The Authority of Scripture
Scripture as God-Breathed
While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “Which,” he said, “you have heard me speak about; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.”ACTS 1:4-6
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”
When Christ gathered His disciples as He was about to Ascend to the Father, He told them that they were going to receive the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. The disciples knew what the prophets had spoken. God spoke through the prophets that He would restore His Kingdom and pour out His Spirit on His people (Joel 2).
However, what the disciples didn’t understand is that there would be a period of time – known only to the Father – between the pouring out of the Spirit and the consummation of God’s Kingdom.
In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.EPHESIANS 1:13-14
The Kingdom of God was inaugurated at the first coming of Christ. Now we await His Return when He will consummate the Kingdom of God.
With the inauguration of the Kingdom, God began applying Christ’s Redemptive work to believers by His Spirit who now indwells them. Believers in Christ have their hearts changed and await the redemption of their bodies at Christ’s Second Coming. In the meantime, the Spirit also serves as God’s down payment to reassure us that we have awaiting for us an inheritance, the fullness of our redemption. God is guaranteeing us by His Spirit that when He redeems someone, He commits Himself to redeeming all of them (Phil. 1:6).
So when will Christ Return to bring His Kingdom in its fullness and give us redeemed (resurrected) bodies?
While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”…
This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.MATTHEW 24:3, 14
Before Christ Returns, He is going to redeem a people from every tribe, tongue and nation to Himself.
After that takes place, He will Return and we will receive our redeemed bodies. But there is an order in which God’s people will receive their redeemed bodies. First, those who have died in Christ; then, those who are in Christ and alive at His Return:
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.1 THESSALONIANS 4:14-17
Resurrection – Applying Redemption to Our Bodies
When Christ Returns, He will bring with Him the glorified souls of all who died in Christ. While they are in the air, He will raise up for them new bodies where ensoulment will take place.
Then, while they are still in the air, we who are alive in Christ will be transformed. Our corrupted bodies will become transformed into Resurrected bodies.
But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at his coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he abolishes all rule and all authority and power…
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption. Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality.1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-24, 50-53
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we will not be able to be in God’s Kingdom realm as long as we have corrupted and sinful bodies. That is why the redemption of our bodies at Christ’s Return is necessary.
Once we receive the fullness of our redemption, we will will be in a state similar to that of Adam & Eve before the Fall. However, there is one major difference. Adam & Eve were able to sin and able to be corrupted, hence the Fall. Fully redeemed mankind, on the other hand, will be incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:53).
We can illustrate the state of mankind after the Kingdom is consummated as below:
The New Creation
When Christ Returns, we will be, body and soul, a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
The relationship that we will have to the Kingdom of God is that we have a new heart by which we submit to God’s Kingdom rule and a new body by which we will dwell in His Kingdom realm.
Christ gave the Apostle John a vision of what that day will look like:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.REVELATION 21:1-5
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.
Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”
In the New Heavens and Earth, the two are one. God’s Kingdom rule will be fully realized in the hearts of men, and we will dwell in His Kingdom realm. As the voice from the throne said, “God’s dwelling is with humanity” again.
Man’s exile from God is over; the day of evil is done. Christ has made all things new.
We have covered a lot of material in this post, looking at the Kingdom of God in redemptive history with a wide-angle lens. The following illustration might help put things in perspective:
In the Old Testament, God was at work to show Israel the plight of man. By sending the nation into exile in Babylon, the Lord taught His people that there was a greater exile at hand – the exile of all mankind from God’s Kingdom.
Through His prophets, the Lord revealed to His people that though mankind was exiled from God’s Kingdom, His desire to be glorified by and to dwell with His people never changed. In fact, He was at work executing His eternal Plan to redeem His people back into His Kingdom.
Despite having returned to their promised land, [the Jews] still conceived of themselves as in ‘exile’… Thus, Israel was in a posture of anticipation and longing; they were waiting for God to fulfill his promises to break into the world and redeem his people (for example, Is 49:6; 52:8; Zech 14:9; Amos 9:11-15)… Not only is this heightened expectation of a new redemptive kingdom evident in a number of Second Temple texts (Tob 14:4-7; Bar 3:6-8; 4:36-37; T. Mos. 10:1-10; 2 Macc 1:27-29, 2:18; Wis 3:7; 1QSb 5.23-29; 1QH 14.7-9), but a number of New Testament texts show these same expectations of a new kingdom – people were looking for the Messiah (Jn 1:41; 4:25) who would bring the ‘redemption of Jerusalem’ (Lk 2:38), ‘the consolation of Israel’ (Lk 2:25), and would ‘restore the kingdom to Israel’ (Acts 1:6).MICHAEL J. KRUGER, THE QUESTION OF CANON
If Adam and Eve’s rebellion corrupted us, both body and soul, then our redemption must involve redeeming us, both body and soul. Therefore, bringing man back into God’s Kingdom involves:
(1) God redeeming our hearts, enabling them to submit to His Kingly Rule; and (2) redeeming our bodies, enabling us to dwell in His Kingdom Realm
However, redemption doesn’t take place all at once. First, God came to secure our redemption. This happened in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. That redemption is then applied to us at a later time over the period of an age.
After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”MARK 1:14-15
Jesus’ message was one of excitement. He victoriously proclaimed that the time of waiting is over. In Him, the Kingdom has come, and He – the King – is coming as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jhn. 1:29).
In His earthly ministry, Jesus secured the redemption of our soul and body.
Jesus Secured the Redemption of Our Souls
Our souls are guilty of sinning. Our thoughts have meditated on evil things, our affections have been aroused by sinful lusts, and our wills have hastened after that which God hates.
Our righteous God will not let the guilty go unpunished (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Nah. 1:3). To do so would be to forsake justice. Therefore, our sins must be dealt with; they must be punished. And if forgiveness is going to come to us then we need a Redeemer, One who will take our sin and endure God’s wrath in our stead.
This is exactly what the cross is all about.
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.COLOSSIANS 2:13-14
Jesus bore our sins on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), and there the Father poured out His righteous anger on His Son, thus satisfying His wrath (Isa. 53:11). This means that there is no wrath left for those whose sins were on the cross (Rom. 8:1)!
However, this is not all there is to the redemption of our souls. Taking away our guilt and shame is only half of it. We also need what the Bible calls “righteousness.” Righteousness comes from actively obeying God’s perfect Law. The problem is that we have all broken it and continually break it (Rom. 3:10-12).
But praise be to God Jesus secured for us righteousness as well as forgiveness of our sins! He did so by living a life in perfect obedience to the Father:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.1 PETER 2:22-25
Jesus Secured the Redemption of Our Bodies
Jesus also secured for us the redemption of our bodies by His Resurrection.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.ROMANS 6:4-11
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Christ’s Resurrection was not merely bringing a body back to life; His Resurrection was bringing a mortal human body that had felt the effects of sin to a new kind of existence.
In the Resurrection of His human body, Jesus secured for us the Resurrection of our bodies (1 Cor. 15). We will unpack this more in the next post.
Just because Christ secured the redemption of His people doesn’t mean we are born redeemed. The Bible teaches that we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5). The redemption that Jesus secured for us must be applied to us.
This is where the Holy Spirit comes in.
Regeneration – Applying Redemption to Our Souls
Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”JOHN 3:5-8
When the Pharisee, Nicodemus, approached Jesus, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. But we are all thankful that he approached Christ for the response Jesus gave to him is a clear teaching on the application of redemption.
Jesus said that in order to enter into the Kingdom, the “new birth” must take place. We are all born in sin, “in Adam” (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15); however, we must be born again into a new humanity. Jesus came as the “Second Adam” and established a new human line for us to be spiritually born into. Those who are born again into this human line are now “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22). Those who are “in Christ” experience all the blessings of Redemption!
Therefore, the New Birth is very important! It happens, Jesus taught, as a result of God’s Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. The Bible is very clear that the Spirit and the Spirit alone is the Agent of bringing about the New Birth (Jhn. 6:63). But what exactly is the New Birth or “regeneration”?
My favorite description comes from the prophet Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.EZEKIEL 36:26-27
The Lord, through Ezekiel, is speaking of how His Spirit will be at work in the hearts of His people.
We were born with a heart of stone, a heart with sinful thoughts, affections, and choices. Before we can do what Jesus commands we do (i.e. repent and believe the gospel, Mark 1:14-15), we need a new heart.
When the Holy Spirit gives us a new heart, we are – for the first time – able to understand the Gospel (1 Cor. 2:12), able to love Christ, and able to obey Him. Only with a new heart can we repent of our sin and trust Christ.
So, the state of redeemed man in the age of redemption (the time between Christ’s first and second coming) can be illustrated as below.
Therefore the relationship of redeemed man to the Kingdom of God is that we have a new heart by which we can submit to God’s Kingdom rein, and are awaiting a new body by which we will dwell in His Kingdom realm.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.GALATIANS 5:19-21
The Serpent’s Deception
In Eden all was good. Mankind lovingly obeyed the Lord and lived in His presence. The Kingdom of God was on the earth. All of this changed when Satan deceived Eve.
The temptation in the Garden, while new to man, wasn’t a novel invention. Satan had already fallen to that same temptation he introduced to Adam & Eve:
“You were the signet of perfection,EZEKIEL 28:12B-13A, 14-17A
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering… You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground…”
Satan was an angel of God. He was appointed as a protector, a cherub, a high-ranking angel who was apparently stationed in Eden (v. 13). However, pride set in and corrupted the angel, leading to his rebellion:
You said in your heart,ISAIAH 14:13-14
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
Jesus is very clear about the root of sin beginning with the affections of the heart (Mt. 5). Satan’s sin began with his desire to “be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14).
He was no longer content with the status quo. He no longer lovingly obeyed God’s Kingdom rule; he rebelled. Some theologians therefore call sin “cosmic treason” for it is always an expression of the heart’s desire for autonomy, to be free from God, and to go its own way.
The Fall of Man’s Soul
Satan, in the form of the serpent, approached Eve and offered the same deception which resulted in his downfall. Satan offered an illusion of autonomy, a chance to be “free” from the Kingdom rule, and “be like God” (v. 5).
In this progression of sin, all of the heart’s faculties were corrupted leading to the rebellion:
The Corruption of the Mind
If we look closely at Satan’s tactic, he begins with the mind. Satan deceives Adam & Eve, saying that God’s words are not true and shouldn’t be believed. The heart which once believed God now distrusts Him and believes the lie of the enemy:
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”GENESIS 3:1-5
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”
“No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Corruption of the Emotion
Once the mind became corrupt, sin moved its way to the heart’s affections. The heart that used to love the Lord and His ways now has foreign and wicked loves:
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom.GENESIS 3:6A
The Corruption of the Will
The will always follows the emotion. In other words, the heart chooses whatever it desires most in the moment of decision. For Eve, once autonomy replaced obeying the Lord as her highest desire, she chose to rebel against the Lord’s commands:
So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.GENESIS 3:6B
The Fall of Man’s Body
As Jesus taught His disciples, sin begins in the heart. In the Garden, it began with the heart rebelling against God’s Kingdom rule. However, it did not end with the heart. Sin spread to the body, rendering it unfit for God’s Kingdom realm.
The body’s corruption came also by way of curse for rebelling against God’s Kingdom rule:
He said to the woman:
I will intensify your labor pains;
you will bear children with painful effort…
And he said to the man…
The ground is cursed because of you.GENESIS 3:16A, 17A, 17C-19
You will eat from it by means of painful labor
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground,
since you were taken from it.
For you are dust,
and you will return to dust.”
The figure below depicts the total corruption of man due to sin:
Exile from the Kingdom of God
Because of sin, man was no longer fit for God’s Kingdom. The consequence of which was exile:
So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove the man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.GENESIS 3:23-24
Exile from God’s Kingdom is a total removal from His unveiled glory. God removes His glory from sinful man for two reasons:
- He is holy. We see this again when He withdraws His glory from the Temple after Israel’s apostasy (Ezekiel 10:4-5, 18)
- We cannot survive His unveiled presence as we are. Sin has so weakened our mortal bodies that we would be destroyed by His glory. He says so to Moses:
Then Moses said, “Please, let me see your glory.”EXODUS 33:18-20
He said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name ‘the Lord’ before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But he added, “You cannot see my face, for humans cannot see me and live.”
Reading the genealogy in Genesis 5, we learn that sin did not simply begin and end with Adam & Eve. In the genealogy, Moses inserts the phrase “And he died” after every descendant of Adam. He is communicating that sin somehow spreads. It is transferred from parent to child such that “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). And the problem is that we are all born in Adam.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned.ROMANS 5:12
The Bible is clear that we all inherit a sinful human nature (body and soul). This is what theologians call original sin. A brief survey of some Passages of Scripture informs us on the continued corruption of man’s faculties:
While we are in the flesh, our minds are darkened. They are inhibited by the effects of sin. This is evident in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became foolsROMANS 1:21-22
Paul also teaches a certain inability to understand spiritual things due to sin:
But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.1 CORINTHIANS 2:14
We are also born with corrupted emotions, affections that do not desire the things of God:
Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves… For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions.ROMANS 1:24A, 26
Because the highest desire of the fallen human heart is “only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5), the will of fallen man is perpetually sinning. Even the most philanthropic of choices done by fallen man is done with a sinful motive considering he does not desire the glory of the Lord.
It is not simply the case that fallen man doesn’t choose the things of the Lord; the Bible tells us that fallen man can not:
Now the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. The mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it is unable to do so.Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.ROMANS 8:6-8
Martin Luther calls this the bondage of the will. Luther teaches that the will of fallen man is bound by his sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:15-23):
Now, since on God’s own testimony, men are ‘flesh’, they can savour of nothing but the flesh; therefore ‘free-will’ can avail only to sin. And if, while the Spirit of God is calling and teaching among them, they go from bad to worse, what could they do when left to themselves, without the Spirit of God? … it obviously follows that whatever is flesh is ungodly, under God’s wrath, and a stranger to His kingdom. And if it is a stranger to God’s kingdom and Spirit, it follows of necessity that it is under the kingdom and spirit of Satan. For there is no middle kingdom between the kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan, which are ever at war with each other.MARTIN LUTHER, THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL
Sickness, decay, and death are all somatic (bodily) effects of the fall. Again, Paul tells us:
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption.1 CORINTHIANS 15:50
Need for a New Heart & Body
It is obvious that there is no hope that salvation would come from man. Man is too corrupt, too evil, too fallen. Man is cut off and in exile from God (Isaiah 59:2).
If man, body & soul, is to return to the Kingdom of God, he must be redeemed, body & soul. He needs a new heart by which he will lovingly obey God’s Kingdom rule, and a new body by which he can once again dwell in God’s Kingdom realm.
At creation, the world was fit for God’s Kingdom. This included us, mankind.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.
The Image of God
God made man in His own Image to know Him, love Him, live with Him, and to glorify Him (New City Catechism). As a special creation of God, mankind is not merely material in nature; God knelt down and breathed the breath of life into man, giving him a soul (Gen. 2:7).
Though the Bible does see man as a whole, it also recognizes that the human being has two sides: physical and nonphysical. He has a physical body, but he is also a personality.ANTHONY HOEKEMA, CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE
When the Bible talks about the nature of man, it uses a variety of words to describe the two “sides” of man:
Hebrew (OT), basar
Greek (NT), soma
Hebrew (OT), nephesh/ruach/lebh
Greek (NT), psyche/pneuma/kardia
Just as the body is complex and comprised of a variety of cells, tissues, and organs, the soul/spirit/heart is also multifaceted. So what comprises the soul?
The soul (synonymous with “spirit” and “heart”) is comprised of three faculties: the mind, the emotion, and the will.
The mind is our cognitive faculty. It is what God gave us to be able to think and to know. This is where we find the thoughts & beliefs of our soul.
The emotion, or our emotional capacity, is what enables us to have desires. This is where we find the affections of our soul.
The will is our volitional faculty. It is our ability to choose and is where we find the decisions of the soul.
The diagram below illustrates these faculties of man:
When God created Adam & Eve, body & soul, He created them “good.”
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed.GENESIS 1:31A
What does it mean to be “good” in relation to God’s Kingdom?
Remember, the Kingdom of God is:
- God’s Kingdom rule, and
- God’s Kingdom realm
A Good Soul to Submit to God’s Kingdom Rule
When God made man, He gave us a soul so that God’s Kingdom rule would be realized in the hearts of man. Adam & Eve had a soul that knew God as He was (mind), loved God as He was (emotion), and willingly obeyed God (will).
We can see how the first aspect of God’s Kingdom corresponds to the soul/spirit/heart of man.
A Good Body to Dwell in God’s Kingdom Realm
When God made man, He gave us a body to dwell in God’s Kingdom realm. Adam & Eve actually walked with God’s glorious presence!
Therefore the second aspect of God’s Kingdom corresponds to the body of man.
So far we have seen the state of man in relation to God’s Kingdom at creation. We were created for God, to lovingly obey Him and to live with Him. This was the reality in Eden. The Kingdom of God on the Earth is what Eden was all about.
Unfortunately this is not the end of the Story. Mankind rebels and our relation to God’s Kingdom changes.
After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”MARK 1:14-15
In a previous position I held as a youth pastor, I took on a couple interns to serve with me through the summer months. The two were an engaged couple preparing to go on the mission field, and the guy, Tanner, quickly became one of my best friends.
One of the assignments I had Tanner work with me on was the development of an evangelism training curriculum. We spent a month studying the Scriptures together, reading books on evangelism and theology, and condensing what we considered to be the “essentials” of sharing the Gospel into a 3 hour training. In that time of in-depth research, I noticed a significant difference between the way Jesus evangelized and the “Gospel conversations” of today.
The Gospel of Jesus & the Apostles
Exactly what was the message Jesus and the Apostles went around preaching? That is an important question to ask if we do not want to get the gospel wrong! The consequences of getting the gospel wrong are no doubt grave (Gal. 1:6-9), so let’s look at some Passages where Jesus and His followers are preaching to better understand the gospel as they preached it:
Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.
– Matthew 9:35
After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the Kingdom of God.
– Acts 1:3
As you go, proclaim: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
– Matthew 10:7
But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
– Acts 8:12
And he [Paul] entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
– Acts 19:8
Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
– Acts 28:30-31
What do all of these sermons have in common? The Kingdom of God. Jesus came proclaiming the good news. This news is not just any news from anywhere. It is the news of the Kingdom and from the Kingdom, and Jesus commanded that it be preached. In fact, the Redemptive Plan of God will not be completed until it is proclaimed to all the nations (Mt. 24:14).
To understand the gospel, therefore, is to understand the Kingdom of God. That will be the pursuit of this series of posts: understanding God’s Kingdom and how our gospel proclamation should be informed by what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God.
Defining the Kingdom of God
When you see the word, “kingdom,” what comes to mind? What probably comes to mind is a man sitting on a throne, wearing a crown, and enjoying the luxuries of his castle. This is what pops into most people’s minds because there are a couple elements in this imagery that are common to every kingdom: First, a kingdom has a king, one who is the ruling authority. Second, a king reigns over something – that is the king’s realm. So, every kingdom includes the king’s reign (or rule) and the realm in which he is reigning.
I’m going to describe the Kingdom of God in terms of these two dynamics:
- The Kingdom of God is God’s redemptive rule realized in the hearts of men.
- The Kingdom of God is the realm fit for God’s unveiled Glory.
Together, these two aspects of God’s Kingly rule and God’s Kingdom realm comprise the Kingdom of God.
Following God’s Kingdom
God’s Kingdom is not static; it is very much dynamic, breaking into this world. Understanding God’s Kingdom requires us to follow it along the Redemptive story-line of Scripture. We will spend the next few posts following the Kingdom through the biblical themes of:
- New Creation
Doing so will help us see that it really is good news for the King’s rule to be realized in the hearts of men who are made fit to dwell in the realm of His unveiled Glory.
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 CORINTHIANS 4:17-18
There are few questions that everyone ventures to answer. Physicians have their problems to solve, scientists have their respective sphere of investigation, and philosophers have their select subjects for musing. However, the “problem of evil” is something every man reckons with.
Evil is a universal experience. We have all tasted its bitterness. We see evil manifested in every injustice and tragedy. Yet not every universal experience is a problem demanding an answer. Neither do all experiences entice the same response. But there is something to the nature of evil that goes against our nature and beckons us to ask “why?”
Any comprehensive worldview attempts to explain the phenomenon of evil. However, most “answers” to the problem of evil fail to satisfy. Even the so-called “Christian” answers compromise on either the common human experience or the biblical data. In this post, I provide what I believe is the biblical explanation to the reality of evil in this world.
Good and Evil
With everyone throwing their opinions into the ring, the very concept of evil (and its antithesis of good) is obscure. There is a good place to begin, though – the classic philosopher Plato and the Euthyphro Dilemma regarding the nature of goodness:
In Plato’s Euthyphro (a conversation he records between Socrates and Euthyphro), Plato reveals a dilemma regarding the nature of goodness. It goes something like this:
- Is something good because God wills it, or
- Does God will something because it is good?
Option 1 suggests a concept of goodness known as the Divine Command Theory. This theory states that God’s will obligates us to moral action and that something is good for no other reason than the fact that God willed it.
Option 2 says that goodness is intrinsic to the object or decision itself. God does something because it is already good (contrary to what we see in the divine pronouncements of Genesis 1). This theory implies that there is a standard of goodness beyond God, and that He lives up to that standard (by necessity or choice).
Both views are deficient. The first one doesn’t sufficiently explain the nature of God or goodness. But the second theory misses the mark entirely. By making goodness a standard above God, goodness, as an abstraction, supplants God as a functioning god. So we must see this second theory as a form of idolatry if left unqualified.
Although it initially seems hopeless, there is a way to navigate these waters and actually modify these two options to make them acceptable.
Lewis on Good & Evil
In his radio broadcast special that later became a published work entitled Mere Christianity, the great scholar C.S. Lewis makes a case for the Christian worldview that has become an apologist’s go-to response to the problem of evil.
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?C.S. LEWIS, MERE CHRISTIANITY
The point that Lewis is making is that evil is a deviation from the standard of goodness. Just like we only recognize a line to be crooked because we know what a straight line is, we only recognize evil because we know what good is.
Lewis argues that God is the objective standard of goodness. Instead of being able to lob the reality of evil against the existence of God, we only recognize evil because we know of good (i.e. God). This concept of goodness, that it finds its source and standard in God Himself, is the concept which we will now begin working with.
The two options of the Euthyphro Dilemma are pitched as though they are mutually exclusive. However, if we listen to Lewis, we can see that there is a via media (middle way) to understanding the nature of good, a way which incorporates both options.
First, we must stand with Lewis and proclaim that God is the objective standard of goodness, that nothing stands above God by which He must measure up to.
Secondly, and as a result, we are able to affirm the first option of the Euthyphro Dilemma. Because God is the objective standard and source of goodness, actions are good precisely because God does them. Not only is God good, He is immutable, unchangeable.
For I am the LORD, I change not.MALACHI 3:6
Because the Lord is good and does not change, everything that comes from Him is good. Therefore, we boldly affirm the first option that something is good because God wills it.
Finally, God always acts consistent with Who He is. That is why we can also affirm the second option of the Dilemma, but only as it follows from the first. God wills that which is good (option 2) because that which is good is good because God wills it (option 1). This is always the case because God Himself is the objective standard and source of good, and He does not change.
The Concepts of Good and Evil
Let’s summarize our findings concerning the concepts of good and evil thus far:
- Goodness finds its source and standard in the nature of God
- Therefore, something is good because it comes from God (option 1)
- And as it is, God always acts consistent with His nature (option 2)
- Evil is a deviation of the character and will of God
Now that we understand the concepts of good and evil as abstractions, we must now consider what the ultimate good (i.e. moral pursuit) is.
Another way to approach this is by asking, what is the good end/purpose to which our good God works? What is His goal or purpose in this world?
God’s Purpose for the World
God is at work in this world to glorify Himself. That might sound odd or off-putting to those who do not know God, but to those of us who have been redeemed, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If God is a morally perfect Being, and is the source and standard of goodness, what end should the Lord labor towards? What should be His highest pursuit? I submit that a morally perfect Being ought to pursue that which is morally perfect. It follows then that – for God to pursue that which is morally perfect – He must pursue Himself. There is no higher good than God Himself because He Himself is the standard and source of goodness. And that is what we find our perfectly good God doing in His creation – glorifying His Name.
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory,
as the water covers the sea.HABAKKUK 2:14
Glorifying God is the highest moral pursuit for God and man. If we seek after anything else, we are settling for something less than perfect, something that will not satisfy the deepest longings of the soul.
We were created for God and His glory:
… everyone who bears my name
and is created for my glory.
I have formed them; indeed, I have made them.ISAIAH 43:7
An object is never being fulfilled unless it is being used for its intended purpose. Likewise, we will never be satisfied unless we are pursuing that which we were created for – God’s glory, to the worship, adoration, and praise of His Name. As the Westminster Catechism says:
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.WESTMINSTER CATECHISM
God is the source and objective standard of good, and is therefore our highest moral pursuit. Worshiping God is not only a moral imperative, it is also what we were made for and where we find true human fulfillment.
In order for us to glorify God as He is and according to His will, we need Him to reveal Himself to us.
We gather information through our senses (empiricism) and our reasoning capacities (rationalism). Both serve to calibrate our mind’s perception of the world. When it comes to acquiring knowledge about God, we run into a problem. God transcends this universe while we are confined to it. We cannot elevate our minds beyond the physical to comprehend God as we would an object of study.
Can you fathom the depths of God
or discover the limits of the Almighty?JOB 11:7
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”ISAIAH 55:8-9
This reality places us in a state of dependence – dependence upon the Lord to reveal Himself to us.
We only know what we know because God has revealed truth to us. The Lord could have made this universe such that He were incognito, but He didn’t. He revealed Himself to us (in creation, His Word, and most fully in His Son) so that we can know and glorify Him.
For our highest moral good to be achieved (glorifying God), we must first know Him. How can we worship God rightly if we do not comprehend Him as He is?
The great theologian, Augustine, made this point in his Confessions:
Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art.AUGUSTINE, CONFESSIONS
To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
We are depended upon God to reveal Himself (in all His attributes) to us so that we may truly know Him and worship Him as He is. The Scriptures tell us, of all the attributes of God that are praiseworthy, there is one that brings us to our knees in adoration of the One Who has redeemed us – the grace of God.
For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.EPHESIANS 1:4-6
God is a God of grace. For us to praise His glorious grace – to glorify Him as the gracious God that He is – we need to see His grace on display.
The Grace of God
The thing about grace is that it comes to those who are deserving judgement. In other words, grace presupposes wrath. There is no occasion for God’s Grace to be on display if His wrath were not first stirred against us. Neither would God’s wrath be stirred against us if we had not sinned.
So, for us to know God’s Grace, we must first know of His wrath. And we are under His wrath because we have rebelled against Him.
This relationship is seen in Romans 11:
For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all.ROMANS 11:32
Most responses to the problem of evil and suffering can be divided into two camps: (1) those who accept God’s Sovereignty and say God is at fault for allowing evil into the world, and (2) those who undermine God’s Sovereignty in order to distance Him from the unfolding of the events of the Fall. Both are in error. For a response to the problem of evil to be biblical, it must not charge God with injustice. Neither can it sacrifice God’s Sovereignty on the altar of “free will.”
We have already shown the failure of the first camp from our discussion on the nature of good and evil at the beginning of this post. The second camp of “solutions,” on the other hand, cannot account for the Romans 11 Passage above. Many have already committed themselves to the notion that God was helplessly sitting by while the Fall took place. This comes from a preconception that, if God were Sovereign in that moment, then God is to blame for sin. And so the second camp developed the “free-will defense” to the problem of evil. This response claims that God surrendered His Sovereignty to make room for human freedom. I will critique this in a later post, but it suffices to say that advocates of this defense find it distasteful and horrifying to learn that God is in control of the disobedient state that man finds himself in.
Why would God “imprison all in disobedience?” Why would He permit sin to enter the world and corrupt His Image-bearers? Why would He allow the human race to Fall and come under His judgement?
The answer that Paul gives is so that He may have mercy on all.
God permitted the Fall to be part of His eternal Plan. He permitted the Fall of man so that we would find ourselves in a state of disobedience and awaiting judgement. The Fall set the stage for God’s grace to be put on display. He did this so that He might then demonstrate His grace towards His rebellious Image-bearers. He did this so that we might know His true character and praise His glorious Grace. He did all of this to make it possible for us to pursue the highest moral good – the worship of our good God.
This is what I believe to be the testimony of the whole Counsel of God. However, two questions linger to which I must now turn in order to preemptively respond to possible rebuttals:
A World with Sin & Knowledge of God’s Grace is Greater Than a World That Never Knew Sin
Some may ask whether this Plan of God was worth it, if permitting the Fall so that we might then know of and praise His glorious grace really benefited anything. I say it did because a world with sin plus the knowledge and praise of God’s grace is greater than a world that never knew sin and had no need to experience God’s grace.
After reminding his readers of the beauty and worth of God’s grace in salvation, Peter writes:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that would come to you, searched and carefully investigated. They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified in advance to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.1 PETER 1:10-12
The angels long to catch a glimpse of “these things.” What are “these things?” Peter is speaking of the grace that the redeemed have received in Christ.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the angels have never experienced God’s grace the way that we, the redeemed, have? They have never needed the grace of God’s redemption in Christ because they are not fallen. Yet, though the angels around God’s throne live in glorious state, they nevertheless long to catch a glimpse of what it is like to experience the grace of God in redemption.
Redeemed man knows something of God the angels never will. We know what it is like to have been lost in our rebellion, imprisoned in our own disobedience, deserving the just wrath of God. We know what it is like to be awakened to the reality that we have committed cosmic treason against an infinitely holy God, only then to find out that He has decided to show mercy. We, who once were enemies, are now His children. We are heirs of God who can now boldly come before our heavenly Father (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 3:12). Unlike the angels, we have experienced the immeasurable grace of God in Christ Jesus.
If you were an angel, you too would long to look into the gospel of Jesus Christ and experience what we have. So, a world with sin plus the knowledge and praise of God’s grace is greater than a world that never knew sin and had no need to experience God’s grace.
Sovereign Over but Not the Source of Evil
There are finally those who have committed themselves so firmly to the free-will defense, and have consistently read Scripture through that lens, that they have completely missed the Texts which describe God’s Sovereignty over evil.
I form light and create darkness,
I make success and create disaster;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.ISAIAH 45:7
How do we make sense of this, that God is Sovereign over evil but not the Author or Source of it? As the theologian Bruce Ware contends, we must conceive of God’s relation to good and evil in asymmetric terms. God is Sovereign over both good and evil, but He doesn’t stand behind evil the same way that He stands behind good.
… Scripture’s teachings regarding the inherent and exclusive goodness and righteousness of God need to be set alongside its teachings on the control that God has over both good and evil. For example, recall again that in Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form light and create darkness.” But alongside this passage, consider also 1 John 1:5: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” How instructive! Although God controls both light and darkness (Isa. 45:7), God’s own nature is exclusively light and not darkness (1 John 1:5)…
In short, God is good and not evil though he controls both good and evil. His eternal and holy nature is in no way compromised. He is not stained by evil nor does he approve of evil. Evil is contrary to God’s holy, moral nature, and his disposition toward evil is always one of hatred and opposition whereas his disposition toward good is always one of approval and embrace.BRUCE A. WARE, GOD’S GREATER GLORY
Ware describes God’s Sovereignty over good as “direct-causative” divine agency; whereas His Sovereignty over evil is “indirect-permissive.”
Goodness itself, as we have demonstrated, is sourced in God and directly caused by Him. Evil, on the other hand, is a deviation or privation of the good. It does not find its source or standard in God, but is a deviation or privation of what comes from Him.
God’s permitting of the Fall was not due to Him surrendering His Sovereignty. It was part of the Plan, the eternal Plan to redeem a people for Himself to the praise of His glorious grace (Job 42:2; Ps. 19:21; Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:9-12).
In this post, I have sought to provide a brief description of good and evil, to justify God’s goodness and Sovereignty, and demonstrate how His eternal Plan is worth it. History is unfolding according to the Plan in which God is most glorified.
In the next post, I will attempt to show how this gets worked out in the divine sovereignty/human responsibility relationship by presenting a doctrine known as concurrence. There, we will consider the nature of the human will and the asymmetric Sovereignty of God in both the Fall and in all human actions.
Phase 3: Defense of Accurate Scribal Transcription
In the past two posts, I demonstrated (biblically and extrabiblically) how the Apostles either wrote the Gospels or supplied their testimonies to the authors of the Gospels.
If we can defend the reliability of testimony transmission up to the point of the Gospels being written down, can we say that those Gospel “autographs” were then copied accurately? In other words, are the manuscripts we have access to today accurate copies of that which the Apostles and their associates wrote? Before we can go any further, we need to clarify a few terms:
An “autograph” is the first final draft of a book. Each book of the Bible had an autograph. For example, Paul wrote Galatians with his own hand (Gal. 6:11). That document he penned is called the “autograph.” Likewise, when the Gospel writers wrote their final drafts of the Gospels, each of those documents are called the “autographs.”
A “manuscript” is a hand-written copy of the autograph or of another manuscript. After the Gospel writers penned their autographs, scribes copied them by hand. Each copy is referred to as a “manuscript.”
A “variant” is a place of variation between two manuscripts. This can be anything from a spelling differentiation to a total insertion or deletion of material.
Skeptical Claim: The Manuscripts Do Not Accurately Reflect the Autographs
Appealing to the reality of variants, skeptics claim that we cannot trust that the Gospel manuscripts accurately reflect the autographs.
This is a serious claim. As Christians, we hold firmly to the doctrine of inspiration, that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). When we speak of inspiration, we do not contend that the scribes who copied the autographs were inspired for they sometimes misspelled words and skipped lines (i.e. produced variants). Instead, inspiration is with regards to the autographs of the biblical Texts. Therefore, if the manuscripts do not accurately reflect the autographs then we do not have access to the inspired Word of God because the autographs have been lost to time and the only thing that remains is their copies (manuscripts).
However, we can rest assured that the Bibles we have today (as translated from the oldest manuscripts archaeology has unearthed) do indeed accurately reflect the autographs that the biblical authors penned. We can show this by responding to two assumptions behind the skeptics’ claim above.
Faulty Assumption #1: Variants Affect the Theology & Praxis of the Church
A common assumption people make when they hear about the variants in the manuscript tradition is that those variants significantly influence the theology and praxis of the church. Skeptics propagate and even inflate the notion of variants without actually giving examples of them. This is because the variants – wherever they do occur – are harmless, and do not lend credence to the skeptic’s position.
Consider scholar Dr. Timothy Paul Jones on this matter:
Spread across millions and millions of words in more than 5,000 manuscripts, the variations represent a small percentage of the total text… the New Testament text is 92.6% stable. In other words, all these differences affect less than 8% of the New Testament text! What’s more, the overwhelming majority of these differences have to do with words that are misspelled or rearranged – differences that have no impact on the translation or meaning of the text.TIMOTHY PAUL JONES, HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE
One of the most common variants is the simple misspelling of a word. As scribes would copy texts by hand, usually by candle light, it wasn’t uncommon for their eye to drop down a line or lose its place. For example, sometime in the manuscript tradition, the spelling of Matthew changed. In codex vaticanus (4th c.), “Matthew” is spelled with two thetas (θθ) in Mt. 10:3. In codex washingtonianus (4th – 5th c.), “Matthew” is spelled with a tau and a theta (τθ). See the comparison of the spelling in the two manuscripts below:
How much of an impact has this variant made on the teaching and practice of the church? ZERO. This – as with each of the variants – is virtually insignificant.
Faulty Assumption #2: The Church Didn’t Confer Authority Onto the Texts Until the 4th Century
There is an assumption even more basic than the first one. Skeptics try to use the reality of variants to support a presupposed narrative that the church convened at a council in the 4th century (or later) to decide which books would be canonized and which ones would be banned. The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) is usually chosen to host the decisions of this narrative as it is the first ecumenical council and fits the time frame. However, there are a couple of things wrong with this theory:
What Happened at Nicaea
Unfortunately, most people learn more about the Council of Nicaea from fictional works like The Da Vinci Code than from history. This gathering of 300 bishops in AD 325 had nothing to do with conferring authority onto texts to form a canon. The council gathered to settle the Arianism controversy, a debate regarding the eternality of Jesus Christ.
Conspiracy theorists simply assume this council canonized Scripture because they need such a setting to support their narrative.
Recognizing Authority vs. Conferring Authority
The truth is that the church has never seen herself in the position to confer authority onto the Texts of Scripture. Instead, the church has only recognized the authority intrinsic to the Texts. And we see this happening as soon as the New Testament Texts are being written down. For example, Peter recognizes the authoritative nature of Paul’s letters being of the same authority as the OT Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:15-16), which Peter says are the result of God’s Spirit revealing Truth through the human author (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The Gospels themselves were identified as Scripture as soon as they were written down as well. An example of this is when Paul quotes the Gospel of Luke alongside of Deuteronomy as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18.
As the New Testament Texts are being copied and becoming available, collections of them began to be compiled together. For example, the Muratorian Canon (c. AD 180) lists 22/27 books of the New Testament. We also have a complete list of the 27 books of the New Testament with Origen of Alexandria (AD 184 – 253) in his Homilae on Iosuam 7:1.
The hypothesis that I put forward – that the church recognized the authority intrinsic to the Texts – better fits the historical data than the skeptical theory of the church conferring authority onto the Texts. Skeptics have even had to go as far as fabricating the events at Nicaea to find support for their theory.
Accurate Scribal Transcription
In the decades between the autographs and the extant manuscripts of the Gospels, scribes entrusted with transmitting the eyewitness testimony have given us ample evidence to trust they did so accurately. In fact, the more manuscripts we find, the better we can appreciate the degree of accuracy by which they transcribed manuscripts.
The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls is an incredible example of how effective scribes were in accurately transcribing manuscripts.
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were rediscovered in the twentieth century, it became clear that the text of the Old Testament had remained remarkably stable over the centuries. In fact, a scroll of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QIsaa) was copied more than a hundred years before Jesus was born; yet, the wording of this scroll of Isaiah agreed almost completely with Masoretic texts that were copied a thousand years later!TIMOTHY PAUL JONES, HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE
Conclusion: The Voice of the Shepherd
We could speak all day of the psychological impact the Resurrection had on the memories of those who witnessed it, the various controls the church had in place during the oral period, and the accuracy of ancient scribal practices. While those things are important and provide us with reasons to trust the Gospels, they do not answer the “why” question. Why did the church in the first century take such care to preserve the Apostles’ eyewitness accounts of Jesus?
To find this answer, we must turn to the words of Jesus Himself:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.JOHN 10:14-16
Jesus came into a dark world, a world full of sin, hate, and despair. And we were all fully deserving of God’s wrath, to perish under the weight of judgement against our own wickedness. But God is a gracious God. Although there was nothing worthy in ourselves, He nevertheless set His love on us.
To be reconciled to a holy God requires a Mediator, a Redeemer, a Deliverer, a Shepherd. This Savior must gain for His people right standing before God (righteousness) and also endure the just judgement for their sin. Only then can they be reconciled to Him. This is Who Jesus is and what He came to do. He came as a good Shepherd to guide His sheep out of darkness and into light.
His sheep, however, are not just those who were with Him during His earthly ministry. There are sheep of every tribe, tongue, and nation throughout the rest of this age (Rev. 7:9). And the thing about Jesus’ sheep is that they know His voice. This is not a matter of instinct; this is a work of the Spirit. God the Father draws His chosen people to Christ by His Spirit (Jhn. 6:44). When His sheep, who once were spiritually blind (1 Cor. 2:14) and hating God (Rom. 8:7-8), receive the life-giving work of the Spirit, they are given a new heart with new affections by which they now have a love for Christ (Ez. 11:19; 36:26). This new heart is the necessary “eyes to see and ears to hear” the Gospel (Isa. 6:10; Jer. 5:21; Ez. 12:2). This is how the sheep hear the Shepherd. This is why they know His voice out of all the others – they have received His Spirit.
The reason why we see the early church clinging to the words of the Apostles is because the Apostles were carrying the Shepherd’s voice (Acts 1:21-26; 15:6-16:5; Mt. 16:19; 1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thes. 5:27; 2 Thes. 3:14). They knew these words were life and so they ensured that they be preserved from being tainted or lost.
This is also why other works in this time (e.g. The Shepherd of Hermas, The Epistle of Barnabas, or the pseudepigraphical texts like the Gospel of Thomas, etc.) were not counted among the New Testament Texts. Those texts which did not come from the Apostles do not carry the voice of the Shepherd. Serapion, bishop of Antioch in the latter part of the 2nd century, gave this very reason as to why he didn’t want his congregation reading the so-called Gospel of Peter as though it were Scripture:
For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely ascribed to them, knowing that such were not handed down to us.SERAPION OF ANTIOCH, ECCL. HIST. 6.12.3
There is no grand council responsible for the Bible, no such conspiracy to “ban” books that didn’t fit a predetermined theological position. The Bible is simply the voice of the Shepherd as carried by those who were commissioned by the Shepherd to deliver it to the sheep.
Open your Bibles. Listen attentively to the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him for He is bringing many sons to Glory (Heb. 2:10).
Phase 2: Defense of Controlled Oral History (Cont.)
Having shown that the Gospel of Mark is the eyewitness testimony of the Apostle Peter, we now turn to the other Gospels.
The Gospel of Luke as Eyewitness Testimony
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.LUKE 1:1-4
Right out of the gate, Luke tells us that he has done the hard work of historical research for his readers. Those who were “from the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” is no doubt a reference to the Apostles or those who met the qualification to be an Apostle (John 15:27; Acts 1:21-22). Luke interviewed eyewitnesses, fact-checked, verified information, and wrote an “orderly account” of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Do we know which eyewitnesses Luke received his information from? Yes we do!
- The Gospel of Luke contains ~60% of the Gospel of Mark. That might sound peculiar or even suspicious, but I assure you it is a good thing that this is the case.Luke tells us upfront he is aware of and utilized previously written Gospel “narratives” (v. 1:1). Peter’s eyewitness account, as recorded by Mark, was simply one of the sources Luke used as a historian gathering accounts to construct his Gospel. Because he chose to use Mark, at least 60% of Mark shows up 2x in the New Testament. Due to the degree of homology between each reference, we can demonstrate that the Gospels were carefully preserved.
- Mary, the mother of Jesus, is likely another source used by Luke. I make this case for two reasons. First, Luke has the most extensive birth of Jesus narrative in the Gospels and the only account of His boyhood.Where did Luke get that information? Considering Mary’s personal insight into the childhood of Christ, it makes sense that she would be able to supply him with that information. More than that, Luke tells us that after Jesus’ birth and after they found the boy Jesus in the temple, Mary “treasured these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19, 51). The only way Luke would know that Mary treasured these moments in her heart is if she was one of the eyewitnesses he said to have interviewed.Secondly, Luke has the only account of John the Baptist’s birth. Mary is a likely source for this information as well given the fact that she visited John’s mother, her cousin, Elizabeth when they were both pregnant (Lk. 1:56).
- Given Luke’s extensive ministry with the Apostles (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16; Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:12; Philemon 1:24), he certainly had access to all the eyewitnesses he desired, especially the Apostle Paul who witnessed the risen Lord on the Damascus road.According to 2nd century pastor, Irenaeus (AD 130 – 202), Paul was an important eyewitness for Luke’s Gospel:
Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.IRENAEUS OF LYONS, AGAINST HERESIES
The Gospel of Matthew as Matthew’s Testimony
It is easier to identify the eyewitness sources in the next two Gospels as they are both written by eyewitnesses. The Gospel of Matthew was written by the Apostle and former tax-collector, Matthew (Mt. 9:9; 10:1-4).
Second century theologian and educator, Clement of Alexandria, confirms this:
Of all those who had been with the Lord only Matthew and John left us their recollections, and tradition says they took to writing perforce. Matthew had first preached to the Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent.CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, ECCL. HIST. 3.24.5-6
The Gospel of John as the Beloved Disciple’s Testimony
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.JOHN 21:24-25
The fourth Gospel self-attests to be the eyewitness testimony of the author, who is identified in the narrative as “the Beloved disciple” (13:23-26; 19:25-27, 35; 20:2-10; 21:2, 7; 21:20-24), the friend of the high priest (18:15-16), and the disciple at the cross (19:26, 35).
Irenaeus, again, supports the self-attestation of the Gospels:
Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.IRENAEUS OF LYONS, AGAINST HERESIES
All of this goes to show that, contrary to the first faulty assumption, the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry remained an authoritative presence throughout the oral period all the way to the time the Gospels were written.
Faulty Assumption #2: The Early Church Didn’t Value the Eyewitness Testimony Enough to Ensure Accurate Transmission
Claiming that the eyewitness testimony changed during the oral period also assumes that the early church had such a low view of the testimonies that they didn’t put measures in place to secure accurate transmission. However, that is not what the historical record tells us. In fact, we find that the early church had various controls in place:
- The first control that we find lays with the Apostles themselves. Their authoritative presence throughout the oral period ensured their testimonies did not evolve without them.Let’s consider Papias again on this matter:
Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come by my way, I inquired about the words of the elders – what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were sayingPAPIAS OF HIERAPOLIS, ECCL. HIST. 3.39.3-4
For Papias, he didn’t want second-hand information; he wanted to hear the Jesus stories from the very eyewitnesses themselves, specifically the Apostles. Not only does his writings indicate their central presence in the Christian community even toward the end of the first century, it also shows us the value that the church placed on the oral tradition that doesn’t coincide with the assumption skeptics make.
2. Another control is the community checks and balances.
Just as the telephone game analogy fails to take into consideration the enduring influence of the eyewitnesses, it also neglects the fact that the Jesus tradition was shared in a communal setting, providing a checks and balances to the transmission. According to the telephone game analogy, one person tells another who tells another who tells another, each in isolation. However, this is not how the life of Jesus was articulated. It was told in the context of the community (Acts 2:42-47), many of whom were eyewitnesses themselves and would be able to correct the story-teller if he deviated from the truth.
3. Finally, the church’s competency requirement for teaching.
The author of Hebrews indicates a level of knowledge required before one can teach (Heb. 5:11-6:3). James says that not everyone should teach (Jas. 3:1), and Paul says that those who do teach have an important part to play in the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). All of this value given to the office of teacher indicates value given to the content he is teaching.
Controlled Oral History
What would the early Christian community have to look like for the “telephone game” analogy to be a reality? The eyewitnesses would need to be absent and the community would need to be apathetic and negligent with the testimony they were transmitting. History allows neither to be assumed.
On the contrary, we see the early church took great strides to ensure the eyewitness testimony would be preserved throughout this period. When the eyewitnesses began to die off (or, as Clement above said, “[as they were] on the point of going to the others”), the church took to writing their accounts of Jesus down so that the authoritative message of the Apostles would remain even after their deaths.