Why did God use the written word?

Have you ever wondered why God used the written word (i.e. the Bible) to communicate His truth to us?  We’ve probably all had that fleeting thought that if God would just open up heaven and tell us what to do it would be so much easier than laboriously studying the Bible.  As true as that sometimes feels, it isn’t.  In his systematic theology Wayne Grudem has some helpful words on this matter:

Several benefits come from the writing down of God’s words. First, there is a much more accurate preservation of God’s words for subsequent generations. To depend on memory and the repeating of oral tradition is a less reliable method of preserving these words throughout history than is their recording in writing (cf. Deut. 31:12–13). Second, the opportunity for repeated inspection of words that are written down permits careful study and discussion, which leads to better understanding and more complete obedience. Third, God’s words in writing are accessible to many more people than they are when preserved merely through memory and oral repetition. They can be inspected at any time by any person and are not limited in accessibility to those who have memorized them or those who are able to be present when they are recited orally. Thus, the reliability, permanence, and accessibility of the form in which God’s words are preserved are all greatly enhanced when they are written down. Yet there is no indication that their authority or truthfulness is diminished. (Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 50.)

 

He goes on to say,

even if we did hear some words of personal address from God to ourselves today, we would not have certainty that our understanding of it, our memory of it, and our subsequent report of it was wholly accurate. Nor would we be readily able to convey to others the certainty that the communication was from God, even if it was. God’s words as spoken through human lips ceased to be given when the New Testament canon was completed. Thus, these other forms of God’s words are inadequate as a primary basis for study in theology. (50-51)

 

The Wrong Answer: Faulty Views of Jesus

In Mark 8:27-28 Jesus questioned his disciples about the truth of His identity.  Thanks to Mark we know that the conversation went something like this:

Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”

They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”

And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

And He warned them to tell no one about Him.

Much could be said about Christ’s questions and the disciples answers.  But today I want to focus on the wrong answers.  Apparently in Jesus’ day there were three prevalent–but incorrect–views about Jesus.   There was the view that 1) Jesus was the reincarnate spirit of John the Baptist; the view that 2) Jesus was not the Messiah but Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah; and finally the view that 3) Jesus was just another one the prophets.

These views all have a few things in common.  First, all of these view claim to be favorable toward Jesus.  Second, they all deny the full deity of Christ.  Third, they are all represented by historic heresies.  It is this third commonality that I want to focus on today.

The “Mystic” View of Jesus

  • John was dead so what people were really saying was that Jesus was the reincarnate spirit or John, or maybe that the ghost of John was empowering Jesus.  Either way this is a mystical view of Jesus.  The mystical explanation of Jesus has always been popular.  For the most part the mystical view of Christ is taken by those who are uncomfortable with the full humanity of Jesus.
  • Docetism & Gnosticism – The heresy that Jesus’ body “seemed” real, but only appeared that way.   In reality He was not fully human; he was not born; he did not posses a physical being because physical matter is evil. 
  • Sabbellianism/Modalsim/Monarchianism – “the teaching that God is but a single person who manifests himself successively as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are not distinct persons in the Godhead but rather are masks or roles in which God reveals himself to his creation. Thus, modalism denies the ontological Trinity, which is the view that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to three actual, internal distinctions within the Godhead itself. For modalists the Trinity is purely an economic Trinity. Modalism is also called Sabellianism after Sabellius, an early proponent of the teaching. It is also sometimes called patripassianism, because by this theory the Father suffered on the cross in his manifestation as the Son.”[1] This view is exists today most notably in the theology of Oneness Pentecostals.
  • Apollinarianism – “Apollinaris regarded the human soul or mind as the seat of sin, he denied that the second person of the Trinity assumed a human soul or mind in the incarnation. He did teach that the Logos assumed a human body and possibly (depending upon how Apollinaris is interpreted) a human life principle or “animal soul.” Thus, according to Apollinaris, the mental life of Jesus is simply that of the Logos, operating in and through human flesh. His teaching was repudiated at a number of councils, most notably Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon in 451.”[2]
  • Nestorianism – “According to this model, the two natures of Christ were held so distinct as to be virtually two persons. In Nestorianism, as in Antiochene Christology generally, the union of divine and human in the person of Christ is seen as that of indwelling, that is, the man Jesus is the temple in which God dwelt. Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431.”[3]
  • These ancient heresies that take a mystical view of Jesus may seem to be very far away from our culture today, but the mystical view of Jesus is making a strong comeback in today’s culture.

The “Historical Figure” View of Jesus

  • The view that Jesus was Elijah represents the view of Jesus that sees him as simply a historical figure.  This view saw him not as God or the Messiah, but rather an important historical figure.  Specifically they saw him as the fulfillment of the OT prophecy of the forerunner to the Messiah.  This view is usually taken by those who do not deny the existence of Jesus, but they are uncomfortable with the full deity of Jesus.
  • Ebionsim – According to the Ebionites Jesus was just a man.  A man with extraordinary gifts of power, righteousness, and wisdom, but not God.  They held that at the baptism “the Christ” descended upon the man Jesus, and then at some point before Jesus’ death the “Christ” departed.
  • Arianism – In the 4th Century Arius of Alexandria popularized the opinion that Jesus was not equal with God.  Instead, before the beginning of time Christ was created by the father.   Thus, Christ was neither fully man, nor fully God.  This view was condemned as heresy by the Nicean Council in 325.  The creed reads in part, “believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
  • These heresies, which view Jesus a just a historical figure, are still alive and well today.
  • Jesus Seminar & John Dominic Crossan – The Jesus seminar sought to find the “real” Jesus of history by evaluating the Gospel and deciding what really happened.  Needless to say, the distinctly supernatural aspects of the gospel were removed Thomas Jefferson style. 
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses – The theology of the JW is essentially Arian.  That is why when they come to your door they want you to believe that John 1 doesn’t really say that the “word was God”, but instead that the word was “a god.”
  • The Da Vinci Code (just a new form of Gnosticism) – Jesus was a historical figure who played a huge role in history, but he was not God.  In fact, he is most helpful for selling books not salvation.

The “Good Teacher” view of Jesus

  • Islam – Muslims thinks that Christians got it wrong with Jesus when we ascribed deity to him.  They believe in Jesus as a good teacher.  One Muslim wrote, “In the Muslim view, Jesus’ essential work was not to replicate magic bread or to test our credulity, but to complement the legalism of the Torah with a leavening compassion rarely expressed in the older testament. His actions and words introduce something new to monotheism: They develop the merciful spirit of God’s nature. Jesus confirmed the Torah, stressing the continuity of his lineage, but he also developed the importance of compassion and self-purification as crucial links between learning the words of God’s message and possessing the wisdom to carry it out.”
  • Buddhism – The Dalai Lama once said, “As a Buddhist, my attitude toward Jesus Christ is that he was either a fully enlightened being or a bodhisattva of a very high spiritual realization.”[4]
  • Liberation Theology – Jesus is not so much a savior, but a model for how to reform society.
  • Secular View – Many outside the church would express a respect for Jesus, and yet by deny his full humanity and full deity they reveal that they do not know who the real Jesus is. 
  • Many professing evangelical Christians – Unfortunately, many within the church know very little about who Christ really was.  They often ignore the deity of Christ and focus only on Jesus as a moral teacher and not the Divine Savior who bore the wrath of God on behalf of His sheep.  These are the folks that take the “w.w.j.d. only approach to Jesus.”

 

The reason why we need to know all of these wrong views about Jesus is because true disciples must have a right view of Jesus—a right Christology. This doesn’t mean we know everything.  This doesn’t mean our knowledge is perfect.  It does mean that in essence we know who Jesus is through the use of His word and learning from Church History. True disciples must recognize that Jesus was fully God (John 1), and that He was fully man (Phil. 2).  This is required so that 1) He can be a mediator between God and man; 2) He can provide us with imputed righteousness; 3) and He can reverse the curse set into motion by Adam (cf. Romans 5).


[1] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 957.

[2] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 952.

[3] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 958.

[4] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus, p. 83.

Please pray with me for Alim

Please join me in praying for a Christian brother in China who goes by the name Alim.  Alim, whose full name is Alimujiang Yimiti, has been unjustly imprisoned by the Chinese government.  Since 2008 Alim has been held for charges which initially included:

  1. Preaching the Gospel
  2. Distributing Christian literature
  3. Leading people to follow Christ.

These charges were later changed to things like leaking government secrets, and inciting revolt.

Alim has a wife and two children, who he has only seen once in the last two years.  Please pray for them!

You can learn more about Alim’s case at www.freealim.com. There you can get prayer updates, write letters of encouragement to Alim, and even donate to help with Alim’s legal fees.  Also, there is a very moving video of Alim’s mother and wife pleading for his freedom.   You must watch it!  But be prepared to be moved to tears when his mother says, “If Alim’s faith is like gold then when he passes through the trial of fire my son will remain as gold.”

Book Review: Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology

Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology by Jeffrey J. Niehaus is not a book that most people are going to just pick up and flip through.  However, despite the fact that it is filled with quotations from ancient original resources and it deals with highly technical issues, it is quite an interesting book.

In this title Neihaus essentially accomplishes two purposes.  First, he points out the common elements that ancient near eastern (ANE) pagan religions have with biblical religion.  In my opinion, this was the most valuable aspect of the book.  Neihaus copiously details a number of examples of ancient pagan religions paralleling biblical concepts.  Neihaus does an excellent job of interacting with original sources, and yet making it accessible to guys like myself who are not Egyptologists.

The second aspect of this book, that was interesting but less helpful, was Neihaus’ explanation for why there are so many parallels between the pagan religions of the ANE and the bible.  Neihaus’ explanation can be summarized in two parts:

  1. Men were created in God’s image, thus the pagan religions reflect a distortion of the truth in which some elements of truth can still be found.
  2. The activity of deceiving spirits (i.e. Demons) were responsible for taking elements of true religion and twisting them so that, at lest in part, they would get praise for themselves.

As I attempted to interact with Neihaus’  theories a number of holes seemed to arise.  Most of these holes are pointed out in a detailed manner in a recent edition of Themelios (HERE). But to summarize it myself, Neihaus seems to push his point too far.  At times he uses some examples that stretch the imagination to prove the existence of parallel structures.  Additionally, he seems to jump from the OT to the NT without hesitation.  Which is strange because he never deals with the pagan religions of the NT times.

With all of this in mind, Neihaus’ work, even if his conclusions seem to be “off”, is helpful for two reaons:

  1. He points out some parallels that clearly exist between the OT and pagan religions of the ANE.
  2. He attempts to deal with these parallels in a way that upholds the authority and value of scripture.  Too many scholars will demean the integrity of Scripture when dealing with issues like this.  Then on the other side too many evangelicals will ignore that the parallels even exists.  I appreciated Neihaus dealing with the issue the way that he did–even though I did not agree with all of his conclusions.

Edwards on the Sign Gifts

Ever wondered what a guy like Jonathan Edwards thought about the “Sign Gifts” (i.e. miracles, healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc.)?  What would he say about the modern day discussion of this issue.  Well here is a helpful paragraph that might shed some light on it:

It was not God’s design that miracles should always be continued in the world.  Miracles are only for introducing the true religion into the world, to accompany the revelation and first promulgating of the Word of God by them to whom it was revealed by inspiration, to confirm to the world that it was a divine revelation.  But now, when the true religion has long since introduced and the canon of the Scripture completed, the use of miracles in the church ceases.

In other words, Edwards was a cessationist.  Edwards certainly wouldn’t have used the term (I don’t think it even existed back then), but it can be applied to him today.