"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Lord's Supper (26:26-30) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                      The Lord's Supper (26:26-30)


1. During His last week, Jesus observed the Passover for the last
   a. The Passover was a Jewish feast, observed annually - Deut 16:1-8
   b. Commemorating Israel's deliverance from Egypt - Exo 12:1-28,43-49

2. This last Passover was very special to Jesus - Lk 22:14-15
   a. His knew His death was imminent ("before I suffer")
   b. He was with those he loved - Jn 13:1 ("He loved them to the end")

3. On this occasion Jesus instituted what we call the Lord's Supper...
   a. Read our text - Mt 26:26-30
   b. As recorded by Luke, Jesus wanted His disciples to do this in His
      memory - Lk 22:19

4. The importance of properly observing the Lord's Supper should not be
   a. The church at Corinth was guilty of abusing it - 1Co 11:20-22
   b. Such misuse has serious consequences - 1Co 11:27,29

[That we might observe the Supper properly, to receive its blessings
rather than condemnation, let's use this opportunity to review what is
revealed about the purpose and observance of "The Lord's Supper"...]


      1. Note Paul's account as given by the Lord Himself - 1Co 11:
         a. We eat the bread in memory of His body
         b. We drink the cup (fruit of the vine) in memory of His blood
      2. We therefore commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross
         - Mt 26:28
         a. Whose death make the new covenant possible - He 9:16
         b. Whose blood was shed for the remission of sins - Ep 1:7
      -- As the Passover was a memorial commemorating Israel's
         deliverance from Egypt through the blood of the lambs on the
         door post, so the Supper is a memorial of our Lord's death who
         makes our deliverance from the bondage of sin possible

      1. We proclaim our faith in the efficacy of the Lord's death
         - 1Co 11:26a
         a. That His death was indeed for our sins
         b. If we didn't believe it, why keep the Supper?
      2. We also proclaim our faith in the Lord's return - 1Co 11:26b
         a. For it is to be done "till He comes"
         b. If we don't believe He is coming, then why keep the Supper?
      -- Thus the Lord's Supper looks forward as well as backward, and
         will ever be observed by His disciples who trust in His
         redemption and anticipate His return!

      1. A fellowship or sharing in the blood of Christ - 1Co 10:16a
         a. As we partake, we commune with the blood of Christ
         b. Perhaps in the sense of reinforcing blessings we enjoy
            through the blood of Christ - cf. 1Jn 1:7,9
      2. A fellowship or sharing in the body of Christ - 1Co 10:16b-17
         a. As we partake, we commune with the body of Christ
         b. Perhaps in the sense of reinforcing fellowship together in
            the body of Christ (i.e., the church), as we break bread

["The Lord's Supper", which is also called "Communion" and "Breaking of
Bread" (cf. 1Co 10:16; Ac 2:42; 20:7) certainly has great significance
and should not be taken lightly.  We should therefore consider what the
Scriptures reveal about...]


      1. That is, "in a worthy manner" (NKJV) - 1Co 11:27,29
         a. The KJV says "worthily", which some have misunderstood
         b. It is an adverb, describing how we take it, not whether we
            are worthy (none are truly worthy)
      2. With respect for the supreme price Jesus paid for our sins
         a. Cf. the cruel torture and humiliation of His physical body
         b. Cf. the spiritual anguish suffered as the Son of God bore
            the punishment for our sins ("My God, My God, Why have You
            forsaken Me?" - Mt 27:46)
      3. Failure to observe with proper reverence brings condemnation
         - 1Co 11:27,29
         a. One will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord
         b. One will eat and drink judgment to himself
      -- To make light of this memorial puts one in the same category
         as those who mocked Him as He hung on the cross!

      1. Such as reflecting upon one's spiritual condition - 1Co 11:28
      2. Are we living in a manner that shows appreciation for His
         a. By accepting the grace of God in our lives? - 2Co 5:18-6:1
         b. By living for Jesus who died for us? 
            - 2Co 5:14-15; Ga 2:20
      3. Or are we by willful sinning, guilty of having:
         a. "trampled the Son of God underfoot"?
         b. "counted the blood by which [we were] sanctified a common
         c. "insulted the Spirit of grace"? - cf. He 10:26-29
      4. Do we, by refusing to repent of our sins, "crucify again for
         themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an shame"? 
         - cf. He 6:4-6
      -- In one sense, the Supper is a very private matter between a
         Christian and his or her God; a time to reflect the past and
         to resolve for the future

      1. There is ample indication the Supper is designed to be a
         communal meal
         a. The disciples "came together" to break bread - Ac 20:7
         b. When they came together, they were to "wait for one
            another" - 1Co 11:33
         c. Partaking together of "one bread", they demonstrate they
            are "one bread and one body" - 1Co 10:16
         -- We commune not just with the Lord, but with one another
      2. For this reason I personally question such practices as:
         a. Observing the Supper by one's self when camping or
         b. Observing the Supper on Sunday night when just one or a
            couple of people in the congregation are partaking
         c. Taking the elements to the sick or shut-in who were unable
            to assemble
         -- While such issues may fall in the realm of "opinion", let's
            not forget that the Supper builds fellowship with one
            another as well as with the Lord!

      1. The Biblical evidence is that it was done weekly...
         a. Christians came together on the first day of the week to
            "break bread" - Ac 20:7
         b. Other indications of a weekly observance:
            1) The church at Corinth was coming together to eat the
               Lord's Supper, though they were abusing it - 
               cf. 1Co 11:17-22
            2) Instructions concerning the collection suggest their
               coming together was on the first day of the week - cf.
               1Co 16:1-2
         c. Following the divinely approved example of Christians in
            the Bible, we know God approves of a weekly observance on
            the first day of the week
      2. The earliest historical evidence outside the Bible confirms
         the day and frequency...
         a. The Didache (ca. 95 A.D.) indicates Christians were to come
            together on the first day of the week to break bread
            - Didache 14:1
         b. Justin Martyr (ca. 150 A.D.) records how Christians
            assembled on Sunday and partook of the Supper - Apology I,
      3. Some believe that a weekly observance diminishes the
         importance of the Supper
         a. Which is why some do it monthly, quarterly, or annually
         b. But does the frequent practice of:
            1) Assembling diminishing its value and importance?
            2) Singing praises and offering prayers devalue their
            3) Preaching and studying God's Word decrease their
               significance to our lives?
      -- Our spiritual lives are dependent upon the value and benefits
         of our Lord's death on the cross; a weekly observance of the
         memorial helps us to live appreciatively and accordingly!


1. "The Lord's Supper" is a very special memorial of His death for our
   a. Instituted by Jesus Himself, He asked His disciples to do it in
      His memory
   b. Jesus told His disciples that He would not eat of the elements
      again until:
      1) "...that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's
         kingdom." - Mt 26:29
      2) "...that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." -
              Mk 14:25
      3) "...it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." - Lk 22:16
      4) "...the kingdom of God shall come." - Lk 22:18
   c. There are two plausible explanations for what Jesus means:
      1) Some think it refers to Jesus having fellowship with us as we
         observe the Lord's Supper in the church, which is His kingdom
         - cf. 1Co 10:16-17
      2) Others propose that it refers to the special communion we will
         have with Jesus in His Father's kingdom, spoken often in terms
         of a heavenly feast - 
         cf. Isa 25:6-8; Mt 8:11; 22:2-14; Lk 14:15-24; Re 19:9

2. The first Christians "continued steadfastly" in its observance...
   a. Just as they did in the apostles' doctrine, fellowship and prayer
      - Ac 2:42
   b. Coming together on the first day of the week for that very
      purpose - Ac 20:7

3. Christians today should never lose sight of its significance...
   a. A constant reminder of the sacrifice Jesus paid for our sins
   b. A communion or sharing of the body and blood of the Lord
   c. A time for self-examination and re-dedication of our service to
      the Lord
   d. A means for building fellowship with one another in the body of

May such thoughts encourage us to never neglect opportunities we have
to observe the Lord's Supper, but to continue steadfastly and in so
doing "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes."
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Judgment Of The Nations (25:31-46) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                 The Judgment Of The Nations (25:31-46)


1. Included in "The Olivet Discourse" are two parables, followed by a
   judgment scene...
   a. The parables are directed toward Jesus' disciples
      1) The first to encourage them to be watchful - Mt 25:1-13
      2) The second to admonish them to be productive - Mt 25:14-30
   b. The judgment scene depicts the nations brought before Jesus 
      - Mt 25:31-46
      1) Note that it is the "nations" being judged, not disciples
      2) The nations are judged based upon their treatment of Jesus'
         a) Those that showed mercy and kindness to His disciples are
         b) Those that did not are condemned

2. Questions abound regarding "The Judgment Of The Nations"...
   a. Who are the "nations" in this passage?  All of mankind, or only
      the non-elect?
   b. Is this "judgment" scene depicting the Day of Judgment, or might
      it refer to a judgment that foreshadowed the Final Judgment?
   c. As part of "The Olivet Discourse", could Jesus still be talking
      about events related to the destruction of Jerusalem?

[However one may answer such questions, there are important lessons to
be gleaned from these words of Jesus.  But let's first consider how it
may be that Jesus is still referring to events related to the
destruction of Jerusalem described in Mt 24...]


      1. The coming day of the Lord is depicted
         a. Following the outpouring of God's Spirit - Joel 2:28-29
         b. A great and terrible day is coming - Joel 2:30-31
         c. Yet salvation is available to those who accept it -
             Joel 2:32; cf. Ac 2:16-21
      2. A "judgment of the nations" is then described
         a. The nations gathered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat -
             Joel 3:1-2a,12-16
         b. The nations judged on the basis of their treatment of God's
            people - Joel 3:2b-8

      1. Jesus foretold the coming day of the Lord - Mt 24:1-51
         a. Coming in destruction upon Jerusalem 
         b. With warnings to escape when they see Jerusalem surrounded
            by armies
      2. A judgment of the nations is then described - Mt 25:31-46
         a. The nations gathered before Son of Man
         b. The nations judged on the basis of their treatment of God's
            people ("inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of
            these My brethren")

      1. God describes judgment to come, using other nations as
         instruments of His wrath
      2. But He also holds the nations accountable for how His people
         are treated; for example...
         a. Assyria, the rod of God's anger - Isa 10:5-7,12-14,24-26
         b. Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon - Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13
      3. Nations that went too far (e.g., abusing the innocent) were
         held accountable

      1. Describing a judgment upon the nations...
         a. Employing figures reminiscent of the Judgment at the Last
            Day; for example...
            1) The Son of Man coming in glory, sitting on His throne
            2) The nations divided like sheep and goats
            3) Judgment rendered, followed by reward or punishment
         b. For such judgments foreshadowed and typified the Final
      2. Describing a judgment of the nations...
         a. Which followed the Lord's judgment upon Jerusalem - Mt 24
         b. Regarding their treatment of His brethren (the disciples of
         c. Nations who treated them kindly would be blessed, otherwise
            they would be condemned
         -- In the Book of Revelation, we see how Jesus dealt with the 
            Roman empire, used as the instrument of wrath in destroying
            Jerusalem, and then the object of wrath in its own judgment

[This may be what Jesus is doing at this point in "The Olivet
Discourse".  It would certainly serve to comfort His disciples, knowing
that nations which failed to show mercy to them would not go
unpunished.  Even if this is point of the text, we can still glean


      1. Just as the Lord has judged nations throughout history
      2. So He will judge the world at the end of time, at the Last Day
         a. Jesus often spoke of the Judgment - e.g., Mt 12:36-37,
            41-42; Jn 12:47-48
         b. Paul also - e.g., Ac 17:30-31; 24:25; Ro 2:3-6; 14:10; 
            2Co 5:10; 2Ti 4:1
         c. Others as well - e.g., He 9:27; 1Pe 4:5; 2Pe 2:9; 3:7;
            1Jn 4:17; Jude 6
      -- Are we preparing for the Day of Judgment?

      1. Of course, every deed, word, and thought will be judged (see
         above verses)
      2. But our text reminds us how Jesus takes the treatment of His
         brethren - Mt 25:40,45
         a. "as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren,
            you did it to Me"
         b. "as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did
            not do it to Me"
      3. Jesus made the same point to Saul on the road to Damascus 
         - Ac 9:1-5
         a. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
         b. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
         -- By persecuting the church, Saul was guilty of persecuting
      4. Jesus is the head, and His disciples (the church) is His body
         - Ep 1:22-23
         a. What we do or not do for His disciples, we do or not do for
         b. How is our treatment of our brethren?  Are we guilty of:
            1) Abusing them?
            2) Ignoring them?
            3) Failing to love them?
      -- What is our relationship with other Christians, especially in
         the context of the local church?

      1. One is for prepared people - Mt 25:34
         a. Described as "the kingdom prepared for you from the
            foundation of the world" - cf. 2Ti 4:18; 2Pe 1:11
         b. Described as "new heavens and a new earth in which 
            righteousness dwells" - cf. 2Pe 3:13; Re 21:1
         c. Described as "the holy city, New Jerusalem" - cf. He 13:14;
            Re 3:12; 21:2-7
         -- This place is for those whose names are in the Lamb's book
            of Life - Re 20:11-15
      2. One is for unprepared people - Mt 25:41
         a. Described as "the everlasting fire prepared for the devil
            and his angels" - cf. Re 20:10
         b. Described as "the like of fire and brimstone" - Re 20:10,
            14; 21:8
         c. Described as "the second death" - Re 20:14; 21:8
         -- This place is for those whose names are not in the book of
            life - Re 20:15
      3. Both places are prepared to last for eternity - Mt 25:46
         a. The one offering everlasting punishment
         b. The other offering eternal life


1. God's judgment upon nations in the past were written for our
   admonition - 1Co 10:11
   a. Such judgments reveal that God is a Righteous Judge
   b. Such judgments portend the Judgment to come at the Last Day

2. Whether or not Jesus uses the setting of the Final Judgment to
   describe judgment upon the nations following the destruction of
   Jerusalem, His words should cause us to consider...
   a. Are we preparing for the Day of Judgment?
   b. Involved in that preparation, is our relationship with our
      brethren what it ought to be?
   c. What will Jesus say to us on that Day?

May we all walk in the grace and mercy of the Lord with an obedient
faith and love, so that we may hear Him say:

   "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared
   for you from the foundation of world." - Mt 25:34
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

Matthew Fontaine Maury by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.


Matthew Fontaine Maury

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Many people have the impression that the nineteenth century was a bad time for Christianity. It witnessed the spread of uniformitarian geology, higher criticism, and evolution. However, it was by no means a victory for skepticism. What we often forget is that most people outside academia rejected these new ideas. In England, for example, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared in 1859, and Essays and Reviews, which appeared in 1860, catapulted German higher criticism into Anglican theology. Yet according to Gregory, “the years following 1860 were a time of great religious revival in England” (1986, p. 373).
Also, many prominent teachers and researchers remained committed to their belief in God and His inspired Word. One outstanding example is Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873). He was born in Virginia, and joined the U.S. Navy at age nineteen. Although an accomplished sailor, Maury always leaned toward the academic side of his profession. Following a serious coach accident, which confined him to duty on land, Maury’s scholarly reputation earned him a position in 1842 as Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments.
Almost immediately, Maury began the greatest task of his career. He was determined that captains should have charts that would enable them to sail as quickly and as safely as possible around the world. He used old log books and thousands of new observations to produce his famous wind and current charts of the world’s major oceans. These achievements earned him the epithet, “pathfinder of the seas.” Maury also wrote directions to accompany his charts, and he combined these with other observations about the ocean to produce The Physical Geography of the Sea, which first appeared in 1855. This was an immensely popular book, and marked the beginning of the science of oceanography.
Throughout all this success, Maury never forgot his belief in Scripture. Physical Geography is filled with references to the Bible. He could not help but be fascinated by passages that mention the sea, such as Psalm 8:8, Psalm 107:23-24, and Ecclesiastes 1:7. Whoever studies the sea, Maury contended, “must look upon it as a part of that exquisite machinery by which the harmonies of nature are preserved, and then will begin to perceive the developments of order and the evidences of design” (1859, p. 57).
Maury knew full well that these views clashed with those of his colleagues. Before five thousand people at the founding of the University of the South in 1860, he proclaimed the following:
I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes, and is therefore no authority in matters of science. I beg pardon! The Bible is authority for everything it touches. What would you think of an historian who should refuse to consult historical records of the Bible, because the Bible was not written for the purposes of history? The Bible is true and science is true (as quoted in Lewis, 1927, p. 99, emp. in orig.).
Such convictions have earned Maury a well-deserved place in Bible-science literature. He is honored as a man who took God at His Word. However, readers may want to treat one claim with a little suspicion (see Major, 1995). Several accounts suggest that Maury was so confident about God’s Word that his mapping of ocean currents resulted directly from reading or hearing about the “paths of the seas” in Psalm 8:8. Some go on to suggest that ocean currents would have remained hidden unless Maury had read this passage in the Bible. Some set this crucial event in Maury’s childhood, and others set it during the recovery from his accident. One popular account by Virginia Lee Cox has a son reading to Maury during an illness (Lewis, 1927, p. 252), but Maury began his mapping project when the oldest son was only two years old. Another problem is that some currents, such as the Gulf Stream, were well-studied by the 1840s. Maury’s feat was to bring his scientific knowledge to bear on a vast array of nautical information, but he was not the first to discover ocean currents.
There is little doubt that Maury held a special fascination for Psalm 8:8 and other passages that mention the sea and the sky. They confirmed to him that revelation in nature and revelation in Scripture were in harmony because they have One Author. These convictions, and Maury’s character, make him worthy of emulation by Bible-believing scientists today.


Gregory, Frederick (1986), “The Impact of Darwinian Evolution on Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century,” God & Nature, ed. D.C. Lindberg and R.L. Numbers (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press), pp. 369-390.
Lewis, Charles Lee (1927), Matthew Fontaine Maury: The Pathfinder of the Seas (Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1969 reprint by AMS Press, New York).
Major, Trevor (1995), “Honor to Whom Honor...Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873),” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 32[2]:82-87, September.
Maury, Matthew F. (1859), The Physical Geography of the Sea (New York: Harper & Brothers, sixth edition).

God's Mercy and Justice by Caleb Colley, Ph.D.


God's Mercy and Justice

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

The inspired writers of the Bible recorded a remarkable amount of material about two characteristics of God: mercy and justice. These two qualities, at first glance, might seem contradictory. Can a gracious, merciful God punish people?
First, observe a portion of the biblical record of God’s mercy. Just after the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, Moses led them in a song of praise to God, which included this verse: “You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation” (Exodus 15:13, emp. added). It was not long after this that God gave the Israelites instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant, the lid of which was called the mercy seat. The mercy seat was made of pure gold, and was the place where God communicated with Moses (Exodus 25:22; 30:6). The Greek word used to name the mercy seat is hilasterion (Hebrews 9:5), a word that also is used to designate Jesus (Romans 3:25; McCord, 128[17]:527). In a sense, Jesus is the “mercy seat” for Christians—His merciful sacrifice and eternal presence allow us to communicate with the Father (see 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 7:27), and through Christ we receive God’s mercy (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Peter 1:3).
When revealing the Ten Commandments to Moses, God Himself proclaimed both His divine mercy and justice:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:4-7).
Just as God’s mercy continues to exist, the justice of God likewise is not limited to the long ago. God is still serious about people serving Him, and about the consequences for people who choose not to serve Him. It is fascinating and startling to study the numerous passages where God’s vengeance is under consideration. For example, Hebrews 10:30 records: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ ” In Romans 12:19, Paul wrote: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Our perfect God cannot allow sin to go unpunished (see Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:9). God always has been just—He punished Adam, for example, because sin has consequences (Genesis 2:17). Norman L. Bales observed of God’s punishing Adam: “Had He not done so, our relationship with Him would be as unpredictable as the relationship the ancient pagan people imagined they had with their numerous deities” (1989, p. 33). We can depend on God’s system of ethics because God has never treated the righteous and the wicked in the same way (p. 34).
Many sincerely ask: “How could a merciful God allow souls to be eternally lost?” Some people conclude that mercy and justice must be mutually exclusive characteristics of God, and, consequently, God never could exercise justice or wrath on anyone, because His mercy prevails. Their picture of God is skewed, because they picture Him as akin to a benevolent, grandfather who constantly gives generous gifts, but is extremely hesitant to discipline. In God’s dealings with humans, both mercy and justice are present, with the two characteristics balancing each other.
If God is truly good (and He is), then He cannot tolerate or overlook evil. He did not overlook the sin of Adam (Genesis 3:17-19), Cain (Genesis 4:11-13), Saul (1 Samuel 15:26), or David (2 Samuel 12:8-10), and He certainly will not overlook sin in the modern world. However, God has mercifully provided a way for sinners to escape His wrath: He sacrificed His spotless, sinless Son. Christ was the only One Who was qualified to be a sacrifice for sin, and because He never sinned, His pure blood can wash away our sins (Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 13:20), allowing us to stand justified before God on the Day of Judgment (Titus 3:7; Hebrews 10:19). However, we must take the necessary steps to appropriate that blood to our souls (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).
The justice and mercy of God have never contradicted each other. In fact, our perfect Creator balances the two qualities masterfully. If that were not true, the psalmist would not have been able to proclaim, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14, emp. added).


Bales, Norman L. (1989), How Do I Know I’m Saved?: A Study of God’s Grace (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate)
McCord, Hugo (1987), “The Mercy Seat,” Gospel Advocate, 128:527, September 3.

Faith and Knowledge by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Faith and Knowledge

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

“As indicated earlier, there is not enough evidence anywhere to absolutely prove God, but there is adequate evidence to justify the assumption or the faith that God exists” (Thomas, 1965, p. 263, emp. in orig.).
“Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
It is evident that the two above statements stand in stark contradistinction to one another. The first statement suggests that people may hold to the assumption that God exists—a position the author identifies as “faith.” The second statement, from the pen of the inspired apostle John, describes some of the people of Samaria who had faith in the Lord’s deity because they knew He was the Savior—based on the evidence He had provided them.
Obviously, both of these sentiments cannot be correct, for they represent mutually exclusive ideas of biblical faith. On the one hand, we are asked to believe that faith is an “assumption” made by a person who simply desires to believe something. On the other hand, the biblical record instructs us on the fact that knowledge is an integral part of faith, and that faith is not merely an “educated guess” or unfounded assumption. Why does this confusion over the topic of biblical faith exist? What is the relationship between faith and knowledge?


Perhaps there is so much confusion surrounding the concept of faith because there are so many definitions from so many widely varied sources. First, faith has been defined by its opponents as “the power of believing what you know isn’t true,” or “an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” Second, even neutral authorities have added to the conflict, with reputable dictionaries suggesting that faith is a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” or “belief without need of certain proof.”
Third, some in the religious community itself have been responsible for, or added to, much of the confusion. Examples abound. In his “Introduction” to The World and Literature of the Old Testament, John T. Willis has written: “The Bible claims to be inspired of God (II Tim. 3:16). There is no way to prove or disprove this claim absolutely, although arguments have been advanced on both sides of the issue. It must be accepted by faith or rejected by unbelief ” (1979, 1:11). J.D. Thomas, in his text, Heaven’s Window, wrote:
In all matters of religious epistemology we come to the question of distinguishing between absolutely provable knowledge and that which is faith-dependent to some degree or other.... In other words, men of strong faith “act like” they have absolute knowledge, even though in this life they can never have more than a strong faith (1974, pp. 131,132).
In his book, Dear Agnos, Arlie J. Hoover stated that “...faith, by standing between knowledge and ignorance, certainty and credulity, in a sense partakes of the essence of both. It has some evidence, which relates it to knowledge, yet it has some uncertainty, because the evidence is indirect” (1976, p. 28). Roy F. Osborne has suggested that “faith of any sort is based on probability.... In a world of fallible beings, imperfect senses, and partial experience, absolute certainty is only a theoretical concept” (1964, p. 132).
If these writers are correct, faith is something based on little substantive proof, or, for that matter, no proof at all. Faith also allows men to “act like” they know something when, in fact, they do not. Further, at best faith is a probability proposition that may, or may not, have anything to do with truth. And, faith is seen as an entity composed of a small amount of knowledge and a big dose of uncertainty. Is it any wonder then that there is so much confusion in today’s world regarding the concept of faith and its relationship to knowledge.
Ultimately, improper concepts of faith damage or destroy the effectiveness of Christianity. There are a number of reasons this is the case. First, unlike many other religions, Christianity always has been based in historical fact. From the historicity of Jesus Himself to the reality of His resurrection, Christianity has entered the marketplace of ideas with factuality as its foundation. To then turn and suggest that Christianity is based on an unproven and unprovable belief system nebulously termed “faith” is to rob Christianity of one of its most important constructs—verifiability rooted in historical fact. That which should be documentable is reduced to mere wishful thinking.
Second, we live in a society in which an examination of the various evidences behind a claim has become practically an everyday occurrence. Whether we are purchasing an automobile or considering an advertiser’s boasts about its products, we routinely investigate a plethora of evidences that can prove, or disprove, what is being said. The Bible teaches that mankind is lost and in desperate need of salvation, which comes only through Jesus Christ. More often than not, the person who accepts and obeys the biblical message undergoes a radical change in both his thinking and his lifestyle. Surely the grand nature of Christianity’s claim is such that it requires both investigation and verification. For someone to suggest that Christianity, or the life-altering changes it ushers in, is based on little more than an unproven assertion (that might or might not be true) hardly could be viewed as a rational approach that would commend itself to intelligent people.
Third, surely people in the world who are not yet Christians, yet whom we hope to see become Christians, are smart enough to see through a ruse that asks them to “act like” they know God exists, to “act like” they know Jesus is His Son, or to “act like” the Bible is His inspired Word when, in fact, they do not know those things at all. Further, if Christians simply “act like” they know, when in reality they do not, why are they not hypocrites? And why is the Christian—who eventually will have to admit that he does not really know these things—any different from the agnostic who readily admits that he cannot know these things?
Fourth, any idea which suggests that faith is based on mere “probability” is at the same time tacitly admitting that there is some probability, however minute, that Christianity might just be false. In addressing this point, Dick Sztanyo has observed:
To admit that Christianity is only probable is to admit the possibility that, in fact, it might be a hoax! Could you in your most irrational moment imagine even the slightest possibility of an apostle preaching the “God of probability” or the “God who may be”? ...I want to insist that there is not a single item in Christianity, upon which our souls’ salvation depends, which is only probably true. In each case, the evidence supplied is sufficient to establish conclusive proof regarding the truth of the Christian faith (1989, pp. 8-9,11, emp. in orig.).


What, then, is biblical faith? How does it relate to “belief ”? And what is its proper relationship to knowledge?

Biblical Faith and Belief

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, in regard to a belief that cannot be proven true, “It’s just a matter of faith.” Or, if someone is being advised about a particular course of action, the recommendation might be, “Just launch out on faith.” How many times has the comment been made that something is just “a leap of faith”? Certainly it is true to say that the word “faith” is used on occasion in each of these ways. And each of these statements may well express a certain belief. However, such a usage is not biblical faith. What is the relationship between biblical faith and belief?
Is faith belief? Yes, faith is a kind of belief. The issue, however, centers on the kind of belief that is biblical faith. Belief refers primarily to a judgment that something is true. But belief may be weak or strong. If I say, “I believe it may rain tomorrow,” that is an example of a weak belief. It is an opinion I hold which, while I hope is true, and thus believe to be true, is nevertheless one that I cannot prove. However, if I say, “I believe the guilty verdict in the criminal’s trial is correct and just,” that is an example of a strong belief because I am able to present factual reasons for my belief, based upon available evidence. In addressing the idea of “weak” versus “strong” beliefs, David Lipe has stated that “...the difference in these two types of belief turns on the causes of the beliefs” (n.d., p. 3, emp. added). In his text, Critique of Religion and Philosophy, Walter Kaufmann listed seven causes of belief, the first of which was that “arguments have been offered in its support” (1958, pp. 132ff.). Thus, strong belief is a rational act based upon adequate evidence. Weak belief is produced by such things as emotion, vested interest, etc. (see Lipe, n.d., p. 4).
Biblical faith is a strong belief based upon adequate evidence. In the New Testament, the noun “faith” (Greek, pistis) is defined as: “primarily firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing...used in the New Testament always of faith in God or Christ, or things spiritual” (Vine, 1940, 2:71). The verb “believe” (Greek, pisteuo) is defined as: “...to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust...reliance upon, not mere credence” (Vine, 1940, 1:116). Thus, biblical faith is a conviction based upon evidence, and is “not mere credence.” The Bible does not recognize any such concept as a “leap of faith,” because biblical faith is always evidence- or knowledge-based. Peter urged Christians to be “ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). This corresponds directly to what Kaufmann would call a cause for belief because “arguments have been offered in its support.”

Biblical Faith and Knowledge

One of the foundational laws of human thought is the Law of Rationality, which demands that we draw only such conclusions as are warranted by adequate evidence. Agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell stated it this way: “Give to any hypothesis that is worth your while to consider just that degree of confidence which the evidence warrants” (1945, p. 816). Biblical faith adheres to the Law of Rationality, and seeks conclusions that have a confidence warranted by the available evidence. In producing biblical faith, both reason and revelation are employed. Geisler and Feinberg defined these terms as follows:
“Revelation” is a supernatural disclosure by God of truth which could not be discovered by the unaided powers of human reason. “Reason” is the natural ability of the human mind to discover truth (1980, p. 255).
These authors went on to observe that “the basic relation of reason and revelation is that the thinking Christian attempts to render the credible intelligible” (1980, p. 265). Using capacities for proper reasoning, the Christian builds faith based upon numerous avenues of evidence. Sometimes that evidence may be based upon testimony provided by revelation. Paul wrote that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Guy N. Woods has noted:
Genuine faith derives from facts presented to the mind and from which proper and correct deductions are then drawn (John 20:30,31).... There is no such thing as “blind” faith. Faith itself is possible only when reason recognizes the trustworthiness of the testimony which produces it (1994, 125[11]:2).
Skeptics, of course, have suggested that reliance upon the testimony of another does not necessarily result in personal knowledge. Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:
No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it (1794, pp. 8-9, emp. in orig.).
Paine’s assessment, however, is incorrect, as an examination of both historical and biblical cases will attest. Must testimony by necessity be diluted or destroyed simply because it has been passed from generation to generation? Not at all. We know George Washington lived, even though no one for the past several generations ever set eyes on him. We know of numerous other people and events in the same manner, as a direct result of credible testimony passed faithfully from age to age.
Further, biblical information provides a good test case for the accuracy of information passed from one person to another. In Mark 16, the account is told of Mary Magdalene having seen the Lord after His resurrection. She immediately went and told other disciples who, the text indicates, “disbelieved” (Mark 16:11). Later, Jesus appeared to two men walking in the country. They, too, returned to the disciples and reported that the Lord was alive, but of the disciples it was said that “neither believed they them” (Mark 16:13). Were these disciples justified in rejecting the report of the Lord’s resurrection merely because they had not been eyewitnesses themselves? Was their disbelief somehow evidence of “intellectual integrity” on their part? Were they to be commended for their rejection of two different reports that originated with trustworthy eyewitnesses?
No, the disciples were not justified in their disbelief. Later, when the Lord appeared to them, “he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14). Thus, the Lord verified the principle that Thomas Paine attempted to refute. If Mary Magdalene had expressed accurately to the disciples what she had seen, and they in turn expressed accurately what they had been told, would this not constitute valid evidence-based testimony of the sort that would warrant genuine faith in the resurrection? Facts must be reported before they can be believed. In Acts 18, the circumstances are given in which “many of the Corinthians hearing, believed.” What did they hear that caused them to believe? It was the testimony given by Paul. Faith is thus seen as the acceptance of knowledge based upon credible testimony.
Sometimes the evidence for faith may come by sight, as it did in the case of Thomas when Christ said to him after His resurrection, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed” (John 20:29a). The Samaritans, mentioned earlier, believed on the Lord. The fact of their seeing Him did not preclude their believing on Him (John 4:41). There are times, of course, when faith and sight go together. Men sometimes walk by faith because of sight. Many came in obedience to the Lord during His earthly ministry because of what they heard and saw. During the early years of the church, many believed because of the miracles they saw performed. Much faith was produced by the actual events that were observed by those present.
But what of those who have not seen those events firsthand? Do they have any less of a faith than those who witnessed such events? No, faith is not diminished by lack of sight. Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29b). Paul observed that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Thomas had faith after sight. Today we have faith without sight, because of credible testimony from those who were eyewitnesses.
What is the relationship between faith and knowledge? Does faith somehow rule out “knowing”? Can one both “know” and “have faith” at the same time, or is it an either/or proposition? In speaking to this issue, Woods has written:
More recently, a much more sophisticated form of subjectivism has appeared wherein faith and knowledge are compartmentalized, put in sharp contrast, and each made to exclude the other. The allegation is that a proposition which one holds by faith one cannot know by deduction. This conclusion is reached by taking one definition of the word “know,” putting it in opposition to the word “faith,” and thus making them mutually exclusive. To do this is to err with reference to both faith and to knowledge! (1994, 136[2]:31).
In John 6:69, Peter said to the Lord: “And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God.” Writing in 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul said “I know him whom I have believed.” The Samaritans told the woman who brought Christ to them, “Now we believe, not because of thy speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
In his book on the relationship between faith and knowledge, The Concept of Rational Belief, Dick Sztanyo remarked:
Biblical faith is built upon a prior understanding (knowledge) of what is to be believed.... Any conception of faith that severs it from its objective, epistemological base (foundation of knowledge) is at variance with biblical teaching! Biblically speaking, one does not believe that God is (or any other items to be accepted “by faith”): (1) against the evidence; (2) without evidence; and/or (3) beyond the evidence. Rather, one believes on the basis of evidence sufficient to establish the conclusion (1989, p. 3, emp. in orig.).
Faith is directly linked to knowledge. Without knowledge (i.e., evidence), it is impossible to produce faith. Further, knowledge is critical in making faith active. Sztanyo has observed in regard to what he terms “rational” belief:
This evidence enlightens the intellect which then makes a volitional commitment not only possible (since I now know what to believe) but also rational (i.e., I know what to believe)! Thus, faith is a volitional commitment of an informed intellect! Knowledge without commitment is disbelief (John 8:30-46; 12:42,43; James 2:19); commitment without knowledge is irrationality! Neither is a genuine option for a Christian (1989, pp. 18-19, emp. in orig.).
In the Bible, faith and knowledge are never set in contradistinction. At times faith may be contrasted with a means of obtaining knowledge (e.g., sight), but faith never is contrasted with knowledge or, for that matter, reason. In addition, at times faith and knowledge may have the same object. The Scriptures make it clear that the following can be both known and believed: (a) God (Isaiah 43:10); (b) the truth (1 Timothy 4:3); and (c) Christ’s deity (John 6:69; cf. 4:42). Further, knowledge always precedes faith, and where there is no knowledge there can be no biblical faith.


In Hebrews 11 we find the “Hall of Fame of Faith,” because each person acted out of obedient faith to God’s commands. We are told “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain...” (11:7), “by faith Noah...prepared an ark to the saving of his house...” (11:7), and that “by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go unto a place which he was to receive as an inheritance...” (11:8). What does “by faith” mean in these statements? Were these people acting in the absence of evidence? Did they have no knowledge of what they were doing, or why they were doing it? Were they taking a “leap of faith”?
In each of these instances, the people involved acted because they had knowledge upon which to base their faith. Cain and Abel obviously had been instructed on what would be a “more excellent” sacrifice. Noah had the dimensions of the ark set before him by God. Abraham did not set out on a journey with no destination; he travelled by directions provided by the Almighty. None of these individuals took a “leap of faith” or acted on what they felt was a “strong probability.” Rather, they acted because their knowledge produced biblical faith. Brad Bromling has addressed this very point:
Some have made the mistake of thinking that faith is to be set in opposition to knowledge or evidence, as though the more one knows the less faith he needs.... This is a false concept of faith. Faith is knowledge-based!... When one gains knowledge of the truth, he is then in a position to engage his will and commit himself to the requirements of that knowledge (1988, 8:24).
God’s wish is for “all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). It is His intent that we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Through such knowledge, upon which faith is ultimately built, we know that we are saved (1 John 5:13). The Lord’s promise was: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Because God has made the truth so plain, and so easily available, those who reject it shall stand ultimately “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).


Bromling, Brad (1988), “In Defense of Biblical Confidence,” Reason & Revelation, 8:23-26, June.
Geisler, Norman L. and P.D. Feinberg (1980), Introduction to Philosophy—A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Hoover, Arlie J. (1976), Dear Agnos: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Lipe, David L. (no date), Faith and Knowledge (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Osborne, Roy F. (1964), Great Preachers of Today—Sermons of Roy F. Osborne (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press).
Paine, Thomas (1794), The Age of Reason (New York: Willey Book Co.).
Russell, Bertrand (1945), A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster).
Sztanyo, Dick (1989), The Concept of Rational Belief (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Thomas, J.D. (1965), Facts and Faith (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press).
Thomas, J.D. (1974), Heaven’s Window (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press).
Vine, W.E. (1940), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
Willis, John T. (1979), “Introduction,” The World and Literature of the Old Testament (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Woods, Guy N. (1994), “Faith Vs. Knowledge?,” Gospel Advocate, 136[2]:31, February.

Cracking the Code—The Human Genome Project in Perspective [Part II] by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Cracking the Code—The Human Genome Project in Perspective [Part II]

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the August issue. Part II follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended. However, the reader may find it useful to have on hand the “Genetic Glossary,” since some terms in that glossary are employed here for the first time.]


The nucleic acid-based genetic code exists. But whence has it come? Since the elucidation of the genetic code in the mid-1950s, materialists have suggested that those mythical parents, “father time” and “mother nature,” gave birth to the genetic code via purely chance processes. As Nobel laureate Jacques Monod put it: “Chance alone is the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere.... All forms of life are the product of chance...” (1972, pp. 110,167). Such a view, however, ascribes to “chance” properties that it does not, and cannot, possess. Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley addressed this logical fallacy and concluded:
Chance is incapable of creating a single molecule, let alone an entire universe. Why not? Chance is no thing. It is not an entity. It has no being, no power, no force. It can effect nothing for it has no causal power within it (1984, p. 118).
Chance cannot create. And it certainly cannot create something as complex as the genetic code. Furthermore, as science writer Matt Ridley observed: “DNA is information, a message written in a code of chemicals” (1999, p. 13). And, as information scientist Werner Gitt correctly noted: “Coding systems are not created arbitrarily, but they are optimized according to criteria.... Devising a code is a creative mental process. Matter can be a carrier of codes, but it cannot generate codes” (1997, pp. 59,67, emp. added). Whence, then, has come the genetic code? What “creative mental process” imposed the information on it that it contains? In their textbook, The New Biology, evolutionists Robert Augros and George Stanciu wrote:
What cause is responsible for the origin of the genetic code and directs it to produce animal and plant species? It cannot be matter because of itself matter has no inclination to these forms.... There must be a cause apart from matter that is able to shape and direct matter. Is there anything in our experience like this? Yes, there is: our own minds. The statue’s form originates in the mind of the artist, who then subsequently shapes matter, in the appropriate way.... For the same reasons there must be a mind that directs and shapes matter in organic forms (1987, p. 191, emp. added).
In speaking of the origin of the genetic code, and the simultaneous appearance of the decoding mechanism that accompanies it, evolutionist Caryl Haskins lamented: “By a pre-Darwinian (or a skeptic of evolution after Darwin) this puzzle would surely have been interpreted as the most powerful sort of evidence for special creation” (1971, 59:305, emp. added, parenthetical comment in orig.). The late evolutionist Carl Sagan of Cornell University admitted:
The number of possible ways of putting nucleotides together in a chromosome is enormous. Thus a human being is an extraordinarily improbable object. Most of the 102.4x109 possible sequences of nucleotides would lead to complete biological malfunction (Sagan, 1997, 22:967, emp. added).
Sir Francis Crick therefore wrote:
An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going (1981, p. 88, emp. added).
Wilder-Smith offered the following observation about the origin of the genetic code.
The almost unimaginable complexity of the information on the genetic code along with the simplicity of its concept (four letters made of simple chemical molecules), together with its extreme compactness, imply an inconceivably high intelligence behind it. Present-day information theory permits no other interpretation of the facts of the genetic code (1976, pp. 258-259, emp. added).
This is the very point that Gitt made in his 1997 book on information theory when he wrote: “The coding system used for living beings is optimal from an engineering standpoint. This fact strengthens the argument that it was a case of purposeful design rather than fortuitous chance” (p. 95, emp. added). British evolutionist Richard Dawkins once observed: “The more statistically improbable a thing is, the less we can believe that it just happened by blind chance. Superficially the obvious alternative to chance is an intelligent Designer” (1982, p. 130). I suggest, however, that since the genetic code “appears to be almost a miracle” which “implies an inconceivably high intelligence behind it,” then it hardly is “superficial” to believe that it must have had a designer—the Creator-God of the Universe.


In most organisms, the primary genetic material is DNA. [Some viruses, primarily retroviruses, contain only RNA (see Nicholl, 1994, pp. 9-10; Ridley, 1999, p. 9).] What is DNA, and how does it work? In his book, The Case Against Accident and Self-Organization, Dean Overman provided the following excellent summary [see Figures 1 and 2].
A DNA molecule is comprised of thousands of long chains of nucleotides (polynucleotides) each consisting of three parts. One part is the pentose or five carbon sugar known as deoxyribose. A second part is a phosphate group, and the third part is a nitrogen base of either adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) or thymine (T). Alternating sugar and phosphate molecules connect each nucleotide chain in a ladder type configuration coiled around a central axis in a twisted double spiral or helix. The two chains run in opposite directions with 10 nucleotides per turn of the helix. The rungs of the bases are pairs of either adenine and thymine (A-T) or cytosine with guanine (C-G). A relatively weak hydrogen bond connects these bases... (1997, p. 34).
Genes, then, are specific segments of DNA (although not all DNA assumes the form of genes; some resides in extranuclear organelles such as plasmids, and some is non-coding). Chromosomes—which consist of DNA and other material—are macromolecules composed of repeating nucleotides that serve as carriers for genes, with thousands of genes being aligned along each chromosome. [Not all human genes, however, are found on chromosomes; a few reside within mitochondria located in the cytoplasm; see Ridley, 1999, p. 9.] Each chromosome consists of a pair of long (roughly three feet), tightly coiled, double-stranded DNA molecules, with each chromosome possessing one long arm and one short arm separated by a middle “pinch point” known as a centromere.
Every living thing has a specified number of chromosomes in each somatic cell. A corn cell has 20; a mouse, 40; a gibbon, 44; and a human, 46. Germ cells in humans, however, have only 23 chromosomes each so that during the union of the male and female gametes, the total will be the standard human number of 46 (23 + 23). [Of these, 22 pairs are numbered in approximate order of size from the largest (#1) to the smallest (#22), while the remaining pair consists of the sex chromosomes: two large X chromosomes in women, one X and one small Y in men.] As a result, genes end up being inherited in pairs consisting of one portion from the father and one from the mother, thereby ensuring genetic diversity.

Nucleotide structure diagram
Figure 1 — The structure of a nucleotide. Circles represent carbon atoms. In DNA the sugar is deoxyribose, with a hydrogen atom at position X; in RNA the sugar is ribose, with a hydroxyl (OH) group at position X. In DNA, the base can be A,G,C, or T; in RNA, the base can be A,G,C, or U.
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An average gene consists of about 1,000 nucleotides [see Figure 1] that normally appear in triplets such as AGC or ATG (see Perloff, 1999, p. 72). While most triplets specify amino acid production, some function as a “stop” command, just as a telegram might contain “stop” to end a sentence. All living organisms—humans, animals, and plants—depend on this code for their existence. Furthermore, each gene is the blueprint the cell uses to assemble a protein that is composed of a long necklace of amino acids (with each protein consisting of a distinct sequence of those amino acids). [A typical protein contains approximately 300 amino acids (see Macer, 1990, p. 2).]
Thanks to the progress that has been made in both genetics and molecular biology, we now possess techniques by which it is possible to determine the exact chemical sequence of any gene from any organism. The genotype is the complete set of genes that the organism possesses—something determined at the time of conception for multicellular organisms. It is the same in all cells of an individual organism. The genotype of all cells derived from a particular cell will be the same, unless a mutation occurs. [It is estimated that 90% of all known gene mutations occur in autosomal chromosomes (as opposed to sex chromosomes—see Macer, 1990, p. 4).] For organisms that reproduce sexually, the genotype of each new individual will be different since the genes from the two parents are combined. The phenotype of an individual is determined by the constant interaction of their genotype and the environment.
The DNA molecule truly is amazing, but it still has certain built-in limits. As geneticist Richard Lewontin remarked: “DNA is a dead molecule, among the most nonreactive, chemically inert molecules in the living world” (2000, p. 141). Matt Ridley referred to DNA as “a helpless, passive piece of mathematics, which catalyses no chemical reactions” (1999, p. 17). What is the point of such statements? Jonathan Wells has explained:
Although molecular biology has demonstrated conclusively that DNA carries the genetic code for the amino acid sequences of proteins, this is not sufficient to specify a whole organism. Combining DNA with all the ingredients necessary for protein synthesis does not make a cell.... Molecular biology has shown that an organism’s DNA specifies the building materials. It turns out, however, that the assembly instructions are largely in other components of the cell, and that the floor plan has not yet been discovered. So there are clearly other factors involved in heredity and development besides DNA (1998, pp. 62,64).
[This information will become important in separating fact from fiction in the discussion below on the Human Genome Project.]
Strictly speaking, of course, DNA is not actually a self-replicating molecule. As Lewontin explained:
DNA has no power to reproduce itself. Rather it is produced out of elementary materials by a complex cellular machinery of proteins.... The newly manufactured DNA is certainly a copy of the old, and the dual structure of the DNA molecule provides a complementary template on which the copying process works...[but] no living molecule is self-reproducing (2000, p. 142, emp. in orig.).
DNA does replicate, however. And the process by which it does so is an enormously complex one with many different components that interact to ensure the faithful transfer of genetic information to the next generation. Biochemist Michael Behe noted:
A large number of parts have to work together to that end. In the absence of one or more of a number of the components, DNA replication is either halted completely or significantly compromised, and the cell either dies or becomes quite sick (1998, p. 185).
What, then, is involved in reproducing the DNA molecule so that it can be passed from cell to cell and generation to generation?
Parent and complementary strands of DNA during replication
Figure 2 — DNA shown in double-helix, parent-strand form (top), and during replication of two new complementary strands (bottom). Source: DOE Human Genome Program [on-line], http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/
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Once the structure of DNA finally was elucidated, scientists discovered how, during cell division, the DNA is replicated to produce a genome for each new daughter cell. The secret lies in the pairing of the bases—A to T, and G to C. During the replication process, the two complementary strands of DNA “unzip” down the middle. A new strand then begins to form alongside each of the originals, laying in an A wherever there is an opposing T, a T where there is an A, a G to a C, and a C to a G. The end result is two new double-stranded portions of DNA that, in most instances, are identical to the originals in their base sequences [see Figure 2]. Ridley described the process by comparing the genetic material to a book.
The genome is a very clever book, because in the right conditions it can both photocopy itself and read itself. The photocopying is known as replication, and the reading as translation. Replication works because of an ingenious property of the four bases: A likes to pair with T, and G with C. So a single strand of DNA can copy itself by assembling a complementary strand with Ts opposite all the As, As opposite all the Ts, Cs opposite all the Gs and Gs opposite all the Cs. In fact, the usual state of DNA is the famous double helix of the original strand and its complementary pair intertwined.
To make a copy of the complementary strand therefore brings back the original text. So the sequence ACGT becomes TGCA in the copy, which transcribes back to ACGT in the copy of the copy. This enables DNA to replicate indefinitely, yet still contain the same information.
Translation is a little more complicated. First the text of a gene is transcribed into a copy by the same base-pairing process, but this time the copy is made not of DNA but of RNA, a very slightly different chemical.... This RNA copy, called the messenger RNA, is then edited....
The messenger is then befriended by a microscopic machine called a ribosome, itself made partly of RNA. The ribosome moves along the messenger, translating each three-letter codon in turn into one letter of a different alphabet, an alphabet of twenty different amino acids, each brought by a different version of a molecule called transfer RNA. Each amino acid is attached to the last to form a chain in the same order as the codons. When the whole message has been translated, the chain of amino acids folds itself up into a distinctive shape that depends on its sequence. It is now known as a protein.
Almost everything in the body, from hair to hormones, is either made of proteins or made by them. Every protein is a translated gene (1999, pp. 6,7,8, emp. in orig.).
Yes, the process described above is utterly amazing. But no less amazing is the fact that it takes place in a DNA fiber that is only two millionths of a millimeter thick (barely visible under an electron microscope). Yet the amount of information contained within it “is so immense in the case of human DNA that it would stretch from the North Pole to the equator if it was typed on paper, using standard letter sizes” (Gitt, 1997, p. 90). As Anderson observed: “If the tightly coiled DNA strands inside a single human adult were unwound and stretched out straight, they would cover the distance to the moon half a million times. Yet when coiled, all the strands could fit inside a teaspoon” (1980, p. 50).
The DNA molecule must be incredibly stable, since the genetic information stored within it may need to function in a living organism for up to a century or more. It also must be completely reproducible so that its complex informational content can be passed successfully from generation to generation. As it turns out, DNA does, in fact, possess each of these traits, and thereby fulfills the necessary and essential criteria of stability and replicability. Are we to be convinced, however, that all of this occurred merely by chance?


Whenever the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain call a news conference that is broadcast worldwide in order to discuss a scientific matter, it must be pretty heady stuff. What, exactly, is the Human Genome Project? Why has it generated such tremendous publicity of late? And is all the hoopla surrounding it justified—or even correct?
An organism’s genome is its total genetic content. [The phrase “nuclear genome” refers solely to the DNA within the nucleus; the phrase “human genome” refers to all of the DNA contained in an entire human (haploid) cell, rather than just that in the nucleus.] In the late 1980s, scientists began discussing the possibility of obtaining a detailed map and complete DNA sequence of the genome of a variety of organisms, including the bacterium Escherichia coli, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (all of which, by the way, had been completed by the end of 1999), wheat, rice, the mouse, and of course, Homo sapiens. [For an update on the progress regarding the sequencing of the genome of the mouse and other species, see Karow, 2000, 283[1]:53.]
The mere thought of mapping all the chromosomes and sequencing all the genes of even a “simple” living organism should be enough to send chills down the spine of every hard-working molecular biologist. After all, a bacterium can have 4 million nucleotide bases in its genetic repertoire, while more complicated organisms such as human beings can possess more than 3 billion. And, curiously, some amphibians and flowering plants have more than 10 times the number of nucleotide bases found in human beings (see Roth, 1998, p. 70; Avers, 1989, pp. 142-143; Fraser, et al., 1995, 270:397-403; Goffeau, 1995, 270:445-446). But, by the beginning of the year 2000, the genome sequences of more than 20 species had been published on the Internet, and the one-billionth base of human DNA had been sequenced (see Macer, 2000). Erika Check, writing in the August 14, 2000 issue of Newsweek, quoted Claire Fraser, head of the Institute for Genomic Research, who suggested that within the next year or so scientists will begin decoding the genomes of the top twenty human pathogens [disease-causing organisms] (136[7]:9). [In fact, in its July 13, 2000 issue, Nature reported that scientists in the country of Brazil had just completed the “first sequence of a free-living plant pathogen” and that their paper (published in that week’s issue of the journal) represented “a significant scientific milestone” (see Editorial, 2000a, 406:109; see also Simpson, A.J.G., et al., 2000, 406:151-156). Less than three weeks later, Nature announced in its August 3, 2000 issue that the genes of Vibrio cholerae, the microorganism that causes cholera, had been completely sequenced (see: Heidelberg, et al., 2000, 406:477-483; Check, 2000, 136[7]:9).]
In 1990, the Human Genome Project [or HGP; also sometimes referred to as the Human Genome Initiative] began (see Collins, 1997, p. 98). The name is a collective moniker for several projects that actually began in the late 1980s in several countries, following a decision by the United States Department of Energy [DOE] to: (a) create an ordered set of DNA segments from known chromosomal locations; (b) develop new computational methods for analyzing genetic map and DNA sequence data; and (3) develop new instruments and techniques for detecting and analyzing DNA (see Office of Technology Assessment, 1988). However, some in the biological community were a bit wary of DOE physicists “doing biology.” Thus, because the National Institutes of Health [NIH] is the major funder of biomedical research in America, its scientists signed on to join the project. [Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the head of the U.S. Human Genome Project.]
Shortly after the formation of the HGP in the United States, scientists from several foreign countries were invited to join in the effort, which resulted in the formation of the HGP international analogue—the Human Genome Organization [HUGO]. Included in the international effort were scientists from France, Great Britain, Japan, and elsewhere. In 1991 the Human Genome Diversity Project [HGDP] was begun, with a mandate to collect DNA samples for analysis from at least 25 unrelated individuals in 400 different populations around the world. Dr. Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, professor emeritus of genetics at Stanford University, heads the program (see Macer, 2000; Cavalli-Sforza, 2000, p. 69). In mid-1999, British science writer Matt Ridley wrote in his book, Genome:
Being able to read the genome will tell us more about...our nature and our minds than all the efforts of science to date. It will revolutionise anthropology, psychology, medicine, palaeontology and virtually every other science.... Some time in the year 2000, we shall probably have a rough first draft of the complete human genome. In just a few short years we will have moved from knowing almost nothing about our genes to knowing everything. I genuinely believe that we are living through the greatest intellectual moment in history. Bar none (p. 5, emp. added).
Ridley’s prediction has come true. The HGP now has achieved one of its main goals—producing a “rough first draft” of the human genome. Two groups—one governmental [the HGP] and one from corporate America [Celera Genomics, headed by its CEO, Dr. Craig Venter]—had been pursuing the goal of mapping the entire human genome independently of each other. [On January 10, 2000, for example, scientists at Celera announced they had sequences equal to over 90% of the human genome, and 97% of all genes, in their database (see Editorial, 2000b).] Eventually, however, the two groups agreed to work together. And work they did! On June 26, 2000, the announcement was made that, for all practical purposes, the mapping of the human genome was complete. In its cover story the following week (July 3), Time magazine reported on the meaning and importance of the announcement.
After more than a decade of dreaming, planning and heroic number crunching, both groups have deciphered essentially all the 3.1 billion biochemical “letters” of human DNA, the coded instructions for building and operating a fully functional human....
Armed with the genetic code, scientists can now start teasing out the secrets of human health and disease at the molecular level—secrets that will lead at the very least to a revolution in diagnosing and treating everything from Alzheimer’s to heart disease to cancer, and more (Golden and Lemonick, 2000, 156[1]:19-20).
The Human Genome Project is set up to proceed in two distinct stages, the first of which is that of “physical mapping.” This phase will examine short stretches of DNA in order to determine sequences along each chromosome as “landmarks” (somewhat like the mile markers found along U.S. interstate highways). These markers then will be of importance in finding exactly where, along each chromosome, particular genes reside. In the second phase of the project, various laboratories will examine an entire chromosome (or section of a chromosome, depending on its size) in order to determine the complete ordered sequence of nucleotides in its DNA. It is after this critical second phase, to use the words of Harvard’s Lewontin, “that the fun begins, for biological sense will have to be made, if possible, of the mind-numbing sequence of three billion A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s” (2000, p. 162).
Truth be told, the processing of making “biological sense” out of the human genome already has begun in earnest. The December 2, 1999 issue of Nature announced, for example, that the first human chromosome (#22) had been completely sequenced (see Little, 2000, 402:467-468; Dunham, et al., 2000, 402:489-495; Donn, 1999). And in May 2000, the HGP announced that it not only had completed its own working draft of chromosome 22, but also had completed the sequencing of chromosome 21, which is involved with Down’s syndrome and several other diseases (see Brown, 2000, 283[1]:50-55; for a full account of the chromosome 21 story, see Scientific American’s Web site at http://www.sciam. com/explorations/2000051500chrom21).
But where, exactly, is the HGP now? Almost all of the genome data already are being used. As of June 2000, 85% of the human genome was available on the World Wide Web (see Regalado, 2000, 103[4]:97-98). The notion that science somehow will be transformed when we cross a mythical “finish line,” however, is wrong. The fact is, science already has been transformed. When Time’s writers chose the title “The Race Is Over!” for their cover story, they were correct—in the sense that everyone now can partake of the knowledge regarding the 3 billion DNA base pairs. That is the great achievement at this point in time. But there is more to it than that because there is much we still do not know, and much work yet to be done. Why is this the case? Wade Roush, writing in the May/June 2000 issue of Technology Review (shortly before the completion of the human genome project was announced), suggested:
...[W]e have only the foggiest picture of how our 100,000 genes interact to regulate one another’s expression and to direct protein production. Extrapolating from the genome to the whole organism is therefore akin to writing a history of New York City based on the phone directory. Another problem is that DNA, by itself, doesn’t produce or explain anything (2000, 103[3]:113).
In an interview in the July/August, 2000 issue of Technology Review, Eric Lander, who is the director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research/MIT Center for Genome Research (the world’s most productive academic gene sequencing facility and the flagship of the international Human Genome Project), admitted:
The truth is that the human genome is going to have all kinds of nasty little bits that are hard to fill in at the end: the middles of chromosomes, called the centromeres, the ends of chromosomes, called the telomeres, and so on. This is not like the transcontinental railroad, where at some point someone is going to nail the golden spike, and then and only then can you go cross-country. There is no golden nucleotide to be nailed into the double helix at the end....
The genome is a very elaborate program, and we don’t know how to read it. It’s as if we have some ancient computer code that was written...years ago and now we are trying to figure out what it does. I think what biologists are going to be doing for the next decade is figuring out the circuitry of the genome by monitoring how the 50,000 to 100,000 genes are turned on and off and how all the proteins come on and off in the cell (see Regalado, 2000, 103[4]:97-98).
The following report from Time accurately expressed Dr. Lander’s point.
HGP scientists may have decoded 97% of the genome’s letters—the remaining 3% are generally considered unsequenceable and irrelevant—but they know the order of only 53% of them. It’s as if they’ve got the pages in the so-called book of life in the proper order but with the letters on each page scrambled....
Celera, by contrast, has not only the pages but all the words and letters as well—though neither side can yet say what most of these words and letters mean.... [Craig] Venter points out that identifying the order of the letters in our genetic alphabet is just a first step. Still ahead for Celera as well as its competitors: the much more complicated task of telling what those letters mean, what they do and what can be done if the messages they spell out are in error—a prime cause of human disease and suffering (Golden and Lemonick, 2000, 156[1]:20-21).


As much as we might wish it were true, mapping the DNA sequence of a single human—or even many humans from populations around the world—will not produce an accurate map of a human genome. Why not? The reason has to do with what geneticists refer to as “single nucleotide polymorphisms” (known as SNPs—pronounced SNIPS). Although human DNA is “almost” the same from every person on Earth, it is not exactly the same. The fact is, there is an approximate 0.1% variation in the nucleotides that compose human DNA. Generally, such variation is caused by a single nucleotide—thus the name “single nucleotide” polymorphisms [poly—many, morphisms—forms]. The DNA being sequenced in the HGP actually is a composite of human tissue cell lines from several people. As Lemonick wrote in his Time article:
Scientists...are putting together databases of tissue samples to look for one-letter genetic differences.... Both the Human Genome Project and Celera are currently sequencing the genomes of many different people, of both sexes and all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, to get a better sense of where the SNPs are (2000, 156[1]:28).
Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, director of the Human Genome Diversity Project that is examining DNA samples from over 400 populations worldwide, has explained why accurate knowledge of SNPs is critical.
If we take the DNA from one sperm (or egg) and compare it to the DNA of another random one, we find that there is on average one different nucleotide pair every thousand nucleotide pairs. There are therefore at least three million differences between the DNA in one sperm or egg and the DNA in another. All these differences originated by mutation, a spontaneous error made while copying DNA, which most frequently involves the replacement of one nucleotide by another of the four.... New mutations are therefore transmitted from parents to children.... A change in DNA may cause a change in a protein... (2000, pp. 68,17, emp. added).
And a change in a protein within a living system can herald severe problems. Organisms contain thousands of proteins that most often are composed of 300 or more amino acids linked together in chain-like fashion. Substitution of even a single amino acid at a critical position can be lethal (see Roth, 1998, p. 69; Radman, 1988, 259[2]:40-46). In an article in Nature titled “The Book of Genes,” Peter Little explained why SNPs are so important within the context of the Human Genome Project.
There is a general consensus that SNPs are probably the cause of most common genetic disorders. We all carry many SNPs but if we are unlucky enough to carry the “wrong” set of changes, we are predisposed to one or other of the common disorders with a genetic component such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or cancers.... If knowledge of gene differences can be combined with an understanding of the richness of environmental influences, we will have the key to unlocking the cause of most of the common disorders that kill or otherwise cause suffering (1999, 402:467-468).
After reading, digesting, and pondering all of this information about the Human Genome Project, perhaps it will be easier to understand in a clearer fashion why writers like Newsweek’s Thomas Hayden have concluded:
Meanwhile, the benefits of genomic research—from predicting risk for hereditary disease to developing new drugs designed for an individual’s genetic makeup—are still years away... (2000, 136[1]:51).
One scientist, Richard K. Wilson of Washington University (a partner in the public consortium of the Human Genome Project), plainly admitted in an interview in the July 2000 issue of Scientific American:

For a long time, there was a big misconception that when the DNA sequencing was done, we’d have total enlightenment about who we are, why we get sick and why we get old. Well, total enlightenment is decades away (as quoted in Brown, 2000, 283[1]:50).
Maybe so. Nevertheless, that does not detract in any way from the success the Human Genome Project already has enjoyed.


Carl Sagan, one of the most visible popularizers of science in our generation, once observed:
...[T]he future holds the promise that man will be able to assemble nucleotides in any desired sequence to produce whatever characteristics of human beings are thought desirable, an awesome and disquieting prospect (1997, 22:967, emp. added).
Yes, it is indeed an “awesome and disquieting prospect.” Henry Greely, a medical bioethicist at Stanford University, commented on where this kind of thinking may lead when he wrote: “The problem is, we sanctify DNA. People seem to want to be eager to view their genome as their essence, instead of just molecules that pass on certain traits. In our secular culture, it’s almost taken the place of the soul” (as quoted in Kloehn and Salopek, 1997, p. C-1).
During an interview with Stanford geneticist David Cox for the August 14, 2000 issue of People magazine, reporter Giovanna Breu remarked: “Some worry that mapping the genome allows us to play God by manipulating life.” Dr. Cox, however, responded:
The genome gives us a list of what living things are made up of, but not how they go together and work. It provides one more piece of information that we can start using to make order out of our ignorance and help people to make better decisions in life. But...we just have the parts, not the entire instruction manual. I think God isn’t so stupid as to let anyone have that (2000, 54[7]:131).
While I, personally, might not have phrased my sentiments in exactly those words, it certainly is invigorating to see a scientist of Dr. Cox’s stature give credit where credit is due—to God—for the creation of the “book of life” to which we refer somewhat nonchalantly as the “human genome.” And it similarly is refreshing to be able to report that he is not the only scientist involved in the project who has acknowledged God as the Author of the intricate genetic code. At the June 26 press conference held jointly by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Dr. Francis Collins, who chairs the Human Genome Project from the National Institutes of Health, spoke in similar terms when he said:
Today, we deliver, ahead of schedule again, the most visible and spectacular milestone of all.... We have developed a map of overlapping fragments that includes 97 percent of the human genome, and we have sequenced 85 percent of this.... It’s a happy day for the world. It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God. What a profound responsibility it is to do this work (see Office of Technology Policy, 2000, emp. added). [NOTE: In an interview that appeared in the March issue of Discover magazine three months earlier, Dr. Collins publicly affirmed his personal faith in the God of the Bible, and commented on how grateful he was to be associated with the HGP as it uncovered some of the “mysteries of human biology”—see Glausiusz, 2000, 21[3]:22.]
A profound responsibility indeed! To actually be able to “peek inside” the biochemical code—“whose Builder and Maker is God”—is indeed “humbling and awe-inspiring.” And—regardless of how deep we probe or how intelligent we think we are—may it ever be so!


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