THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON Chapter One OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING PHILEMON 1) To be impressed with the loving hospitality which characterized the Christians in the early church 2) To learn lessons in the use of tact in dealing with others SUMMARY In this very short and personal epistle, Paul addresses it to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and to the church in their house. But it soon becomes evident that its contents are directed toward Philemon, a beloved friend and fellow laborer with Paul (1-3). After his salutation, Paul expresses his thanks for the noble qualities which have characterized Philemon in the past, especially his love for the saints. It is because of Philemon's past performance that Paul is confident his plea will be carried out faithfully (4-7). Paul's plea concerns Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. Somehow he had run into Paul at Rome and was now a new convert to Jesus Christ. As a brother in Christ, Onesimus had made himself very useful to Paul in Rome. But because he still legally belongs to Philemon, Paul is sending him back with a plea that Onesimus be forgiven and received as a brother in the Lord. Paul also offers to pay any restitution which may be owed Philemon by Onesimus (8-21). The epistle ends with a request for lodging in the near future, and with sundry greetings from individuals who were with Paul in Rome (22-25). OUTLINE I. SALUTATION (1-3) A. FROM... (1a) 1. Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus 2. Timothy, a brother B. TO... (1b-2) 1. Philemon, a beloved friend and fellow laborer 2. Apphia 3. Archippus, a fellow soldier 4. The church in their house C. GREETINGS (3) 1. Grace and peace 2. From God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ II. THANKSGIVING AND PRAYER (4-7) A. PAUL'S THANKFULNESS (4-5) 1. Expressed in frequent prayers to God 2. For Philemon's love and faith toward Jesus and all the saints B. PAUL'S PRAYER (6-7) 1. That the sharing of Philemon's faith might be effective 2. Through the acknowledgment of every good thing in Philemon 3. For example, the joy and comfort experienced by Paul from Philemon's love, as Paul hears of how he refreshed the hearts of the saints III. THE PLEA FOR ONESIMUS (8-21) A. AN APPEAL, NOT A COMMAND (8-9) 1. Paul had the authority to command what is fitting 2. He chose instead to make an appeal based upon... a. Love itself b. Paul's "age" c. His imprisonment B. PAUL'S PLEA (10-20) 1. Concerns Onesimus (10-11) a. Who was converted by Paul while in chains, and is now like a son to him b. Who though once was unprofitable to Philemon, is now profitable to both him and Paul 2. Paul is now sending Onesimus back to Philemon (12-14) a. Though he is very dear to Paul b. Though Paul wished to keep him and have him work in Philemon's behalf in the gospel c. But Paul did not want to do anything without Philemon's whole-hearted consent 3. Paul's desire is that Philemon receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ (15-17) a. Perhaps his running away was for this purpose, that he might become a beloved brother in the Lord b. So if Philemon considered himself a partner of Paul, Paul asks that he receive Onesimus as he would Paul himself 4. Paul offers to repay Philemon (18-19) a. For any wrong that Onesimus might have done b. Of course, Philemon already owed Paul his own life 5. By receiving Onesimus in this way, Philemon could give Paul joy and a refreshed heart in the Lord (20) C. PAUL'S CONFIDENCE IN PHILEMON (21) 1. In Philemon's obedience 2. That Philemon will do even more than what Paul is asking for IV. CONCLUDING REMARKS (22-25) A. A REQUEST FOR LODGING (22) 1. That Paul might be able to stay with Philemon 2. For Paul is confident that through the prayers of Philemon he will soon be able to come to him B. GREETINGS FROM OTHERS (23-24) 1. Epaphras, a fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus 2. Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, fellow laborers with Paul C. A CLOSING PRAYER (25) REVIEW QUESTIONS 1) Why does Paul refer to himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus? (1) - He was "in chains" (also under house arrest, awaiting trial) - But note also that he says "of Christ", for it was while engaged in HIS service and thus for HIS sake he was imprisoned 2) Why the mention of Timothy? (1) - He was with Paul at Rome - Also, it is possible that he was acquainted with Philemon 3) What does Philemon's name mean? Did he live up to it? - His name means "one that is affectionate" - Yes! cf. verse 5 and 7 4) Who, possibly, are Apphia and Archippus? (2) - Apphia may have been the wife of Philemon - Archippus may have been their son, also the minister for the church in Colosse (cf. Col 4:17) 5) Is this letter primarily to Philemon, or to all? - To Philemon (note the use of the singular in verses 4-21) - Though by mentioning the others, perhaps Paul was soliciting their help to encourage Philemon 6) What is a good example of this family's devotion to Christ and of their hospitality to the saints? (2) - It appears that they let the church meet in their home 7) Define the terms "grace" and "peace" (3) - Grace: favor that is unmerited - Peace: harmony (e.g., with God, self, and others), the result of God's grace 8) How could Paul have heard about Philemon? (4,5) - From Epaphras, who was a member of the church at Epaphras (Col 4:12, 13) - From Onesimus himself 9) What good things had Paul heard concerning Philemon? (5) - His love and faith toward Christ and the saints 10) What are some examples of Philemon's love for the saints? - Letting the church meet in his home (1) - Refreshing the hearts of the saints (7) - Preparing guest rooms (22) 11) What does Paul pray for in behalf of Philemon? (6) - That the sharing of his faith may become effective 12) How is this prayer related to the plea which follows in verses 8-21? - Carrying out Paul's plea concerning Onesimus would be one way of assuring that Philemon's faith in its sharing would be effective 13) What had given Paul great joy and comfort in his imprisonment? (7) - Philemon's love and the way the saints have been refreshed by him 14) How does Paul re-emphasize his close feelings for Philemon? (7) - By calling him "brother" 15) What does the word "therefore" indicate? (8) - That Paul's plea for Onesimus is predicated upon Philemon's past behavior mentioned in verses 4-7 16) What could Paul have done in this matter? (8) - Simply commanded Philemon to do what is proper 17) What does Paul do instead? (9) - He "appeals" to Philemon 18) Why does Paul call himself "the aged"? (9) - Perhaps to appeal to Philemon's sympathy - Paul is probably about sixty years old at this time, but in light of bodily injuries incurred throughout his ministry (cf. 2Co 11: 23-29), he was likely older than his years would normally indicate 19) Why does he again refer to himself as a prisoner? (9) - Perhaps to tactfully remind Philemon that since Paul had suffered so much in service to Christ, certainly Philemon could honor his request 20) In the original language, where does the name "Onesimus" appear in the sentence? (10) - At the end: "I appeal to you for my son, whom I have begotten while in my chains, ONESIMUS." 21) What significance might there be in placing Onesimus' name at the end of the sentence? - Possibly that Paul is tactfully preparing Philemon to honor Paul's request by saying what he does before mentioning a name that is likely to bring bad memories to Philemon 22) What does Paul call Onesimus? What does it mean? (10) - "My son" - Like Timothy, this convert of Paul had become like a son to him 23) What does the name "Onesimus" mean? - "Profitable", or "useful" 24) How had becoming a Christian changed Onesimus? (11) - Prior to his conversion, he was "unprofitable" (as a runaway slave) - Now, he was "profitable" to both Paul and Philemon - Thus he was now living up to his name! 25) What does Paul want Philemon to do in regard to Onesimus? (12) - Receive him 26) How does Paul express further what Onesimus has meant to him? (12) - He refers to Onesimus as "my own heart" 27) What had Paul wished to do with Onesimus? (13) - To keep him, and let him serve Paul in the gospel 28) Why had Paul refrained from doing what he wished? (14) - He did not want to do anything without Philemon's whole-hearted consent 29) What did Paul see as the "possible" reason for this turn of events? (15) - The providence of God - Note that Paul says "perhaps"; Paul recognized that we cannot always be certain as to why things happen the way they do (just as Mordecai said in Esther 4:14), and whether it is always the Lord's doing 30) How did Paul want Philemon to receive Onesimus? (16) - No longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother 31) Upon what basis does Paul ask Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would Paul himself? (17) - If he considered Paul as a partner 32) What is Paul willing to do in behalf of Onesimus? (18-19) - Pay back anything Onesimus might owe Philemon 33) What indicates that Paul may have personally converted Philemon to the gospel? (19) - Paul's statement, "you owe me even your own self" 34) How will Philemon's forgiveness of Onesimus affect Paul? (20) - Despite being in chains, Paul will have joy and be refreshed in his heart 35) Was Paul in doubt about Philemon's response to his request? (21) - No, he had confidence that Philemon would do even more that what Paul asked 36) How could Philemon do more than what Paul had asked of him? - He could free Onesimus - He could give him spare time to evangelize - He could treat other slaves with similar compassion 37) How might Paul's request for lodging tactfully induce Philemon to honor his request for Onesimus? (22) - Philemon would know that Paul would soon be able to witness firsthand Philemon's response to the plea for Onesimus 38) Where else do we read of these men who accompany Paul in sending greetings to Philemon? (23,24) - All of them are mentioned in Col 4:10-14 - Epaphras (Col 1:7; 4:12,13) - Mark (Ac 12:12,25; 13:5,13; 15:36-40; 2Ti 4:11; 1Pe 5:13) - Aristarchus (Ac 19:29; 20:4; 27:2) - Demas (2Ti 4:10) - Luke (The "we" sections of Acts, 2Ti 4:11) 39) What is Paul's concluding prayer for Philemon? (25) - "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." 40) List the main point of this epistle - Saluation (1-3) - Thanksgiving & Prayer (4-7) - The Plea For Onesimus (8-21) - Concluding Remarks (22-25)
THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON Introduction To Philemon AUTHOR: PAUL, the apostle of Jesus Christ (1,9,19) PLACE OF WRITING: ROME, about the same time the epistle to the Colossians was written. This deduction is based upon the following: 1) Like the epistle to the Colossians, the epistle to Philemon was written when Paul was in chains (1,10,13,23) 2) Timothy joined Paul in both epistles (1; Col 1:1) 3) Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke joined in the salutation of both (23,24; Col 4:10-14) 4) Onesimus, the subject of this epistle, was one of the messengers by whom the epistle to the Colossians was sent (Col 4:7-9) 5) Archippus, to whom this epistle is partially addressed (2), is also addressed in the epistle to the Colossians (Col 4:17) TIME OF WRITING: If the epistle to Philemon was written about the time Colossians and the other "prison epistles" (Ephesians and Philippians) were written, then it was written during Paul's imprisonment at Rome, sometime during the period of 61-63 A.D. BACKGROUND OF THE EPISTLE: Philemon was a member of the church at Colosse (cf. 1,2, with Col 4:17), and a very hospitable one at that (1,2,5,7). It is possible that he was one of Paul's own converts (19). It is also plausible that Apphia was his wife, and Archippus his son (1,2). Onesimus had been one of Philemon's slaves (16), who had run away (15). It appears that he somehow traveled to Rome where he found Paul and was converted to Christ (10). He had become very dear to Paul, and was proving to be very useful (11-13). But Paul did not think it right to keep Onesimus in Rome, and was sending him back to Philemon (12-14). This letter to Philemon is an appeal for him to receive Onesimus now as a brother in Christ, and for him to forgive Onesimus if he had done any wrong (15-21). PURPOSE OF WRITING: From the content of the epistle, it appears that Paul had both a primary and secondary purpose: 1) Primarily to secure forgiveness for Onesimus 2) But also to provide from himself a place of lodging after his release from imprisonment (22) THE VALUE OF THIS EPISTLE: This short, but valuable epistle has been described as: * A Model Of Christian Courtesy * A Manifestation Of Christian Love * A Monument Of Christian Conversion Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit deemed it proper to preserve it for our benefit. KEY PASSAGE: "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me." (10,11) BRIEF OUTLINE: Paul's Courtesy (1-3) Paul's Compliment (4-7) Paul's Counsel (8-21) Paul's Conclusion (22-25) A detailed outline of the epistle can be found in the material on Chapter One. REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE INTRODUCTION 1) Who is the author of this epistle? - Paul 2) Where was he writing from? - Rome 3) Approximately when was this epistle written? - Sometime between 61-63 A.D. 4) What other epistles were written by Paul about the same time? - Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians 5) What church possibly met in Philemon's home? - The church at Colosse 6) Who was Onesimus? - A runaway slave that had belonged to Philemon 7) What was Paul's purpose in writing this epistle? - To secure forgiveness for Onesimus - To provide for himself a place of lodging after his release from imprisonment 8) What are the key verses to this epistle? - Philemon 10-11
Genesis: Myth or History?
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
What do we mean by “myth”? German theologian Rudolf Bultmann popularized the notion that the New Testament must be stripped of its mythical elements, specifically, its supernatural features (e.g., Jesus Christ and Mythology, 1958). “Myth,” therefore, in theological circles refers to a traditional, non-literal story in a particular culture that manifests that culture’s world view. The story serves as a vehicle to convey a truth, without necessarily being historically true. The Bible’s depictions of heaven, hell, demons, evil spirits, and Satan are viewed as symbols for deeper meanings rather than being literally existent. Many theologians, and now many Americans, insist that the Bible is a pre-scientific document that is riddled with the errors that accompanied early man’s quest for knowledge.
Along with the onset of modern scientific discovery and understanding has come a widespread tendency to compromise the biblical text of Genesis 1-11. Otherwise conservative thinking Christians have not been immune to this deadly cancer that ultimately undermines the entire Bible and one’s ability to arrive at the truth. In the 1980s, it was discovered that evolution was being taught by two Abilene Christian University professors. One of the biology professors provided his class with a handout that included a photocopy of the first page of Genesis. In the margin he scrawled the words, “Hymn, myth” (Thompson, 1986, p. 16). The university mobilized in an attempt to discredit the charge and sweep it under the proverbial carpet, but the evidence was decisive, as acknowledged even by objective outsiders (see Morris, 1987, 16:4). The fact is that evolution has been taught on other Christian college campuses as well. The lack of outcry testifies to the fact that even Christians and their children have been adversely influenced by secular education.
It is amazing, even shocking, to see the extent to which the authority of the biblical text in general, and the book of Genesis in particular, has been undermined in the minds of the average American, especially in the last half century. In virtually every corner of our country, relaxed and compromised views of the Bible prevail—even among otherwise conservative Americans and those who profess to be Christian. Before leaving office, President Bush (“W”) was interviewed by Cynthia McFadden on ABC’s “Nightline.” When asked if he believed the Bible to be literally true, he responded: “You know. Probably not.… No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament for example is…has got… You know, the important lesson is ‘God sent a son’” (“Bush Says…,” 2008). When asked about creation and evolution, Bush said:
I think you can have both. I think evolution can—you’re getting me way out of my lane here. I’m just a simple president. But it’s, I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an Almighty and I don’t think it’s incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution (“Bush Says…”).
Myriad instances could be cited in which Americans manifest the degrading effects of skepticism, atheism, evolution, and liberal theology.
What a far cry from most of America’s history. It is hard to believe that—up until the 1960s—American education was thoroughly saturated with the biblical account of Creation (e.g., New England Primer, 1805, pp. 31-32; Webster’s The Elementary Spelling Book, 1857, p. 29). The book of Genesis was taken as a straight-forward account of the formation of the Universe and the beginning of human history. People took God at His word. Though liberal theology swept through Europe in the late 19th century, which included attacks on the verbal, inerrant inspiration of the Scriptures, and though the Creation account began to be openly challenged at the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, still, the majority of Americans continued to accept the biblical account right on up to World War II. Since then, however, sinister forces have been chipping away at belief in the inspiration and integrity of the Bible. They have succeeded in eroding confidence in its trustworthiness and authority.
But there are no excuses. The evidence is available, and it is overwhelming. No one can stand before God at the end of time and justify themselves for their rejection of Genesis as a straightforward record of literal history. Failure to take Genesis at face value can easily result in acceptance of views and/or practices that will jeopardize one’s standing with God.
NEW TESTAMENT PROOF THAT GENESIS IS LITERAL HISTORY
If we had no other means by which to determine whether Genesis is myth or history, the New Testament alone is ample proof. Depending on how one calculates the material, the New Testament has at least 60 allusions to Genesis 1–11, with over 100 allusions to the entire book (Cosner, 2010). Jesus and the writers of the New Testament consistently treated Genesis asliteral history. As a matter of fact, every New Testament author refers to Genesis, and nearly every New Testament book does as well. Their handling of the Genesis text demonstrates that they considered the events to have actually occurred, rather than being mythical or legendary folklore that merely contained useful lessons.
Consider a sampling of allusions made by Jesus:
- He indicated the foundation of the marriage institution, quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as historical precedent and proof that carte blanche divorce is unacceptable to God (Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8). Did He mean to ground marriage on fairytales?
- Jesus mentioned Abel as a real person whose blood was shed on account of his righteous behavior, just like other historical personages in human history (Matthew 23:35). If Abel was not an actual person who lived on Earth, neither was Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom Jesus said the Jews “murdered between the temple and the altar”—an actual physical location.
- Jesus declared Satan to be a “murderer from the beginning” and the father of lies—referring to the Fall (John 8:44; Genesis 3:4,19; cf. Romans 5:12; 1 John 3:8).
- Jesus referenced Moses’ writings as genuine representations of history (John 5:46-47).
- Jesus spoke of the “days of Noah” and the Flood as an actual historical event that has many parallels to the future coming of the Son of Man in terms of what people will be doing with their time (Matthew 24:37-39).
- Jesus compared Capernaum to Sodom, saying, “for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24). Sodom would have had to have been an actual city for it to “have remained until this day” and for it to fare more tolerably in the Day of Judgment (cf. 10:15).
- The genealogical lists of Jesus’ physical lineage identify actual historical persons in the first century all the way back to persons originally named in Genesis, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Tamar (Matthew 1:1-2), as well as Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Noah (Luke 3:36-37).
Paul, likewise, treated persons, places, and incidents in Genesis as if historically real. Here is a sampling of some of his allusions:
- He quoted Genesis 1:3 to note how God caused light to shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6).
- Quoting Genesis 2:7, Paul said Adam was the first human being on Earth (1 Corinthians 15:45).
- He claimed that Adam was made from dust (1 Corinthians 15:47)—as Genesis records.
- He noted how the woman is “from” (ek—out of) man (1 Corinthians 11:8,12), referring to the fact that Eve was literally taken out of Adam’s body.
- Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 to verify how a man and woman “become one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16), comparing marriage to the church (Ephesians 5:31).
- Adam was as historically real as Christ and Moses, having introduced sin into the world, causing death to reign during the historical interval “from Adam to Moses” (Romans 5:14-15).
- Paul identified Adam and Eve by name, noting that Adam was created before the woman was created, and also noting the deception to which Eve succumbed (1 Timothy 2:13-14), which occurred via the “serpent” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
- Paul claimed that God’s deity and attributes have been evident “since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20).
- Paul said that Jesus fulfilled the promises that had been made to “the fathers,” i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Romans 15:8).
- Paul quoted the promise God made to Abraham concerning Sarah giving birth to Isaac (Romans 9:9), and also mentions Jacob, Esau, and Rebecca by name (vss. 9-10).
Peter, too, endorsed the historicity of Genesis:
- He alluded to the watery mass at Creation from Genesis 1:12,6-7,9 (2 Peter 3:5).
- He regarded the Flood as an actual historical event, mentioning Noah by name and specifying the number of survivors as eight, and the Flood’s extent being global (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6).
- Peter believed in the historical personage of Lot and that God actually turned “the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes” to make them “an example to those who afterward would live ungodly.” The incident also serves the purpose of demonstrating how God “knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:6-9). If the incident was not historical, it would serve no legitimate parallel purpose.
- Peter also noted the actual, historical relationship sustained by Sarah and Abraham (1 Peter 3:6).
The writer of the Hebrews letter bases his entire argument on the historicity of Genesis and the Old Testament system:
- His quotation of Psalm 102 includes the fact that even as God created the heavens and the Earth, so they will perish (1:10). Both circumstances require literal historicity.
- Alluding to the fact that God “finished” His creative activities—a direct allusion to Genesis 2:1—he then quotes Genesis 2:2 to call attention to the literal cessation of God’s actions on the seventh day of the week (4:3-4; cf. vs. 10—“as God did from His”).
- The comparison of Christ to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) in contrast with Aaron demands that both of these figures were actual historical personages (5:1-10; 6:20; 7:1-21).
- God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 was a literal promise to a literal person (6:13-14).
- God’s creation of the Universe was by His “word” (11:3)—even as the Genesis record indicates that God spoke the created order into existence (“God said…”).
- Hebrews chapter 11 is a veritable “Who’s Who” of historical personalities from Genesis whose historicity is assumed: Cain and Abel (vs. 4), Enoch (vs. 5), Noah (vs. 7), Abraham (vss. 8-10), Sarah (vs. 11-12, who literally produced a multitude of descendents), Isaac (vss. 17-20), Jacob (vss. 20-21), and Joseph (vs. 22).
- Esau sold his birthright for food (12:16).
- Abel’s shed blood is as historically real as Christ’s (12:24).
Other N.T. Writers
The other writers show the same respect for bona fide history portrayed in Genesis. James refers to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (2:21). Jude mentions Cain, Enoch, and Sodom and Gomorrah (vss. 7,11,14). John notes that Cain murdered his brother because of his own sinful actions (1 John 3:12). Even the book of Revelation, though highly figurative, nevertheless contains numerous allusions to Genesis that indicate an historical understanding of the book (e.g., 5:5; 10:6; 20:2; 22:2). To suggest that the book of Genesis is actually a compilation of interesting fables, myths, folklore, popular anecdotes, and stories, rather than actual history, is to suggest that the doctrines of Christianity are rooted in and dependent on fairytales and imaginary stories. Indeed, if the events of Genesis did not historically occur, the New Testament writers—and Jesus Himself—were either in error or flat out liars, since they unquestionably referred to the events of Genesis as being historically true.
LINGUISTIC PROOF THAT GENESIS IS LITERAL HISTORY
In addition to the New Testament’s inspired treatment of Genesis as an actual account of history, one could also simply examine the literary genre of Genesis. Many in our day insist that Genesis should not be read as literal history because it is written in poetic form and is not a literal description of actual events. But such a claim is, itself, linguistic gobbledygook. Written language, whether from man or God, can be deciphered in terms of its genre. One can identify the author’s use of linguistic elements and extract intended meaning from the words that are used. In other words, though the 50 chapters of Genesis contain figurative language—as does the entire Bible—nevertheless, one can easily distinguish between the literal and the figurative.
Entire volumes have been written on human communication, how human language functions, and how to derive meaning from written language. Many books have been produced that expound the discipline of hermeneutics—the process of interpreting language. These volumes provide self-evident, easily discernible rules and procedures for detecting figurative language. D.R. Dungan’s classic work, Hermeneutics, written in 1888, contains chapters on “Figurative Language,” “The Various Figures of the Bible,” and “Figures of Thought” (pp. 195-369). Clinton Lockhart’s 1901 volume Principles of Interpretation contains chapters on “Figurative Language,” “Poetry,” and “Types” (pp. 156-197,222-228). Christendom has produced many books that demonstrate the means by which biblical language may be understood, including Bernard Ramm’s Hermeneuticsand Milton Terry’s 1883 volume Biblical Hermeneutics. Ascertaining whether Genesis and, specifically, the Creation account are “poetic,” “hymn,” or “myth” is not a matter of confusion or uncertainty—except for those who have an agenda and wish to concoct an elaborate smokescreen to avoid the obvious import of God’s Word.
Does Genesis 1 contain any figurative language? Certainly. But not anything that makes the chapter non-literal in its basic import. For example, the term “face” in Genesis 1:2, which is actually plural in the Hebrew (pah-neem—“faces”), is an idiomatic instance of pleonasm, a form of amplificatio, in which more words are used than the grammar requires: “And darkness was upon the faces of the deep.” The noun “deep” (which, itself, is a figurative term for the sea or ocean) is enhanced or emphasized by means of a second, redundant noun “faces.” Instead of simply saying, “darkness was upon the deep,” adding “faces” makes the statement “much more forcible and emphatic” (Bullinger, 1898, p. 406). The use of “saw” in Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25 is the figure of speech known asanthropopatheia in which human attributes are ascribed to God, specifically in this text, human actions (Bullinger, p. 888). The expression in 1:9,10, “Let the dry appear,” is the figure of speech known as antimereia, the exchange of one part of speech for another, in this case, an adjective for a noun. “Dry” in the verses refers to the “land” (see Bullinger, p. 495). Genesis 1:11 uses polyptoton in which the same part of speech is repeated in a different inflection, specifically, the verb “seeding” is repeated by means of its cognate noun “seed”: “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed,” literally, “seeding seed” (see Bullinger, p. 275). In other words, vegetation was created by God in a state of bearing seed, and not vice versa—which militates against the notion of evolution and underscores the instantaneous nature of the Creation. Indeed, this figurative language testifies to the literalnature of the Creation week!
So, yes, Genesis 1 (and perhaps every other chapter in the Bible) contains figurative language, as does our everyday language. But that language is detectable, discernible, and decipherable—and does not necessarily imply that the overall message being conveyed is not to be taken literally. None of the language of Genesis 1 even hints that the events described were imaginary as opposed to being actual historical occurrences. In fact, simply take your Bible and turn to Genesis chapter 1 and notice how many terms are used that have an obvious, undisputable literal import, including “earth,” “darkness,” “Spirit of God,” “waters,” “light,” “day,” “night,” “evening,” “morning,” “first,” “seas,” “grass,” “herb,” “seed,” “fruit,” “tree,” “seasons,” “years,” “stars,” “fowl,” “fish,” “cattle,” etc. Distinguishing between figurative and literal language is not that difficult! [As a side note, Steven Boyd conducted a statistical analysis using logistic regression, in order to ascertain whether Genesis 1:1-2:3 is Hebrew poetry or historical narrative. He concluded: “The biblical creation account clearly is not poetry but instead is a literal description in real time of supernatural events” (2005, p. 168).]
CORROBORATION BY OTHER BIBLE PASSAGES
If the events described in the book of Genesis were not intended to be understood as literal history, one would expect the rest of the Bible to give some indication of that fact. Yet, on the contrary, several passages scattered from the Old Testament to the New Testament allude to the events in such a way that their historicity is assumed. Take, for example, specific verses regarding the creation of the Universe by God. The distinct impression is given in Genesis chapter 1 that God orally spoke everything into existence, rather than using some naturalistic, time-ladenprocess. In what is obviously an actual historical setting, reported to us in a literal context of Scripture, Moses informs the Israelites situated at the base of Mt. Sinai—
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work…. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11, emp. added).
No Israelite listening to this declaration would have ever conceived the notion that God created everything in the Universe over a period of millions and billions of years. The correlation between the days of Genesis 1 and the six-day work week enjoined upon people under the Law of Moses would have been unmistakable and could have been understood in no other way but literally.
Another example is seen in Psalm 33—which is certainly written in standard Hebrew metrical verse—but poetry that conveys literal truth. Speaking of God’s creative powers, David declared:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Psalm 33:6-9, emp. added).
The figurative elements of this poetic passage are seen in the notions of “breath” and “mouth”—physical attributes that would not literally, physically characterize God Who is “spirit” (John 4:24; cf. Luke 24:39). But the oral aspect of God speaking the physical realm into existence is literal, even as God literally and audibly spoke to people throughout history (e.g., Genesis 12:1ff.; 22:12; Exodus 3:4ff.; Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
Still another example is seen in the psalmist’s call for praise by inanimate creation:
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, and you waters above the heavens! (Psalm 148:1-4).
Here is an excellent instance of figurative language. Obviously, the Sun, Moon, stars, and waters cannot literally, audibly praise God. Yet, having been created by God, they reflect their Maker. They manifest attributes that demonstrate their divine origin (cf. Psalm 19:1ff.). Hence, the next verse declares: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created” (vs. 5). Here is yet another forthright indication that the impression projected by the Genesis account, that God literally spoke the Universe into existence, is an accurate impression, in spite of the fact that this truth is couched in figurative language.
We must ever remember that the Bible is unlike any other book on the planet. It reflects its own divine origin by the attributes that it possesses. It does not divulge its divine message in a sterile vacuum in which a writer expounds lofty ideals, or by means of a listing of ethical “do’s and don’ts.” Rather, by means of the Bible, God conveys His message to mankind in history (cf. Wharton, 1977). We are introduced to the beginning of the Universe, the beginning of the human race, and thereafter we are treated to a sequential, historical narrative that guides us through 4,000 years of human history, climaxing with God’s own personal visit to the Earth. This is all history! And it is clearly intended to be understood literally.
The book of Genesis explains the Creation of the Universe, the corruption of humanity by sin, the catastrophe of the global Flood, and the confusion at Babel. Amazingly, it provides the foundation for anthropology, biology, astronomy, geology, and a host of other disciplines. Critical doctrines that impact all of humanity are rooted in the events described in Genesis, including the necessity of clothing—human modesty—and why we organize our lives in terms of a seven day week. More crucial doctrines that pertain to eternity are also approached early on, including why humans sin, why humans die, and why Jesus would have to die on the cross. The very meaning of human existence is clarified by examining the book of Genesis.
Listen carefully to Charles Darwin’s autobiographical statement regarding the shift that occurred in his thinking that led to his belief in evolution: “I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian” (pp. 85-86). The integrity of the entire Bible is seriously undermined when anyone compromises the literal, historical nature of the book of Genesis, with its critical teaching on origins. Obstinately clinging to evolution, theistic or otherwise, and stubbornly insisting on a relaxed, devalued interpretation of Genesis, can only end in a diluted religion.
May we love God. May we love His Word. May we defend it against all efforts to destroy its integrity and message. May we pore over its contents—as if our lives, the lives of our family, and the lives of those we influence depend upon it. For, indeed, they do.
Barlow, Nora, ed. (1959), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882 with Original Omissions Restored (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World).
Boyd, Stephen (2005), “A Proper Reading of Genesis 1:1-2:3,” in Don DeYoung, Thousands…Not Billions (Green Forest, AR: Master Books).
Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Bultmann, Rudolf (1958), Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons).
“Bush Says Creation ‘Not Incompatible’ With Evolution” (2008), Fox News, December 9, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2008/12/09/bush-says-creation-incompatible-evolution#ixzz1OWvPq9Ma.
Cosner, Lita (2010), “The Use of Genesis in the New Testament,” Creation Ministries International, http://creation.com/genesis-new-testament.
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Jackson, Wayne (1986), “The Teaching of Evolution at Abilene Christian University,” Christian Courier, 21:33-35, January.
Lockhart, Clinton (1915), Principles of Interpretation (Delight, AR: Gospel Light), revised edition.
Morris, Henry, ed. (1987), “Abilene Christian University Sponsors Seminar on Creation and Age of the Earth,” Acts & Facts, 16:4, May.
New England Primer(1805), http://public.gettysburg.edu/~tshannon/his341/nep1805contents.html.
Ramm, Bernard, et al. (1987), Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Terry, Milton (no date), Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), reprint.
Thompson, Bert (1986), Is Genesis Myth? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Webster, Noah (1857), The Elementary Spelling Book (New York, NY: American Book Company).
Wharton, Ed (1977), Christianity: A Clear Case of History! (West Monroe, LA: Howard Book House).
Does God’s Existence Rest Upon Human Consensus?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Three minutes and 45 seconds into Dan Barker’s opening statement in our Darwin Day debate on February 12, 2009, he presented an argument that he has often used in other debates and writings. In his list of “probability” arguments, he included as his fifth argument against God’s existence the following comments: “There is no agreement among believers as to the nature or the moral principles of this God that they are arguing for. They all differ with each other” (Butt and Barker, 2009). According to Dan, since those professing Christianity come down on either side of moral issues such as abortion, divorce, and the death penalty, then the God Who wrote the Bible “in all probability” does not exist, and the Bible must not be a sufficient guide for human morality.
Is Dan correct in his assessment that disagreement among professed believers nullifies the existence of God? Certainly not! Barker is incorrect for a number of reasons, the majority of which are quite clear after the briefest consideration of the argument. First, we could simply say that Dan’s argument, used against his own brand of atheism, refutes itself, since he admits that atheists do not agree on moral issues. In his book godless, Barker stated: “Most atheists think that values, though not objective things in themselves, can be objectively justified by reference to the real world.... Although most atheists accept the importance of morality, this is not conceding that morality exists in the universe” (2008, p. 213-214, emp. added). Notice that Barker qualifies his statement with the word “most,” implying that some atheists do not see morality as he does. In his discussion of human free will, Barker wrote: “By the way, this contributes to my compatibilist position on human free will. (Not that all atheists agree with me.) I am an determinist, which means that I don’t think complete libertarian free will exists.... I admit that my definition of free will is subject to debate” (2008, p. 128, emp. added). If Barker’s statement about disagreement of professed believers is true, we could, with equal force, use it on atheism and say that since there is no agreement among atheists on moral issues, then atheism “in all probability” is false.
Of course, Barker does not want to extend his “truth” criterion to atheism. And his statement is inherently flawed in the first place. If two or more people disagreed on whether the holocaust happened, but they all professed to be honest historians, would their disagreement prove that there never was a holocaust? If two people, who both claim to be honest geographers, disagree on the fact that the continent of North America exists, would that negate its reality? Or if two or more people adamantly disagreed on the idea that Dan Barker exists, would his existence be jeopardized based on their disagreement? No, on every count. Agreement among people cannot be used as evidence of the truth or falsity of any proposition.
Barker’s atheistic colleague, Sam Harris, has eloquently written on this truth. He disagrees with many atheists about ethical questions. In spite of his atheism, he contends that objective right and wrong do exist (an impossible proposition for a true atheist to maintain, by the way). He wrote:
The fact that people of different times and cultures disagree about ethical questions should not trouble us. It suggests nothing at all about the status of moral truth. Imagine what it would be like to consult the finest thinkers of antiquity on questions of basic science: “What,” we might ask, “is fire? And how do living systems reproduce themselves? And what are the various lights we see in the night sky?” We would surely encounter a bewildering lack of consensus on these matters. Even though there was no shortage of brilliant minds in the ancient world, they simply lacked the physical and conceptual tools to answer questions of this sort. Their lack of consensus signified their ignorance of certain physical truths, not that no such truths exist (2004, p. 171, emp. added).
The irony of this quote from Harris is that it manifests the atheistic community’s lack of consensus on ethical issues, which should disprove atheism according to Barker’s line of reasoning. Furthermore, it hammers home the self-evident truth that consensus among professed followers of any concept or entity has no bearing on its existence or its claim to truth. Harris further remarked: “It is quite conceivable that everyone might agree and yet be wrong about the way the world is. It is also conceivable that a single person might be right in the face of unanimous opposition” (2004, pp. 181-182, emp. added).
While it is true that the lack of consensus on moral issues by those who profess Christianity does nothing to discount the existence of God, it is appropriate to ask why such disparity exists. Again, it is ironic that Dan Barker has answered his own question in this regard. In his speech, “How to be Moral Without Religion,” given at the University of Minnesota on October 19, 2006, Barker stated: “A tendency that we all have, we look through our documents to try to find what supportsour already prejudice views about what we think morality should be like.” In one succinct sentence, Barker explained why there is a lack of consensus among professed believers on moral issues. It is not because God does not exist. It is not because the Bible is hopelessly confusing and cannot be understood. It is not because there is no objective moral truth. It is simply because humans bring their already prejudiced views to the text of the Bible and try to force it to say what they “think” it should say.
Barker, Dan (2006), “How to be Moral Without Religion,” [On-line], URL:http://www.ffrf.org/about/bybarker/CASH1.mp3.
Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Butt/Barker Debate: Does the God of the Bible Exist?(Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Harris, Sam (2004), The End of Faith (New York: W.W. Norton).
Did David Authorize Infant Baptism?
|by||Caleb Colley, Ph.D.|
Why do many parents want to have their newborn babies baptized? Different parents have different reasons, but the most prominent reason is that parents want their children to be forgiven of sin (“Early Teachings on Infant Baptism”). But infants have no sin! Jesus said: “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). This statement suggests that people are baptized and become Christians in order to be like little children. If little children are lost sinners, why would the Lord tell us all to be like children (see Matthew 19:14)?
Of course, little children (including infants) are not lost. They are not old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong, so they cannot intelligently choose to do wrong, and thus they cannot sin. Baptism saves us from sin (1 Peter 3:21), and babies cannot be saved from sin, since they have not yet sinned. Young children are not in need of being saved, but instead are in asafe condition. Kyle Butt offered an insightful example:
Does the Bible teach that babies go to hell when they die? In order to answer this question, we must find a biblical example in which an infant died, and in which his or her eternal destination is recorded. To do such is not difficult. In 2 Samuel 12, King David’s newborn son fell terminally ill. After seven days, the child died. In verses 22 and 23, the Bible records that David said: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” It is clear that David’s dead infant son would never return to this Earth, but David also said that one day, he would go to be with his son. Through inspiration, David documented that his own eternal destination was going to be “in the house of the Lord” (Psalm 23:6; cf. Psalm 17:15; 103:1-5; Isaiah 37:35; Acts 13:34; Hebrews 11:32). Therefore, we can conclude that “the house of the Lord” would be the eternal destination of his infant son to whom David would one day go. King David was looking forward to the day when he would be able to meet his son in heaven. Absolutely nothing in this context gives any hint that the dead infant son’s soul would go to hell (2003).
Some suggest, however, that David acknowledged inheritance of original sin, because he stated: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). An example of this erroneous approach is that of Matthew Henry, who commented on what David wrote in Psalm 51:5:
He confesses his original corruption.... David elsewhere speaks of the admirable structure of his body (Psalm 139:14,15), it was curiously wrought; and yet here he says it was shapen in iniquity, sin was twisted in with it; not as it came out of God’s hands, but as it comes through our parents’ loins. He elsewhere speaks of the piety of his mother, that she was God’s handmaid, and he pleads his relation to her (86:16;116:16), and yet here he says she conceived him in sin; for though she was, by grace, a child of God, she was, by nature, a daughter of Eve, and not excepted from the common character. Note, it is to be sadly lamented by every one of us that we brought into the world with us a corrupt nature, wretchedly degenerated from its primitive purity and rectitude; we have from our birth the snares of sin in our bodies, the seed of sin in our souls, and a stain of sin upon both. This is what we call original sin, because it is ancient as our original, and because it is the original of all our actual transgressions (n.d., 3:431, emp. in orig.).
A “companion” passage to Psalm 51:5 is Psalm 58:3, where David wrote a similar statement: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” At first glance, it might seem that David affirmed that children are born, as it is frequently phrased, “black with sin.” Is that what David meant? If the Holy Spirit inspired David to write that infants are inherently sinful at birth, then at least some infants need the remission of sins. The truth is, there are several possible interpretations of these two verses, but none of them authorizes infant baptism.
First, notice that the context of Psalm 51:5 and Psalm 58:3 includes poetic, hyperbolic language. In verses three and four of chapter 51, David declared: “And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned...” (emp. added). One possible meaning of Psalm 51:5 and Psalm 58:3 is this: much of David’s life was characterized by sin, and, because David was so conscious of his sin, he expressed his sorrow by using hyperbolic, figurative language (see Jackson, 1998, p. 46; see also Coffman and Coffman, 1992, p. 434). This is a strong probability, because David wrote that children speak lies “as soon as they are born” (Psalm 58:3). Since infants cannot speak lies, we can assume that David did not intend to convey a literal meaning in Psalm 58:3. Plus, that verse indicates that all wicked people speak lies, which is not necessarily true. People can sin in ways other than practicing dishonesty. Job, obviously employing hyperbole, said that he had cared for orphans and widows since he was born (Job 31:18; see Jackson, 2000). Since Psalm 58:3 lends itself heavily to the hyperbolic interpretation, then interpreting Psalm 51:5, which contains seemingly hyperbolic language, as being figurative, also is reasonable. If the language of Psalm 51:5 is taken literally, and one reads into the literal language the Calvinistic doctrine of original sin, the verse contradicts other plain passages of Scripture (Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). But the Bible does not contradict itself.
Second, when some still insist that Psalm 51:5 demonstrates that David was born “black with sin,” we should remind them that David’s mother, being an adult, was a sinner. If the language of this verse is to be understood literally, then the sin of which David wrote must be the sin of his mother. However, David did not mean that he inherited the sin of his mother (see Butt, 2004). Many people suffer from the consequences of their parents’ sin, but infants are not responsiblefor their parents’ sin. This is because the soul does not come from human parents, but from God (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Hebrews 12:9; see Jackson, 2000). People do not become sinful until theychoose to sin, and that happens sometime after birth (see Genesis 8:21; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Jeremiah 3:25).
A third plausible interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is that David simply noted that he was conceived and born in a world in which sin is prevalent. In that sense, any of us could truthfully say, “I was born in sin,” without contradicting Scripture, or even admitting personal sin, especially in view of the fact that our parents are sinners (see Jackson, 2000).
Fourth, because David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of repentance, some have suggested that the Psalmist was using poetic license to put words into the mouth of the child who was conceived as a result of David’s illicit affair with Bathsheba. In that context, the text could literally read: “In sin my mother conceived me.” While the possibility that this interpretation is correct cannot be ruled out, it seems on the surface to be a “stretch”—David’s meaning is not as obvious when we use this interpretation as it is when we use others.
A fifth possibility, though remote, is that David referenced the fact that he was the tenth generation in the lineage of Judah, who had an incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law, Tamar (see Genesis 38). Since Deuteronomy 23:2 reads: “One of the illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord” (emp. added), it is possible that David simply made reference to the sin of Judah and Tamar, which haunted his family.
David never claimed that infants are sinful at birth. However, even if it could be scripturally proven (and it cannot) that children are born in sin, infants still would not be proper candidates for baptism, because belief and repentance are prerequisites for baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 3:19).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?,” [On-line], URL:http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2255.
Butt, Kyle (2004), “Do Children Inherit the Sins of Their Parents?,” [On-line], URL:http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2543.
Coffman, James Burton and Thelma B. Coffman (1992), Commentary on Psalms (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
“Early Teachings on Infant Baptism” (2004), Catholic Answers, [On-line], URL: http://www.catholic.com/library/Early_Teachings_of_Infant_Baptism.asp.
Henry, Matthew (no date), Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (McLean, VA: MacDonald).
Jackson, Wayne (1998), “ ‘Yes, We Baptize Our Babies....’—A Response,” Christian Courier, 33:45-46, April.
Jackson, Wayne (2000), “ ‘Original Sin’ and a Misapplied Passage” [On-line], URL: http://www.christiancourier.com/archives/originalSin.htm.
The Only True God
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
The Bible is full of scriptures that, when quoted without any consideration of the immediate and remote contexts, a person can misuse in all sorts of ways. As proof that we do not have to work to provide for our family’s material needs, some may quote Jesus’ statement, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27). In order to show that Jesus was a liar, the Bible critic might quote Jesus’ acknowledgement: “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true” (John 5:31). Those who exclude baptism from God’s plan of salvation often quote John 4:2: “Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples.” When the Bible reader is “rightly dividing” (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV) or “handling accurately the word of truth” (NASB), however, he will remember that “[t]he sum of thy [God’s] word is truth” (Psalm 119:160, emp. added). Since the Bible teaches “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10; cf. 1 Timothy 5:8), Jesus never implied that working to help feed one’s family is wrong (John 6:27). “He simply was saying that spiritual food is more important than physical food, and as such, should be given a higher priority” (Butt, 2003, emp. in orig.). Jesus did not confess wrongdoing in John 5:31. He simply acknowledged that, in accordance with the law (cf. Deuteronomy 19:15), His testimony apart from other witnesses would be considered invalid or insufficient to establish truth (cf. John 8:13-20; see Lyons, 2004). Likewise, Jesus never taught that baptism was unnecessary for salvation. In fact, He taught the very opposite (cf. John 3:3,5; Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:18-20; see Lyons, 2003).
Consider another proof text from the Gospel of John regarding the nature of Christ. Some (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses) contend that Jesus was not deity since, on one occasion, He prayed to the Father: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3; cf. “Should You Believe...?,” 2000). Allegedly, by calling the Father, “the only true God,” Jesus excluded Himself from being deity. Such an interpretation of John 17:3, however, contradicts numerous other passages within John’s own gospel account. From beginning to end, John bore witness to the deity of Christ. Some of the evidence from the Gospel of John includes the following:
- In the very first verse of John, the apostle testified: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (emp. added; cf. 1:14,17).
- Two verses later the reader learns that “[a]ll things came into being by Him [the Word], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3, NASB).
- Still in the first chapter of John, the apostle testified that John the Baptizer was the one whom Isaiah foretold would “prepare...the way of Jehovah” (Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23; cf. 14:6). For Whom did John the Baptizer come to prepare the way? Isaiah called Him “Jehovah.” The apostle John, as well as John the Baptizer, referred to Jehovah as “Jesus” (John 1:17), “the Christ” (3:28), “the Word” (1:1), “the Light” (1:17), “the Lamb” (1:29), “the Truth” (5:33), etc.
- When the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well told Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming” (John 4:25), Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am He” (vs. 26). Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be called “Mighty God” (9:6) and “Jehovah” (40:3). Thus, by claiming to be the Messiah, Jesus was claiming to be God.
- In John chapter nine, Jesus miraculously healed a man with congenital blindness (vs. 1). When this man appeared before various Jews in the synagogue and called Jesus a prophet (vs. 17), he was instructed to “give glory to God,” not Jesus, because allegedly Jesus “is a sinner” (vs. 24). Later, after the man born blind was cast out of the synagogue, he confessed faith in Jesus and worshiped (Greek proskuneo) Him (vs. 38). In the Gospel of John, this word (proskuneo) is found 11 times: nine times in reference to worshiping the Father (John 4:2-24), once in reference to Greeks who came to “worship” in Jerusalem during Passover (12:20), and once in reference to the worship Jesus received from a man whom He had miraculously healed, and who had just confessed faith in Jesus. Indeed, by accepting worship Jesus acknowledged His deity (cf. Matthew 4:10; Hebrews 1:6).
- While at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, Jesus claimed: “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him” (vs. 31). Why did Jesus’ enemies want to stone Him? The Jews said to Christ: “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (vs. 33, emp. added; cf. 5:17-18).
- After Jesus rose from the dead, the apostle Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus responded: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (vs. 29). Notice that Jesus did not deny His deity, rather He acknowledged Thomas’ faith and commended future believers. Believers in what? In that which Thomas had just confessed—that Jesus is Lord and God.
It was in the overall context of John’s gospel account, which is filled with statements testifying of Jesus’ deity, that the apostle recorded Jesus’ prayer to His Father the night of His betrayal (John 17). But how can Jesus’ statement about His Father being “the only true God” (17:3) be harmonized with statements by Jesus, the apostle John, John the Baptizer, Thomas, etc. affirming the deity of Christ? When a person understands that Jesus’ statement was made in opposition to the world’s false gods, and not Himself, the reference to the Father being “the only true God” harmonizes perfectly with the many scriptures that attest to the deity of Christ (including those outside of the book of John; cf. Matthew 1:23; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:5-13). On the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion, it was completely natural for Him to pray that “all flesh/people” (John 17:2, NKJV/NIV), many of whom were (and still are) pagan idolaters, would come to know “the only true God” and receive eternal life (17:3). Thus, Jesus contrasted Himself not with the Father, but “with all forms of pagan polytheism, mystic pantheism, and philosophic naturalism” (Jamieson, et al., 1997).
Furthermore, if Jesus’ reference to the Father being “the only true God” somehow excludes Jesus from being deity, then (to be consistent) Jesus also must be disqualified from being man’s Savior. Jehovah said: “Besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11; cf. Hosea 13:4; Jude 25). Yet, Paul and Peter referred to Jesus as our “Savior” several times in their inspired writings (Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Peter 1:1,11; 2:20; etc.). Also, if Jesus is excluded from Godhood (based on a misinterpretation of John 17:3), then, pray tell, must God the Father be excluded from being man’s Lord? To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote that there is “one Lord” (4:4, emp. added), and, according to Jude 4 (using Jehovah’s Witnesses own New World Translation) “our only Owner and Lord” is “Jesus Christ” (emp. added). Yet, in addition to Jesus being called Lord throughout the New Testament, so is God the Father (Matthew 11:25; Luke 1:32; Acts 1:25) and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Obviously, when the Bible reveals that there is only one God, one Savior, one Lord, one Creator (Isaiah 44:24; John 1:3), etc., reason and revelation demand that we understand the inspired writers to be excluding everyone and everything—other than the triune God. As former Jehovah’s Witness David Reed explained: “Jesus’ being called our ‘only’ Lord does not rule out the Lordship of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s being called the ‘only’ true God does not exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit from deity” (1986, p. 82).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Wearing Gold and Braided Hair,” Apologetics Press,http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2264.
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Faussett, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Lyons, Eric (2003), “The Bible’s Teaching on Baptism: Contradictory or Complementary?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/617.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “Was Jesus Trustworthy?” Apologetics Press,http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/516.
Reed, David (1986), Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
“Should You Believe in the Trinity?” (2000), The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.