Archive for the 'Scripture' Category

Belief in fate is false doctrine

Monday, September 28th, 2015

(image courtesy polyvore.com)

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.”
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK.
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: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm (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: http://storage.cloversites.com/firstbaptistchurchoffairburn/documents/Systematic_Theology_-_Wayne_Grudem.pdf (Accessed 9 July 2015).

Notes


[1] JesusBoy86#1, Christian Forums.net, ‘Fate vs Free Will’, June 20, 2015. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/fate-vs-free-will.60076/ (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 Forums.net, OzSpen#35.

 

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

The fake and the genuine mixed in some churches: A dangerous concoction!

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’ve been interacting with a missionary friend in a foreign country who wrote of a person from the Bethel Church who feeds 10,000 children, has established churches, and has a humble ministry of bringing healing to the black children of Africa. A film has been made about this person raising people from the dead. This person gains no money from the actions and aches as she sits in the dust with African children, preaching Christ. But she is part of the Bethel Church, Redding, CA, USA.

The question the missionary asked of me: ‘How can this person be misguided and as far from Christ as the church leaders of Bethel church’?

What does the Bethel Church teach?

Bethel Church, Redding CA

Courtesy Wikipedia

The Bethel Church, Redding, California has this teaching on YouTube where there is alleged gold dust falling. See: ‘Gold dust rains during worship at Bethel!

See also:

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel testimonies’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallJeremy Riddle – Our Father PART 1/2 (Gold dust in the room)’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallGlory Cloud & Gold Dust at Bethel Church’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel’s ‘signs and wonders’ include angel feathers, gold dust and diamonds’.

Critiques of the Bethel Church movement

Empty Words

(image courtesy ChristArt )

What are the issues with Bethel Church, Redding, California, and its teachings? There are many links to assessment of the heresy of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Apostasy Watch:

blue-arrow-smallWarning – Bill Johnson and Bethel Church’;

blue-arrow-smallSound advice for Bethel Church Pastor Bill Johnson’;

blue-arrow-smallBob Dewaay: Bill Johnson, IHOP [IHOP], & Ancient Heresy Reborn’;

blue-arrow-smallThe dangers of the International House of Prayer’, CARM;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson and Bethel – Report from Redding Record Searchlight’;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson / Bethel Church, Redding, California’ (links to other criticisms built into the article);

blue-arrow-smallBirds of a Feather Flock Together: Strange Manifestations in ‘Christian’ Circles – from God or not? Feathers in Church? Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Redding California’;

Let me say up front that we cannot discern a heart before God of any person, whether associated with a church teaching false doctrine or one teaching the truth. That discernment is in God’s hands. But the Scriptures give some strong indicators of what can happen.

What did Jesus say about the mixture of the fake with the genuine?

When I turn to Jesus, this is the truth that he proclaims:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23 NIV)

Only Jesus knows the truth of the human heart and the eternal destiny of people. It is evident from these Scriptures in Matthew 7 that Jesus did not regard good deeds and supernatural miracles to be guarantees that a person is a Christian who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is evident that people can do many good works, perform miracles, and not do the will of the heavenly Father. It sounds strange to us, but God knows this is so. In fact, God calls these kinds of people, ‘evildoers’ (NIV) or ‘workers of lawlessness’ (ESV). So, these people are false prophets, even though they perform mighty works.

Evangelical commentator, William Hendriksen, wrote of this passage:

‘Does not all of this point to the possibility that also the demon expulsions and other mighty works of which the false prophets of Matt. 7:22 boast had been nothing but sham? Have not investigations proved again and again that among false prophets illusions, trickery, sleight of hand, etc., abound, and that what is presented as genuine is very often nothing but deception?’ (Hendriksen 1973:376).

Matthew 7:23 indicates a very high Christology. Jesus decides who will enter the Kingdom on the last day and he also decides who will be banished from his presence. That he never knew these people is because they falsely claimed him as Lord.

I find it interesting how the writer of The Didache, after the close of the New Testament, puts it this way, ‘But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord. From his behavior, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known’ (Didache 11.8). This is a good summary. One can use the word, ‘Lord’, of Jesus, allege to be a prophet and perform mighty works, and still be a fraud before Christ.

Therefore, the application to the Bethel Church is that a person can perform miracles, do other good works, but engage in false teaching and still not be a Christian who will enter the Kingdom. This does not mean that there are no genuine Christians associated with this church. That discernment is in Jesus’ control. However, ‘I never knew you’ are tragic words when they think that they are doing it for Jesus. Let’s understand that who enters the kingdom will be decided by Jesus. But here in Matt 7 there are strong indicators that good works and miracles can be associated with those who claim Jesus as Lord, but he is not their Lord. These are the penetrating words of Jesus.

I understand that we would like to think that there are those who perform wonderful deeds towards the needy, are used in supernatural miracles, but proclaim false doctrine, are misled but are truly Christian. But that’s not how Jesus sees it according to Matt. 7. I have to be true to Jesus and his teaching. It will sound harsh, but I have to answer at the end of my life to the Lord for my accuracy or otherwise with my biblical teaching. I hope people understand this. There is an attack on the truth of Scripture in the contemporary world.

Mark 9:39 states, ‘But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me’ (ESV). Those who proclaim false doctrine are speaking evil of the Lord as what they proclaim is not true.

I do not believe that miracles ceased with the original 12 apostles. See my article, ‘Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

Worm and Lace

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Which Jesus?

There is the problem we face in the twenty-first century that was also there in the first century: Which Jesus are they/we serving? Is He the one who mixes falsehood with truth, or is he the one who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ ALWAYS?

Consider these sources of falsehood and truth. We have warnings and affirmations in Scripture:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

They were there in the first century. They are here n the twenty-first century. There will be the fake performed alongside the genuine. To the human eye they may look similar, but to Jesus he is the one who discerns those who knew him and those who didn’t. This we know from his teaching: Genuine good works, genuine miracles, and false teaching do not go together. They are often mixed and Christians are to be people of biblical and spiritual discernment. Too often we are not!

Therefore, the Lord calls all true believers to be people committed to the ministry of discernment:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

The challenge

Here is the challenge that you and I face, whether in an overseas country or here in my country of Australia. We are to be these kinds of Christians: ‘So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes’ (Eph 4:14 ESV). It is tempting to see those who are doing massive good deeds mixed with fake miracles, to be seen as genuine. But the false and the truth cannot be mixed and come out as genuine. That’s according to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Why don’t you take a read of this article about the teaching of Bill Johnson and the Bethel Church, ‘An Invasion of Error: A Review of Bill Johnson—When Heaven Invades Earth

Part of the problem we face in the contemporary church is that teaching the truth through sound doctrine from the pulpit and in small groups is on such a low level in many evangelical churches. Many are too interested in their contemporary worship, topical sermons, and Gospel light, to be pursuing the need to teach true doctrine and refute false doctrine.

My wife and I had an experience of that in the last 18 months when we moved to a new suburb in northern Brisbane and sought an evangelical church that proclaimed sound theology in both teaching and song. We visited 8 different churches before we found one that came close to sound teaching (expository preaching from books of the Bible) and solid lyrics in the songs they sang. Most were into rock ‘n roll Christianity in their music and songs, and light sermon content.

I emailed one pastor whom I had never met as he wasn’t there and preaching when my wife and I visited his church on one occasion. I had enquired about going to one of his cell groups locally. His response was that a cell group at his church would not be suitable for me as it was ‘more contemporary than the church service’. I had not mentioned a word to him about ‘contemporary’ anything. Obviously the one person we spoke to after the service conveyed to the pastor some of the comments we made about the service. As for solid teaching in the evangelical churches, we did not find it – except for one. But the problem with this one, which we currently attend, is that it is super-traditional in all that happens in the services. However, the pastor is a sound expositor of Scripture who is not afraid to exegete the Scriptures and provide careful interpretations of the meaning.

See my articles:

silver-arrow-smallFive ingredients of a healthy church: Colossians 4:7-18‘;

silver-arrow-smallDouble faults and no aces: Margaret Court’;

silver-arrow-smallAre the dead raised today?

silver-arrow-smallSeventh Day Adventist atonement doctrine’.

T

(image courtesy ChristArt)

References

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

Are the dead raised today? Biblical questions concerning Pastor Ekechukwu’s resurrection in Nigeria, 2001 [1]

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

https://i2.wp.com/ian.macky.net/pat/map/ng/ng_blk.gif?resize=341%2C387
(Courtesy macky.net)

By Spencer D Gear

A. To die once: fact or fiction?

The reports of the resurrection of Pastor Daniel Ekechukwu in Nigeria in 2001 (death certificate issued on 30 Nov. 2001) have caused both positive and negative responses.  Here, I raise questions that go beyond those of the authenticity of this alleged resurrection amid some conflicting reports.  See examples of the conflicting information in the testimony at the “Come Let Us Reason” website. [3]  “Come Let Us Reason” reported:

Can God raise the dead? Yes of course He can. However the question we need to ask is, did He on this occasion? I’m talking about the newest sensational story coming from Reinhard Bonnke who was a guest on Benny Hinn’s program on Feb.28 2002 (and Kenneth Copeland’s program through the week of Aug.19, 2002). On Hinn’s program he showed a video produced by Cfan (Bonnkes minsitry- Christ for all nations) and gave testimony to a man being raised from the dead at a church he was preaching at in Nigeria, Africa. This video is now making the rounds everywhere as a fulfillment of many peoples prophecies of the great miracles that are supposed to occur in our time. Stories are supposedly pouring in from around the globe of thousands being saved. This is becoming a big story, but is it a fish story that keeps on growing as it’s told? I’ll let you decide.

There are contradictory accounts of how the accident happened that killed the pastor. [3a]

1. Are resurrections from the dead legitimate?

What are we to make of resurrections from the dead today? Since all things are possible with God, how are we to respond to this kind of report from Nigeria?

I am thinking particularly of biblical verses such as the following:

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV) “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment . . .” [4]
Hebrews 11:35 “Women received back their dead by resurrection.”
Luke 16:31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

2. What about . . .?

What about the resurrections of Lazarus (John 11), the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8), the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7), the resurrection of Tabitha/Dorcas (Acts 9:36ff)?

How do we explain these resurrections in the Gospels and Acts if people are appointed to die once and then face judgment?  The dilemma is similar with Pastor Eku’s resurrection.

B.    Questions about Pastor Eku’s resurrection

1. The report reads, “Although some of what happened to Pastor Ekechukwu is certainly extra-biblical, none of it is unbiblical. Indeed, neither the story of pastor Ekechukwu’s resurrection or the story of your salvation is found in the Bible, making them both extra-biblical, but neither should be discounted on that basis!” (The italic quotes in this critique are direct quotations from David Kirkwood’s article documenting this resurrection….)

To justify extra-biblical information, it is hardly a fair and legitimate method to make my salvation experience to compare with Pastor Eku’s theology of life-after-death. The doctrine of soteriology is clearly defined in the Scriptures, as is the theology of life-after-death. If my Christian experience differs from the clear statements in the written Word of God (the Bible), my experience needs to be questioned. The same must be the case with Pastor Eku’s theology.

2. David Kirkwood’s report says that “the angels lifted him on either side, and Daniel realized that there were now two of himself.” Is this illusion, delusion, after-death reality, or something else? How can this be real with two of a person when only one died? There seems to be something questionable here!

3. From where does this doctrine of “the spirit man” come? I hear this language from some Pentecostal preachers in the contemporary church, but the biblical doctrine is that human beings are holistic people, a unity of body and soul/spirit. The biblical doctrine of anthropology deals with the whole person, not differentiating the “spirit man.”  The report said, “The angels were holding him under each arm of his spirit man (which was perfectly whole).”

Here is not the place to investigate trichotomy, dichotomy or monism of human beings. I refer the reader to Wayne Grudem’s chapter on “the essential nature of man.” [5]  He helpfully outlines the biblical data on the nature of human beings: [6]

  • Scripture uses “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably;
  • At death, Scripture says either that the “soul” departs or the “spirit” departs;
  • Man is said to be either “body and soul” or “body and spirit”;
  • The “soul” can sin or the “spirit” can sin;
  • Everything that the soul is said to do, the spirit is also said to do, and everything that the spirit is said to do the soul is also said to do.

Why the emphasis on “the spirit man”?4. “The next morning, when the mortician attempted to cut Daniel’s inner thigh in order to insert a tube by which he could inject more embalming fluid, he experienced a strange shock that pushed him away from the corpse. This did not surprise him, as he had experienced similar forces before and attributed them to occult powers (such things are widely practiced in Africa and highly respected by most African pastors whom I know). After a second attempt and a second shock, he concluded that Daniel must have been a member of a powerful secret society. He assumed, however, that after some occult sacrifices and incantations the powers in the corpse would subside, and he could then complete his work. (This mortician, of course, was not a Christian, but converted after Daniel’s resurrection.)  Incidentally, Daniel said that people could smell the embalming chemicals coming out of his body for two weeks after his resurrection. They would hug him and hold their noses!

I have a question: If this were God’s preparation for a resurrection, why would it resemble an occultic experience? I see some images today among contemporary Pentecostals who have the Holy Spirit’s ministry visualised as an electric current or bolt of lightning coming out of a person or “striking” a person. This type of imagery needs to be avoided as it provides overtures of the ministry of the Holy Spirit that is much like a powerful, electric force.

5. “Daniel’s wife experienced a dream in which she saw the face of her husband, and he was asking her why they had left him in the mortuary. He stated that he was not dead and that she should take him to Onitsha where German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke was preaching. She determined to do so, even though her family thought she was out of her mind.

I have no trouble in accepting that Acts 2:17 will happen in the last days between Christ’s first coming and his second coming: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

How do I know that this dream of Daniel’s wife was the fulfillment of Acts 2:17?

While I also am a supporter of the gifts of the Spirit for today (I Cor. 12-14), this story raises such a lot of questions. The added information on the following website causes me to have grave reservations about this story. In fact, the doctrines of life-after-death in this story seem to be contra biblical. One critique is at: http://www.letusreason.org/popteac13.htm.

The information from Pastor Eku’s wife’s dream was that “he [Daniel] stated that he was not dead and that she should take him to Onitsha where German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke was preaching.” If this is a true statement or revelation in the dream, then this is not the story of a resurrection from the dead but a 42-hour near-death experience and then the human being was resuscitated. There’s a conflict here. The dream said that Dan was not dead, but David Kirkwood’s story stated that “Daniel said that people could smell the embalming chemicals coming out of his body for two weeks after his resurrection. They would hug him and hold their noses!

Finally they drove to the Eunice Clinic, and there Daniel was confirmed to be dead by Doctor Josse Annebunwa. There was no breathing, no heartbeat or pulse, and Daniel’s pupils were fixed. The doctor said that there was nothing he could do. A death certificate was issued at 11:30 P.M., November 30, 2001

. . . The mortician, however, had to cut the clothing in order to clothe Daniel because his body was as stiff as a board” (emphases added).

Contradictions are not of God.

This also raises the controversial issue of how we are to interpret dreams. I most surely do not support Freudian dream analysis, but we have a credibility issue as well. The dream affirmed that Daniel was still alive, but the doctor confirmed his death and issued a death certificate. Which was it?

6. Where is there biblical support for the statements that “she [Dan’s wife] regarded Reinhard Bonnke as a man of God and that in the atmosphere of faith where he ministered this miracle was possible. The faith of Nneka dictated the whole event and her faith was honored. By whom? Who honored her faith? If not God, who else?

The New Testament affirms the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit through Jesus, his disciples, and others in the New Testament, but I find no biblical support for the theology of “the atmosphere of faith.” Hebrews 11 states that supernatural actions took place “by faith” of Old Testament leaders such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc. Other unnamed individuals experienced suffering (see Heb. 11:36ff.) and were “commended through their faith” (Heb. 11:39). These supernatural happenings and sufferings have been related to the faith of individuals.  I find no biblical evidence for an “atmosphere of faith” at a gathering where Noah, Abraham or Moses was present to provide the environment for supernatural events..

“The atmosphere of faith” has reduced the Holy Spirit’s ministry to a force/atmosphere. Where do we have biblical support for such a view of faith?

7. “Many have indeed repented after hearing his testimony. If his story is all a hoax, the result of this hoax is real holiness, ” wrote David Kirkwood.

How does this stack up with Luke 16:31?  “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

We dare not minimise our Lord’s warning in Matt. 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

Performing miracles is not necessarily a sign of spiritual acceptance with God and assurance of a person’s entrance into God’s eternal kingdom.

I have further observations about David Kirkwood’s statement:

a.    “Many” have “repented after hearing his testimony.”

I trust and hope that the testimony contained essential gospel content and not just the unbiblical invitation to “ask Jesus into your heart.”  The verses of Romans 10:9-10, 17 provide some core elements of this gospel:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. . .  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Paul stated elsewhere that this “gospel” that he preached was “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day. . .” (I Cor. 15:3-4).  By repentance and faith are need for every person to be born again (see Acts 2:38; 26:20; Rom. 3:23-25) and to be declared righteous (justified) before God himself (see Rom. 3:28; 5:1).

b.    Kirkwood’s assessment is: “If his story is all a hoax, the result of this hoax is real holiness.”

This story relates to a resurrection that happened in December 2001, according to Kirkwood.  The death certificate was dated 30th November 2001 and Pastor Eku was supposed to be dead for 42 hours.. [6a]  Nine months later the author (Kirkwood) is saying that “real holiness” has happened in the lives of the Christian converts.  Isn’t this a little early to make such definitive claims?

The email to the “Berean Publishers” website with David Kirkwood’s article was dated September 22, 2002. [6b]   Surely we are not to believe it certain that nine months after conversion an author can proclaim with assurance that “real holiness” is happening in new converts.  Progressive sanctification takes time, but there should be a definite change in the new converts if there has been genuine conversion.  Is this what Kirkwood means by “real holiness”?  If so, I consider that better language would be something like, “Radical changes have already been seen in the lives of the new Christians who have sought repentance after hearing the gospel proclaimed in association with Pastor Eku’s testimony.”

Pastor Eku’s wife’s dream directed her to German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. “The angel told Daniel that [that] man would help him spread the gospel of salvation.”

8. “This angel first told him that they were going to Paradise. There was no time expended in getting anywhere the angel took him. As soon as the angel said they were going to Paradise, they were there.”

This statement is consistent with the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross:  “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

9. “The angel told Daniel, ‘The mansion is ready but the saints of God are not. Jesus is being delayed because Christians in the church are not ready yet.’ (This is entirely scriptural; see 2 Pet. 3:12.)

Second Peter 3:11-12 states:
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!”

10. “Although there were different kinds of tortures, all of the people in hell writhed in agony under an unseen force that would wrench them repeatedly. All of them were shouting, wailing and gnashing their teeth. Pastor Daniel told me that if every Christian could see what he saw, there would be no need to preach the gospel, as every Christian would become the gospel,” Pastor Dan said.

The statement, “There would be no need to preach the gospel, as every Christian would become the gospel,” is contrary to the command to proclaim the gospel as in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It also contradicts Romans 10:14, 17, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

This is not meant to discount the importance of living the Christian life as a godly example before a watching world, but for people to come to Christ, more than a silent witness is needed. Words of proclamation are required.

11. “The most surprising thing is what happened next. The escorting angel told Pastor Daniel, ‘If your record is to be called here, you will in no doubt be thrown into hell.’ Pastor Daniel immediately defended himself saying, ‘I am a man of God! I serve Him with all my heart!’ But a Bible immediately appeared in the angel’s hand, and it was opened to Matthew 5 where Jesus warned that if one calls his brother a fool he is guilty enough to go into the hell of fire (see Matt. 5:21-22). Pastor Daniel knew he was guilty for the angry words spoken to his wife. The angel also reminded him that Jesus promised that God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive others (see Matt. 6:14-15) because we will reap what we have sown. Only those who are merciful will obtain mercy (Matt 5:7). The angel told Daniel that the prayers he prayed as he was dying in the hospital were of no effect, because he refused to forgive his wife even when she attempted to reconcile on the morning of his fatal accident.

Does this mean that a Christian’s unforgiven sin at the point of death sends him/her to hell? Does this failure to seek forgiveness of one another pronounce the death-knell on heaven and send a person to hell? When we fail to forgive each other, it certainly means we have a spiritual problem — God cannot forgive us (see Matt. 6:14-15).  What about Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”?

The “Berean Publishers” website promotes an Arminian view of eternal insecurity. We could debate the pro’s and con’s of this theology (see my view), but there are many evangelicals who are committed to the inerrant Word of God, who would disagree profoundly with this assessment – based on Scripture. See J. Matthew Pinson (Gen. Ed.), Four Views on Eternal Security. [7]

Are we to use the theology of Pastor Eku’s after-death experience to differentiate between the eternal security views of Calvinism vs. Arminianism?  To say the least, Pastor Eku’s doctrine of perseverance of the saints will be challenged biblically by many evangelicals.

There is much scriptural material to challenge Pastor Eku’s after-death theology of Christians’ unconfessed sin sending them hell. Biblically, we know that true believers can be “caught in any transgression”(Gal. 6:1) or “sin” (1 John 1:8-9). Some Christian “brothers” are called “people of the flesh” (ESV) or “worldly” (NIV) in I Cor. 3:1, 3. Not all believers will receive the same rewards in heaven (I Cor. 3:12-14). What are we to make of the person who committed incest who is delivered to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (I Cor. 5:5)?  In fact, some “will be saved, but only as through fire” (I Cor. 3:15). Contrary to Pastor Eku’s theology, these verses plainly teach that a Christian does not have to be a sinless, fully repentant person at death to get into heaven.

12. “Pastor Daniel wept at this revelation, but the angel told him not to cry, because God was going to send him back to the earth to grant the rich man’s request (see Luke 16:27-30). A man would come back from the dead and warn people of hell. The angel said that Daniel’s resurrection would serve as a sign and be the last warning for this generation.”

It was “the rich man’s” view in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) that he would request Lazarus to go back to the rich man’s family and warn them. Abraham objected, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (v. 29). The rich man’s unbiblical theology was: “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (v. 30) This is the unbiblical view of the resurrected Pastor Dan.

The Lord’s view, through Abraham, is: “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’ ” (v. 31).

Was this message of the rich man and Lazarus for the Jews or is it applicable to us today?

13.    “Finally, Pastor Daniel was led to the top of a mountain, at which there was a large hole full of darkness. There the escorting angel handed Daniel to a man standing there whom he did recognize a first, but soon realized it was German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. The angel told Daniel that man would help him spread the gospel of salvation.”

This sure sounds like a public relations’ exercise for Reinhard Bonnke. However, I do not want to slight Bonnke’s ministry if he clearly proclaims salvation through Christ alone and channels the converts into Bible-believing and Bible-teaching churches.  See some assessments of Reinhard Bonnke‘s miracle crusades and ministry.

14. “As you may imagine, pastor Daniel greatly emphasizes in his preaching the need to forgive those who have wronged us, lest anyone suffer the fate he almost suffered. How important it is that we obey Jesus’ commandments regarding forgiveness and walking in love toward each other, as well as all the rest of His commandments.”

What about the biblical teaching on judgment following death (2 Cor. 5:8; Heb. 9:27)?

15. “It is indeed time for the church to repent and “pursue peace with all men, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Do not listen to false teachers who say that holiness is not essential to ultimately gain eternal life. Jesus warned that only those who do the will of His Father will enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 7:11). Do not listen to teachers who say that if you are once saved you are guaranteed that you will always be saved. Jesus warned His closest disciples (see Matt. 24:1-3) of the possibility of their not being ready when He returned and being cast into hell (see Matt. 24:42-25:46).”

How is this “holiness” achieved? What about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness when we are justified by faith in Christ? Romans 5:17 states: “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

I cannot support the statement by David Kirkwood above concerning Matt. 24:1-3. These Matt. 24 verses are relating to the destruction of the temple.

The use of Matt. 24:42-25:46 seems to be associated with Kirkwood’s particular interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. Was this resurrection of Daniel meant to confirm an Arminian view of eternal insecurity? Is this revelation of one raised from the dead meant to give the definitive answer to end the eternal security debate? I surely hope not. Our responsibility is to “rightly divide the word of truth” and not build our theology on the experiences of a resurrected, fallible human being.

16. “Keep in mind that pastor Ekechukwu did not stand condemned just because of his one sin of unforgiveness. There were other sins he was confessing in the hospital as he was dying, but his unforgiveness annulled his prayers in which he was asking for forgiveness. If we expect God to forgive us, we must forgive others. That is what Jesus said.”

Does this mean that at the point of death one must have confessed every sin, but especially the sin of unforgiveness towards another person, to obtain the right to enter God’s eternal kingdom? Otherwise it’s to hell?

There are Scriptures that demand answers that Pastor Dan’s after-death revelations do not provide:

1 Cor. 1:30, “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Phil. 3:9 , “And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

It is clear New Testament teaching that God declares believers to be justified/righteous, not on the basis of our actual holiness/righteousness, but on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness which God considers to belong to believers.
This is at the heart of the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants, especially dealt with at the time of the Reformation. The just shall live by faith!

The biblical doctrine of justification is at stake in the theology espoused by Pastor Dan in the story of his resurrection. We are not declared righteous, based on our own goodness, holiness or righteousness. We can never be declared fully righteous if righteousness depends on us. There is always sin that remains in our lives. Pastor Dan’s experience seems to counter the biblical doctrine of justification.

David Kirkwood’s article is using this extra-biblical experience of resurrection to challenge such fundamental doctrines as that of Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The aorist passive participle, dikaiothentes, that is placed at the beginning of the sentence before the main verb, conveys the sense that an event [justification] is completed before the verbal action of the main verb, “we have peace.” This gives the sense that “Since we have been justified [declared righteous] by faith, we have peace.”

I am convinced that the doctrine of justification by faith is assaulted in Pastor Dan’s theology promoted in this article. If it were not for Christ’s imputed righteousness to the believer, Paul could not say that believers have “the free gift of righteousness” [Romans 5:17 (ESV)] and that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23) for every believer.

I see too much of the Roman Catholic view of justification in this description of Pastor Dan’s experiences as told by David Kirkwood. The biblical (Protestant) view is that justification is based on imputed righteousness. The Roman Catholic view is that of infused righteousness which God puts into a person and changes that person internally in terms of moral character. The Roman view is that God gives varying measures of justification, based on the amount of righteousness that has been infused into us.

C.    How do we deal with resurrections/no resurrections in the New Testament & contemporary experience? [8]

D.A. Carson’s article, “Unity and diversity in the New Testament,” [9] helped me to understand this issue more clearly.  Carson provides an excellent framework for assessing this apparent contradiction of support and negation for such resurrections (and other controversial subjects). Carson’s analysis helped me gain insight in the following areas. [10]

1. Beware of making absolutes out of  language that has no such intention

When Paul and Jesus, for example, addressed contemporary problems in a New Testament church, it is sometimes easy for us today to read their words and apply them universally for all ages. We see this with Paul’s use of the wearing of head coverings (1 Cor. 11:2ff), women to keep silent in the church (I Cor. 14:33-40), and the forbidding of women to teach (I Tim. 2:11-15).

Jesus also used strong antithetical language when addressing issues. He told us to “judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), yet in the same sermon, only a few verses later, he urged us to engage in judgment: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-16).

How do we put these together, not judging and the call to judge false prophets?

One of the values of a theological discipline such as systematic theology, is that it forces Bible students to come to a balanced view, based on all the information in the Bible. We must not pit Jesus against himself or Paul against Paul in our teaching. This is a call for careful exegesis and analysis.

We must beware of making absolute for all times (e.g. all Christians must not judge each other; women are forbidden from teaching men) what had a contextual application in the first century church. [11]

2. Diverse circumstances

We must remember the many and diverse situations in the New Testament that become controversial when one author is compared with another author or an author’s teaching in one place is compared with his teaching in another place at another time. These writers wrote to many different situations with particular instructions to address the problems in those circumstances and to teach God’s word authoritatively.

For example, we can get into trouble and controversy when we compare the teachings of Paul with those of James on the place of works in or associated with saved people. The “faith of Abraham” is used by Paul to teach that people are justified by faith. Paul’s circumstances, the issues at stake in that church, led him to use the example of the faith of Abraham in that way.

However, James, in another situation and circumstance uses the faith of Abraham, not to teach about justification, but about faith without works being dead.

These two authors are not teaching contradictory messages, nor might they be ignorant of what each other is teaching.

Those who teach doctrine must be alert to how these biblical authors use these various arguments in Scripture, even though a given person (e.g. Abraham here) is used to stress two very different doctrines.

When we teach these doctrines (e.g. justification, works associated with the saved), we must use the local context to determine the meaning.

Remember, context, context and context so that we do not fall into the error of accusing Paul of contradicting James or vice versa. [12]

3. How God’s sovereignty functions

When we consider apparent differences of view on the same topic in the Scripture, it is fundamental that we examine the purpose of the writing before announcing our conclusions.

For example, it is wrong to conclude that because women were last at the cross and first at the tomb of Jesus to observe the resurrection, that women should be ordained as pastors. Because Jesus had twelve male disciples does not necessarily prove that women can’t be elders. There are other issues involved and we must not interpret outside of the context and purpose of a passage.

However, there are fundamental Christian beliefs where there are large areas of the unknown. Take, for example, the Incarnation, the Trinity and the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human responsibility. Romans 8:28 shows that God’s sovereignty can function in Scripture and life to cause God’s people to trust his sovereignty.

In areas of the unknown, while it is critical that the context of a passage must be carefully investigated, it is wise to stick with the specifics of Scripture. We must use the logical capacity that the Lord has given us, but in these areas where there is so much “unknown,” it is best to stick with the biblical data/examples. God is not a fundamentally contingent being – he is not limited to what we say or do. He can and does intervene sovereignly.

Human beings are called upon to believe, choose, obey, repent, etc., but people’s responsibilities, according to the Scriptures, never function so that God must depend on our actions to make the world function. [13]

4.    How truths and arguments function in Scripture

We have various truths and arguments functioning together in Scripture, but some of them seem to lead to apparent contradictions. As in the issue we are discussing, how can there be a statement that we are appointed to die once and yet there are examples of resurrections in the Bible (and now in Nigeria with Pastor Dan) where people died or will die more than once?  Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

The critical issue is “how various truths and arguments function in Scripture” [14] and how that should govern our use of them. While Carson’s principle was directed at practitioners of systematic theology, I am convinced that it can save us from many errors in interpretation in other areas of biblical doctrine. We so often miss the forest for the trees – stopping to peer at every Greek word in microscopic detail and forgetting that it’s part of a big picture that involves context, context and context (the words and phrases around the statement under contention, the paragraph in which the verses are located, the chapter and book in which they are found, and the analogy of the whole of Scripture..

My problem with this issue of resurrection lies in the fact that it appears that Heb. 9:27 and Luke 16:31 suggest that people are not raised from the dead, but Heb. 11:35 and other references suggest that there are genuine resurrections. The God of truth does not speak with a forked tongue.

Let’s start with Heb. 9:27 (“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”).  The paragraph seems to include 9:23-28 (at least in the NIV and ESV), and the main point of it is to highlight Christ’s work as heavenly, true, original, superior, and final. What function does 9:27 play in this argument? It is merely to find something convenient with which to compare the finality of Christ’s work. Its purpose is not to teach us absolutes on life-after-death. The analogy is to provide an example to show that Christ did not “offer himself repeatedly” (v. 25) or “to suffer repeatedly” (v. 26), but “he has appeared ‘once for all’” (v. 26) to deal with sin by his one sacrifice. Verse 28 makes it clear that human beings dying once, as a general rule, is to show that Christ has been “offered once” as a sin bearer. The rule of human beings “appointed” to “die once” (v. 27) is a general illustration, but it does not pre-empt the possibility of Lazarus’s resurrection or that in Nigeria in December 2001.

One death is what commonly happens to almost all people, but this verse has nothing to say about possible exceptions to that rule. It is talking about the finality of Christ’s work, not the possibility of resurrection for dead people. It is a generalisation by way of example — nothing more.

For Luke 16:31, it is a little harder to determine the purpose and larger context. But it seems that a similar argument can be made for this verse. The context of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is that of 16:1, or maybe 15:1-2. However, both of the contexts are minimal, and it’s not nearly as easy to fit it in as it is to fit the parable of the lost son into 15:1-2. If chapter 16 of Luke is part of the same occasion as chapter 15 (unlikely, in my view), then probably what has happened at the end of ch. 15 is that the Pharisees have rejected the implicit appeal in Jesus’ equating them with the older brother. Jesus is now instructing his disciples about the Pharisees’ attitude (cf. 16:14-15). Thus 16.19-31 could be read in the light of the Pharisees’ reaction and Jesus could be saying something about the unbelief of first century Jewish culture. If the contexts weren’t connected, Jesus is probably trying to teach his disciples something about how they should relate to people in their own culture (as is 16.1-15).

D. Conclusion

The fact that Jesus said something about first century Jewish culture doesn’t mean that he would say the same thing for 21st century Nigerian or Australian culture. Because the writer of Hebrews used life-after-death as an example of Christ’s sacrifice, it does not make Heb. 9:27 a definitive statement against the miracle of resurrection for all times. It was an illustration on the subject being discussed in Heb. 9:23-28.

Nineteenth century commentator, John Brown, put it well: “If Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, and some others, underwent it twice, they are exceptions to the general law. When men die, they do not die that they return to life, and then die again.” [15]

This article is not an attempt to squirm out of alleged biblical contradictions (people die only once — but there are those who were resurrected according to the biblical record). This is a call for biblical interpretation that functions within the immediate and larger contexts of the document in which it is written.

What does all this mean? We can’t say that all people everywhere can only die once and that anyone who says that they did otherwise is contradicting Scripture. We have to weigh up their cultural context, what purpose the experience served, and what fruit was demonstrated. (This would apply equally to any near-death experience.)

This is by no means a final word on the subject (God has not given me such authority), but I consider that this is a reasonable base from which to work. Carson’s principle of how items of information function in their context is such a helpful methodology for biblical interpretation of all topics, but especially of those that are controversial and have apparent contradictory elements.

Endnotes:

[1] This article is a response to, “The Resurrection of Pastor Daniel Ekechukwu,” David Kirkwood. Retrieved on October 5, 2002 from: http://www.bereanpublishers.com/. At this URL, you will need to use the “Search” facility to find the article.
[2]  I retired as an Australian family relationships’ counselling manager in 2011 to pursue doctoral studies. I completed my PhD in New Testament in 2015 (University of Pretoria, South Africa) and currently live in Brisbane, Qld., Australia. To contact me, please use the contact form on this website.
[3] See “The Rich man’s prayer is answered! Bonnke raises the dead,” “Come Let Us Reason” Ministries, retrieved on October 12, 2002 from: http://www.letusreason.org/popteac13.htm
[3a]  Ibid.
[4] Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2001 (ESV).
[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, ch. 23, pp. 472-487).
[6] Ibid., p. 473 ff.
[6a] “The Rich man’s prayer is answered!  Bonnke raises the dead”, “Come Let Us Reason” Ministries, retrieved on October 12, 2002 from: http://www.letusreason.org/popteac13.html.
[6b]  See “The Resurrection of Pastor Daniel Ekechukwu,” David Kirkwood. Retrieved on October 5, 2002 from: http://www.bereanpublishers.com/. At this URL, you will need to use the “Search” facility to find the article.
[7] Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002. This book includes the views of Classical Calvinism (Michael S. Horton), Moderate Calvinism (Norman L. Geisler), Reformed Arminianism (Stephen M. Ashby), and Wesleyan Arminianism (J. Steven Harper).
[8] The content of this section is substantially that of my son, Paul Gear.
[9] D. A. Carson, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology” (pp 63-95) in D. A. Carson & John D. Woodbridge (Eds.), Scripture and Truth. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1983/1992.
[10] The headings in this sections are mine.
[11] Carson wrote: “Paul, like Jesus before him, tends to absolutize the language used in addressing the current problem. . . Jesus, preacher that he is, regularly uses strong, antithetical language to tackle each side of a complex question. One of the values of systematic theology, therefore, is that Jesus’ or Paul’s approach to a host of issues is likely to receive more balanced scrutiny than by the reductionist methods of those who pit Jesus against Jesus and Paul against Paul” (Carson, p. 87).
[12] Carson’s explanation of this concept was, “The question of the diverse circumstances that call forth New Testament writings sometimes becomes more controversial yet when author is compared with author – Paul with James, for instance, or John with Paul. . . If the ‘faith of Abraham’ is used by Paul to teach that people are justified by faith and by James to teach that faith without works is dead, it does not necessarily follow that the two authors are ignorant of the other’s work or in disagreement with it.”, ibid., p. 88. He also wrote: “Systematic theologians should be careful to note how various truths and arguments function in Scripture and they should be very cautious about stepping outside of those functions with new ones” (ibid,. p. 93).
[13] Carson explains it this way: “[I]t is surely worth observing, for instance, that God’s sovereignty functions in Scripture to engender confidence in His people (e.g. Rom. 8:28) and to ensure final judgment, but it never functions to reduce man to the status of an irresponsible robot. Similarly, man is encouraged to believe, choose, obey, repent, and so forth, but his responsibilities in these areas never function in the Scriptures (as they sometimes do in other Jewish literature) to make God fundamentally contingent. . . To limit oneself primarily to copying the functions found in Scripture is to adopt a methodological control that will ensure that one’s systematic theology is a little more biblical than would otherwise be the case” (ibid., p. 94).
[14] Ibid., p. 93, emphasis added.
[15] John Brown, Hebrews. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1862/1961, p. 429.

The call is for workers to be “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:16)
Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

By Spencer D Gear

File:Gutenberg Bible, New York Public Library, USA. Pic 01.jpg

Gutenberg Bible (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It is not uncommon to be in discussion with evangelical Christians who state that the Bible should not be read literally and that it should be read allegorically or figuratively. Some have even interacted with me and said that when we consider the customs of the first century, we know that these shouldn’t be applied to the 21st century. How should we respond?

We need to investigate the meaning of “literal” interpretation. Does a literal understanding include the use of figures of speech or should we adopt another view of hermeneutics?

I have been an evangelical for about 50 years and I have never belonged to an evangelical church in Australia, Canada and the USA[1] that had/has this view of what “literal” means for evangelical.

I’m a graduate of an evangelical theological college and seminary in the 1970s and 1980s. My courses in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) made it very clear what “literal interpretation” meant and it is not what Max was accusing evangelicals of believing.

We need to understand that there was a differentiation of meaning in the early church between the School of Alexandria and the School of Antioch. The Alexandrian School did not include metaphorical meaning while the School of Antioch insisted that the literal meaning cannot exclude metaphor. This difference was there in the early days of the church. There’s no need to blame it on the evangelicals. In fact I’ve been to quite a few liberal churches where allegorical interpretation was alive and well.

However, the Antiochian School, which was the one followed in the seminary I attended, used A. Berkeley Mickelsen’s text Interpreting the Bible (1963. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company). Here the definition of Antiochian literal interpretation is that it

means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of “door” in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning (p. 33).

Therefore, Mickelsen rightly states that literal interpretation means that “the writer refers to the usual or customary sense conveyed by words or expressions (p. 179).

Therefore, the true meaning of literal interpretation is that it incorporates metaphor, simile, hyperbole, any figure of speech. That’s what I mean by literal interpretation and I’m an evangelical. But don’t blame it on the evangelicals. The distinction was alive and well in the early church. Too often the concept of “letterism” is used as a synonym for literal interpretation. Letterism means.

What does letterism mean? Don Closson provides this definition:

“While often ignoring context, historical and cultural setting, and even grammatical structure, letterism takes each word as an isolated truth. A problem with this method is that it fails to take into account the different literary genre, or types, in the Bible. The Hebrew poetry of the Psalms is not to be interpreted in the same way as is the logical discourse of Romans. Letterism tends to lead to legalism because of its inability to distinguish between literary types. All passages tend to become equally binding on current believers”.[2]

My college text in hermeneutics was Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation.[3] Ramm rightly states that “literal” interpretation uses literal in its dictionary sense,

The natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical (Webster’s New International Dictionary).[4]

By contrast, “letterism … fails to recognize nuances, plays on words, hidden metaphors, figures of speech, lamination of meanings in a word”.[5][6]

It seems to me that there is some confusion about an evangelical literal interpretation of Scripture versus a wooden letterism which some evangelicals could use. It is not unusual for this to happen by those from the liberal stream of theology, but it is a false characterisation as I’ve explained above.

The literal method of interpretation is what I use when I read my local newspaper, when I used to read Shakespeare when in high school, and when I read the Bible. You may have met some evangelicals who do not follow what I’ve outlined above, but it certainly is not what was taught in the evangelical institutions I attended.

Don Closson’s conclusion is pointed:

[Martin] Luther argued that a proper understanding of what a passage teaches comes from a literal interpretation. This means that the reader must consider the historical context and the grammatical structure of each passage, and strive to maintain contextual consistency. This method was a result of Luther’s belief that the Scriptures are clear, in opposition to the medieval church’s position that they are so obscure that only the church can uncover their true meaning.[6]


Notes:


[1] My family and I have lived in all three countries, but I’m a citizen of Australia.

[2] Don Closson, Hermeneutics, Probe Ministries, available at: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/hermen.html (Accessed 18 August 2011).

[3] 1970. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

[4] Ibid., p. 119.

[5] Ibid., p. 122.

[6] See bibliographic details in footnote 2.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2016.

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