Bible

Scripture Alone!

By Scott McClare

Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—has been called the formal principle of the Reformation.[1] This is the principle that Martin Luther famously appealed to when he declared at the Diet of Worms, "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the word of God."

As important as it is, many evangelical Christians have difficulty defining sola Scriptura, understanding what it means, or knowing how it has been derived. One high-profile convert to Roman Catholicism, Scott Hahn, says that one of the milestones on his journey to Rome was when one of his theology students asked where the Bible taught sola Scriptura, and he had no adequate answer.[2]

How, then, can we define this vital, yet misunderstood, doctrine?

The key Bible verse for sola Scriptura is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[3]

The Apostle Paul says, first, that the Scriptures are "breathed out by God." This is a literal translation of the Greek word Paul uses, theopneustos. The Bible is, as it were, the very breath of God Himself: where the Bible speaks, He speaks. Theopneustos occurs in the Bible in this one passage. In other words, Scripture—graphe, the written Word—is said to be God-breathed, but nothing else is. The Bible is the sole God-breathed, infallible norm.

Title page of the King James Version of the Bible, 1611.Paul goes on to say that Scripture is sufficient: by it "the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." Here is an analogy. I am currently preparing to go to school in January. I need to purchase a number of things: a laptop computer, software, textbooks, and so forth. I can buy all these things in the college bookstore. It is sufficient to equip me for my classes. However, if I can't buy the laptop there—if they have to send me to Best Buy to get it—then they aren't sufficient. They would be incapable of fully equipping me for school.

Similarly, the Scriptures contain "those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation," as the 1689 London Baptist Confession puts it.[4] If one of those necessary things was not found in the Scriptures—if I could only find it in the sacred tradition of a particular church organization—then the Scriptures would not be sufficient. They would not be capable of making me "complete, equipped for every good work." The Roman Catholic Church affirms the infallibility of the Bible, but when it says that it has been entrusted the "sacred deposit" of both Scripture and Tradition, and that only the Magisterium is capable of making them known, it denies what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 means.[5]

While this passage teaches sola Scriptura explicitly, we see it practiced implicitly by Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees: "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29), holding them responsible for what they knew of the Scriptures; the Apostles turned to Scripture when they chose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:20); Luke commends the Jews in Berea for their use of the Scriptures to check out what Paul taught them about Christ (Acts 17:11), among many other examples.

One Roman Catholic objection to sola Scriptura is that Scripture might be an authority, but it is not the only authority. I happen to agree; however, sola Scriptura, properly understood, does not claim that the Bible is the sole authority or the only source of truth. We do not deny that there are other authorities, such as creeds and confessions, church councils, or even pastors and teachers, who are a gift from God for the benefit of the church (Ephesians 4:11ff). However, these authorities are subordinate to the Scriptures. The Bible is not the only authority; however, it is the final authority.

Another objection is that the early church fathers didn't believe in sola Scriptura. However, we should not make the mistake of assuming that the early church was unanimous in all its beliefs and practices. Christians lived all over the known world. Each region had its own distinctive practices and traditions. Many times these were assumed to be of apostolic origin simply because they had been practised there for a long time. Because of the huge distances involved (and a lack of rapid transit and smartphones!), representatives of the whole church rarely assembled together in an ecumenical council, and only did to settle vitally important controversies.[6]

One fourth-century father, Basil of Caesarea, wrote this concerning his disputes with the Arians:

They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases, and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth.[7]

In other words, the Arians had their traditions, and Basil had his, and neither accepted the other's as binding. Only "God-inspired Scripture" could infallibly arbitrate between them.

Augustine, who apparently had a higher view of sacred tradition than Basil, said something similar in his dispute with the Donatists:

[L]et us not listen to "you say this, I say that" but let us listen to "the Lord says this." Certainly, there are the Lord's books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case.[8]

Augustine and Basil certainly sound a lot like Martin Luther did, a millennium later! All of them recognized that human authorities and traditions were not consistent from place to place or time to time.

A third objection is that if Scripture is the sole infallible authority, then its interpretation is fallible, so only an infallible Church can infallibly interpret it.[91] How else could we decide a sincere dispute between two Christians about the meaning of a difficult passage in the Bible?

Again, this is not an argument against sola Scriptura. It only shows that people are fallible. In fact, an infallible Magisterium would be of little help. In all the centuries of its existence, the Roman Catholic Church has only supposedly interpreted a handful of passages infallibly, meaning what it has said about the vast majority of the Bible must be fallible. There is no third possibility.

A doctrine closely related to sola Scriptura is that of perspicuity: in all essential matters pertaining to salvation, the Bible speaks plainly and clearly. These subjects are "so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them."[10] Of course, not all Scripture is equally clear and plain. As Peter wrote, some parts were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). What is his answer to this problem? He encourages his readers to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (3:18). Peter—whom Roman Catholics claim as the first pope—does not tell them to appeal to an infallible church hierarchy. He tells them to get more understanding. When we find ourselves in an honest disagreement about the Bible, should we not prayerfully do the work it takes to bring us closer to the truth? Jesus, Peter, and the other Apostles hold us accountable for what we know of the Scriptures. It would be unwise to hand that responsibility over to someone else.

The Holy Scriptures are infallible. Human beings are not. If we are to maintain a Christian worldview and defend it before others, we need to ground our understanding on the solid rock of the Bible rather than the shifting sand of human tradition and opinion. And we need to know why, because many of those people whom our apologetics are for, find their authority in something else.


[1] A formal principle of theology is its authoritative source. Contrast this with the material principle, which is the theology's central teachings. In the Protestant tradition, the material principle is the glory of God or justification by faith alone.

[2] Scott Hahn, "The Scott Hahn Conversion Story," Catholic Education Resource Center, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/the-scott-hahn-conversion-story.html.

[3] All Scripture passages are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[4] London Baptist Confession of Faith [hereafter LBCF] I.7, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc01.html.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church 84-85 (New York: Doubleday, 1995). The Magisterium consists of "the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome."

[6] One such example was the Council of Nicaea in 325, convened to debate the teachings of Arius, of which I have written previously.

[7] Basil of Caesarea, Letter 189, New Advent, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202189.htm.

[8] Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, III.5, Christian Resources, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.christiantruth.com/deunitate.html.

[9] "[I]t is the Magisterium which has the responsibility of guaranteeing the authenticity of interpretation. . . ." Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Sherbrooke, QC: Editions Paulines, 1994), 101.

[10] LBCF I.7. By "due use of ordinary means," the authors meant such things as prayer, corporate worship, the preaching of the Word, and private and corporate study. Of course we must acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit in aiding our understanding, as well.


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Same Ol' Argument: a Logical Refutation

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By Justin Wishart

Our Executive Director, Jojo Ruba, recently sent me an opinion editorial published by the Medicine Hat News.[1] Scott Schmidt, the article's author, goes on a diatribe chastising Christians who submit to the Word of God, and the God who inspired it. Schmidt makes it very clear what he thinks of the Bible by saying that when it is "read cover to cover it becomes blatantly obvious just how much complete nonsense there is." He attempts to give a moderated view by saying, "I couldn't care less what you believe in your own life, as that is the entire point. Live and let live." However, Schmidt then says, "[I]t's time for you to change your attitude, or go away"; so much for "[l]ive and let live." Schmidt is very interested in forcing his morality on anyone who might disagree with him. However, there is one thing he said which I agree with him about. "The thing is, while it might be your right to say what you want, the second you make it public (or attempt to) it becomes my right to tell you what I think." I will now do the same.

There are so many poor arguments, outright logical fallacies, and misrepresentations in Schmidt's article that I am surprised he deemed it worthy to print. It also made it hard to pick which direction to take my response. There is a virtual delta of channels I could have taken. However, I deemed a response worth the time because you see many of his flawed arguments used by various Internet Atheist types. This might provide a useful resource for our readers if they encounter such arguments online, and if you do apologetic work online, you will face these arguments.

Schmidt's article is an attempt to argue that Christians shouldn't take the Bible's teaching on homosexuality seriously. He makes the mistake that many Internet Atheists make. He accuses Christians of not reading the whole Bible and applying it equally to their lives, so why should we accept what the Bible says about homosexuality?

Your religion also says I have to marry my sister-in-law if my brother dies, and that my daughter must marry her rapist as long as he gives me 50 gold coins. In the same part of the book that calls "a man laying with another man" an "abomination," we're also told we can't eat shrimp, wear polyester or get divorced. Those same pages require hair never be messy, beards never be trimmed, and, for good measure, dictates parents kill their children if they curse at them. Unless you don't find any of these rules to be absurdly offensive, how could you keep a straight face while trying to suggest the one about "laying with another man" deserves credibility?

Schmidt thinks that since we wear polyester, we shouldn't be against homosexual actions. Far from being a good argument, this simply shows that Schmidt hasn't thought through this subject. Due to space, I am not going to justify these mentioned laws individually, but provide some general principles that show Schmidt's argument is meaningless.

Bible with warning sticker1. Schmidt gives the impression that homosexuality is only discussed in Leviticus. This is simply false. There are six passages which specifically deal with homosexuality, including three in the New Testament.[2] Yet, Schmidt seems to be completely unaware of this fact, or simply chose not to mention this in his article. This shows that Schmidt's argument fails to refute the biblical teaching on this subject. Any proper refutation must deal with these other verses as well.

2. The Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman.[3] This disqualifies a same-sex union from being a biblical marriage. Sorry, Schmidt: to a Bible-believing Christian, a homosexual union is not a marriage. The Bible also teaches that sex should only take place within a marriage covenant.[4] This then disqualifies any homosexual act as permissible, because they would all have to happen outside a marriage covenant. Schmidt's argument fails to recognize this fact found within Scripture. Since there is no mention of this in his article, his argument doesn't even come close to addressing the Bible's teaching homosexuality, much less refuting it.

3. Everyone, including Jews, must reinterpret their relationship with Torah Law. There are two main reasons for this. One is that there is no Torah theocracy. Cultural context must be therefore considered.[5] Since many of the paradigmatic laws found within the Torah are state-focused laws, they do not directly apply in our modern context. While we can look at the paradigm and see the wisdom of the principles that the law is derived from, some direct commands cannot apply anymore. Secondly, the Temple, with all its ceremony and rituals, is no longer here. Much of the Torah Law is focused on the Temple (or Tabernacle) and the rituals associated with it. Schmidt does not attempt to deal with these hermeneutical issues. But if anyone is going to refute the Bible's teaching, it must be addressed. This is but another way his argument fails.

4. Christians believe the Jesus fulfilled the Law.[6] This is exactly the main thing that changes the Christian's relationship with the Torah Law. Until Schmidt shows how eating shellfish (and the other laws he mentioned) is treated the same hermeneutically as homosexuality in light of the life of Jesus, his argument cannot refute the Bible's teaching on the subject.

5. Schmidt confuses the actions of Christians with the veracity of the Bible. Even if he was able to account for the above principles, this would still not make his case. It might be the case that the vast majority of Christians have gotten our beard laws wrong. That if we were to be consistent, men should never shave our beards. Yet, Schmidt argues that if this is true, and that we indeed should not shave our beards, that it follows we should be okay with homosexuality. How does that follow? It could be that homosexuality is still an abomination and we should also not shave our beard. Pointing out (alleged) Christian inconsistencies does not mean we should necessarily throw out all other laws, but could mean that we should simply become more consistent. Since Schmidt does not provide any justification as to why we should abandon the Levitical teaching on homosexuality, instead of taking seriously the beard laws, his argument fails here.

While more could be mentioned, these five failures alone show Schmidt does not provide a meaningful refutation of the Bible. I don't even need to provide justification as to why Leviticus commands what it does.[7] An argument which is shown to be fallacious does not need to be refuted further; and Schmidt's argument is about as fallacious as they come.

I mentioned earlier that there were many channels I could have taken my response given the fallacious nature of Schmidt's article. One simple example will highlight the absurd nature of this article. He says:

You see, I couldn't care less what you believe in your own life, as that is the entire point. Live and let live.

However, that flies right out the window when you use archaic excuses to take other people down.

If I replace the pejorative term "archaic" with the pejorative term "liberalized," how does he avoid his own criticism? Is he not trying to take down the Bible, and as a result Bible-believing Christians? Does he not want us to simply "go away"?

It appears that Schmidt would benefit more in learning some basic logic instead of fallaciously attempting to take Christian people down.[8] He would have easily seen how erroneous his arguments are and realized that he needs to study the subject much more. Instead of such a pointless hit piece, he might actually be able to add something meaningful to this discussion. Unfortunately, the general population haven't learned basic logic and may even find his arguments convincing. The fact that I have come across this argument many times proves this to be the case. It is up to the apologist—correct that, it is up to the Christian to point out the errors in this argument. People actually fall for such poor argumentation.


[1] Scott Schmidt, "The Bible Is Not Always the Best Source of Right and Wrong in the 21st Century," Medicine Hat News, July 8, 2015, accessed July 24, 2015, http://medicinehatnews.com/commentary/opinions/2015/07/08/the-bible-is-not-always-the-best-source-of-right-and-wrong-in-the-21st-century/.

[2] Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10.

[3] Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5.

[4] Hebrews 13:4; Proverbs 5:15-19; Exodus 20:14; 1 Corinthians 7:2-5.

[5] To use an Old Testament example, many of the Torah Laws had to be abandoned when Israel was under Babylonian rule.

[6] Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4.

[7] However, simple Google searches will find good introductory justifications for such laws if one is really interested in learning.

[8] I would recommend Gordon Clark's book Logic (4th ed., Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2004).


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The Apostolic Bible Polyglot

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By Justin Wishart

apostolic-polyglot-1

As I have progressed in my Greek studies, I became interested in buying a Bible that will help me continue reading Greek while doing Bible study, to kill two birds with one stone. I knew that there was an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.[1] I started looking for a Bible that contained both the Septuagint and Greek New Testament in one edition. I thought this would be a fairly common Bible, but found out that it is not. After some searching, I discovered the Apostolic Bible Polyglot.[2] This blog will be partly a review of this unique Bible. However, as I was researching the product, I discovered a bit about the man that created this version. I was intrigued by his story. So, this post will also highlight this man and glean some lessons we can possibly learn from him.

Apostolic Bible Polyglot I ordered the ebony eco-cowhide edition, which is the cheapest physical Bible offered. When the Bible arrived and I opened up the package, the quality of the construction far exceeded my expectations. It is the nicest-quality Bible I now own. It is one of those Bibles that just feel nice in your hands. The binding is not simply glued together but you can see the quality stitching. The paper edging is a nice gold which matches the lettering on the spine. There are two built-in bookmarks, which is really nice touch for this specific Bible (more on this later). The paper used is of high quality. The only quibble I have is that the print is a bit too small, but I think that was a necessary evil (more on this later). If I were to give a rating for the construction of this Bible, I would give it 5 out of 5.

Apostolic Bible Polyglot: Interlinear However, as impressed as I was with the construction of this book, the real value is found within. The words found within any Bible is of greater value than even the finest possible construction, but for the novice Greek reader this is especially the case with this Bible. The first thing that strikes you when you open the book is that it looks very different than most Bibles. This is called an interlinear. The Greek words are centred in bold, the English equivalent word is underneath, and the AB-Strong's number is above.[3] I can read the Greek as best I can, but when I get stuck I can glance at the English equivalent for help.

Apostolic Bible Polyglot: Concordance Another plus to this book is that it has a good word study tool complete with a lexical concordance and English-Greek index at the back. This is where the AB-Strong's numbers come in. If you would like to do any further word studies, they are all catalogued by this numbering system. This is why the double bookmark is such a nice touch. You can keep your place in the Bible while studying the index, and bookmark your place in the index while you read the Bible. It should also be clear why the font might be a little small. With all this information packed into one Bible, any increase in the font would make the Bible unwieldy, never mind more expensive. Other products that supplement this Bible are freely available or can be purchased. There are more substantial lexicons, video seminars, and a host of other resources. This is truly one of the best biblical Greek resources out there, and it is unfortunately one of the best kept secrets as well.

All this is the life's work of Charles Van der Pool. When I was researching this product, I was surprised that Van der Pool does not have a PhD in Biblical Greek. He was just a man who wanted to know the Bible better. Creating this polyglot was not his intention, but God used the desire to know His Word better to blossom into this incredible resource for the church. I had the opportunity to interview Van der Pool, and this is part of that interview.

You have produced a unique Bible. What are some of its unique features, ‎and what is a polyglot?

The unique thing to the ABP [Apostolic Bible Polyglot] is it is the ONLY interlinear Greek Old & New Testament translation, along with being numerically coded to other works . . . lexicons, indexes, etc. This makes the ABP open to both experts in Greek and to beginners. One who doesn't know Greek can follow along with the English. A polyglot is basically using more than one language. In the case of the ABP it is in Greek, English and partially in Portuguese.

What do you mean by the Greek Old Testament? Isn't the OT written in Hebrew?

We know from the writing at the time of Jesus that the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, possibly during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (circa 250 B.C.). As many Jews had been scattered throughout the world by Nebuchadnezzar and others, and during the time of Alexander the Great the Greek language became the popular language worldwide, many Jews knew only Greek. So when the writers of the New Testament wrote to many Greek-speaking Jews, they wrote in Greek. Interestingly, while they were writing and were quoting the Old Testament, they never quoted the Hebrew writings, only the Greek, popularly called the Septuagint.

How long has it taken you to complete all this work?

I started in 1985.

That's 30 years! Why did you dedicate so much of your life to this project?

That's a good question and hard to answer. I didn't start off with a dedication to achieving an agenda, but as I tell people, "I was a cast iron stove to which God opened the door and inserted the ABP pie in it, and cooked it for twenty-seven years; then He opened the door and out popped the ABP pie twenty-seven years later." It wasn't a dedication as much as in inward drive of the divine. I suppose one could sum it up by saying that I allowed God to use me. I couldn't do it again.

What would you say to someone who God has placed a pie in their oven? Maybe someone out there has that inward drive of the divine to pursue a scholarly endeavour as you have, but hasn't received a PhD or formal training. What would you say to them?

Many people misread what is a personal desire and what is the will of God. I never had a desire to pursue a scholarly endeavour. In fact I hated foreign language studies, as my memorization faculties were lacking. I also hated English grammar and didn't know a noun from a verb when I started. But now I have developed a Greek grammar. But as it states in Isaiah 55:8, "For my plans are not as your plans."

What struck me most about this interview was the simplicity of his answers. There wasn't some mystical sage response, no complex theological or philosophical treatise. The answers were simple: God wanted to do something with Charles Van der Pool, and he went for the ride. The result is a truly impressive achievement from a man who had no interest and little ability in languages. This gives me great hope. As I go through school, sometimes things seem daunting, but the answer to any worry is simple: allow God to work through you while doing the best work you can, and the results will be what God wants them to be. It won't always be easy, but I don't need to carry around worry. Maybe God has placed a scholarly pie in your oven, maybe even something as impressive as the ABP. Yet, you may sometimes feel overwhelmed. Remember Charles Van der Pool, a layman who simply had faith in God's plan and rolled up his sleeves and produced something that any top notched PhD would be proud of.


[1] To find out a bit more, read Septuagint.net.

[2] Charles Van der Pool, ed., The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, 2nd ed. (Newport, OR: Apostolic Press, 2013). See http://apostolicbible.com/.

[3] This is a modified Strong's numbering system. While James Strong catalogued all the Greek words used in the New Testament, the Septuagint uses words not used in the New Testament. Thus, the Apostolic Bible Polyglot uses its modified system to account for this.


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Image as Humanity

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By Dr. Ron Galloway

In this post, I want to present a trans-cultural view of the human condition before and after humanity was driven out of the presence of God. Consider whether it portrays an accurate diagnosis of the human condition or not. But first let me define what I mean by trans-cultural and elaborate on this as the post proceeds. Very simply, trans-cultural refers to anything that does not originate in culture, nature, naturalism, environmental determinism, or finite human conception. Rather, it is derived from the supernatural.

Even the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, reveals humanity as incredibly precious and special beyond anything in the animal kingdom. For it describes man and woman as made in the image of God. Genesis begins by recording all that God created, and then steadily builds to the moment of God's greatest creation, the creature made in the image and likeness of God: humanity.

Contrary to what many have thought, the thing that makes humanity different from animals in the Bible is not the fact that people have a soul. In the original Hebrew of Genesis, it is particularly clear that not only human beings become living souls, but also the animals and all the other creatures God makes (Genesis 1:20,21,24,30). What makes humanity different is that we are made in the image and likeness of God.

For this reason, in the Bible, human beings are far superior to all the other creatures that God has made. Genesis and the implications of the entire Bible are very clear in this regard. God gives people dominion over all the other creatures (Genesis 1:26). But that is not all. We learn from the book of Genesis that the male, Adam, is not the full creation of humanity, but only one half. According to Genesis, Adam is simply the male part. Adam is not humanity, in the completed sense, until the creation of Eve. She is by no means his inferior, but rather his helper counterpart. In Genesis 3:27 we read: "God created human beings in his image, male and female he created them."[1]

Thus Genesis makes clear that humanity is not the male or the female, but rather the combination of both. This profound and unparalleled conception of humanity is even more wondrously articulated in Gen. 5: 1-3. There we read:

This is the book containing the records of Adam in the day God created humanity. In the image of God he made them. Male and female he created them, and he called their name, Adam.

Here, Adam means humanity. Contrary to what many people have thought and impressions conveyed by extreme feminist movements, both males and females are created in the image of God. Together they make up the human race.

There is an incredible wonder and sophistication in the Genesis account. In comparison to the Near Eastern cultures and civilizations surrounding them, the Hebrew people who followed their God Yahweh (Jehovah) brought a staggeringly advanced understanding of God, humanity, and creation into history. Why this is so, I will soon explain.

But let us leave former cultures and civilizations aside for a moment. What about the present? Where in all of the history of humanity past, present, or future has there ever been such a profound conception of both man and woman as is contained in the Bible, particularly in Genesis? Where else do we see such a high regard for living creatures, and yet a far higher regard for humanity?

It is therefore not surprising that this truly trans-cultural view of man and woman should be found in an account of creation equally sophisticated and far transcending any Near Eastern cosmology ever discovered in our studies and researches into the ancient world.

Not only does it transcend anything in the ancient world, the Genesis account beat science to the punch by many thousands of years. Why do I say this? Well, the first one to write of this phenomenal reality was Harvey Cox in his work titled ''The Secular City''.[2] In that work, Cox pointed out that in Genesis we see a complete separation between God, man, and nature. Unlike the rest of the ancient world, we find in Genesis no mixture of nature with the gods, whether in the form of polytheism or animism. No Near Eastern source of that time, nor even the most advanced state of the Greek or Roman civilization, was ever able to conceive of such a separation of the gods and nature. Genesis spoke of this many thousands of years in advance of science or the men who were science’s precursors.

Even in the Renaissance era, people still felt that the stars were angelic beings. Aristotle and Plato were the likely source of this continued misconception. This misconception was not put to rest until the coming of precursors of the scientific method such as Roger Bacon and Copernicus. Both of them believed in God, the Lord Jesus, and the Bible.

It is therefore not surprising in light of such an incredibly sophisticated description of creation, that we view this unrivaled, unmatched, trans-cultural view of the value of both men and women. Of course, one might ask, how could a tribal people ever come up with such a conception of man, woman, and creation on their own? Throughout the compilation of separate writings written over a period of eleven hundred years, the answer is obvious. Whether you ask Moses or the prophets, the answer was that Yahweh God (elohiym) came to them.

According to the Religious Humanist (now called Secular Humanist), relativist and Darwinist, every view or reality must be culturally derived. The trouble is, there is nothing like this in the cultures surrounding Israel, and nothing like it at all until the advent of science. Even the Epicureans and other Greek skeptics did not deny their nature god and goddesses were real. Indeed, it has been well argued by many that science itself could never find entrance until it was clear that the investigation of nature would not bring the wrath of the gods and spirits of nature. This, the argument goes, was only made possible through the Judeo-Christian worldview. Proponents of this view argue that science began to make sense only when it was clear that nature was not a fusion of gods, spirits and men, but not until then. I happen to be one of those proponents. This points to the obvious reasoning that Genesis offers us a truly trans-cultural view of the universe. Any persons informed by a trans-cultural speaker can then be a revealer of that which transcends human understanding. That, of course, is what the Bible writers purport to be.

The appointment of man and woman as rulers of the earth that God made did not imply, in any sense, that Adam "He" or Adam "She" were free to pillage or pollute the earth. Humanity, meaning both the first man and woman, were in perfect harmony with creator and creation. When God conferred this position of dominion, the being in the garden referred to as the "serpent" had not yet persuaded humanity to worship themselves and nature as divine.[3] It was only after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by taking the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that nature began its descent into imperfection, instability, and disorder. Genesis describes this descent with the expression: "Thorns and thistles will grow up" (Genesis 3:18). After Cain slaughtered his brother Abel, he and the generations after him ceased to call on the name of God. Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain dehumanized himself by denying God his creator. He was left only with the worship of himself, and a creation radically changed because of human betrayal and disobedience. With God out of the way, in their minds, Cain and those who followed began to blend in with nature, and in the process lost that true harmonious blend between man and woman that preceded the taking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Before long, man made nature his god. Such was the mentality of Cain, and the murderous generation he spawned (Genesis 4:7-25). Now for men like Cain and Nimrod the plunderer, status and worth depended on how many human beings you could slaughter in battle. So Humanity went from garden to the gutters of war. But when I say garden, or I say Eden, I can almost hear the skeptics laughter. But then again, Hawaii attracts the most skeptical of souls.

Ironically, things have not changed much. Like Cain we have immersed ourselves in nature, even contending that nature is all there is. Now, unlike the original couple, we no longer rule nature. We are like they were after they were cast out of the garden. We too struggle to survive its dominion and its chains, both in life and death. We are lost within it, and define ourselves by it, and so we have no self or worth that we can intellectually sustain. However, the wars of today are far more lethal than those committed in the generations after Cain. Now war is not only barbaric but technological. The present technological rape of culture, human identity, and human worth derives from the contemporary decision to worship either our own self-fashioned, impersonal, impotent gods or no god at all. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they dehumanized themselves. They chose to embrace their own idea of good and evil, to do what was right in their own eyes. This generation appears to be no different: as described in the Bible, we do what is right in our own eyes. Only now we call this ancient evil against our creator, relativism. Now man and woman are both reduced to the subjective preference of a society so committed to neutrality that identity itself, whether man or woman, may soon be neutered. Some call that progress, but it appears in many ways to be a return to the first day of creation when all was formless (tohu) and void (bohu). Rather than being progress, it is a reversal of all God has done from the sixth day on. If the serpent of Genesis is as real as Genesis implies, then no doubt the serpent is pleased with the present reversal. Genesis reversed, chaos restored.


[1] Biblical quotations are the author's translation.

[2] Harvey Cox, The Secular City (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

[3] In the first two or three chapters of Genesis, we are informed that the serpent was craftier than any beast of the field. This need not imply that the serpent was a beast, any more than if I said Adam was wiser than any beast of the field. Nor could the serpent be a snake, for we are told that it crawls on its belly only after God brings judgment upon it. Thus the meaning of serpent seems more likely to refer to a highly intelligent, evil being, rather than to a beast.


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Scrubbing the Sin List

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By Scott McClare

Do you believe that Christians should be compelled to stop regarding homosexuality as a sin? According to his op-ed article published on Good Friday, New York Times columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni does.

Last month, the state of Indiana passed SB 101, a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been part of U.S. federal law since 1993. In short, RFRA prohibits the government from burdening a person's free exercise of religion, unless it is to further a compelling state interest and does so in the least restrictive manner. RFRA is not absolute protection of religious practice, but it does provide one avenue of recourse for those who feel that their religious rights are being unduly restricted.[1]

After Indiana SB 101 was passed, prominent politicians, corporations, celebrities, and the media immediately piled on the state and threatened boycotts. The backlash was so intense that governor Mike Pence promised swift revisions to the law. One media outlet found a Christian-owned pizzeria whose proprietors said they would not cater a gay wedding; the restaurant received threats that caused them to close for several days.

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

The shaming of Indiana might lead you to believe that SB 101 was an anti-gay bill targeting homosexuals for discrimination. For Christian florists, bakers, restaurateurs, and photographers, the issue has not been refusing to serve a certain class of clientele. The pizzeria might decline to cater a gay wedding, but they also stated that they would not refuse to serve LGBT customers who patronized their business. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who was sued and fined for discrimination after declining to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding in 2013, had been happily selling flowers for a decade to the couple who sued her. Rather, the issue has been participating against their consciences in a religious ceremony.

With his column, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,"[2] Frank Bruni joins the anti-Indiana dogpile, asserting that SB 101 was intended to target gays. However, he sets a poor intellectual tone right from the start by employing the bandwagon fallacy. Homosexuality and Christianity need not be in opposition, he writes, because "several prominent denominations . . . have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn't decree." In other words, several liberal denominations have decided that homosexual behaviour is compatible with authentic Christianity, and so should you. However, the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.—the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodist Church—currently all officially declare homosexual behaviour to be incompatible with Christian belief and practice, though each denomination has varying degrees of internal dissent.[3] Bruni wants us to get on the bandwagon, but can't explain why we should get on his bandwagon.

Bruni's next fallacy is the one C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery": assuming that old ideas are intrinsically inferior to new ones. He writes that viewing LGBT people as sinners "prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing." By contrast, he recommends the views of "gay Christian" authors and supporters such as David Gushee, Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines. The Christian church has declared unambiguously that homosexual activity is sinful for nearly 2,000 years, but everything that really needed to be said about LGBT issues and Christianity was published in the last two?

(Bruni argues that scriptural opposition to homosexuality is sparse and obsolescent, whereas Vines, whom he cites favourably, claims that the Bible is authoritative but its teaching on sexuality is misunderstood. I wonder whether Bruni recognizes his contradiction?)

The biblical teaching on homosexuality is "scattered" and "sparse," we are told. What of it? A truth told infrequently is nonetheless the truth, and the scattered pronunciations on homosexuality in the Bible are uniformly negative. (For more details, refer to my earlier post, "God Hates Shrimp?")

Bruni also approvingly cites Matthew Vines' argument that people in the apostles' day didn't know about homosexual orientation or loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, Vines was simply wrong. In 2000, James B. DeYoung's examination of ancient Greek literature, such as Plato's Symposium, clearly shows that their understanding of homosexuality was very much like ours. They discussed homosexual orientation and desire as well as behaviour, committed and promiscuous relationships, obsession with the body and physical attractiveness, even a form of "gay pride."[4] Paul may or may not have read Plato specifically, but we can be reasonably sure that as an educated and well-traveled man, he was aware of these issues.

Bruni's secular worldview clashes sharply with the Christian worldview in two significant ways in this article. First, he sees morality as fluid and evolving, based on the march of progress and the winds of public opinion. If right and wrong are malleable, then of course we can add or subtract sins from the catalogue as we please. Hence he closes his op-ed in agreement with gay activist Mitchell God, who says the church must "take homosexuality off the sin list." However, for Christians, morality reflects the character of a perfectly just and righteous God, "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).[5] The church can't take homosexuality off the sin list. It's not our list to edit.

Second, Bruni agrees with Gold's assertion that "church leaders must be made" to stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful. He advocates a statist worldview in which government must correct the moral positions of organized religion and its practitioners if they fail to comply with the spirit of the age. He fails to recognize that government itself is subject to the laws of God. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), said the apostles to the authorities, because they were told not to do the work the Lord Jesus had given them. The civil government's authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1), and hence it has a duty to promote godliness and to let the church be the church. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to pray "for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The church must be free to carry out its divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. RFRA laws like SB 101 provide one avenue of recourse for Christians and others who religious exercise has been unjustly restricted by an overreaching government.

It is somewhat surprising to see one of the world's most influential newspapers give voice to such a radical screed. Frank Bruni's op-ed is long on assertion and opinion, but short on arguments supported by evidence. It is little more than an ultimatum: "Join the 21st century with the mainline Protestant denominations, 'gay Christian' authors, and myself, or else." Or else what? I'm not an alarmist. We don't need to fear the guillotines or lions, but advocates of sexual liberty are becoming more vocal in their call to restrict religious liberty. We need to remember that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, and the tools of spiritual warfare are the same as always: practical holiness and effective apologetics. "[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

[1] For examples of successful and unsuccessful RFRA challenges, see Mollie Hemingway, "Meet 10 Americans Helped by Religious Freedom Bills Like Indiana's," The Federalist, March 30, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/30/meet-10-americans-helped-by-religious-freedom-bills-like-indianas/.

[2] Frank Bruni, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana," New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.

[3] For the sake of argument, if Christianity is defined broadly enough to include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the five largest denominations (the fifth being the Church of God in Christ) officially oppose homosexual practice and same-sex marriage.

[4] James B. DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000). See especially Excursus 3, "Homosexual Behavior and Discussion in Plato," 205-13.

[5] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).


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Why Didn't God Ban Slavery?

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By Lawren Guldemond

In several of his letters, the Apostle Paul gave instruction that Christian slaves should be obedient to their masters, and Christian masters should be fair in ruling over their slaves.[1] Those letters are part of the Bible. Adversaries like to point this out and argue that the God of the Bible is in favour of slavery, and is therefore despicable and morally inferior to modern secular humanists.

If God is real and good, and the Bible is His Word, why doesn't the Bible contain denunciations of slavery rather than apparent endorsements?

First of all, the Bible does prohibit slavery in its absolute form. Exodus 21:16 proscribes the death penalty for those who enslave others, and for those who buy the kidnapped victims of such slave traders. In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul reaffirms this by including enslavers in a list of denunciations (I Timothy 1:10).[2] Deuteronomy 23:15-16 prohibited giving runaway slaves back to their masters, and commanded that they be given refuge instead. If a master struck a slave and knocked out a tooth or blinded an eye, the slave went free (Exodus 21:26-27). If a master beat a slave to death, it was commanded that the master be punished (Exodus 21:20). Furthermore, the laws of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) mandated that everyone in bondage be set free every seventh year. Taken together, these limitations prevent the kind of unbridled despotism that slave owners practised in the antebellum American South. Observe that every one of these commandments was violated by those who ran the transatlantic slave trade and the southern cotton plantations.

The "slavery" allowed for in the Bible is not equivalent to the absolute slavery imposed on Africans in the New World.[3] The biblical model is better understood as indentured servitude. In a typical case, a free man who is struggling and failing to make a living as an independent farmer on his own land might decide to become a bondservant to a prosperous farmer in order to gain food security. According to Paul Copan:

We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this "slavery") more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts—much like the indentured servitude during America's founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free.[4]

It was a provision for the welfare of those who became bankrupt, that they should become servants to others who were financially stable and competent and could therefore provide for them, in return for their service in labour. Biblical jubilee laws (Leviticus 25) mandating debt forgiveness, release of bondservants, and the restoration of farmland back to the family that had sold it all served to prevent those who fell into debt bondage from being trapped in that estate permanently. (For further reading, see the lengthy discussion of the nature of servitude in Hebrew society and the Gentile societies that surrounded them in the Ancient Near East (ANE) on Glenn Miller's Christian ThinkTank website).

Am I Not a Man and a Brother? abolitionist medallion by Josiah WedgwoodNotwithstanding these mitigating factors, the objections will persist—granting that the Bible doesn't allow unmitigated slavery, why does it yet allow mitigated slavery (indentured servitude)? Why didn't God just tell the apostle Paul to declare that everyone should be free and no one should ever be held in bondage and compelled to labour for another?

I believe one of the key reasons is that the true hope for human felicity lies not in deliverance from unjust or unequal socioeconomic conditions, but rather in obtaining peace with God and eternal life, and in learning to be content and gracious in spite of persisting inequities.

There will always be some economic hierarchy, which means that some people will be the masters or bosses and exercise power over others who are economically dependent on them. In our modern Western societies, we have greatly reduced the disparities of power in the master-servant (employer-employee) relationship, providing the "servant" with liberty and freedom unmatched in all of history. Even those at the bottom strata of our economic hierarchy live in freedom. As far as economic freedom, equality and liberty go, our Western societies are as good as it gets. Yet are we content and happy? Consider the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Other 99% meme, and how common it is for people to despise and grumble about their bosses. We have achieved about all there is to achieve in personal liberty for all, and yet we are not satisfied. There are 192 countries in the world today. Tell me which of them is a perfect utopian paradise where all is fair and just and equitable and everyone is content, happy, and living in harmony. I assert that if we haven't been able to achieve utopia by this point in history, we never will. It's an impossible dream. So if your tranquillity and joy is dependent on living in the perfect political order, you may as well despair and give up now. The attainment of felicity cannot be achieved if it is dependent on dwelling within a perfect socioeconomic system.

While freedom and equality cannot bring us perfect bliss, it is true that living in a state of freedom is a very pleasant way to live. Freedom is something to cherish and be grateful for. So even if freedom cannot make us totally happy, why didn't God command that every servant should be set free?

It is important to realize that economic freedom and liberty are matters of degree; no earthly society can ever afford and provide complete freedom to all. All of us who have houses with mortgages are legally obliged to keep working and earning money to hand over to the bank. If we don't, the authorities will help them seize whatever assets we have, which would seriously impair our economic freedom and liberty. Those who borrow hefty student loans to finance a professional education are similarly indebted. Now, we have the liberty to go find a workplace of our choice, but we do have to work hard somewhere; we cannot just go lounge around by the lake perpetually and shirk work, because we have debts to pay. Even in our society, we still throw people into prison for being unable to repay money which others had loaned to them; although we only do it when there is legal evidence of wilful fraud and embezzling, yet still we do it. Everyone who enlists in the military puts themselves into a position of subordination to command that has a lot in common with ancient servitude. If you go AWOL, the military will put you in one of its prisons. Your boss cannot punish you for skipping work, but he can fire you for it. Since you need the money, you are trapped in a power relationship where you need to get his permission to skip work for a few days if you want to go on a journey somewhere. And, of course, there are taxes. We are required to devote about one in four working days to producing the tribute to be exacted from us by our country and community. If you don't pay your taxes, we will ultimately throw you in jail. So while our society affords its members a very high degree of economic liberty and mobility, it's still not absolute freedom. No society can provide absolute freedom for all; there must of necessity be some sort of economic power relationships.

As noted at the beginning of this article, the Apostle Paul instructed Christians to comply with the master-servant structures of the world in which they lived. These relationships did not entail the complete abnegation of freedom and dignity that was seen in New World slavery, but they did curtail freedom to a degree that we would find unacceptable for ourselves. The New Testament portion of the Bible, which provides instruction to the Christian Church, does not stipulate exactly what the terms of master-servant relationships should be. Neither does it stipulate any other details of the form of the political economy; it does not mandate democracy, monarchy, or imperial republicanism. Political arrangements grow out of community and traditions, and adapt to the changing realities of civilization. The Bible is the Word of God for all people for all time. Its purpose is to instruct people in transcendent truths that transcend political orders; it is not to establish the perfect political order, which is a pipe dream. The Bible instructs Christians to be good to others, no matter which side of an economic power relationship they are on, no matter how just or unjust the structure of the arrangement may be (Ephesians 6:5-9).

Christians have hope and joy not because they were born into a perfectly just society, nor because they created a perfectly just society for themselves, but rather in spite of the realities of inequality, injustice, and economic power relationships (Philippians 4:11-13). They have hope and joy because they have peace with God through the work of Jesus Christ.


[1] See Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22, 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:9.

[2] This word is variously translated into English as "enslavers," "manstealers," or "kidnappers."

[3] "From a global cross-cultural and historical perspective, however, New World slavery was a unique conjunction of features . . . In brief, most varieties of slavery did not exhibit the three elements that were dominant in the New World: slaves as property and commodities; their use exclusively as labor; and their lack of freedom . . ." David Levinson and Melvin Ember, eds., Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), 4:1190f., quoted in Glenn Miller, "Does God Condone Slavery in the Bible?," The Christian ThinkTank, last modified March 18, 2004, accessed March 24, 2015, http://christianthinktank.com/qnoslave.html (emphasis Miller's).

[4] Paul Copan, "Does the Old Testament Endorsse Slavery? An Overview," Enrichment Journal, accessed March 24, 2015, http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201102/201102_108_slavery.htm.cfm. For further reading, there are two more articles in Copan's series: "Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery?" and "Why Is the New Testament Silent on Slavery—or Is It?"


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