Cremation and Resurrection of the Saints

Photo courtesy of EarthPorm

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. – Psalm 17:15


While listening to Philip de Courcy on his radio program yesterday, I listened to him talk about the resurrection of man. He briefly mentioned cremation and it reminded me of something that I’ve thought of many times throughout my life. Can a Christian get cremated? And by “can” I mean does Christian doctrine teach against it? And since I don’t want to commit the argumentum ex silentio fallacy, I don’t seek to argue that if scripture is silent on it then it is permissible.

So let’s start by asking if scripture does in fact explicitly permit or condemn cremation. The answer to that is no. Nowhere in the Bible is cremation prohibited or permitted. The only instance where cremation seems to be mentioned is in 1 Samuel 31: All the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.(verses 12-13) However, in modern forms of cremation the body is burned and the bones are ground into powder. This powder is what we call the “ashes”. So King Saul and his sons weren’t really cremated, per se.

Growing up, I always thought cremation was a bit of a taboo or just flat out wrong in Christianity. I’m not sure if it actually was taboo or if it was just my own perception. Especially as a child, the idea seemed a bit “hellish”. But, with the many articles on Christianity and cremation circling around the internet, I don’t suppose I was the only one thinking this.

One reason I thought it was wrong is because of the resurrection of the saints during the end times. I thought that good Christians should be buried as long as it is feasible to do so. But as I grew and learned in knowledge a few things came to mind.

1. If God can create man from dust then He can resurrect man from dust. He did say in Genesis that we would return to dust.

2. Many Christians haven’t had the opportunity to be buried. Some have been persecuted and torn apart by lions. Some have been lost at sea decaying in water and the marine life eating their remains. Some have been burned at the stake for their beliefs. John Huss, a Czech theologian, was burned at the stake and his ashes scattered in the Rhine river to prevent his followers from burying him. John Wycliffe (whose early English translation of the New Testament paved way for William Tyndale’s first full English Bible) had his remains exhumed from his grave, his bones burned to ashes and thrown into the river all because his writings were considered heretical. What about these people at the resurrection? The particles that made up their bodies are now so far separated that it would seem impossible that they could get pulled back together. But we must remember what Jesus said in Matthew 19:26,”…with God nothing is impossible.”

3. There’s also the fact that the Bible doesn’t just say that the saved will be resurrected. Acts 24:15, “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” And even that the seas themselves will give up their dead (Revelation 20:13).

Therefore, my reasoning was false as to why I thought Christians shouldn’t be cremated. A God that spoke the world into existence can easily form new resurrected bodies. No matter what state the remains of the believer (and nonbeliever) are in, God will assemble.

Does this mean that cremation is a viable option for believers? Well, where scripture is silent, we let the Holy Spirit guide our conscience. Sometimes it would be a better financial choice since the average cremation can be around 90% cheaper than the average funeral. It’s something that should be discussed with loved ones and prayed about earnestly.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

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.

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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

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

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

God in the Flesh

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The Nativity by Gustav Dore, late 19th century

Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, . ..

In the Bible we learn that God came down and dwelt in the body of man. He was born of a woman, lived, ate, slept, cried, and died. In theology, this is known as the Doctrine of the Incarnation. The word “incarnation” means to be made into flesh. The Incarnation is one of the vital doctrines of the Christian faith although it has had its critics over the centuries. Here I seek to explore and defend the concept of God in the flesh.

In the Book of Genesis, God tells Eve that her Seed will crush the head of the serpent but the serpent will bruise the Seed’s heel (3:15). This was a promise from God that a man born of a woman would be the one to defeat the serpent, Satan. This gospel is the first revelation of who the Messiah would be. As time goes on in human history we are provided more info on this Man (progressive revelation).

In Isaiah 7:14, we are told that there will be a virgin who will give birth to a Child and His name will be Immanuel. Often in the Old Testament times, a name given to a person was actually a description of that person. Such is the case with Immanuel which means “God with us.” So this will be literally God dwelling among us as a man. Isaiah goes on to say in chapter 9, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…” So more is now revealed. God will dwell among man as a man. He will be of the lineage of David and will establish His kingdom. And from Genesis, Satan will bruise His heel but He will defeat Satan.

Now we come to the fruition of the promise made to Eve and to the people of God. The birth of Jesus. The only man born of a virgin, Jesus came to earth as the Immanuel that Isaiah foretold of 700 years before.

Like I’ve stated previously, in Matthew we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And in the Gospel of John, He is described as the Word that was with God and the Word that was God (John 1:1). In Colossians 1:15, He is the “image of the invisible God.” In Philippians 2:6, He is the very nature, or form, of God. Hebrews 1:3 says He is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Jesus is the “uncreated incarnate Creator of creation”. All things were created from Him, through Him, and for Him (Romans 11:36). Yet, the Creator came to earth and dwelt in His creation. This is referred to as the Hypostatic Union; Jesus being truly God and truly man. Jesus is the two natures of God and man in a single hypostasis (essence, substance, nature). He is the theanthropos, or God-man.

The dual nature of Jesus may sound confusing, but God is not the author of confusion. John 1 calls Jesus the light. Scientists have discovered that light also has a dual nature. The scientific community was once divided on whether light was wave or whether it was particle. However they’ve discovered that it is both wave and particle, something scientists used to consider an impossibility.

Some have argued that Jesus is not God because the Scriptures says He slept and that an all-powerful God does not need to sleep. This argument basically comes from a person who doesn’t take their own premise to its logical conclusion. That is, that God being all powerful can choose to place himself in a human body and limit that human body to the natural laws that govern all other humans; like the need for rest and food and water. He also came as a Jew meaning that He had to obey the spiritual laws He had given Moses about 1,200 years before. And He did so, perfectly.

Some people would say “is this like Hercules who was the progeny of a god and human mother?” NO. Jesus was fully God and fully man. The fictional Hercules was half-god and half-man. Some would say that Hercules only became a god after his death. Unlike Hercules, Jesus the Son was ALWAYS God. He says in the Gospel of John, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane that He shared the glory with God before the world began (John 17:5). Therefore, there was no progression, or apotheosis, of Jesus to divinity. He was always God.

Jesus came to earth to be the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, of our sins. He could only be this as a perfect man, but since there is no perfect man, God came to earth to be just that.

As John Piper states, “In order for Jesus to suffer and die, he had to plan way ahead of time, because … he couldn’t die. Immortal. He didn’t have any body, yet he wanted to die … for you. So he planned the whole thing by clothing himself with a body so that he could get hungry and get weary and get sore feet. The incarnation is the preparation of nerve endings for the nails – the preparation of a brow for thorns to press through. He needed to have a broad back so that there was a place for the whip. He needed to have feet so that there was a place for spikes. He needed to have a side so that there was a place for the sword to go in. He needed fleshy cheeks so that Judas would have a place to kiss and there would be a place for the spit to run down that the soldiers put on him. He needed a brain and a spinal column with no vinegar and no gall so that the exquisiteness of the pain could be fully felt. I just plead with you – when you’re reading the bible and you read water toy texts like “he loved you” and “gave himself for you,” you wouldn’t go too fast over it. Linger, linger, linger, and plead with him that your eyes would be opened.

Further reading: John 1:1-14, Romans 1:2-5, 8:3, 9:5, Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 1:1-3, 4:2

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

The Virgin Birth

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Jesus’ Birth by James Schultz, 2017

The virgin birth of Jesus is one the main tenets of the Christian faith. This miraculous event is recorded in Scripture. Had Jesus not been born of the virgin Mary, He wouldn’t have been the proper sacrifice for our sins. He would have been born into sin and therefore would have sinned. According to the Old Testament, the sacrifice for sin had to be spotless and without blemish. Regarding Jesus, this doesn’t mean spotless physically. This means that He was without sin. His blood did not carry the sin trait that was borne to the rest of us from Adam.

What about His mother? Wasn’t she human born into sin? The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was born without sin in order for her to  conceive a sinless Christ. However, there is no biblical proof of the Immaculate Conception (which begs the question; wouldn’t the same logic require Mary’s mother to have been born without sin to conceive a sinless Mary, and her mother before her, and so on and so forth?). Mary needed saving from her sins like we all do. It was believed in the past that the baby in the womb shared his mother’s blood. What we know today, however, is that the baby when in the womb makes his own blood. His blood is unique to himself. That’s why Jesus’ blood, and Jesus’ blood only, has the power to wash away sins.  “The fetal blood and maternal blood do not mix. In fact, if this were to be the case, there would be such immunological protest from the mother that she would soon make enough antibodies to the baby’s blood to destroy the pregnancy.” (https://www.babble.com/pregnancy/anatomy-fetus-placenta/)

Jesus was unique in that His father was God. Although the Bible calls the nation of Israel the child of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy. 14:1) and those that place their faith in Jesus are His children (Romans 8:16-17) under the New Covenant, only Jesus is called the “only begotten”. Jesus is God’s only son in the same way God called Isaac Abraham’s only son (Genesis 22:2) even though Abraham had another son (Ishmael) prior to Isaac. The Greek word for “only begotten” is monogenēs (μονογενής) which literally means “one of a kind” or “the only of its kind.” In the ancient near East, a person’s lineage was based on who their father was, not their mother. Jesus was, therefore, of His father and not of His mother. This also has scientific bearing today. As this article from Discover magazine puts it “You may have inherited your mother’s eyes, but, genetically speaking, you use more DNA passed down from your father.” If Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary, He could not have been the only begotten son.

One of the main arguments against the virgin birth is that the word for virgin in the Book of Isaiah means “young girl” or “maiden”. Thus the prophecy only means that the Messiah would be born to a young girl.

This argument, however, fails to take a few facts into consideration. In Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, the prophet foretells of the future Messiah being born of a virgin. The Hebrew word for virgin here is עַלְמָה or “almah”. Almah literally means “a virgin, maiden, a young woman of marrying age.” People dismiss that almah can mean virgin and say that it just means a young woman. And that Mary was just a young “betrothed” woman, not a virgin when she conceived Jesus. However, nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures does “almah” denote a young woman who is not a virgin.

An important part of understanding scripture is to understand what other scriptures say concerning the same topic. Let’s just say that we can’t tell whether Isaiah 7:14 is speaking of a virgin or just a young woman. Well we look to see how the authors of the New Testament would have read it. Matthew 1:22 is proof that the Jews of the time knew Isaiah 7:14 was speaking of a literal virgin and Matthew shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child, she said “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” If she were just a young and married woman, it would not have come as such a surprise to her. Gabriel also would not have had to say that the child would be conceived of the Holy Spirit. No other place in scripture describes a birth in this fashion. The prophet Samuel was a “miracle child” but scriptures plainly tells us that his parents “knew” each other before he was born (1 Samuel 1:19). Samson was a “miracle child” but He was not conceived of the Holy Spirit or born of a virgin. Isaac was a miracle born to Abraham and Sarah, not because Sarah was a virgin, but because she was too old too conceive.

The whole purpose for the virgin birth, the whole purpose for the incarnation, was the cross. Actually, it was love that led to the cross. The cross is of much importance because of Who was hung on the cross. It was God who became a man. Born of a virgin. Laid aside heavenly pleasure for the likes of earthly pain. Only God could do this. Only He could be the sacrifice for our sins.

As C.S Lewis says, “Now if we had not fallen, that would all be plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all – to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.
But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.”

Further reading: Hebrews 7:26, Romans 5:12,17,19

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

The Self-Sufficiency of God

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Moses Sees A Fire Burning In A Bush, 1897

Exodus 3:2 …So he looked and behold the bush was burning with fire but the bush was not consumed.

In the book of Exodus, as Moses had been living as a shepherd for 40 years and as a fugitive from Egypt, his attention was captured by a bush that was on fire. This probably wouldn’t have been a big deal but what he saw made him investigate even further. “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” The flame spoke to Moses and identified Himself, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God told Moses He will send him to Pharaoh to deliver His people. Moses then asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

The name God gave Moses encompasses His attribute of self-sufficiency. “I Am Who I Am.” As Matthew Henry puts it, the representation of I Am Who I Am states “that he is self-existent; he has his being of himself, and has no dependence upon any other…Being self-existent, he cannot but be self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the inexhaustible fountain of being and bliss.”

When a bush is on fire, the fire must consume the bush as fuel to exist. However, God was showing Moses several things in this display. He was showing Moses that He didn’t need the bush to exist as a flame. God doesn’t need fuel. God is the self-existent and self-sufficient I Am. He was also displaying that God didn’t need the bush or Moses to display His power. But by His providence and sovereign will, God chooses the lowly things to be His vessels of special purpose. God knew Moses was an 80-year-old fugitive who was “slow of speech and of tongue”, that in spite of his failings and shortcomings, would still be the man to approach the most powerful man in the land and lead His people to freedom. Moses knew that it would not and that it could not be of his own power and influence that he do what God desired of him. He had to rely on the One who needs no outside source.

The self-sufficiency, or aseity, of God should give us comfort. When God has called us to do something we can rest in the fact that He has all power and knowledge and the God that created the universe will equip us to do the task at hand. Our human bodies require rest and sustenance. According to the laws of nature, set into place by God, we must rely on something outside of ourselves to even exist. God, however, requires nothing. As John Piper states, “God exists ‘from Himself’. God owes His existence and completeness as God to nothing outside Himself.”

“nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;” Acts 17:25

For more of God’s Attributes download this PDF

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org