Archives for posts with tag: Bible

I always ask the question, “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” And every question that starts with “Did God know…” is answered in the affirmative.

I listened to this talk by Jason DeRouchie given at Bethlehem College and Semenary (ht: Justin Taylor). He gave 7 arguments for the need for understanding the Biblical Languages:

  1. Using the biblical languages exalts Jesus and affirms God’s wisdom in giving us his Word in a book.
  2. Using the biblical languages enables us to observe more accurately and thoroughly, understand more clearly, evaluate more fairly, and interpret more confidently the inspired details of the biblical text.
  3. Using the biblical languages allows us to use more efficiently and evaluate more fairly the best secondary tools for biblical interpretation.
  4. Using the biblical languages fosters a depth of character, commitment, conviction, and satisfaction in life and ministry that results in a validated witness in the world.
  5. Using the biblical languages provides a warranted boldness, a sustained freshness, and a more articulated, sure, and helpful witness to the Truth in preaching and teaching.
  6. Using the biblical languages equips us to defend the Gospel and to hold others accountable more confidently.
  7. Using the biblical languages helps preserve the purity of the Gospel and a joyful glorifying of God by his Church into the next generation.

There are many hindrances to the availability of the Biblical languages. Some I can think of:

  1. While we have had the Bible in one form or another throughout and since its writing, we have only within the past century found enough evidence in the ancient manuscripts to be reasonably sure what was precisely written in the original languages. So they have not been readily available throughout most of history.
  2. The printing press has only been available for a few hundred years now. Most people throughout history have not even had a Bible in any language readily available to them.
  3. There are hundreds of people groups who even today barely have the Bible translated into their language, much less have the education available to them to delve into the original languages themselves.
  4. A significant number of people don’t have the intellectual capacity to learn and understand the original languages. Many are barely literate in their own language.
  5. Of the people who have some education in the original languages, the vast majority don’t think in those languages.
  6. God confused language at Babel for a reason.

Regarding number 5: Scientific American has a short article touching on some research that is being done in the link between language and thought. The language that a person typically uses governs his thought. The example in the article was a 5-year-old Australian aborigine girl who could easily point the way north where a lecture hall of accomplished academicians could not. It reminded me of my mom’s side of the family. Always, they refer to things by their compass directions: “the south bedroom,” “the west field,” “Go to the end of the road and turn north on Kessler Road.” I can’t talk to my wife this way or she would get lost. For her, directions are relative: “the bedroom to the right of the bathroom,” “turn left on Museum Road.” Mastering language means being able to follow the linguistic logic of the references over and against those that one is accustomed to.

Regarding number 6: I’ll deal with this one shortly because it’s in the title. I wanted to make a reference here so you don’t think I just made a provocative statement without talking about it.

What can we make of the fact that A) Studying the Biblical languages is essential and B) The vast majority of Christians are not going to have the spiritual luxury of doing so? I mean, if this were the case then we revert back to dependence on priests for our understanding. We should close our Bibles and not even try to read them because we’ll never quite get it right.

And we indeed need to get it right. Our salvation is at stake if we don’t follow the true gospel. God’s glory is at stake if we don’t get our understanding of Him correct. Judging by the disputes and disagreements between Christians, it is more normal that we disagree on many things than if we agree.

What are we to do? I go back to my original question: “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” We could also ask, “Did God not know that nearly all of the people who profess to follow Him wouldn’t get their theology straight?” So, if we assume that He knows these things we can further ask if He takes this all into account?

This is where we discuss things like the perspicuity of scripture (how clear it is), what is necessary to understand for salvation, and how understandable different things of scripture are. Some factors I see:

  1. Some passages of scripture are more understandable than others no matter what language you use.
  2. Some topics are more understandable than others.
  3. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is necessary for proper understanding.
  4. Some understanding depends on wisdom aside from intelligence.
  5. Some understanding requires great intelligence or education.
  6. Individual levels of understanding depend on personal experiences.
  7. The understandability of some things of scripture depends heavily on cultural influences.
  8. The understandability of most things of scripture depends on our level of spiritual discernment.
  9. God causes a lack of understanding for His perfect purpose.

This is hardly an exhaustive list. But it is these last points that are key to tying Babel with God’s revelation of Himself in scripture and walking away with an assurance that we can know enough well enough.

God caused language to be confused in Babel and then proceeded to reveal Himself through prophets and inspired scripture.

In Babel, the goal of mankind was the exaltation of Man over God and the self-sufficiency of Man. God confused the language of Man so that His revelation to Man would be clear to Man when it came. In other words, Man could not rely on himself for knowledge of God, but had to rely on God to reveal Himself.

We still do. That’s the bridge between Babel and the revelation God gives us in the Bible. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God on our own accord, we lack understanding. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God by the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we have understanding. Those who lack understanding don’t understand how those who have understanding got it, and they often disparage those who have understanding as though they cannot have understanding. Those who lack understanding typically cannot believe that there is some understanding that they do not possess.

Here is another list (I seem to be into lists today) of how God works with us to understand His revelation:

  1. Obtaining an understanding of scripture is part of our being made perfect as we are sanctified, set aside, for His glory. (Romans 15:14-21)
  2. We are told, clearly enough, to study scripture. The implication is that we can know something from it. (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Timothy 4:13)
  3. We are told that scripture is a sufficient revelation for us. (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16)
  4. We are told how to deal with each other in grace as we differ in our understanding. This indicates that God knows that we are going to have slightly differing understandings for a time although we are all brothers and sisters in the faith. (1 Corinthians 8)
  5. God deals with us graciously in our lack of understanding. (Romans 7:15-25; Philippians 4:7)
  6. Although we often get things wrong and disagree, the revelation of God is not open to interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
  7. God gives us understanding. (1 John 5:20; 2 Timothy 2:7; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Romans 1:19)
  8. God takes understanding away. (John 12: 39,40; Romans 1:29; 11:25)
  9. It is our desire to understand and our trust in God rather than our own intellectual machinations that give us true understanding. (Hebrews 11:3)
  10. Understanding is not the ultimate goal. (1 Corinthians 13:12; John 5:39-40)

So, seek understanding. Study the Bible. Struggle to get it right. Learn the original languages if you can, but do not despair if you cannot. Understanding comes from God. Trust Him and seek Him above all, and deal graciously with others when you disagree.

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Giving thanks is a Biblical concept. But what does the Bible tell us about giving thanks? How should we give thanks? Why should we give thanks? To whom should we give thanks? For what reason should we give thanks? What benefit do we receive for giving thanks? What circumstances surround giving thanks?

I wondered precisely what the Bible teaches about giving thanks. It was a bit to look back at the Old Testament for a single blog article, but I looked at all the references in the New Testament. Most of them are here, and most of them are found in Paul’s writings. There are several references to people giving thanks to Jesus or Jesus giving thanks for meals. But one meal in particular was interesting: the Last Supper:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV)

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19 ESV)

The ordinances (sacraments, to non-Baptists) are the ordained practices that symbolically bridge soteriology and ecclesiology. Paul seems to agree with this as he links thanksgiving with salvation. It’s not that thanksgiving produces salvation but salvation produces thanksgiving.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV)

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11-12 ESV)

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV)

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15 ESV)

Paul often gives thanks for people, usually because of What God is doing for them and in them, particularly with regard to the gospel:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:4-8 ESV)

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. (2 Corinthians 8:16 ESV)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV)

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10 ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)

Paul even once gives thanks publicly to a couple instead of to God, although I imagine that he also gave thanks to God for them.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. (Romans 16:3-4 ESV)

Paul also commands Christians to give thanks typically combining the command with prayer and corporate worship:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:11 ESV)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17 ESV)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2 ESV)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV)

And Paul says this is the will of God:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)

What happens when people don’t give thanks? Paul contrasts giving thanksgiving with several things:

If you know who God is and do not give thanks to Him, your thinking becomes futile:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21 ESV)

The answer for an evil tongue is to give thanks to God. The two are not compatible:

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4 ESV)

Anxiety should be answered with prayer and thanksgiving, requesting help to assuage your anxieties from God.

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6 ESV)

There are many instructive passages that don’t fit in these categories:

Thanksgiving to God for our salvation is part of our identification as His children. Although we sin, we can give thanks to God for His grace:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25 ESV)

The following passages seem to say that as long as we give thanks to God for something He will bless our use of it. While they certainly speak of Christian freedom, the passages in the previous section should be enough to indicate that simply giving thanks for sin does not justify sin.

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:6 ESV)

If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (1 Corinthians 10:30 ESV)

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5 ESV)

Some of the passages that make reference to thanksgiving don’t entirely fit into the categories I’ve mentioned so far. These require some special comment, for each has some special information to add to thanksgiving:

At least in some contexts, giving thanks is encouraged to be public. The reason is that giving thanks to God builds others up.

Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. (1 Corinthians 14:16-17 ESV)

This passage is interesting in that in our salvation, God has not removed us from this world but leaves us here to fulfill the Great Commission. While this is a world of pain, the task of proclaiming God is a matter for thanksgiving.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians contains a promise that God will supply His people what they need in order to accomplish His purposes in them. First, the provision of the gift of proclaiming God will produce thanksgiving in us. Second, others will glorify God on account of us. Third, others will pray for us. Fourth, this gift results in many thanks because it is so great that it is inexpressible.

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:10-15 ESV)

While most of the thanksgiving passages are in Paul’s writings, John offers some thanksgiving in Revelation. This is one of two passages I found and contains an expression of praise that calls for thanksgiving to God.

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:12 ESV)

Steve Hayes at Triablogue wrote a great article recently where he makes an observation about miracles and applies it to some arguments against the “apparent age” theory of the creation of the universe.

“Take the case of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9). The blind man had some congenital defect which left him blind all his life.

“When Jesus restores his sight, this doesn’t merely affect the future. It also, or so it seems to me, erases any physical trace of his past affliction. An ophthalmologist, examining the man after Jesus cured him, would be unable to detect the fact that this man ever had that particular birth defect. So it doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.”

He correctly notes that this isn’t an argument for Young Earth Creationism (YEC) per se:

“Critics object to mature creation (or “apparent age”) on the grounds that this would implicate God in a web of deception. Deceptive appearances.”

And, “I don’t cite this as a positive argument for YEC. I merely cite this to question a facile objection to YEC.”

To be sure, many good YEC-ists make the same argument. Ken Ham wrote as much and his Answers in Genesis organization holds the same position.

I have two observations to make regarding this matter. One is that Steve Hayes observation regarding miracles implies an understanding of Creation that has not been much investigated and the second is that this understanding of Creation is helpful in drawing our attention to a reason God may have for making things appear other than what they are.

Many Christians have not thought in depth about the nature of creation given that God is eternal and creation is not. It’s not too difficult to get the idea from Genesis 1 that God created everything and then left it to go on as it will without his interacting much with it.

 

 

God is here represented by the large red dot. His act of creation is represented by the red arrow. The large blue dot is creation. And subsequent blue dots are the progression of creation from event to event on into the future with the blue arrows representing causal relationships.

The problem is that other scripture revelas that God didn’t simply create once and from that point on allow natural cause and effect takes its logical course. Even if he did, God, being omniscient, would know what would happen given the details that he created initially. So he could easily fix the details to cause what he wanted to happen. But we know that God not only created “In the beginning” but he sustains his creation (Heb 1:3) and creates constantly (Psalm 139:13) and provides for his creation (Job 38:41). I suggest that Genesis 1 was given to us as a pattern to follow. God didn’t need a whole week to create. He could have created all things instantly. But not only did God create all things, he also created all causal relationships:

 

 

I present this as a more accurate understanding of God’s creation.

As a parenthetical, I often vilify existentialism as a false worldview. I do this because it speaks directly against God’s creation of this world. For a picture of existentialism, imagine each blue dot with a blue arrow going to a cloud of red dots. That’s existentialism. It’s the idea that the things of this world control the things of the spiritual which is backwards and opens up the door for the denial of absolute truth that pervades popular philosophy. Back to the discussion:

Steve Hayes observes that a miracle “doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.” In the terms that I am employing here, a miracle interrupts the causal relationship between events and replaces the history we remember with a history that never happened, and apparent history. The history that never happened was indeed created by God although it has no real place in time and space.

 

 

The green causal chain is the new one created by God. As it is, there is no “replacing” of a real time line with a new one since God creates even the causal relationships. It is a miracle precisely because he creates an event that is uncaused by anything in this world.

This is the point at which the argument can be made that God doesn’t deceive. I would agree that this is a very valid argument. God doesn’t deceive. In fact, he is clear in scripture that something miraculous has happened. But I suggest that God is up to something else.

We might expect unbelievers to pursue naturalistic causes to explain miraculous accounts. But here we have even creationists arguing that what the Bible indicates is a divinely caused event, when viewed naturalistically, would be a deception of God.

As one who has studied physics in some depth, I have long thought it strange that beginning of the universe cosmologies often fell short in calculating the effects of special relativity on the universe at large in the early stages. To be sure it has been considered to some degree, but temporal passage tends to get evened out on a macroscopic scale where extreme forces don’t warrant. That is to say that scientists talk about the universe aging relatively uniformly where there is reason to think it hasn’t. As far as YEC cosmology goes, Dr. D. Russell Humphreys has taken gone the direction I’ve always wondered about and provided a viable YEC cosmology, involving a “white hole” that produced the rest of the universe at a greatly accelerated rate compared to that of the earth, that aptly explains the history in starlight.

But as I have explained, while his cosmology requires an economy of the miraculous, it is largely dependent on natural physics. That is, in order to avoid calling the history already present in the light arriving to earth of the deep universe a practice in deception by God he has resorted to mostly natural explanation.

My final observation is to ask the question: If God tells us what he did and we observe something different using naturalistic assumptions, why do we think God is deceiving us? Rather, is it not an opportunity to trust what God has said regardless of whether he created the universe using a white hole or not? So I contend that perhaps it is possible that he has created a history that hasn’t happened in the natural course of our powers of observation. He has indeed created the stars as signs. Interestingly, the miracles Christ performed on earth were done to provide signs of his authority according to scripture (John 2:23; Acts 2:22,43).

From an ongoing discussion on the Pyromaniacs blog noting Biologos‘ disregard for the authority of scripture, Blogger ‘one busy mom’ posted a comment outlining an apt metaphor for the difference between science and the revelation of God through scripture. I have also included my first comment.

 

Blogger  one busy mom said…

Phil: excellent post!

Jordan:
You seem to be having trouble reconciling science and faith, and although I’m the theological lightwieght here, I’m going to dive in with some suggestions. I too love science. I grew up with science. My late father was a very highly esteemed scientist in his field both in the US and abroad.

Here are some tidbits I’ve gleened:

We only know a small percentage of the facts that can be known & some of what we think we know we’ve actually misinterpretted.

Let’s compare this to a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. We’ll generously say we know 10% of all that can be known – so we randomly pull out 100 pieces from the box. Now, since some of what we think we know is not correctly interpretted – take 15 of those 100 pieces and replace them with random pieces from other puzzles.

Now, do your best to arrange those pieces without ever looking at the picture on the puzzle box. Then extrapolate and try to recreate the original picture. Chances are the results will be interesting, well thought out, and appear correct…but chances are even better that it won’t look much like the actual picture.

As Christians, we have a huge advantage – we have the box with the picture on it: the Bible. So we can look at the current arrangement of puzzle pieces and say “nah – this part here or that over there just doesn’t work”.

We shouldn’t get upset or defensive just because the pieces don’t match the picture. Seriously, without the picture what would the odds be of it ever matching? Nor should we be so foolish as to throw out the picture cuz it didn’t match the current arrangement of the pieces! (As BioLogos appears to be willing to do) Instead, we should get really excited when the pieces and the picture differ- that’s where discoveries are waiting to be made!

Once, when looking over some of my dad’s many patents, I asked him how he knew where to look to make new discoveries. He said that was really “the million dollar question” for any scientist, but the best place to start was where there were discrepancies – where things didn’t add up.

God says to prove Him, and see if He’s true. He will never be found to be a liar. As believers, we need to trust that He meant what He said, take His Word literally, and have the courage to rearrange the puzzle pieces to fit the picture – not vice versa. Because of the nature of some of the areas of discrepency, I’m firmly convinced some of the most dramatic discoveries have yet to be made: but they won’t be made by those who already believe they have the answers.

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Blogger  Jim Pemberton said…

    one busy mom: very cogent metaphor, apt and true.

    And I agree with with the following comments explaining the foundational nature of Biblical truth. It’s what is often misunderstood, overlooked, or intentionally skewed in these discussions.

    Mike correctly pointed to the definition of science as being rather vague and oft unaddressed for clarity. To be sure, inasmuch as we think about who God is we may be generally classified as theologians. Likewise, inasmuch as we observe the observable world around us and make predictable assumptions based on the consistent properties that we see we can all be generally classified as scientists.

    However, there is are classifications of theologians and ministers who are defined as those who are particularly studied and interact with communities of other such theologians and ministers. Likewise, there are classifications of scientists and engineers who are particularly studied and interact with communities of other scientists and engineers.

    It’s the distinctions between schools of presuppositional thought that are often at the heart of disagreement or even discredit between communities of scientists. So if we talk about what science is “valid” we get a different answer based on what community we use as our basis for scientific thinking. As it is, the naturalists happen to have the upper hand in popularity by virtue of their proliferation on the staffs of many schools and universities. So non-naturalistic science tends to be dismissed by most scientists as invalid, not because it’s not science, but because it’s not naturalistic.

    BioLogos seems to have bought the naturalistic party line and are using it’s presuppositions for defining what science is “valid”. But orthodox Christian presuppositions are decidedly not naturalistic. Therefore science that uses the same presuppositions as orthodox Christianity looks different than naturalistic science. Naturalistic science cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy. But there is a science that is integral to Christian orthodoxy.

I was involved in a discussion the other day regarding the will of God and what comforts us in times of great trial, specifically the loss of a loved one. The other side of the discussion consisted of a vague notion that God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen. I can’t state an incoherent argument coherently except to say that the reason it is incoherent is because it is essentially visceral and not scripturally based.

I pointed out that God is sovereign, all of us deserve to die and that unless Christ returns in a premillennial fashion we will all die, physically that is. So the truth is that there is nothing wrong with the observation that God causes us all to die one way or the other. He is right to do so and it is his will.

In response, I was told that people who were suffering loss shouldn’t be told that the death of their loved one was the will of God. Additionally, it was pointed out, such a discourse to someone who was suffering loss could be driven away from God if they thought that God caused their loved one to be taken from them.

I’m sure my reply was not fully understood at the time, but I responded with our desire for the true God as our source of comfort. To elaborate:

First, we are all sinners who deserve death. Therefore, no means of the death of sinners is intrinsically evil. For example, a tornado that kills sinful people is not a bad thing. Or a murderer killing sinful people is not a bad thing. It is evil to murder, but that a sinner was murdered is not evil. The distinction is important to understand. God, who has no sin, is not a murderer for killing sinful people in cold blood. That we are horrified by the death of sinners should not inform our thinking on the nature of death as a result of sin. Otherwise, we fail to understand the nature of sin and our dire need for a savior.

Second, our desire is to be for God. It’s not that we can try to desire God and succeed, for the very act of trying is founded on the desire we already have. Therefore, the desire is always first. But if we desire God then we would desire his will, whatever it is.

Now it is true that there are many who desire God according some misconception they have about God, but this is a desire for a false God because it is based on the notion of a god who does not exist. That is, that if our concept of God is not according to his revelation of himself to us then we have construed a false god in which to place our faith.

It may be that there are aspects of God that have not been revealed to us or that we have not come to a full understanding of God as we continue to learn about him. However, inasmuch as the gospel of Christ is central to his revelation to us, as long as we get the core of the gospel right, then we understand the essentials about who God is and the rest we ponder and refine throughout our lives as we grow in faith.

But with regard to the gospel, if we do not apprehend the depth of our sinfulness and God’s sovereignty as creator, then we cannot understand the gospel of Christ. (There are other things to know in order to understand the gospel, but these two are key to this discussion.) If we think in any way that we are intrinsically worth saving, then we have to think that God has relinquished some aspects of his sovereignty in creation to us or we will think God blameworthy of the deaths of good people everywhere.

However, if we know the depths of our sinfulness, then we know that any desire we have for God comes from God himself and we rejoice in his sovereignty. For such who know this, it is comforting to know that the death of a loved one is the will of God. We may weep sorrowfully if we knew they they rejected God and we will see them no longer. On the other hand, if we saw the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, namely faith in God and the atoning work of Christ, then we can weep for joy in knowing that they have gone on before us and we are parted only for a short time.

For one who doesn’t know the gospel as such there is no comfort except a false hope in a lie. For those who know it truly such as have fully placed their trust in Christ the only comfort is in the will of God; and as we display that comfort, God is most glorified.

Moses considered himself “meek” (Numbers 12:3) and in the same context God called him “faithful” (Numbers 12:7). What does “meek” and “faithful” look like from the account of Miriam and Aaron’s detraction against Moses in Numbers 12?

This was the same Moses who had become content to keep sheep in the land of Midian but had been called by God to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to Canaan and to give them the law. This was the same Moses who came down out of the mountain, tablets in hand, only to find the Israelite worshiping a golden calf; and he ground the calf to bits and made the Israelites drink it; and he had three thousand of the Hebrews killed for it. Does this sound like a meek man?

In Numbers 11 Moses had just petitioned God to have some of the people help him bear their burdens and God had granted his request as one that was reasonable. After this, Moses’ older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, apparently find fault with Moses for marrying a woman of a different people. However, their complaint ends up being an attack on Moses for having a power over the people that they don’t have. Their real issue was their own desire for power. Consider that Aaron was already chief over all the priests and had stood with Moses before Pharaoh through the plagues. Aaron was no insignificant man. Yet his sinful flesh desired more for himself.

When Miriam and Aaron came out against Moses, we read nowhere that Moses spoke one word in his defense. Except that Moses had this account written, he doesn’t stick up for himself. Instead, God calls Miriam and Aaron to task and defends his calling of Moses. He punishes them, Miriam in particular with leprosy. But Aaron repents and Moses pleas for her healing.

So Moses is faithful to defend God even by the edge of the sword. But he is meek in that he does not defend himself. Christ did this also who defended his disciples against the false teachings of the Pharisees but did not defend himself against the charges brought against him. If he did anything he fled as though on the lam until the appointed time to be delivered into their hands. Paul was also faithful to defend the young churches under his discipleship against false teachers but did not defend himself when attacked. The only time Paul sought a defense was through an appeal to Caesar to defend him as a citizen of Rome by birth. But he did not defend himself. He made the occasional reference to his calling as one of the apostles, not to defend his calling however but to establish his teaching about God.

So we must have a heart of boldness in faithfully ministering God’s truth, especially in the gospel, but a heart of meekness in relying on God for defense against detractors.

My Bible study sometimes takes the form of intense study of a particular passage as I seek to better understand it. To this end I have been studying John 3 for several months now as I read it over and over, study, and map out the flow of thought of the account as well as any theological arguments being made while taking into account every context: The cultural context of the human author and the immediate audience, the intent of God in his revelation of himself in the given passage to the audience of all men knowing that they come from cultures different than the one of the intended audience, the internal context of the passage such as the context of the immediate flow of thought as well as the larger flow of thought.  All this is with the mind that God may allow and plan for a misunderstanding among cultures for a period of time. For example, we see the preservation of the scriptures even through the period of syncretism of the Roman Catholic Church that lasted centuries before the Reformation. 

The reason I bring the RCC up is that the Reformation was a return to soteriological orthodoxy. The RCC soteriology is a direct affront to clear Pauline theology. However, they provided the source of theological authority for a long time. The authority was simply wrong.

On the other hand, there is no small amount of mistaken theology even among Protestants. There are plenty of resources available to help discern the true meaning of the scriptures. The reason people don’t get it right is the presence of sin in general, but which is often cloaked in good intentions. In other words, people have cultural and philosophical sensibilities that the literal culture of the Bible offends. It is important to study it diligently and to refer often to those who have studied much with a heart for the glory of God lest we fall into theological error, the center of our theological considerations drifting according to our desires rather than remaining fixed on a love of the Truth of God even as we submit to him.

So then, by what manner did the Reformers of old deny the theological authority of the Roman Catholic Church? And by what manner do we challenge any point of theology of orthodox Protestants today? We know that there are central matters than must not be compromised, for this provides that which defines Christian orthodoxy. But we also know that there are matters most debatable that are not central to the Christian faith or necessary for establishing our relationship in the atonement with Jesus Christ. It is in this matter that I make my observation on John 3:5, and indeed why I began studying this chapter this past summer.

On the streets of London as people passed by to whom we ministered, my wife in prayer for them became aware of a possible meaning for “world” in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world…” The classical debate between Calvinism and Arminianism involves the word “world” here translated from the Greek “cosmos”. Cosmos is a general term and can take on different meanings depending on its context. It’s rather a mistake to base any theology on such a word. Arminians claim that it means absolutely every individual person. Calvinists claim it doesn’t mean every individual, but merely every people group. Arminians claim John 3:16 as the irrefutable source of their soteriology. Therefore, they mean that there is no other way to define “cosmos”. Calvinists, in response, say that we must look elsewhere in scripture to understand what “cosmos” means and find a meaning for the scope of the word in response to Arminians. Since the Reformation, theologians have interpreted this word depending on their orientation with either Calvinism or Arminianism not thinking that there may be some other import.

Well, when my wife saw the people to whom we were ministering, she saw a challenge in the verse. “For God so loved the ‘world’ that he gave…” She saw the people to whom we were ministering as the ‘world’ and was challenged to love them as God does: even as he gave his son and he was sent, so we were sent to minister in some sacrificial way. And so the meaning actually fits pretty  well with Christ’s line of reasoning to Nicodemus. Of all the orthodox Biblical commentators I find, not one of them save an obscure reference or two in one even comes close to understanding the use of the word ‘cosmos’ in this context. The logic is simple: Christ came from God, as Nicodemus rightly observed, into this world. He thought he came only to teach. But he couldn’t accept his teaching, for his teaching was that of the Messiah and that his purpose to save the world from sin demanded their faith. In this context, the ‘world’ is the place of sinful men that God loves and where he sent his Son. There is no other meaning indicated by the context and I contend that it is a disservice to the scriptural text to import other meaning in an attempt to validate one theology or another.

Now, back up several verses; Verse 5. What does it mean to be “born of water”? Let me go through my process with you.

I read this verse. Then I read the surrounding verses. I read all of chapter three, even down to where it was talking about Jesus and John both baptizing. However, the context Jesus set up is that there are two births: “Unless one is born again [first one birth then another] one cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus doesn’t understand this so Jesus restates another way “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” and elaborates, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” My first thought is that “water” is one birth and “Spirit” is another birth. If “Spirit” in verse 5 is “Spirit” in verse 6 then “water” in verse 5 is “flesh” in verse 6. How can this be? The best explanation is that he was referring to the water of physical human birth. 

However, most of the commentators I read say that “water” means baptism. Apparently this goes back to the debate over whether baptism saves people or not. Those who believe it does say that “water” cannot be interpreted any other way and that it means that you have to be baptized in order to be saved. In response, those who say that baptism is merely a symbol argue that it is representative of our salvific relationship with God. 

So I consider this. There are three options: either the phrase “water and Spirit” are dichotomous, synonymous, or additive. If dichotomous, then they are different things that either represent opposites or two halves of a whole. If synonymous, then they are the same thing – period. If additive, then they are basically the same thing except on different levels.

Those who interpret this as water baptism required for salvation either interpret this dichotomously or synonymously. If dichotomously, they say that one must be baptized and also the Spirit must fill them. If synonymously, they say that water baptism causes the Spirit to fill the person.

Those who interpret this as water baptism symbolic of salvation interpret this as almost exclusively additive. However, the additive is backwards. We submit to water baptism because the Holy Spirit has indwelt us. The problem is that you would have to understand that we must be baptized in order to be saved. Most Protestant commentators I’ve read don’t address this. I have seen an interpretation that went into rather subjective symbolism in order to get around this problem. The symbolism he portrayed was okay, but he didn’t get it from this text. 

And that’s the biggest problem with importing water baptism into this verse. Sure, later in the chapter we read about Jesus and John baptizing. But it doesn’t fit the flow of Jesus’ response to Nicodemus. Well, I consider that perhaps Jesus isn’t restating the dichotomy and expounding on it in verse 6. Perhaps he is only talking about water being some symbol for the Spirit. Perhaps Jesus was referring to the ministry he was involved with in baptizing people (even though he really didn’t do the baptizing – his disciples did). But I don’t see how it comports with everything else he says to Nicodemus. To be sure, the baptism of John the Baptist was a call for Jews to repent and return to the core of their faith: the coming of the promised Messiah. Baptism was what the only thing non-Jews had to do that Jews didn’t already do in order to be Jews. Jews were born Jews. Non-Jews were not. In order to become Jews by faith, non-Jews had to (and still have to today) become circumcised (if men), offer a sacrifice (a finger-prick today because they don’t have the temple), and be baptized. The baptism is as though they are being born a Jew since Jews are Jews by birth. If Jesus is referring to baptism, then he is therefore referring to the water of birth. In this case, it would be both dichotomous and figuratively synonymous.

To be sure, verse 5 and verse 6 each have different information that gives us clues and I haven’t gone into every detail. For example, I have to ask if it is coherent to say that one must have a physical birth as well as a spiritual birth. And how does this comport with Jesus saying “we speak of what we know”?

So I humbly submit that all the great orthodox Protestant theologians of our time that I can find who made commentary on this passage may not be entirely correct, or may need significant refinement, in their apparent agreement on this passage. As it is, perhaps my hermeneutical approach is in error. It’s a good thing this isn’t a terrifically important theological matter among us Protestants.

As such, I submit my contemplations to all of my fellow Protestants for your consideration. If you have a good argument that refutes my thinking, please make it.