audianism, popularised by Audius (or Audaeus). You can read the nature of this heresy in ‘Audianism Explained‘.
See an explanation of the heresy in Ecclesiastical History (Theodoret), Book IV, Chapter 9, ‘Of the heresy of the Audiani‘. It explains that

Audæus, a Syrian alike in race and in speech, appeared at that time as an inventor of new decrees. He had long ago begun to incubate iniquities and now appeared in his true character. At first he understood in an absurd sense the passage Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. From want of apprehension of the meaning of the divine Scripture he understood the Divine Being to have a human form, and conjectured it to be enveloped in bodily parts; for Holy Scripture frequently describes the divine operations under the names of human parts, since by these means the providence of God is made more easily intelligible to minds incapable of perceiving any immaterial ideas. To this impiety Audæus added others of a similar kind. By an eclectic process he adopted some of the doctrines of Manes and denied that the God of the universe is creator of either fire or darkness. But these and all similar errors are concealed by the adherents of his faction.

Audaeus used Genesis 1:26-27 to support his view. These are two verses used as the first to support this view by the person on this forum.

E. It’s a heresy endorsed by Mormonism

The Mormon’s believe ‘God has a body’ (Mormon Handbook). It’s a false doctrine of Mormonism. This article states that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, taught, ‘The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us’ (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). The Mormons claim that ‘’his unique Mormon doctrine is an extension of the belief that God was formerly a mortal man’ (Mormon Handbook).

F. Examples of Anthropomorphisms

The Creation of Man, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo (‘Gender of God’, Wikipedia)


There is biblical language where God’s actions are associated with his feet, hands, arms, ears, eyes, and face. Are these to be understood literally or in some other way?

1. Feet

There are passages that refer to God’s feet. Examples include Isaiah 66:1 (NIV), ‘This is what the Lord says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”’; 1 Cor 15:25 (ESV), ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet’; I Cor 15:27 (ESV), ‘For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet”’.

2. Hands

God is said to have ‘hands on occasions: ‘And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt’ (Ex 7:5 NIV). Psalm 110:1 (ESV) states, ‘The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”. There is this statement in Isa 23:11 (NIV), ‘The LORD has stretched out his hand over the sea and made its kingdoms tremble’. Similar statements can be found in the New Testament: ‘Who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him ‘ (1 Peter 3:22 ESV); ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God’ (1 Peter 5:6 ESV); ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (John 10:29 ESV).

This website lists 61 verses that refer to the ‘hand of God’ in both Old and New Testaments.

3. Arms

Both Old and New Testaments speak of some dimension of ‘arms’ in association with God. These are but a few samples, firstly from the Old Testament: ‘By a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes’ (Deut 4:34 NIV); ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm’ (Deut 5:15 NIV); ‘You crushed the great sea monster. You scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.’ (Ps 89:10 NLT).

The New Testament gives these examples: ‘He has performed mighty deeds with his arm’ (Lk 1:51 NIV); ‘To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?’ (John 12:28 NLT); ‘The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it’ (Ac 13:17 ESV).

4. Ears / he hears

When speaking of prayer, Scripture can refer to God’s ears and God hearing. ‘Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God’ (2 Kings 19:16 NIV); ‘let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel’ (Neh 1:6 NIV); ‘God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there”’ (Gen 21:17 NIV); ‘Therefore, say to the Israelites: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment”’ (Ex 6:6 NIV). See also Exodus 24:10-11 (NIV).

Does the New Testament give this emphasis as well? This is one of the most profound verses to encourage Christians to pray: ‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him’ (1 John 5:14-15 NIV). Other NT verses include: John 9:31 (ESV), ‘We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him’. James 5:4 (NIV), ‘The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty’; and, ‘For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil’ (1 Pet 3:12 NIV).

5. Eyes

The Old Testament affirms: Deut 11:12 (NIV), ‘It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end’; Job 34:21 ‘His eyes are on the ways of mortals; he sees their every step’ (NIV); Psalm 33:18, ‘But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,’ (NIV), and Prov 15:3, ‘The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good’ (NLT).

The New Testament is also as clear with its anthropomorphisms: 2 Cor 8:21, ‘For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man’ (NIV); Heb 4:13 (NASB), ‘And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’; 1 Pet 3:12 (ESV), ‘For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil’, and Rev 1:14 (NIV), ‘The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire’.

See the article on, ‘“The Pupil Of Your Eye”: God’s Eye And Our Perception’ (

6. Mouth / he speaks

At the start of the Bible we have God speaking, according to Genesis 1:3 (NIV): ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light’; Psalm 33:6 (ESV), ‘By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host’; Heb 11:3 (NASB), ‘By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible’; 2 Pet 3:5 (ESV), ‘For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God’;

7. Face

What about the concept/theology of God having a ‘face’? Leviticus 20:6 (NIV) states, ‘I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them’; Numbers 6:25 (NIV) confirms that God has a ‘face’: ‘The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you’. Psalm 31:16, ‘Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love’ (NIV); Ps 67:1, ‘May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us.’ (NLT); Jer 18:17 describes God as showing ‘them’ his back and not his face, ‘Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster’ (NIV). Ezek 39:29, ‘I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD’ (NIV).

In the New Testament, we have these details: Matt 18:10 (NIV) refers to children, ‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven’. When will the believer see God face to face? First Cor 13:12 reveals that: ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ (NIV); 1 Pet 3:12, ‘The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil’ (NLT); See also Rev 6:16, ‘And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb’ (NLT), and Rev 22:3-4, ‘There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads’ (NIV).

The Dictionary of Bible Themes records this information about the face of God:

The face of God as a sign of blessing

Nu 6:25-26 See also 2Sa 21:1; 1Ch 16:11; Ps 4:6; Ps 31:16; Ps 67:1; Ps 80:19; Ps 105:4; Ps 119:135; Eze 39:29….

His face cannot be seen Ex 33:20-23 “The face of God” may mean here God’s real and true self, the inference being that no-one can look on God as he is in his total purity and majesty.

Apparent exceptions where God is seen face to face Ge 32:30 After Jacob’s wrestling with a figure whose exact identity is not explicit in the preceding verses. Jacob did experience a real encounter with God but God was in a real and approachable form, not in his transcendent and visible glory. See also Ex 33:11; Nu 12:8; Dt 5:4; Dt 34:10; Eze 20:35

The angels in heaven look upon the face of God Mt 18:10

God must reveal himself if people are to see his face Job 34:29 The Greek word for “revelation” literally means “removing a veil from one’s face”.

The righteous will see God’s face in the life to come 1Co 13:12; Rev 22:4

When God hides his face, blessing is withheld

Complaints at God hiding his face Ps 44:24 See also Ps 13:1; Ps 88:14

Cries for help Ps 27:9 See also Ps 69:17; Ps 102:2; Ps 143:7

Statements concerning God’s anger and judgment Isa 54:8 See also Dt 31:17-18; Ps 22:24; Ps 30:7; Ps 51:9; Ps 104:29; Isa 8:17; Isa 64:7; Jer 33:5; Eze 39:23-24; Mic 3:4; Rev 6:16

Other phrases synonymous with God hiding his face 2Ch 30:9; Jer 18:17; Eze 7:22

God sets his face against sinners Lev 17:10; Lev 20:3; Lev 26:17; Ps 34:16; Eze 14:8; 1Pe 3:12; Eze 15:7

God’s face as a symbol of his favour

Seeking the face of God in prayer 2Ch 7:14 See also 2Sa 21:1; 1Ch 16:11; Ps 24:6; Ps 105:4; Ps 119:58; Hos 5:15

Seeking the favour of God Ex 32:11 See also 1Sa 13:12; 2Ki 13:4; 2Ch 33:12; Jer 26:19; Da 9:13; Zec 7:2; Zec 8:21; Mal 1:9

Appearing before God in worship Ex 23:15 The phrase seems to recall the fact that in ancient religions worshippers came before carved faces of their idols. In Israel such physical representations of God were forbidden but the phrase was still used underlining the belief that Israel’s God was present in his sanctuary. See also Ex 23:17; Ex 34:20; Dt 16:16; Dt 31:11; Ps 42:2; Isa 1:12

The shining of God’s face upon his people indicates his blessing Nu 6:25-26 See also Ps 4:6; Ps 31:16; Ps 44:3; Ps 67:1; Ps 80:3,19; Ps 119:135

God’s face accompanies Israel as a symbol of his presence

Ex 33:14 Literally “my face will go …” Here this phrase may allude not only to God’s presence but also to the manifestations of his presence (e.g., the cloud in verse 9). See also Dt 4:37; Isa 63:9.[13]

8. Smells

‘The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done’ (Gen 8:21 NIV). See also Lev 1:9; Ezek 16:19 (ESV); 2 Cor 2:15; Eph 5:2, and Phil 4:18.

9. Wings

Here is an unusual anthromorphism, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by’ (Psalm 57:1 NLT). The psalmist continues this theme, ‘He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart’ (Ps 91:4 NIV).

10. Anthropopathisms – God’s emotions in human terms

Image result for mercy public domain

Mercy (public domain)


In addition to anthropomorphisms that use physical traits, God is often described as having emotions that sound like human emotions. These are known as anthropopathisms, which the dictionary describes as ‘the ascription of human feelings to something not human’ (Merriam-Webster 2015. S v anthropopathism).

Among these are included God’s regret or sorrow (Genesis 6:6), jealousy (Exodus 20:5), grief (Isaiah 54:6), anger/wrath (Psalm 7:11; Jer 7:20); he hates (Prov 6:16; Amos 5:21; Rom 9:13); rich in mercy (Eph 2:4); loves (Ex 20:6; Ps 86:15; Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; 8:37-39) and God’s favour or blessings (Ex 23:25; Num 6:24-26; Prov 10:22; Matt 25:34; Mark 10:16; Eph 1:3; Heb 6:13-14; 1 Pet 2:19).

G. Conclusion

The Audian heresy of the fourth century and the Mormon, cultic false doctrine of God having a body are alive and well on an evangelical forum on an Internet forum.

Does God have a physical body? No, because he is spirit (John 4:24) and whenever language of hands, feet, and other aspects of the body are used to describe God in Scripture, the writers are using figures of speech known as anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms, which include ‘the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v anthropomorphism).

I don’t expect the person on the Christian forum to be changing his mind too soon as he is resistant to the idea that God is spirit and that does not mean God has a body.

See the excellent brief article, ‘Does God have a body?’ (Paul Kroll, Grace Communion International) that refutes the idea that God has a physical body.

Works consulted

Kaiser, Jr., W C 1990. Exodus. In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 2, 285-498. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Leupold, H C 1942. Exposition of Genesis, vol 1. London: Evangelical Press.


[1] ewq1938#2, #8, 20 September 2015, Christianity Board, ‘God’s likeness’, available at: (Accessed 21 September 201).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[3] Ibid., ewq1938#8.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#15.

[5] ewq1938#554, 1 September 2015, Christianity Board, ‘The Nicene Creed is not Christian’. Available at: (Accessed 21 September 2015).

[6] Ibid.,

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#559.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#563.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#528.

[10] Ibid., ewq1938#541.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#543.

[12] Ibid., ewq1938#544.

[13] This is available at BibleGateway, ‘1255 Face of God’, at: (Accessed 22 September 2015).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Logical fallacies hijack debate and discussion[1]

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

By Spencer D Gear

Image result for logical fallacies public domain

(courtesy Google public domain)

It is so easy for people to be engaged in a topic in person, in a lecture, or online and use illogical reasoning. I encountered this in two locations recently, one was in an online newspaper and the other was in a Christian forum. Before examining how this happened, I need to define the nature of logical fallacies.

A. Definition of logical fallacies

What is a logical fallacy? 20WL Online Writing Lab (Purdue University) provides this definition:

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others (‘Logical Fallacies‘).

This Purdue University link gives examples of these logical fallacies, naming of them and how they are used.

B. Examples of fallacies


(By Openclipart)

One of the most helpful lists and explanations of fallacies I’ve found has been The Nizkor Project Fallacies. One of the most common fallacies I hear or read Christians and others use is the red herring fallacy. This is explained:

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. Topic A is under discussion.

2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious [i.e. deceptive] because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim (The Nizkor Project – Red Herring).

This is an example of how I have heard Christians use this deceptive reasoning (it happened to me recently at a meeting for a Member of Parliament who is an evangelical Christian).

1. Topic A: That Christian MP supports traditional marriage and not homosexual marriage; he’s convinced God invented marriage and heterosexual marriage is God’s order for humanity.
2. Topic B: That makes him a lousy Christian with such intolerance.
3. Topic A was abandoned.

C. An example from an online newspaper


(courtesy Click2Houston)

There was an article in the Brisbane Times,[2] 13 September 2015, ‘Campaign to legalise nude beaches in Queensland’.[3] In the ‘Comments’ section at the end of this article, I responded as Dougie:[4]


In this story, one person from Poona stated: ‘You would think that perverts and blokes like that would probably come along as well and we don’t want them in Poona that’s for sure’. That’s exactly what happened at Maslin Beach SA.

On 15 February 1975, Maslin Beach, 40km from Adelaide’s CBD, became Australia’s first legal nudist beach.[1] In 2004, a 36-year-old male paedophile abducted three boys, aged 8, 9 and 10 at an Adelaide park, and took them for a naked swim at Maslin Beach. The boys were not found until the next day. The paedophile “pleaded guilty to abducting the boys and was found guilty of causing them to expose their bodies for his prurient interest” and was jailed for three years.[2]

One nudist went public in Qld., stating that “legal nude beaches have been a part of life in several Australian states and territories for many years without any problems.” [3] The Maslin Beach conviction refutes that idea. We can discover many other problems worldwide associated with nudist beaches.


[1] CNN Travel, 21 Nov 2011, ‘Naked, wet, free: 15 sexy skinny dips’. Available at: (Accessed 13 September 2015).
[2] ABC News, 8 July 2005, ‘Man jailed for three years for triple abduction’. Available at: (Accessed 13 September 2015).
[3] Paul McCarragher, ABC News Wide-Bay, 21 December 2005, ‘Clothing-optional beaches: A nudist’s perspective’. Available at:!topic/rec.nude/DWhiDufMnMg (Accessed 13 September 2015).

Commenter Dougie, Location Brisbane, Date and time: September 13, 2015, 6:30AM

What kinds of further responses do you think my comment would elicit? Here are four samples of how those with comments about my post avoided dealing with my content by their use of logical fallacies (you can read several other comments to see further examples):

1. One response:

So on the basis that 30 years after a nudist beach was approved a pervert- who abducted 3 boys somewhere else took them there. we should ban nudist beaches. so. by your logic (and I use the word loosely) if he had taken them to a park we should close all parks – good job he didn’t take them to coles and woollies.[5]

2. Another: Go nude south of the border

Just want to mention that for Brisbane / Gold Coast residents that there is a perfectly legal nudist beach south of the border. It’s called Tyagarah Nature Reserve . As this is a National Park an entry fee of $7 applies.. There is (sic) eco toilets available there as well.[6]

3. Clothes-free everywhere in Europe

Seriously, what is all the fuss about. Clothes free beaches are everywhere in Europe and there doesn’t seem to be any moral decline there. The notion of these areas attracting the wrong type of people is ridiculous. If anything, these beaches should be closer to major centres where the Police can react if required rather than choosing a remote beach that is difficult to access and is unpatrolled by lifesavers. We are supposed to be all about jobs, jobs, jobs and increasing our tourist numbers. Perhaps this could actually help.[7]

These are classic examples of a red herring fallacy. They deal with the content of my post, but present a different view to divert attention from the information I presented. It’s a misleading response and is used to avoid the specifics of the issues I raised. There are also aspects of an appeal to mockery fallacy in bluebird’s response as mockery/ridicule is used as a substitute for evidence to deal with what I had presented as an example for not supporting nudist beaches.

I did respond to Andrew and the claim about free beaches in Europe and no moral decline. I wrote:

So you think, ‘Seriously, what is all the fuss about. Clothes free beaches are everywhere in Europe and there doesn’t seem to be any moral decline there. The notion of these areas attracting the wrong type of people is ridiculous’. There is other evidence.

Are there any reports from Europe of the negative consequences associated with nudist beaches? Let’s check 2 examples:

a. At an ‘open beach’ at Huk, Oslo, Norway, nudists ‘are being increasingly harassed by photographers, flashers and vulgar requests and police have had to respond several times’ in the summer of 2005. ‘I don’t go to Huk any more,’ according to a 52-year-old woman who wanted to remain anonymous. Why? She asked the police to intervene ‘after feeling threatened by a man on the beach’. [1]

b. So, Andrew, is there any other evidence of moral decline? Nudists want more than just nudist beaches for sun baking and swimming. In Holland, a beach for public sex is wanted: ‘The Dutch Naturists Federation (NFN) has called on the government to set aside certain beaches for people who like to have sex in public. Naturists feel that displays of public sex do not belong on regular nudist beaches, a spokesperson for the NFN said in a radio interview…. Public sex involving couples and orgies in the open air are also said to [be] a growing phenomenon.’ [2]

And you want to convince readers and me of no moral decline? Could you have a blind spot or is your reading selective?


[1] ‘Flashers pester nudists’, Aftenposten: News from Norway (Online), 12 August 2005. Available at: (Accessed 14 September 2015).

[2] Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10 August 2005, ‘Not under our boardwalk, we’re naturists’ (Dutch naturists want beach for sex in public). Available at: (Accessed 14 September 2015).[8]

4. How do you think another would respond to my comments about what is happening in Europe and the moral decline?

This person stated:

Dougie the nudists in Holland are merely saying they want people who want to have sex on a beach to go elsewhere. Get their own beach. Because Nudists don’t want that on our beaches.[9]

This person again:

So how many paedophiles have there been in churches? Perhaps we should consider closing churches since they obviously attract perverts. The perverts are textiles not nudists. That paedophile in South Australia also bought the boy smokes and alcohol so perhaps we should ban any shop selling cigaretts or any pub in Australia as well?[10]

My reply to this person was, ‘Marskete, your response, like many others in this thread, is a red herring logical fallacy. It does not address the details that I addressed in my post of 14 Sept.’[11] When posters are off and running with their own agendas and not dealing with the specific content of my posts, they have committed red herring fallacies. Logical discussion is, therefore, hijacked in this situation.

D. An example from a Christian forum

I started a discussion on Christianity Board (CyB) about this same issue of logical fallacies being used by posters. I started a thread, ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’:[12] In the thread, ‘The doctrine of OSAS‘, a couple of us have been discussing the serious repercussions of Christians using logical fallacies in discussions on CyB. We have noticed some Christians violating the laws of logic in that particular thread.

I provided some of the above information in the CyB thread. Here are some of the responses that demonstrate that people either don’t know what they are doing or deliberately hijack the discussion.

1. One hijacker: Man’s reason instead of Holy Spirit

This fellow wrote:

Whatever happened to the Holy Spirit, or is He just a figment of mans (sic) imagination?

Oh but we have the bible. books, cds, dvds colleges who need Him any more, lust just trust mans reasoning (sic).

oh_14:26  But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Oh how it would be that man could just trust God.[13]

My reply was as follows: ‘Here you are giving us a red herring logical fallacy. You have demonstrated my very point. Don’t you understand what you have done with your kind of response as a red herring? I’m not sure you know what a logical fallacy is when you violate the logical rules of discussion like you have done with this post’.[14]

This fellow continued with a clanger:

never seeing a red heering (sic)…what do they looklike (sic), do they taste nice.

Logical reasoning, trying to fit God into teh (sic) image of man… bible speaks of that somewhere.

There is no logic to God, His ways are not our ways His thoughts not ours.. No matter how big a box you create you will not fit Him in it.

In all His Love[15]

designRed-small The howler is, ‘There is no logic to God’. I couldn’t let him get away with that one. Here is my retort:[16]

You seem to be living in another world where you claim that there is no logic to God. Come on, mate! What kind of a Bible do you read? Is it a Bible with words, grammar, sentences, paragraphs (semantics)? If it is, these are examples of God demonstrating his logical results in the universe.

The mere fact that you are attempting to converse on this forum with a logical discussion demonstrates that God has given you the ability to attempt to be logical.

However, you have built a straw man fallacy here with your view that ‘there is no logic to God’. That is an irrational, straw man fallacy. God has built logic into his universe, but because of the fall of human beings into sin, we botch up logic like you have done with your response to me.

We cannot have a logical conversation when you want to deny the very logic that God has built into the universe to be able to communicate on this forum.

I call you to be a reasonable man who learns the nature of logical fallacies and quits using them.

designRed-small His comeback was:

Remember Saul, Pharisee of Pharisses (sic),

considered all his learning as dung compared to knowing the risen Lord…after his eyes where (sic) opened and when He became Paul.

God is spirit, and the time is when we must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

In all His Love.[17]

This super spiritual perspective needed a rejoinder. I wrote:[18]

You have given another demonstration of what the OP shows. You have responded with a red herring logical fallacy.

Why is your response here a red herring fallacy? It is because you have presented an irrelevant topic when the topic of the thread is ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’. You have tried to divert attention from this topic to try to convince others and me that, like Saul the Pharisee, learning is as dung when compared with knowing the risen Lord. It is deceptive (fallacious) reasoning for these reasons:

(1) The topic under discussion is logical fallacies and how they hijack discussion.

(2)  You have introduced a totally different topic – like Saul, the Pharisee, learning is as dung.

(3) Therefore, you have abandoned the topic of this thread. This exposes your diversionary tactic (the red herring fallacy).

Your kind of reasoning sounds spiritual but it really promotes falsehood because your changing the topic of discussion to what you want to talk about does not engage with the arguments presented in the OP (original post), ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’. It’s an example of a dishonest approach to the topic. Your dishonesty is in hijacking the discussion. You have given a perfect example of the topic of the OP.

I urge you to get back to the promotion of truth by dealing with the topic of the OP and not intruding with your own self-generated topic of diversion.

2. Another response

clip_image004(Socrates, Wikipedia)

These are four points from another’s reply:

I don’t want to debate the use of this system or philosophy or rules of engagement (for lack of a better term), but I do want to bring up a few questions.

(1) What would this system do with one who uses the Socratic Method of reasoning? That is, one who asks a series of questions in order to find a better and concrete conclusion.

(2) What of Ecc 12:13 which tells us to hear the conclusion of the whole matter?
I ask these first two questions because it seems to me that one could dismiss an arguement (sic) too early. In other words, someone can make a statement which to you may not be relevant when if you’d hold your peace, the relevance will appear.

(3) What shall we do with the apostles, servants and even Jesus himself who appear (at least on the surface) to violate such rules?
I have 4 examples in mind, but let me expound on one: In Matthew 12 we find the Pharisees criticizing Jesus and his disciples for picking corn and preparing it on the Sabbath. Jesus starts his reply by talking about David eating the shewbread. Now, he (Jesus) quickly offers a second point and then a third to make his entire response valid. But initially, he was talking about David and the shewbread while the Pharisees were talking about working on the Sabbath. That alone seems tp (sic) be a red herring argument (sic). Like I said, Jesus quickly brought it into relevance, but my point is that Jesus did point to sonething (sic) else outside the initial complaint. Which of course, brings us back to tge (sic) importance of hearing the conclusion.

(4) Is it possible that this system could self destruct? Again, lack of a better term. But I have seen questions posted which are baiting in nature. That is, the question is so carefully asked that theree (sic) is only one answer which is logical, yet the question itself is flawed? All objections to the question can be dismissed by waving the red herring flag or any other of these fallacy flags. No, I don’t have an example to present, but I’m sure that veterans of this board have seen it before.[19]

My answer to him was:[20]

I want to acknowledge that you have some excellent points here that must be considered in any discussion on this topic. However, the OP deals with mistakes in reasoning, which many Christians seem to be ignorant of or deliberately use to divert attention away from a certain topic.

I briefly answer your 4 questions:

(1)  There would be no problem with my engagement with someone using the Socratic method of reasoning with a series of questions. The problem of logical fallacies would arise with, say, a red herring fallacy if those questions were not directed to the topic being discussed.

(2)  I do not disagree with your understanding of Eccl. 12:13 (the KJV gives the better understanding, ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter’, which seems to be a more accurate understanding than the ESV: ‘The end of the matter; all has been heard’. I’m not a KJV-only). Logical fallacies deal with errors of reasoning and not with failure to reach conclusions. It is not rejecting the conclusion or rejecting the notion of waiting until all is heard. They are fallacies of engagement in discussion or debate – in reaching that conclusion.

(3)  I’m not opposed to hearing the conclusion. It is the kind of reasoning that is included. If I were to jump in and say something like, ‘That is not dealing with the topic I raised so it sounds like a red herring to me’, Jesus would legitimately respond: ‘I’m getting to a conclusion that is directly related to your topic and so is this example I’m giving’.

(4)  Could the system self destruct? Possibly, but we are talking about errors of logic/reasoning. Those errors could be challenged to be truthful instead of errors, but evidence would need to be presented for me to understand better what is being claimed. Since God has built logic into the universe, logical errors are subject to being influenced by sinful human beings. Of course there is the possibility that errors regarding logical fallacies could be made.

I don’t regard logical fallacies as a philosophy but as exposing flaws of reasoning. Could someone hide behind exposing logical fallacies? Perhaps. However, it is more likely (as seen in CyB) that people hide behind their use of logical fallacies in derailing a thread and highjacking (or hijacking) a topic.

3. That hijacker again

designRed-small Another usurper gave his two bits on the Christian forum:

I ask God so I can get a better understanding of the bible. He isnt (sic) dead you know,

God is teh (sic) God of the living not the dead.

I would rather know God and Jesus than teh (sic) bible. Knowing the bible cant (sic) save you.

Php_3:8  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

And he was a very learned man, Pharisee of pharisees he called himself.[21]

What has he done here? This is how I replied: You have erected the straw man logical fallacy.

So you would rather know Jesus than the Bible?? You can’t know Jesus apart from the revelation of Jesus IN the Bible. That’s the false view you have created with your straw man fallacy.[22]

E. Logical fallacies trip up Christians

clip_image005How do you think Christians could use the following logical fallacies? Let’s use the topic of this article as an example.

6pointColored-small Ad hominem;

‘Only stupid people like you would dare to blaspheme the Holy Spirit by forcing us to examine logical fallacies. What idiotic stuff!’

6pointColored-small Begging the question (circular reasoning);

‘Logical fallacies are corrections of logical errors. Of course I believe in them, including ad hominem, hasty generalisation, red herring and straw man’.

6pointColored-small Genetic fallacy;

‘You only believe in these stupid fallacies because they were taught to you by that philosopher of logic in Uni. If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t believe this unspiritual stuff’.

6pointColored-small Poisoning the well;

‘You shouldn’t take any notice of this fellow’s teaching about logical fallacies because he’s an Open Theist who doesn’t believe that God is absolutely sovereign in the universe. Don’t believe a word he says about logical fallacies. He’s a Open Theist bad egg’.

6pointColored-small Straw man.

‘John exposes logical fallacies, has a position at University X in the theology department, and teaches that God is absolutely sovereign in the universe. But Bill, one of his fellow faculty members, presents Open Theism in that department and claims that John is really an advocate for modified Open Theism. Therefore, it is false to claim that John supports God’s absolute sovereignty’.

F. Be specific when identifying fallacies

In identifying logical fallacies that a person uses, it is important to state the exact fallacy that is being used. Why should that be?

Firstly, it labels the specifics so that any person with a knowledge of logical fallacies can check the accuracy of the nature of the logical fallacy used so that the person can be challenged. Secondly, it demonstrates that the accuser also has an exact knowledge of the content of the fallacy about which he/she is accusing the presenter.

Logical fallacies are serious impediments to logical discussions in any sphere of debate or conversation. I missed one of these recently at a small political gathering. I was engaged in a discussion with three other people where a former councillor at a local council was part of the conversation. I talked about a former leading politician whom I labelled as arrogant. The councillor chimed in, ‘But he was such a friendly person. Whenever he came to a group, he would be moving among people and greeting them, shaking hands and speaking openly with them’. I realised later that I should have said, ‘That’s a red herring’. How come? My topic was talking about the politician’s cockiness. I was not dealing with his friendliness. I should have said nicely, but firmly, ‘That’s a red herring’. If the councillor objected, I’d say, ‘I was discussing how the politician presented himself on the media as an egotistical individual. I was not talking about his sociability. Now, let’s talk about his narcissistic bent’. However, I missed out on that conversation. I was wise after the fact.

G. Conclusion: What to do about fallacies

It is a common contemporary trend in both the secular and Christian worlds to highjack debates and discussions through the use of logical fallacies. These fallacies need to be exposed in gentle and specific ways. It doesn’t matter whether it is in private conversation or in a public meeting or debate. Know the major logical fallacies that people use and call them out when they use them.

Do not simply accuse a person of using a logical fallacy. Name the fallacy and be capable of explaining its nature.


[1] Some of this material is based on a thread I started as OzSpen at Christianity Board, ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’, 19 September 2015. Available at: (Accessed 19 September 2015).

[2] I live in Brisbane, Qld., Australia.

[3] Available at: (Accessed 13 September 2015).

[4] Part of my statement is a grab from my article of 2011, Nudist beaches not smart idea for the Smart State.

[5] Ibid., Brisbane Times, bluebird of Brisbane, September 13, 2015, 3:40PM.

[6] Ibid., dodgeymech, Wellington Point, September 14, 2015, 9:13AM.

[7] Ibid., Andrew, South Brisbane, September 13, 2015, 10:45AM.

[8] Ibid., Dougie, Brisbane, September 14, 2015, 12:34PM.

[9] Ibid., Marsketa, Coolum Beach, September 17, 2015, 6:28PM.

[10] Ibid., Marsketa, Coolum, September 14, 2015, 10:33PM.

[11] Ibid., Dougie, Brisbane, September 16, 2015, 5:45PM

[12] OzSpen#1, 19 September 2015, available at: (Accessed 20 September 2015).

[13] Ibid., mjrhealth#5.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#7.

[15] Ibid., mjrhealth#9.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#12.

[17] Ibid., mjrhealth#13.

[18] Ibid., OzSpen#17.

[19] Ibid., FHill#15.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#34.

[21] Ibid., mjrhealth#39.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#40.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.