Son of Man

The Descent From the Cross by Gustave Doré


“If Jesus referred to Himself as ‘son of man’ isn’t He saying He was only human and not divine?”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel was called “Son of man” 95 times by my count. In the New Testament book of Matthew Jesus was called “Son of man” 26 times. In Luke, 26 times and in the Gospel of John 12 times. Some have said the title Son of man meant He was divine, but if that’s true why is Ezekiel called by that title much more than Jesus?

For one, it’s important to note that while God always called Ezekiel son of man, Jesus always called Himself the Son of man. What would be so special about using this title in the definitive article?

The title Son of man was not meant to convey divinity but rather, as it sounds, humanity. Jesus came to earth as the second Adam. He did what Adam failed to do and restored God’s communion with man.

Jesus also used the title that the prophet Daniel used several hundred years before in the book named after him. In Daniel 7:13-14 we read, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

As Matthew Henry commented

As a title common to him with others. He was called, and justly, the Son of God, for so he was; but he called himself the Son of man; for he is really and truly “Man, made of a woman.’ In courts of honour, it is a rule to distinguish men by their highest titles; but Christ, having now emptied himself, though he was the Son of God, will be known by the style and title of the Son of man. Ezekiel was often so called to keep him humble;Christ called himself so, to show that he was humble. Or, as a title peculiar to him as Mediator. He is made known, in Daniel’s vision, as the   Son of man,   Daniel 7:13. I am the Messiah, that Son of man that was promised.

Son of God

So, did Jesus ever call Himself the Son of God? Searching scripture I can’t find a time when Jesus said “I am the Son of God.” But He was called Son of God by others: demons, disciples, and regular people. Even Satan used the term mockingly when tempting our Lord in the wilderness. And although Jesus never explicitly used the name for Himself, He never rejected it. On the contrary, He affirmed it.
One of the most obvious affirmations is when Jesus was asking His disciples who do they say that He is. Matthew 16:15-17, “He saith unto them,But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ,the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”


Jesus gave another confirmation that He was the Son of God and for this was threatened with death.

Matthew chapter 26:63-66, “But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him,Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.”

Others have been called “the son of God” (eg. Adam in Luke 3:38, Israel in Hosea 11:1) but only Jesus is called the “only begotten” (John 3:16) or monogenēs, which actually means “singular of its kind. He was the son of God for all eternity. Coexisting with His Father and existing of the same nature.

Jesus the Christ, the Son of man, and the Son of God.


Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

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Paul and the Virgin Birth

Paul the Apostle in Prison

“If the virgin birth is so important to Christians then why did the Apostle Paul not mention it any of his epistles?”

The New Testament is comprised of 27 books. Of those books the Apostle Paul wrote at least 13. In those books, he mentioned many of the important doctrines of the Christian faith. In his letter to the Corinthians, he says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

Here we see: 1)Christ dying for our sins, 2)that He was buried, 3)that He raised from the dead. In other books Paul writes about the deity of Jesus (Colossians 2:9, Romans 1:2-5, Philippians 2:6). But he never once mentions the virgin birth. Why?

Some argue that since what may be arguably the greatest evangelist and apologist of the Christian faith didn’t write about the virgin birth of Jesus that either he did not believe it or that he did not know about it. And that he was so knowledgeable it’s highly improbable that the latter is true. So, did Paul just not believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived Him as a virgin?

One thing we must remember is that just because he didn’t mention it doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe it. That’s like the common argument that since Scripture doesnt speak of Jesus preaching against x, then He must not have considered x a sin. But the Bible says that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So just because we don’t know something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Likewise, just because Paul didn’t mention something doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe or that it’s not true.

It’s, in fact, more possible that Paul did know and believe in the virgin birth. The physician, known as Luke, was a companion of Paul during Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles, speaks of being there with Paul when meeting with the Jerusalem church in Acts 21. And while Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament (14 according to some scholars), Luke’s two books contain more volume than Paul’s.

The reason I mention Luke is because he wrote about the virgin birth. The Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-34 reads, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Here we see that Luke clearly was aware of the virgin birth. Since we know that Luke and Paul were companions for quite a while, I believe it is safe to conclude that Paul also knew of the virgin birth. Also, Paul was no stranger to airing out his disagreements as he did in Galatians 2 about Peter. Luke also writes of Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas in Acts chapter 15. Therefore, I think it would be safe to assume that Paul or Luke would have written about a disagreement on the virgin conception of Jesus.

I also believe that Paul, in a roundabout way did mention the virgin birth. In the epistle to the Romans, Paul says, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures…” Paul, an educated man, knew the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. Paul calls himself a Pharisee in Acts 23:6 and Philippians 3:4-5. It was required of Pharisees to know the Hebrew Scriptures inside and out. Therefore, he knew the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah in which the virgin birth was first prophesied. Paul quoted Isaiah dozens of times in his writings so it wouldn’t be unwise to conclude that Paul also believed in that Jesus was conceived without an earthly father.

Therefore, by Paul being a friend of Luke and knowing the prophetic book of Isaiah, I would argue that Paul indeed believed in the virgin birth of Jesus. We need to be careful about not using the logical fallacy of arguing from absence (argumentum ad ignorantiam).

For more on the virgin birth, you can read my blog here.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

No homoi.

Arius of Lybia

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” John 1:1

During the early church, there was a dispute about the ontology of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus the same essence as God or is he of a similar essence? These two schools of thought divided those who wished to be faithful to what was revealed in scripture about the Redeemer. They used the Greek words ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) and ὁμοιοούσιος (homoiusios) to describe thier respective views.

Homo-ousios – that the Father and the Son are of the same essence. “Homo” meaning same. “Usia” meaning essence, or being.

Homoi-usious – that the Father and the Son are of similar essense. “Homoi” meaning similar.

Now at first glance it may seem that the difference in the two is nonessential banter. Why would there be division about such a seemingly trivial concept? Well, those that accepted the homoousian christology believed that the other camp was downplaying or outright denying the divinity of Christ. That the Theos and Logos described in John 1 are of the same essence and to describe them as anything else would be to describe someone else other than the Christ of Scripture.

Arius, a third century Lybian theologian believed in similar-substance-christology. Arius did not believe, however, that his view went against the teachings of scripture. Nor did his christology start with him. He learned from Lucian of Antioch. In a letter to another theologian known as Alexander, he called Jesus “a creature of God.” Making God the Father the creator of everything else including the Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, according to those of the homoousion christology, God does not save but one of His creations does. Making Arianism seem to be too close to donetism, that Jesus is only a man.

Now this seems to coinside with John 3:16 that says Jesus is the “only begotten son.” The Greek here is μονογενής (monogenēs) meaning basically the single of its kind. This is important because if Jesus was of similar essence then He would not be of the same kind as His Father.

Arius, in his letter to Eusibius of Nicomedia, says of Jesus, “…the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect as God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not. For he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning but that God is without beginning.

The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten but not made…” Now I am not placing any creed above Scripture. However, those in the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) thought it vital to settle this debate. That Scripture made it plain that Jesus and God are one (John 10:30).

Tradition has it that one member that attended the council was even so impassioned that he slaps an Arian, perhpas even Arius himself. This attendee was none other than Saint Nicholas of Myra, the same St. Nicholas we see around Christmas time.

——————————–

Now, I’ve heard the argument, “what about Colossians 1:15 that states that Jesus is the first born of all creation? How can He be of the same essence as the Father?” I believe that instead of using the word “of” here, “over” would have been better as used in the New King James Version, NIV, and the CSB.

Colossians 1:15-18 states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
” (NASB). We see here that He has made EVERYTHING. All that was created has been created by Jesus Christ. As John 1:3 says, “…apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Making Jesus outside of creation and not a thing created.

While I can’t say that the New Living Translation is the best or even my favorite translation, I think it excellently words Colossians 1:5 this way, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In other words it’s Christ’s preeminence over creation that this verse is talking about.

In conclusion, I believe homoousia better describes our Lord as revealed in the Bible. Not homoi-.

Further reading: John 5:18, John 8:24, John 8:58, John 10:30-33, John 20:28, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:8

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

I Can Do ALL Things?

Often times in our day to day interactions we hear someone say something that sounds like it’s from the Bible or even hear something we’ve read or heard in church knowing it’s from the Bible. Therefore, we don’t put much thought into the validity of the quote and we’ll affirm it with a hearty “Amen.”

And, too often, I’ll hear something and I think to myself “that’s not what that means.” Usually, the person speaking isn’t trying to be careless or malicious with their use of scripture. It’s usually just being spoken from ignorance. So, I’ve decided to write about one of the often quoted yet misused scripture quotes that we hear thrown about. One that I’ve even misused in the past:

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ “

We see this verse used on athletic clothing and sports banners. We say it before big tests. We say it when beginning our work week at a place we’d rather not work. We use it as a self affirmation when going to job interviews. It has become a Christian mantra for completing any daunting task.

At first the verse seems pretty upfront and plain. However, there’s a simple principle one can remember when using Bible verses, “Never read a Bible verse.” This means that all verses are surrounded by other verses and chapters and all verses should be read and used in context with the complete message in which it was stated.

So what does this verse really mean? Let’s look at the immediate context.

Philippians 4:10-14 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.

Paul, the writer of Philippians had been through great distress during his travels proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles. But these times were full of beatings, stonings, prison, and shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:25). It is likely that Paul during his earlier days came from a place of affluence. Paul knew what it was like to have and to have not.

What Paul wants the reader to know here is that because of the power of Christ he can be content in all situations. No matter what he is facing he knows Who is ultimately in control.

As he said earlier in the chapter, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Yes, The Bible Supports Slavery …And Perhaps You Do Too.

Does the Bible support slavery? Many have said it does as a moral argument against the Bible. They say, “The Bible says thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not steal. But, nowhere does it say thou shalt not own slaves.” And they are right. Nowhere in scripture is slavery flat out condemned. On the contrary, there are rules regulating it.

So what makes it okay? Why would I, as a Black man, be okay defending this book that doesn’t condemn slavery? What kind of respect am I showing my ancestors who were forced from their homelands and packed into boats in inhumane conditions and treated even more inhumanely as slaves in the Americas? Why?

If you were to do any sort of Google search asking if the Bible supports slavery, I don’t think you would find any articles that give a flat out “no” answer. You see, what we do is look at slavery through the eyes of those who lived after the slave trade implemented in the 17th century. When Africans were stolen from their homes and forced to serve in different countries by Europeans. That’s our modern context of slavery. And in modern years we see the rise of sex trafficking, our newest slave plague.

So, how can we defend the Bible here? There’s a few things we must consider when speaking about slavery in the Bible.

1. Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free.” Slaves in the Bible were required to be freed after six years of servitude. This is not true of the slaves in America. They were born slaves and were forced to die as slaves no matter how old they were or how long they endured it. This is one reason the African slave trade was unbiblical.

2. Exodus 21:16 “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Also Deuteronomy 24:7). This means everyone who forced Africans on boats was deserving of death. That means everyone who owned these Africans as slaves was deserving of death. The Bible did not mince words. The African slave trade of the past several hundred years was indeed wrong and is NOT supported by the Bible.

3. Slavery was often voluntary. Slaves could even remain slaves if they wanted to for a lifetime. But it wasn’t to be forced. Exodus 21:5-6But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”

4. Slavery was also permitted to work off debts. But as the slave was freed the seventh year, debts were wiped clean after seven years. In chapter 15 of Deuteronomy we read in verse 1, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.” But when they were set free they were not to just be freed empty-handed.“If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Verses 12-15)

And it makes no difference if a person was Hebrew or not. Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” In other words, there was to be equality amongst the races and nationalities. Many slaves were also prisoners of war. (Deuteronomy 20:10-11).

So, we see that the slavery we are familiar with in the West is NOT the slavery that we see in the Bible. When reading the Bible we have to be careful not to insert our modern preconceived notions into scripture (eisegesis). That’s not proper interpretation. What is proper is to read what scripture says and understand what it meant when it was written and then apply it to our lives now.

What then did I mean in the title when I said you probably support slavery too? Maybe you don’t condone any type of slavery for any amount of time for any reason. Well let’s consider Proverbs 22:7b.

“…the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

We see that slavery was permitted to work off debts. But how many off us reading this has become modern slaves because of our debts.

Are you a financial slave because of voluntary debt? Matthew Henry said, “Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.” Some of are working mainly to pay off debts we’ve incurred simply because we wanted to be like other people. As some have said “keeping up with the Joneses”.

Some have even said that any debt we incur make our lenders our masters by default. Meaning if for every debt you have, you have at least one master. Do you pay a mortgage, car note, and credit card bill? Then you have at least three masters. So if you’ve voluntarily agreed to any debt and to pay it back, then you have supported a level of your own liberty being sold. Credit card companies know this. Why do you think your unpaid debt usually stops showing after seven years?

While none of this feels good to say, I believe it’s true. And I’m not throwing stones. I have a mortgage and a couple loans. Some churches go in to debt when building and repairing their buildings. And like the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, it doesn’t condemn debt. Some have used Romans 13:8 to say that we shouldn’t borrow but Jesus permitted borrowing in Matthew 5:42. Yet, we should always seek to pay what we owe and be free from all debts. 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.”

So, yes the Bible supports slavery. There. I said it. Just not the kind we usually think of. Not the kind that my ancestors were emancipated from in 1863 and not the kind the Hebrews were liberated from in the book of Exodus.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

The Curse Reversed: The Parallels of Genesis and Revelation

“Satan Enters Eden” and “The New Jerusalem” by Gustave Dore

“The Bible says light appeared on the 1st day of creation. However, the sun and stars weren’t created until the 4th day. How can there be light and days with no sun and stars?”

Apologists have different ways of answering this question. I once even considered what’s called the cosmic microwave background. However, through further scripture reading, I believe the Bible has answered this question thousands of years ago.

I believe the “light” in Genesis 1:3 is the Glory of God.

The reason I believe this is because of the parallels in the books Genesis and Revelation. In Genesis we have the creation of the world and the Garden of Eden, God’s temple on earth. We also have the fall of mankind and the curse on man and the rest of creation where God dwelt and communed with man. In the book of Revelation we see the reversal of the curse.

Therefore, the light in Genesis 1:3 is the same light that will exist in the New Earth in Revelation.

Revelation 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

There are other parallels mentioned in Genesis and Revelation. Here are some listed below:

Genesis 1:4 -separation of light and darkness
Revelation 21:25 -no night, only day.

Genesis 1:10 -separation of land and sea Revelation 21:1 -there is no more sea.

Genesis 2:10 -a river flows from the Garden of Eden
Revelation 22:1 -a river flows from God’s throne.

Genesis 2:9 -the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden
Revelation 22:2 -the Tree of Life throughout the city.

Genesis 2:12 -God and precious stones in the land
Revelation 21:19 speaks of gold and precious stones throughout.

Genesis 3:8 -God walks in the garden, among His creation
Revelation 21:3 -God will dwell amongst His people.

Genesis 3:17 -the ground is cursed because of man’s sin
Revelation 22:3 -there will be no more curse in the New Earth

Genesis 3:17-19 -sin results in pain and death being introduced to creation
Revelation 21:1-4 -there is no more pain or death in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Genesis 3:24 -Mankind is banished from the garden, and cherub guards the entrance Revelation 21:9 -angels actively invite into the city

In Genesis 3:15 we are given the first Gospel promise of the Redeemer who will crush the head of the serpent. Jesus is that one who is promised. While Adam broke the law given to him and brought death to the world. Jesus kept the whole law and defeated death. Adam disobeyed and ate of the tree God told him not to bringing death. Jesus obeyed and died on a tree bringing us life. As stated in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

Also read: Habakkuk 3:4, John 1:1-14, John 7:37-38, James 1:17, 1 John 1:5

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

What Do You Mean By “God”? Defining Terms

When having interfaith dialogues, the word God is often thrown around. “You believe in God? I believe in God!” When in actuality, the “God” spoken of is totally different in the eyes of the respective believer. So it is imperative in these conversations to “define terms”. Ask what does a person mean by God. Ask them who they believe God is.

It’s often said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. However, the Muslim God has no Son unlike the Christian God. Muslims believe in “Jesus” but their Jesus was not crucified and therefore did not die for the sins of the world. Of course, the Christian Jesus did. These are, in no way, minor differences.

The Mormon god was once a man who is currently married to his heavenly wife. This is a different god.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is not God but is, instead, the archangel Michael. In Mormonism, he is the spirit child of “God” and his wife and is the brother of Lucifer. This is a drastically different Jesus. Yet, both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons consider themselves Christians.

Many Arabic speaking Christians call God “Allah”. Muslims call their’s “Allah”. It is not the same “Allah”. Though many would have us believe it is.

Many religious groups other than Christians use the term God when speaking of their own deities. Often it is used as a generic term. Even in Christendom, God is actually a title and not a name for Yahweh (YHVH from the Hebrew יהוה). The word “God” actually comes from the German “Gott”.

To some people “God” may just mean some non-personal energy or just the material universe itself. To others we human beings make up the collective “God consciousness”.

To have clear and concise communication in theological discussions, defining terms can make the difference between what we agree on and what we disagree on. It lays the foundation. Understandably, we won’t always be right in everything we discuss. But making the differences known from the beginning can get to the root of the issue.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Good God, Bad World: The Theodicy

Peanuts rain
Matthew 5:45

the·od·i·cy (thē-ˈä-də-sē ) noun – An explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil

Habakkuk 1:2-3(ESV)
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

In a world full of such beauty and love and happiness, we also find sadness, pain, and disaster. There are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, school shootings, holocausts, wars, rapes, all manner of diseases, death… The Christian view of God is that He is good. That God is in control. That God cares and loves His creation. If this is true, then why is there so much suffering? This is perhaps one of the biggest if not the biggest stumbling block to many people when it comes to understanding God. And not just understanding God, but a lot of people just reject the notion of an omnipotent and omniscient God because of what’s known as the “problem of evil.”

Why does a good God allow evil?

Ancient skeptic and philosopher, Epicurus, said of God, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Are God and evil mutually exclusive? Does the existence of evil negate the existence of God? Some would say that to have both in the same universe would be a contradiction.

First let’s start with definitions. Let’s define “God” and “evil.” Merriam-Webster online defines God as “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe.” They define evil as, “arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. The “archaic” form is “causing discomfort or repulsion.” So, for its use in this blog “evil” consists of both natural and man-made trouble.

So God is defined as “perfect in power.” This means He can do absolutely whatever He chooses to do. As the Psalmist said, “He does whatever He pleases.” Being perfect in power He can stop all evil.

“Perfect in wisdom” means that He will never make a mistake and everything He does is absolutely wise. And being perfect in goodness means that all goodness dwells in Him and in Him there is no evil.

So if this all powerful, all wise, all good God exists and sees the evil in the world, why doesn’t He stop it?

Well we must ask ourselves what exactly is it we want stopped. Do we want God to stop all evil? If so and you’ve ever had an evil thought then you would want God to control your thoughts. If you’ve ever uttered an evil word, you would want God to control your speech. If you’ve ever done an evil deed or even made a mistake that caused harm, you would want God to control your actions. Therefore, we are asking for one of two things if we want God to stop all evil: 1. That God take all free will from mankind, or 2. God kill us upon our first evil thought, word, or deed.¹ And we can’t ask that justice be done to others and not to ourselves.

Now let’s break down Epicurus’ argument:

  • Is God willing to prevent evil? Well if He is good we would have to say yes. We also know from the Bible that He is willing to prevent evil. He Himself heals. And He sends people out to heal the sick, warn people of judgement, and free slaves.
  • Is God able? A perfectly powerful God is definitely able to prevent evil. But ability doesn’t mean necessity. A good God may allow things that we deem bad for other purposes. He doesn’t have to stop evil.
  • Whence then is evil? Or from where does evil come? This is an important question to consider when pondering the existence of a good God when evil is so prevalent in the world.

Is evil “bad” just because it causes discomfort and repulsion? If so, the act of a parent correcting a child is “evil.” But of course a parent correcting a child is doing a good thing. But it feels bad. It causes discomfort and no child- nor any adult for that matter – likes correction. And, of course we can say that a parent, or teacher, or friend that corrects is doing it for the other person’s good. Therefore, we would rarely call it evil because we know there is love behind it. So we can logically say there are some things which feel bad that actually aren’t. We can also look at childbirth, growing pangs, the pain we get in our muscles from exercise that facilitates gaining strength: not all pain and discomfort are bad.

But of course there are those things caused by wrongdoing. People with malicious intent doing bad things for a bad purpose. What are we to make of that? And if God can stop them and if it’s in God’s good will to end evil then why doesn’t He stop them? Well as I mentioned earlier, where then would free will be? God can do whatever He pleases, but to stop all evil men from doing evil deeds He would have to stop all evil hearts. As Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This would mean at best we would all be “robots” with no will of our own, or at worst destroyed at the first bad thought.

What about “natural evil?” Stopping that wouldn’t inhibit human free will, right? Why doesn’t God stop natural disasters? Well, it would seem that most people “accept” natural evil as “nature being nature.” Not that they like all that happens in nature, per se, but that those things that happen naturally are more acceptable than “moral evil” caused by man. But for the atheist, the discomfort “natural evil” may cause has no good or bad to it. Actually, it should be seen more so as a good thing if it is just nature doing what nature does. It would be just the earth or universe replenishing itself or going through its phases. If plagues happen, it’s just nature. So why seek to cure disease? Also, what about nature would the inquirer want God to stop? Many aspects of nature that can harm us are also things that we need to survive on this planet. Would God need to make water less dangerous to prevent drownings? He would need to make the composition different, but then it would cease to be water. Lightning is another example. Lightning strikes kill many people every year. But, we need lightning. All life requires nitrogen-compounds and “the enormous energy of lightning breaks nitrogen molecules and enables their atoms to combine with oxygen in the air forming nitrogen oxides. These dissolve in rain, forming nitrates, that are carried to the earth.” (http://www.biology-pages.info/N/NitrogenCycle.html) Basically, we need lightning for healthy air and fertile soil.

Well, you might say “that’s all well and good but an all-powerful God could prevent lightning from striking people.” And you would be right. But, once again, that would involve preventing me from being in a certain place at a certain time so that I am not struck by lightning. “Well doesn’t Christianity claim that God does, in fact, intervene sometimes to prevent such occasions?” Yes, whenever God intervenes to prevent what would otherwise have happened, that is called a miracle. As Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis writes, “That God can and does, on occasion, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is a part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.” Have you or someone close to you said after some natural or otherwise unfortunate event, “I was supposed to be there at that moment but ________ happened and I’m alive because of it.”?

Now back to God’s wisdom. When we are children, our parents often tell us that we can’t do something we want to do. We think we are smart enough and mature enough to do whatever it is, but our parents spoil the fun with a “No!” or “Stop!” and sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we get an explanation of why. Sometimes. Those other times we don’t get the reason because we wouldn’t understand it even if they told us. And we definitely wouldn’t agree with the explanation because we don’t understand it. Our parent’s life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences have given them a better understanding of the world around us than we have as children. So, their no’s to us may seem cruel at times but it is often for our benefit.

God created the world around us and the universe beyond us. God sees the past, present, and future all at once. God, therefore, is more knowledgeable than our parents (and, of course, us) could ever have dreamed of being. Our knowledge is finite and therefore our wisdom and perception are finite. God is infinite and therefore His wisdom is infinite. So while we can’t always know the reasons of the pain and suffering we experience here on earth, we can know that God does. So, because of our ignorance the words of Job ring true, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3


Evil proves God exists. Why do we hate “evil”? Why would someone question why bad things happen? It is because we know that there is a standard of good and of rightness and therefore whatever is “evil” doesn’t seem to meet the standard. We know a line is crooked because we know of straightness. Anything that goes against the “transcendentals” (truth, beauty, and goodness) is evil, bad, or wrong. Since God is defined as perfect in goodness, He is the standard against which one judges evil. If God does not exist, whence then is evil? What standard does anyone have to judge evil? Evil and goodness would only exist as opinions.


If naturalism is true, the best hope we have is that we will return to the nothing from which naturalists say we came. That not only does pain end when we die but so does any amount of pleasure and joy. Nothing created us for no purpose and back to the void of nothingness we will return. All of our pleasures and pain on earth were for naught. No truth, beauty, or goodness awaits in exchange for all the suffering in the world.

However, the Bible tells us there is a reason that pain and suffering are in the world. Man’s sin is so potent that it affects the world. Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused death to come into the world. Before sin, there was no hard work, pain in child labor, shame, disaster, or death. The Bible also promises us that all will be made right again. That God is a God of justice. That one day man will be free from pain and suffering. That one day even nature will experience this freedom. This freedom is not just an absence of pain. Ceasing to exist could do that. No, this freedom from pain will be because of unconquerable and unending joy. This freedom comes to those who place their faith in God. This promise is for those of us that believe He has this gift awaiting us and that it is only available through His only begotten Son, Jesus. God has promised us that the pain on earth has been used to make a way possible to live eternally. The death that Jesus died on the cross was the death that brings us life. What was meant for evil, God is using for good.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:4-5(ESV)

Footnotes:
¹I present to you that this might be a false dichotomy. And it actually answers the question of “How can evil exist if a good God exists.” The third option is that God uses people to change things. He sometimes uses people to show the world His love and goodness. He uses people to spread His good news, administer justice and benevolence. Anytime God’s people do God’s will, we see God in action.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

What Does “Inspired” Mean? (2 Timothy 3:16)

As I was perusing through my suggested videos on YouTube I came across a once popular pastor who claims he doesn’t believe in hell anymore. He also stated that he believed scripture wasn’t inspired by God but that man was inspired to write about God. “What’s the difference?” You may ask. The purpose of this blog is to answer that question.

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, he states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,”(CSB). The word “inspired” is also used in the NASB and the NLT, among others. The NKJV and KJV use the phrase “given by inspiration of God”. The Darby translation says “divinely inspired.”

The ESV and NIV say “God-breathed” or “breathed out by God.” These two English versions come the closest to conveying the original meaning in this verse, as I understand it.

The Greek word used here is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which is the combination of theos, meaning God, and pneustos, meaning to blow or breathe. So in the original Greek the term literally means “God-breathed.”

When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the late 4th – early 5th century, he used the term “divinitus inspirata.” Inspirata is where we get the English word inspiration. Nowadays, when we say inspired or inspiration, we usually mean that something or someone was our muse for a musical piece, a book, movie, or any other work of art.

However, that is not what Paul is conveying here in 2 Timothy 3:16. He is not saying that as man thought about God, that God acted as some artistic influence in the way that an artist paints a mountain he sees or in the way love inspires a song. He is saying that scripture is actually breathed out of the mouth of God Himself. As John Macarther says, “The Old Testament is the revelation of God to show men what God is like, who God is, what God tolerates and does not tolerate, how God desires holiness and punishes sin. The New Testament is God revealed by His Son in the life of His Son, in the message of His Son, in the understanding of the work of His Son, and in the culmination and the coming of His Son to establish His eternal kingdom. But in either case, Old Testament, New Testament, God spoke. What we have is, indeed, the Word of God. This is not the word of man. The New Testament writers wrote down the Word of God.”

Scripture is God’s words to us. It is the very Word of the living God. He shows us Himself and how we relate to Him. He shows us how we can get to know Him. He shows us the great lengths He goes so that we may know the love He has for us. Through Scripture God shows us how to love Him and our fellow man. And through Scripture we see how we can live eternally with Him.

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV)

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Matthew 18:19 and Prayer

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer (1508)

If a group of believers pray’s for someone to be healed of an illness, and that person dies of that illness, then how are we to take Matthew 18:19?

This question was posed to me a couple years ago. My first thought was that person, if a believer, would be immediately healed upon their death when they leave their body. Also in their glorified bodies after their resurrection they will experience no more pain and sickness. This was my first thought. And while true, I didn’t take the context of the verse into consideration. Rather, I didn’t take the time to study the context.

Matthew 18:19 says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

At first glance this passage seems pretty up front. That whatever two or more believers ask of God, He will do. So if several Christians gather to pray for someone’s physical healing, we can be confident that God will heal them. Some would even say that God is “obligated” to do what’s being prayed for. That’s what many of us hear all the time anyway, especially in America.

This belief seems to be validated when we look at the verse immediately before and the verse immediately after. Verse 18 reads, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.

So now we seem to have a good formula for healing in Jesus’ own words. 1) Two or three gather making Christ present, 2) touch and agree, 3) bind and loose [binding sickness or demons and releasing blessing and healing, etc] 4) God will do it.

Sounds pretty cut and dry. But, what about the last part of the question posed at the beginning. “…the person dies…” One could take this sad result several ways:

  1. Someone praying or the one being prayed for didn’t have enough faith (Jesus did just say in chapter 17 that the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon because of their lack of faith).
  2. Or, there was unrepentant sin in someone’s life. John 9:31 says that God does not listen to sinners but those that do His will.
  3. Or, it just wasn’t God’s will at that moment to heal that person (2 Corinthians 12:8). But God is true to His word, so why would there be a promise if God would only keep it sometimes?

So what are we to make of this passage?

In one of my earlier blogs on how to understand the Bible, I mention that we must read scripture in its correct context. Picking a verse out of context can, and often does, lead someone to believe something that was not intended. So let’s apply Matthew 18:18-20 to its proper context.

The words of Jesus beginning with verse 12:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Here we have Jesus speaking of what we call “church discipline”. He begins first by speaking about a lost sheep which is, in this case, a brother in sin. Another brother should try to correct the wayward believer in private. If he doesn’t listen then one or two more should try. The reference Jesus gives comes from Deuteronomy 19:15, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” To call a brother out on his sinning there needed to be at least 2 witnesses. And these witnesses would work to restore their brother. If that doesn’t work, then the brother is to be brought before the assembly for the sole purpose of restoration from his sin. If after all that, he refuses to give up his sin then he is to be treated as though he is no brother at all. This is also referenced in 1 Timothy 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:4-5.


So what does the “binding and loosing” mean and what does Jesus mean when He says He is “there in the midst of them”?

A couple chapters before, Jesus tells Peter, ” ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.‘ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Here we see Jesus establishing His church. His corporate body of believers which at that time consisted of Jews.

Another step of interpreting a text is understanding how the original hearers or readers would have understood the words. For example, in John 3 when Jesus told Nicodemus that he should have understood what being born again meant because he was a teacher of the law, we should ask ourselves where in the Old Testament would he have understood being “born again” to be referenced. The answer is Ezekiel 36:25-27.

So how would the Jews have understood “binding and loosing”? Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 18 states, “…these, in the common speech of the Jews, at that time, signified to prohibit and permit; to teach or declare a thing to be unlawful was to bind; to be lawful, was to loose.” So once again we see a certain judicial understanding to what this passage in Matthew means.

Henry continues, “When ministers preach pardon and peace to the penitent, wrath and the curse to the impenitent, in Christ’s name, they act then pursuant to this authority of binding and loosing. The key of discipline,which is but the application of the former to particular persons, upon a right estimate of their characters and actions. It is not legislative power that is hereby conferred, but judicial; the judge doth not make the law, but only declares what is law, and upon an impartial enquiry into the merits of the cause, gives sentence accordingly.

One reference for binding and loosing is found in the Gospel of John. After Jesus resurrection, He reminds His apostles of their authority. In chapter 20, verse 23, we read, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Sound doctrine and strict disciple are the two ways church leaders remit and retain sin:

  • “By sound doctrine. They are commissioned to tell the world that salvation is to be had upon gospel terms, and no other, and they shall find God will say Amen to it; so shall their doom be.
  • By a strict discipline, applying the general rule of the gospel to particular persons. “Whom you admit into communion with you, according to the rules of the gospel, God will admit into communion with himself; and whom you cast out of communion as impenitent, and obstinate in scandalous and infectious sins, shall be bound over to the righteous judgment of God.’ ” (Henry)

So we see from reading in context what Matthew 18:19 is really about.

So am I saying that we shouldn’t pray for healing or anything else? Not at all. I’m also not saying that gathering together to pray for someone is unbiblical. What I am saying is that whether one lonely believer is praying or 100 are praying together, God hears. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Jesus even mentions how someone was healed through faith of just one person (Mark 5:34, Luke 17:19).

On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes God chooses not to heal. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The context here is Paul telling the Corinthians how he could boast because of his visions of heaven but he chooses not to be a “fool.” Rather, He thanks God for his infirmaries because they keep him humble. Therefore, his boasting will only ever be in Christ. Even though he prayed three times for God resolve this issue, God chose not to. In choosing to say no to Paul’s prayer, God granted Paul the greater benefit of understanding the greater depth of the sufficiency of God’s grace.

Then why should we pray? First, because we are commanded to do so. Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:1 are among the many commands that we have from God to pray.

We should also pray because it works. When we pray according to God’s will He hears us. The Bible is full of examples when God’s people prayed and God answered. In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah was in deep, emotional prayer by herself. She was praying for a child. God listened and blessed her with the son that would become the great prophet Samuel. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison and the church is praying for him. An angel appeared and freed Peter from his chains. Afterwards, Peter went to the house where the saints had gathered and were praying. There they were still praying when he shows up. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much. (James 5:16)

For more information on prayer, check out Focus on the Family‘s articles on the subject here.

We must also remember that sometimes we don’t see the results of our praying. As stated in Hebrews 11, some people pass on to glory before they see the results of the fruit of their faith.

Lastly, as I stated at the beginning of this blog that healing actually will come to those who place their faith in Christ. That is a promise. By His stripes we are healed. Whether in this life or in the next.

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P.S.: All that being said, there is a power in Christian unity. We are the body and when the body joins together, we become a more complete picture of Jesus. All of us as different parts working and praying together, and building each other up.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org