"THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS" The Folly Of Trusting In Human Wisdom (1:18-31) by Mark Copeland


            The Folly Of Trusting In Human Wisdom (1:18-31)


1. Today we are faced with many issues over which people disagree...
   a. Moral issues related to what is good or evil
   b. Doctrinal issues related to what is right or wrong

2. It is not uncommon to hear people appeal to certain "authorities"...
   a. Those considered experts in the areas of science, philosophy, and
   b. Who share the results of their experiments, research, or careful

3. Many place their faith in such "authorities"...
   a. Especially in areas of morality and spiritual truth
   b. Is that a wise thing to do?

[In our text for this lesson (1Co 1:18-31), the apostle Paul warns
against "The Folly Of Trusting In Human Wisdom".  In this passage of
Scripture we learn that...]


      1. I.e., the idea of a crucified Savior, dying for the sins of the
      2. To those who are perishing, it is foolishness - 1Co 1:18a
      3. To those being saved, it is the power of God! - 1Co 1:18b

      1. God proclaimed that He would destroy the wisdom of the wise
         - 1Co 1:19
      2. God has made foolish the wisdom of this world - 1Co 1:20
      3. Why?  Because the world in its own wisdom rejects God 
         - 1Co 1:21
         a. We see that in the idolatry of Paul's day - cf. Ro 1:18-23
         b. We see it today in the theories of evolution, humanism,
      4. So God chose to save man through faith in a message that seems
         foolish - 1Co 1:21
         a. While the Jews were seeking signs, and the Greeks sought
            after wisdom - 1Co 1:22
         b. But for those who accept the call of the message of Christ
            crucified, there is both power and wisdom! - 1Co 1:23-24
         c. For God's foolishness is wiser than man, His weakness
            stronger than man - 1Co 1:25

      1. At Corinth, there were not many wise (according to the flesh),
         mighty, noble who had responded to the call of the gospel
         - 1Co 1:26
      2. The same is true today:  those receptive to the gospel are
         usually not the wise, mighty, noble
      3. Again, this is part of God's design to shame the arrogant
         wisdom and might of those who reject God - 1Co 1:27-28
      4. Otherwise, the wise and mighty would boast of themselves in the
         presence of God - 1Co 1:29

[This should make us cautious about anything based solely on the wisdom
or strength of man.  Man in his wisdom and strength cannot begin to
compare to the foolishness and weakness of God!  Thus...]


      1. There is to be found wisdom from God - 1Co 1:30; cf. Col 2:3
      2. There is both righteousness and sanctification 
          - 1Co 1:30; cf. Php 3:9; 1Co 6:11
      3. There is redemption from sin - 1Co 1:30; cf. Ep 1:7

      1. Just as it written in the Scriptures - 1Co 1:31
      2. Not in our own wisdom, might, or riches - Jer 9:23
      3. But in understanding and knowing God, who delights in
         lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth 
         - Jer 9:24

      1. He had plenty of reasons to boast in himself 
         - cf. Ga 1:13-14; Php 3:4-6
      2. Yet he counted such things as dung, in comparison to the
         excellence of knowing Christ and His salvation - cf. Php 3:7-11
      3. Thus his boast was in the cross of Christ- cf. Ga 6:14

      1. You may think yourself wise, strong, or self-sufficient because
         of your wealth
      2. You may think others worthy to guide you in matters of truth
         and morality
      3. But unless it is ultimately the Lord who guides us, it is folly!


1. Every time we hear or read...
   a. Some expert or authority gives their learned opinion
   b. Some poll in which the majority expresses their beliefs
   -- We do well to remember:  "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of
      this world?"

2. The only true and ultimate source of wisdom is from the Lord
   a. In Him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" 
      - Co 2:3
   b. In Him "you are complete" - Col 2:10
   -- So as Paul warns:  "Beware lest anyone cheat you through
      philosophy or vain deceit..." - Col 2:8

Are you willing to place your trust, your life, your eternal security,
in the hands of mere men?  How much better to trust the words and wisdom
of the Creator and Redeemer...!

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

eXTReMe Tracker 

Armchair Archaeology and the New Atheism by Dewayne Bryant, M.A.


Armchair Archaeology and the New Atheism

by Dewayne Bryant, M.A.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dewayne Bryant holds two Masters degrees, and is completing Masters study in Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology and Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, while pursuing doctoral studies at Amridge University. He has participated in an archaeological dig at Tell El-Borg in Egypt and holds professional membership in the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Archaeological Institute of America.]
Archaeology has an air of mystery about it. Whenever the subject is brought up, many people instinctively think of the iconic Indiana Jones and his adventures on the silver screen. Others think of buried treasure or exotic locations. In the early days of archaeology, European travelers could be seen out in the field in Victorian garb, sitting under lace umbrellas and sipping tea from fine china. The wealthy traveled with all the fineries of home, surveying the scene while native workers toiled under the hot Middle Eastern Sun. There was much less of the scientific rigor of modern archaeology. It was sometimes little more than glorified treasure hunting. Today there is much more to the discipline than romantic visions of danger, intrigue, and golden fortunes.
Archaeology is a scientific discipline requiring dozens of specializations. Despite its complexity, it has the unenviable distinction of being a field in which anyone with sufficient interest and a modicum of experience can claim to be a specialist. Popular examples include self-proclaimed experts who claim to have found chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea, the real location of Mt. Sinai, and the long-lost treasures of Solomon in a hidden cave beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. These claims are difficult, if not impossible, to verify, and are often accompanied by dubious proof and doctored evidence. Archaeology is a field subject to severe abuse by those with too little training and too much imagination.
The mistreatment of archaeological evidence is not the sole property of poorly trained apologists. It is also found in the writings of the new atheists. “New atheism” is much like atheism in general, except that it is exceptionally militant and intolerant of everything remotely religious in nature. The term appears to have been coined by Gary Wolf in a November 2006 article in Wired Magazine titled, “The Church of the New Believer.” In the article, Wolf says that the new atheist will “not let us [unbelievers] off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God” (2006). The new atheist is not merely an unbeliever, but one who promotes disbelief and has no tolerance for anyone who respects religion, whether theist, agnostic, or atheist. For new atheists, it is all or nothing. Incidentally, Wolf—though an atheist himself—ultimately disagrees with the severity of the new atheists’ approach.
The most noticeable of the current leaders in this new and virulent strain of militant atheism include Englishmen Richard Dawkins (biologist) and Christopher Hitchens (polemicist and political journalist), and American Sam Harris (neuroscientist). Their diatribes against religion are both malicious and well publicized. Virtually anything they write is going to secure a place near the top of the New York Times bestseller list. This is not surprising, since their devotees are anxious for any new criticism of Christianity, and believers want to read them to understand the new arguments facing the faithful.
The new atheists frequently appeal to subject areas outside their specialties for proof to support their claims. Such might not otherwise discredit their views, but their level of proficiency in these areas is decidedly inferior, as borne out by the numerous mistakes, misunderstandings, and logical errors that pepper their works. One of the blatant areas of abuse concerns their appeals to archaeology.
While Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are gifted with formidable intellects and considerable literary prowess, archaeology lies outside their realm of competency. They would do well to remember that expertise in one area does not immediately transfer into any other area of one’s choosing. Dawkins may be a highly respected biologist among evolutionists, but he is a rather poor student of the religion he so fiercely opposes. In some cases it appears almost as if he reaches for any argument, no matter how poor, to justify his extreme dislike for Christianity. Hitchens is an insightful journalist, but his impeccable prose inadequately conceals a lamentable ignorance of Christianity and the wealth of evidence supporting its claims. Harris is an up-and-coming scientist, but his skills in logic and argumentation are virtually nonexistent and have drawn heavy criticism from nearly all quarters. All three men may be gifted in their areas of specialization, but outside those areas they are like fish out of water. They seem to have gained only enough familiarity with Christianity to generate criticism that will tickle the ears of their adherents. Their attacks on the Christian faith are little more than public proofs of their inadequacy as critics.

The Responsible Use of Archaeology

Archaeology is an exciting field that brings a great deal of information to bear on the study of the Bible. At the same time, archaeologists must exercise caution in evaluating ancient evidence for several reasons. First, the ancient evidence is usually very fragmentary. Not all the evidence from antiquity made it into the ground in the first place, and if it did, the march of time frequently takes its toll on ancient artifacts. This is not surprising since artifacts deteriorate even in climate-controlled environments in state-of-the-art museums. Second, with every season new discoveries are brought to light, adding to the body of information we possess about the ancient world. The next year could well produce evidence that contradicts this year’s conclusions. Finally, the surviving evidence is piecemeal in nature, requiring archaeologists to fill in the gaps with educated guesswork where conclusiveness may be lacking.  This is not to say that archaeology cannot reach definite conclusions, but only to say that those conclusions may frequently be tentative in nature. Unlike responsible scholars, the Bible’s critics frequently make grandiose appeals to evidence without the caution employed by those who understand how to evaluate the evidence.
Archaeology has been misused by those wishing to foster a skeptical attitude toward the factual reliability of the Bible. A prime example is an article published in Harper’s Magazine titled, “False Testament: Archaeology Refutes the Bible’s Claim to History.” Author Daniel Lazare writes,
Not long ago, archaeologists could agree that the Old Testament, for all its embellishments and contradictions, contained a kernel of truth…. That is no longer the case. In the last quarter century or so, archaeologists have seen one settled assumption after another concerning who the ancient Israelites were and where they came from proved false (2002, p. 39).
Lazare, a journalist with no archaeological credentials, does little more than survey the extreme left concerning the intersection of archaeology and the Bible. Yigal Levin, professor in the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, wrote a stinging response to the article in Harper’s. He states: “From his essay, I learned only that Lazare is capable of summarizing The Bible Unearthed, written by my former teacher Israel Finkelstein and his colleague Neil Asher Silverman. Like their book, Lazare’s essay is one-sided and overly dramatic” (Levin, 2002, p. 4).
The book to which Levin refers in his article is The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (Finkelstein and Silberman, 2001). Finkelstein’s work has drawn substantial criticism from other scholars—even those who doubt the Bible’s veracity. Virtually no archaeologists have adopted his somewhat radical conclusions, which generally deny a great deal of historicity to the Old Testament narratives. It should be noted that Finkelstein, who once held a relatively positive position on the relationship between the Bible and ancient history, now holds a minority view that finds little acceptance among even mainstream archaeologists. His work has been heavily and publicly criticized by American archaeologist William Dever, who called the book “an archaeological manifesto, not judicious and well-balanced scholarship,” adding, “it will do little to educate the public” (2001, 322:74). It is significant that Dever, one of the most widely respected archaeologists in America, states explicitly that he is “not a theist” (2005, p. xi).

A Classic Double Standard Used Against the Bible

The double standard employed against the Bible is both obvious and pervasive. One such example concerns the conquest of Canaan, which is frequently filed under the categories of fiction and myth. Joshua’s campaign is usually assumed to be fictitious, but there is a parallel example from Egypt that mirrors Joshua’s account. In 1275 B.C., the forces of Egypt under Ramesses the Great, and the Hittite Empire under general Muwatallis II, met at the Battle of Kadesh. Egyptian forces were separated into three units as they traveled northward through Canaan. Two divisions traveled farther inland, while a third made its route close to the Mediterranean coastline. The Hittites, lying in wait near the city of Kadesh, ambushed the Egyptian troops. The Hittite forces overran the first division and shattered it. The quick-thinking Ramesses hastily organized his troops and was able to fend off the Hittite offensive long enough for the third division to arrive. The reinforced troops eventually pushed back their Hittite opponents. In the end, Ramesses won a military victory, but suffered a political defeat since the Hittite Empire either retained or reclaimed lost territory in the area.
In typical Near Eastern fashion, Ramesses returned to Egypt and proclaimed a great victory. Indeed, the famous colossi at Abu Simbel were part of a monument erected near the border of Ethiopia to convince Egypt’s neighbors that Ramesses had won a decisive victory—just in case they heard otherwise. A relief depicting the battle shows Ramesses gunning down fleeing Hittite soldiers with his bow and rolling over others like speed bumps in his oversized chariot. In the written account of the battle, he credits both divine intervention and his own leadership as the main causes for the Egyptian triumph over his enemies (Kitchen, 2000, 2:37). According to the poetic version of the account, Ramesses leaps into battle while the uraeus, the serpent-shaped symbol of protection worn on the forehead of the king, blasts fire at his enemies and consumes the Hittite forces like an ancient flame-thrower.
In inscription we see several parallels between the Battle of Kadesh and the military operations carried out under Joshua as recorded in the Old Testament: (1) both leaders are dynamic military figures, (2) each is said to rely upon divine aid to defeat his foes, and (3) each credits his deity with the victory. While no scholar denies the Battle of Kadesh took place, a majority dismisses the conquest of Canaan out of hand. For Ramesses, scholars simply excise any references to the divine and accept the rest as reliable narrative. For Joshua’s account, the references to Yahweh immediately place the story in the realm of myth. No details are accepted as genuine. While there are other factors at work in this particular case (such as the debate over the available information that bears on the conquest of Canaan), it should be noted that for many people, including scholars, Scripture is virtually the only ancient literature where any mention of the supernatural immediately disqualifies any claim to historical reliability. Other ancient works are filled with magic and divine intervention, yet this fact does not stop scholars from searching them for a core historical truth. Quite the opposite is true in the case of the Bible.

Pseudo-Scholarship in the Popular Press

The popular press has been very active in its attempt to diminish the intellectual respectability of biblical faith, and the new atheists are one of the best examples. Their academic arrogance is nothing short of astounding, and only further highlighted by their lack of understanding of biblical studies. One of the most egregious examples of religious ignorance is found in David Mills’ book Atheist Universe:
It’s fairly easy to demonstrably prove that the Genesis accounts of Adam and Eve, and Noah’s worldwide deluge, are fables. It’s easier to prove these stories false because, unlike the notion of God, the Creation account and Noah’s flood are scientifically testable. Science may explore human origins and the geologic history of Earth. In this regard, science has incontrovertibly proven that the Book of Genesis is utter mythology (2006, p. 28).
Mills provides a priceless example of just how badly militant atheists misunderstand ancient literature. Within a mere paragraph, Mills uses the terms “fable,” “mythology,” and (false) “story” interchangeably. None of these terms are synonyms. A fable is a whimsical tale, usually containing a moral or teaching point, in which talking animals frequently play primary roles. Aesop’s Fables immediately comes to mind. This is quite different from the term “mythology,” which centers on stories of the gods and often has a religious or cultic function. These stories also have varying degrees of contradiction with other myths within the same corpus in which the deities are represented. Incidentally, this is also different from a “legend,” which is an embellished story about a human figure containing at least a kernel of historical truth.
Unlike myths, fables, and fictive stories, the Old and New Testaments are concerned with reporting factual details. The historical books frequently reference other sources such as the Book of Jashar (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18), the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14), and the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah (2 Chronicles 27:7). It appears that the divinely-guided Hebrew writers worked with sources in similar fashion to modern historians. The writers often used source material and on occasion point the reader to those sources where additional information could be found at the original time of writing (e.g., 1 Kings 14:19). Luke makes it clear that he conducted an extensive investigation of the sources in the composition of his gospel account (Luke 1:1-4). His attention to geographical detail, long recognized by scholars for its accuracy and thoroughness, is quite out of keeping with ancient myths, which had no concern for this type of information.  Finally, Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), Peter (2 Peter 1:16), and John (1 John 1:1-2) all offer eyewitness testimonials, presupposing their readers had the ability to verify their claims.
It is important to note that the ancients rarely believed their myths actually happened in real time and space. Actual history is of very little concern in mythology, which may come as a surprise to many moderns. It seems to be just as surprising to the critics of the Bible, who invariably equate myth with fiction. The new atheists assume that Jesus is a mythological creation of the early church, missing the point that the early Christians actually believed that He walked the Earth, performed miracles, and rose from the dead. Unlike the pagan populace of Greece and Rome, early Christians were willing to die for their convictions. This attitude made them a target for the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata, who mocked their belief in eternal life. He wrote in “The Death of Peregrine”:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them… (n.d., 4:82-83).
Since martyrdom was virtually unknown in the Greco-Roman world, why did it become so common in the Christian community? Simply put, no one else believed in the exclusivity of religion. The ancients were polytheistic and inclusive. Not only were other gods recognized, but initiation in one of the mystery religions did not exclude membership in other cults. As long as one had enough money for the expensive initiation rites, he or she could be a member of any number of the secretive mystery cults in the Greek world.
In his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens spends a few pages alluding to Jesus as merely one of many virgin-born, crucified messiahs (2007, pp. 22-23). Many critics have argued Jesus is nothing more than a plagiarized myth from other world religions, adapted for use by the earliest Christians. Allegedly, the virgin birth is found in Mithras worship, and other gods such as Attis and Osiris were crucified and resurrected. Critics do not appear to realize that in the mystery cult of Mithras, the god was born from a rock, and that the earliest stories come from over a century after the time of Christ (cf. Butt and Lyons, 2006). Further, Attis and Osiris were never crucified. Attis killed himself and Seth drowned his brother Osiris in the Nile River. Further, the two never truly resurrected. Attis remained in a comatose state where his hair still grew and his little finger twitched. Osiris is said to have been brought back to life but did not rejoin the land of the living. He instead remained in the underworld as the lord of the dead (the story also explains mummification, which is decidedly different from the Christian view of resurrection). One would be hard-pressed to find a true resurrection outside the Bible. All of this information is readily available in popular translations of the ancient myths that seem to have escaped the attention of Christianity’s most popular critics. In their haste to relegate the Bible to the realm of myth, the new atheists have failed to realize that the Bible records actual persons, places, and events that can be located in the archaeological record.

Embarrassment in the New Atheism

The new atheists are quite skilled at parroting critical scholars in the popular media, but give little evidence of having done any real research into the archaeological concerns surrounding the Bible. Their mistakes are so elementary that, if one did not know that they were ranked among the world’s intellectual elite, one would simply consider them part of the lunatic fringe. The dogmatic conclusions reached by Dawkins and company are unjustified for several reasons. First, none is well-acquainted with the material he cites. Their specialties lie in unrelated fields, and their conclusions are frequently unsupported or even contradicted by the archaeological artifacts. Second, none possesses a basic, reasonable knowledge of Christianity. They often make basic mistakes that could have been easily prevented by spending time doing minimal research into basic biblical teachings. Finally, they make very few attempts at formulating arguments, and those they make are peppered with logical errors and fallacious reasoning.
Apologists for disbelief have noted the criticism of their leading spokesmen and have rushed to their defense. In a blog called the “Black Sun Journal,” editor Sean Prophet writes:
The flimsiest of all the rhetorical devices used by religious writers is the accusation that atheists lack scholarship on religion. That they supposedly “don’t even understand what they have rejected.” This dismissive attitude is repeated ad nauseam in the popular media. While it’s true that few atheists have doctor-of-divinity degrees, it’s completely false that they therefore can’t understand theology (Prophet, 2008, italics in orig.).
Prophet argues that it is false that atheists cannot understand theology. Yet, he misses the fact that critics such as Dawkins and P.Z. Meyers defend their refusal to engage Christian thought, sometimes crudely, as in the case of a Meyers’s piece titled, “The Courtier’s Reply” (2006). Georgetown professor John Haught critiques them, saying, “Given all their bluster about the evils of theology, why do they wade only ankle deep in the shallows of religious illiteracy? A well-thought-out military strategy sooner or later has to confront the enemy at its strongest point, but [Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens have—DB] avoided any such confrontation. Unlike the great leaders in war, these generals have decided to aim their assaults exclusively at the softest points in the wide world of faith” (2008, p. 63, bracketed item added). While he criticizes the supposed myth of ignorance surrounding the militant, atheist movement, Prophet appears to have as little understanding of religion as those whom he defends. Indeed, his assertion that “[r]ank-and-file atheists are far more facile with scripture than rank-and-file Christians” is so laughable and outrageous as to be absurd. A cursory survey of militant, atheist literature from those who are considered its greatest scholars quickly reveals a host of misunderstandings readily apparent to any unbiased observer.
One example of Dawkins’ many academic sins concerns the Gnostic gospels. In The God Delusion, he argues that Thomas Jefferson advised his young nephew to read the other accounts of Jesus’ life, which Dawkins claims are the Gnostic writings such as the “Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Nicodemus, Philip, Bartholomew, and Mary Magdalen” (2006, p. 95). It would be quite impossible for Jefferson to have recommended the Gnostic gospels to his nephew since they were unknown in his day. So it is with the apocryphal gospels. Those of Thomas and Philip were among the cache of documents discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The gospels of Peter and Mary were both found in the late 1800’s. The gospel of Bartholomew has yet to be positively identified. In every case, these non-canonical writings date much later than the time of Christ and provide no evidence of offering genuine accounts of Christ’s life.
Christopher Hitchens follows in Dawkins footsteps when he misunderstands the nature of the Gnostic writings. He says that the gospels “were of the same period and provenance as many of the subsequently canonical and ‘authorized’ Gospels” (2007, p. 112). Yet, Gnostic beliefs arose shortly after Christianity, and the documents produced by Gnostics date from the second century to the fifth century and later. As a marriage between Christianity and Neo-Platonic philosophy, Gnosticism reached its height in the second and third centuries, but its incipient form is implicitly condemned in several New Testament passages (Colossians 2:9; 1 John 1:1; cf. 1 Peter 2:24).
Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris appear to draw their notions about the supposed legendary nature of the gospel accounts from Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. All three heartily recommend Ehrman’s book and give him high praise for his journey into unbelief, which he never seems to tire of describing (2005, pp. 1-15; 2008, pp. 1-19; 2009, pp. ix-xii). The new atheists are apparently unaware that Ehrman’s work has drawn heavy criticism because of its tendency to sensationalize, overplay the evidence, and present ideas that few of his academic peers affirm, regardless of their religious orientation or lack thereof. That the trio—as non-specialists who know relatively little about Christianity—would lean so heavily on a scholar like Ehrman is, perhaps, understandable, but remains inexcusable.
Hitchens claims that the existence of Jesus is “highly questionable” and there is a “huge amount of fabrication” in the details presented in the gospel records (2007, p. 114). The only genre into which the gospel accounts could possibly be forced would be legend, but even then, there was insufficient time for Jesus to reach legendary status. As the acclaimed classical scholar A.N. Sherwin-White pointed out, it takes time for legends to accumulate about a historical person (1963, pp. 188-191). The gospel records are clearly non-mythological and give no evidence of being legendary.
The biblical ignorance of the new atheists is on full display when David Mills begs for Christians to defend why they believe in mythical creatures such as unicorns (Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21), cockatrices (Isaiah 11:8), and satyrs (Isaiah 13:21). He embarrasses himself when he writes:
I also find it revealing that, in the newer, modern-language translations of the Bible, these ridiculous passages of Scripture have been dishonestly excised, rewritten or edited beyond their original translation in the King James. So not only are the Great Pretenders forsaking long-honored and long-held Christian beliefs, but the Bible itself, under their supervision, appears to be experiencing a quiet, behind-the-scenes, Hollywood makeover as well (2006, p. 150).
The words rendered “unicorn” (re’em, “ox”), “cockatrice” (tsepha`, a type of serpent), and “satyr” (sa`ir, “goat”) have nothing to do with mythological creatures. In fact, these creatures did not even exist in ancient Near Eastern mythology. The last 400 years has seen an explosion in the knowledge of the biblical languages. Scholars now have the benefit of the numerous manuscripts and inscription discoveries that have greatly expanded our knowledge of the languages. The work at the ancient city of Ugarit alone has provided a wealth of information on the Hebrew language through the study of the closely related language of Ugaritic. Mills’ objection evaporates when we understand that the change in English translation is not due to a dishonest makeover, but to a better and truer understanding of how the original text should be translated. To his discredit, he mistakes dishonesty for  intellectual progress, which only further underscores his unfamiliarity with the Bible and its ancient context—and his extreme prejudice.
Christopher Hitchens says the material from the Exodus to the Conquest of Canaan “was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date…. Much of the evidence is the other way” (2007, p. 102). Elsewhere, he says the Pentateuch is an “ill-carpentered fiction, bolted into place well after the nonevents that it fails to describe convincingly or even plausibly” (p. 104). Here Hitchens alludes to the Documentary Hypothesis which claims the books of Moses were compiled from different sources much later than the time of the Exodus. Again, Hitchens does not seem to know that recent discoveries have presented the Documentary Hypothesis with significant challenges that have yet to find plausible answers (cf. Garrett, 2000; Kaiser, 2001). While much of modern scholarship believes in the hypothesis, it must be noted that professors essentially pass on the theory to their students as a body of dogmatic teaching and rarely require them to actually question the theory (cf. evolution). Moreover, archaeology has consistently produced evidence that implies the writing of the Pentateuch is genuinely ancient.
Just when things could not get any worse, Hitchens further destroys his own credibility by claiming urban myth as fact. He states: “the Pentateuch contains two discrepant accounts of the Creation, two different genealogies of the seed of Adam, and two narratives of the Flood” (2007, p. 106). The two creation accounts are intentionally written for two different purposes and are complimentary, not contradictory. This is similar to the way in which a person might take a photograph of an object from two different angles in order more fully to explore the subject in view. Critics seem fixated on digging this old chestnut out of the wastebasket where it rightly belongs (cf. Jackson, 1991). Also, genealogies in the Bible are selective by nature, so differences in genealogical lists are inconsequential (cf. Miller, 2003). The alleged two narratives of the Flood in Genesis 6-9 refers to the artificial separation of the story into two constituent parts, which falls under the purview of the Documentary Hypothesis. This allegation, too, has been shown to be fraught with problems.

The Plausibility of the Biblical Record

Archaeology demonstrates solid connections between the biblical record and ancient history, in contrast to Christopher Hitchens’ assertion that it is an implausible record. Consider the following:

The Patriarchs

Critics often malign the patriarchs without just cause. They insist that camels were not domesticated during the patriarchal age, thus constituting an anachronism in the biblical text. Yet evidence of camel domestication appears as early as 2000 B.C. in several places in Mesopotamia, concurrent with Abraham—if not slightly preceding him (Kitchen, 2003, p. 339). Another point of confidence is the names of the patriarchs. While God selected Jacob’s name, they all highlight the Mesopotamian roots of Abraham since the names of Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, and Joseph are all of Amorite origin (pp. 341-342). These names were at the height of their popularity when the patriarchs lived in the early second millennium and quickly fell into disuse in subsequent centuries.
A vital piece of evidence is the structure of covenants in the Bible. Covenants made in antiquity evolved over time, and each period has a distinct structure for the covenants made at various times and particular locations. Kenneth Kitchen has surveyed a wide range of covenants used from the third millennium through the first millennium B.C. (Kitchen, 2003, pp. 283-289). He found the Abrahamic covenant made in Genesis 15-17 fits securely in the early second millennium, while the covenants in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua 24 fit only in a late second millennium context.

The Life of Joseph

In the very section of the Bible that Hitchens questions is found some of the most compelling evidence for the historicity of Scripture. As Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier demonstrates, the story for Joseph rings true with numerous details (Hoffmeier, 1996, pp. 77-98). The 20-shekel price paid for Joseph (Genesis 37:28) is consistent with the price of a slave c. 1700 B.C. Egyptian mummification took about 70 days once the period for mourning was included, which matches the time given for the mummification of Jacob (Genesis 50:3). Examples of non-Egyptians becoming viziers is known from Egyptian sources. Further, it appears that the story of Joseph was put down in writing during the 18th-19th Dynasties in Egypt, the very period during which Moses lived. This idea is borne out by the fact that the Pentateuch uses the name “Pharaoh” (Hebrew phar’oh, Egyptian per-`3) when referring to the king of Egypt. During this time, the term was a generic one referring to the king, similar to referring to the U.S. President as “the White House,” or to the British monarch as “the Crown.” Prior to this time, the name of the king was used, and afterward sources mention the monarch as “Pharaoh X” or “X, king of Egypt”—as in the case of pharaohs Shishak (1 Kings 11:40; 2 Chronicles 12:2) and Neco (2 Kings 23:29).

The United Monarchy

David’s existence has been questioned frequently. Examples of petty monarchs ruling miniscule kingdoms in the Near East find rare mention in ancient sources, yet generally their historicity is taken at face value with minimal skepticism. Even Gilgamesh, the hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh, is thought to have been a historical figure ruling in Mesopotamia between 2600-2700 B.C. based on a reference in the famous Sumerian king list. Yet, David’s historicity is viewed with extreme suspicion, even though there are references to David found in the Tel Dan Inscription and the Moabite Stone, as well as numerous references in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, Gilgamesh is thought to have been a real person despite being the semi-divine hero in a mythical composition, which also includes such fantastic details as a beast-man named Enkidu, a divinely sent creature of destruction called the Bull of Heaven, and a plant that can grant the person who eats it eternal life. David is frequently labeled a myth despite the solid evidence in favor of his existence.

The Divided Monarchy

Archaeology has vindicated the Bible’s mention of several figures that were once thought to have been fictional. The existence of Sargon (Isaiah 20:1) was questioned until a relief bearing his image was found in the throne room of his capital city of Dur-Sharrukin (“Fort Sargon”). Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1) was likewise questioned because Babylonian documents listed Nabonidus as the last king of the Babylonian empire. Scholars uncovered ancient evidence showing that Belshazzar co-ruled with his father Nabonidus, ruling from the city while Nabonidus sat for 10 years in self-imposed exile. Balaam (Numbers 22-24) has been located in an extrabiblical source called the Deir ‘Alla Inscription written during this period (Mazar, 1990, p. 330).

The Life of Christ

Archaeology does not always mention any one individual, and in the case of Christ, more substantial evidence comes from history rather than archaeology. One significant find is the 1990 discovery of the ossuary (bone box) of Joseph Caiaphas, high priest at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion (John 11:49-53). Jesus is mentioned by the Roman writers Suetonius and Tacitus, the Roman governor Pliny the Younger, and is indirectly referenced by the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata. He is also noted in a Jewish composition from the fifth century called the Toledoth Jesu, which gives an alternate explanation for the empty tomb from a hostile source. Jesus is far from the “myth” critics claim Him to be.

The Early Church

Inscriptions have revealed the names of numerous individuals mentioned in the New Testament. Gallio, proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12-17), is mentioned in an inscription found at the city of Delphi. Paul’s friend Erastus (Acts 19:22) is likely mentioned in an inscription found at Corinth. Sergius Paulus, mentioned as the first convert on the island of Cyprus, was proconsul (a Roman governor) when the apostle Paul visited the island (Acts 13:7). He is mentioned in an inscription found near Paphos (Reed, 2007, p. 13).
After the evidence is surveyed, it is apparent that much of the criticism of the Bible arises—not from intense scrutiny of the evidence—but from ignorance of it. The overwhelming weight of the archaeological and historical evidence firmly places the Bible in the sphere of reality rather than myth.

Knowing Should Lead to Knowing How Much One Does Not Know

Part of the problem with secular science is that it focuses on empirical data, but has little to no interest in epistemology: the study of how human beings know what we know. This great divorce has become clearer over the past couple of centuries, and is on full display in books like The God Delusion, where Richard Dawkins commits dozens of logical errors. Many of his arguments fail because he is not conversant with religion. They also suffer from his lack of understanding how evidence outside his specialty is to be interpreted and applied.
Journalist David Klinghoffer points out: “A favorite strategy of such groups has long been to attack cartoon versions of older rival religions” (2007). He cites as evidence Dawkins’ now-infamous phrase about the God of the Hebrew Bible being “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Dawkins, 2006, p. 31). No believer in the Judeo-Christian tradition would ever agree to this assessment, nor would anyone familiar with the Bible defend it. While Prophet argues that contrarians like Dawkins should not be labeled as ignorant of religion (2008), the evidence argues powerfully against him.
The unmitigated vitriol that pervades the works of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris is a clear indicator that their intolerance of Christianity is not motivated by objective reason. These men give every appearance of being desperate to artificially maintain a hatred of God. They fail to demonstrate sufficient familiarity with the Bible and fail to understand the ancient evidence supporting it.
Christians everywhere should be reminded that grandiose assertions, unsupported by adequate evidence, can be dismissed safely. This is the case with much of the material produced by the new militant breed of atheism—which makes many bold claims and offers remarkably little proof. Such is certainly the case with the facts concerning the reliability and historicity of Scripture. Boisterous claims do nothing to bolster their case when Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris find themselves contradicted by the evidence. If these three are the best that militant atheism has to offer, Christians have nothing to fear.


Butt, Kyle and Eric Lyons (2006), Behold! The Lamb of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin).
Dever, William (2001), “Excavating the Hebrew Bible or Burying It Again?” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 322: 67-77, May.
Dever, William (2005), Did God Have a Wife? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Ehrman, Bart (2005), Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperSanFrancisco).
Ehrman, Bart (2008), God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer(New York: HarperOne).
Ehrman, Bart (2009), Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them) (New York: HarperOne).
Finkelstein, Israel and Neil Asher Silberman (2001), The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Free Press).
Garrett, Duane (2000), Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch(Geanies House, Fern: Christian Focus Publications).
Haught, John F. (2008), God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens(Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox).
Hitchens, Christopher (2007), God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything(New York: Hachette).
Hoffmeier, James K. (1996), Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition(Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Jackson, Wayne (1991), “Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2194.
Kaiser, Walt C. Jr. (2001), The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP).
Kitchen, Kenneth A., trans. (2000), “The Battle of Kadesh—The Poem, or Literary Record,” The Context of Scripture, Volume Two: Monumental Inscriptions Form the Biblical World(Leiden: Brill).
Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), On the Reliability of the Old Testament(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Klinghoffer, David (2007), “Prophets of the New Atheism,” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2003653502_klinghoffer06.html.
Lazare, Daniel (2002), “False Testament: Archaeology Refutes the Bible’s Claim to History,” Harper’s Magazine, 304/1822:39-47, March.
Levin, Yigal (2002), “Let There Be Light,” Harper’s Magazine, 304[1825]:4, June.
Lucian of Samosata (no date), “The Death of Peregrine,” in H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler (1905), The Works of Lucian of Samosata (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Mazar, Amihai (1990), Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000-586 B.C.E.(New York: Doubleday).
Meyers, P.Z. (2006), “The Courtier’s Reply,” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php.
Miller, Dave (2003), “The Genealogies of Matthew and Luke,” http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1834.
Mills, David (2006), Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism(Berkley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Prophet, Sean (2008), “Pastor Acknowledges Arguments of New Atheism,” http://www.blacksunjournal.com/atheism/1397_pastor-acknowledges-arguments-of-new-atheism_2008.html.
Reed, Jonathan (2007), The HarperCollins Visual Guide to the New Testament: What Archaeology Reveals about the First Christians (New York: HarperOne).
Sherwin-White, Adrian Nicholas (1963), Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament(Oxford: Clarendon).
Wolf, Gary (2006), “Church of the Non-Believers,” http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html.

Anything Finely Tuned Demands a Fine Tuner by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Anything Finely Tuned Demands a Fine Tuner

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

I have owned two new cars in my lifetime, both of which were fine-tuned machines. The pistons moved with remarkable precision. The spark plugs repeatedly ignited the gasoline at an intended time. Just the right amount of oxygen was mixed with the fuel for ideal performance. The front end was perfectly aligned. The tires were properly balanced. Thousands of intended actions took place at precisely the right times so that I could swiftly and safely drive from place to place, time and again. Until it was totaled in 2007, my 1997 Saturn SL1 ran amazingly well, and my 2008 Toyota Corolla is still functioning as a fine-tuned machine.
A fine-tuned machine demands a fine-tuner. Everyone knows that cars and computers, pianos and projectors all require engineers, technicians, and tuners for them to function properly. New machines are built by intelligent people. Older machines receive tune-ups by intelligent tuners. Surely, no one believes that tune-ups happen by accident. How can anything be finely tuned without a fine tuner?
Atheistic evolutionists continually find themselves in a conundrum, because of their admittance that our Universe is fine-tuned. If the physical laws of the Universe (e.g., gravity) are merely “inherent in the physical universe” and simply evolved to their current status by time and chance along with everything else that exists (Davies, 2007, 194[2610]:33), the question arises, “Why, then, is the Universe so fine-tuned?” Why do planets and moons not crash into each other during their orbits? How can astronomers predict with amazing accuracy where a planet will be in the distant future? Why is the force of gravity on Earth just right for life to exist?
In a recent New Scientist cover story about gravity, Michael Brooks described the force as strange, mysterious, and puzzling. He insisted that one reason gravity does not make sense (to him) is because it is “fine-tuned”: “If it [gravity—EL] were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature” (2009, 202[2712]:30, emp. added). Regarding the expansion of space (after the alleged Big Bang) and the pull of gravity, Brooks wrote:
It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.
Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance...allows life to form (p. 31, emp. added).
Brooks then asked, “Why does G [the designation for the gravitational constant—EL] have the value that allowed life to form in the cosmos?” (p. 31). His answer: “The simple but unsatisfying answer is that we could not be here to observe it if it were any different. As to the deeper answer—no one knows....We have never explained any basic constant of nature” (p. 31, emp. added).
Evolutionists like Michael Brooks admit that “no one knows” why the force of gravity is so perfect as to allow life to exist on Earth. Evolutionists acknowledge: “We have never explained any basic constant in nature.” Atheistic evolutionists allege that the Universe and its laws are the result of mindless, naturalistic, random processes, yet at the same time they contend that it is “uniquely hospitable,” “remarkable,” and “ordered in an intelligible way” (Davies, pp. 30,34). In a New Scientist article titled “Laying Down the Laws,” Paul Davies of Arizona State University admitted the many examples of “uncanny bio-friendly ‘coincidences’” and “fine-tuned properties” of the Universe (p. 30). He then wrote: “Like Baby Bear’s porridge in the story of Goldilocks, our universe seems ‘just right’ for life. It looks, to use astronomer Fred Hoyle’s dramatic description, as if ‘a super-intellect has been monkeying with
physics’” (p. 30).
In truth, it “looks...as if a super-intellect” lies behind the precise, fine-tuned, law-driven Universe, because there is a Super-intellect behind it all. The simple, satisfying answer for why the Universe works so well, and for why Earth is so perfect for life’s existence, is because the Universe has a fine-tuner. Just as a fine-tuned automobile demands a tuner, so our fine-tuned Universe demands a designer. Nothing makes sense if an ultimate Tuner does not exist, but everything makes sense if He does. Indeed, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1). He ordained the moon and the stars. The heavens are the work of His fingers (Psalm 8:3). They declare His glory (Psalm 19:1). “He upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3, NASB). The infinite, eternal Creator “is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). He is the ultimate tuner of all that is finely tuned.


Brooks, Michael (2009), “Seven Mysteries of Gravity,” New Scientist, 202[2712]:28-32, June 13.
Davies, Paul (2007), “Laying Down the Laws,” New Scientist, 194[2610]:30-34, June 29.

Taking Possession of What God Gives: A Case Study in Salvation by Eric Lyons, M.Min. Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Taking Possession of What God Gives: A Case Study in Salvation

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Relatively few within Christendom would deny that eternal salvation is a free gift from God. The New Testament is replete with statements stressing this point. The most oft’-quoted verse in all of Scripture teaches this very fact: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” (John 3:16). God did not offer the gift of eternal life to the world because of some great accomplishment on the part of mankind. Rather, as Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Later, in that same chapter in Romans, Paul spoke of the “free gift” of spiritual life through Christ (5:15-21). He wrote to the church at Corinth, indicating that it is God “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57, emp. added). And earlier in this epistle, Paul expressed gratitude for the Corinthians and their salvation, saying, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus” (1:4, emp. added). Truly, God gives His grace away to anyone who will humbly and obediently accept it (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; cf. Revelation 22:17). It is, as so many have noted, unmerited favor.


To better understand the relationship between God’s gifts and man’s reception of those gifts, it is helpful to study one particular gift from God—one that is mentioned in the pages of the Old Testament more times than any other thing that God is ever said to have given. If a person were to open a concordance and look up the word “give” or one of its derivatives (i.e., gave, given, giving, etc.), he would discover that whenever this word is found in conjunction with something God does, or has done, it is used more in reference to the land of Canaan (which God gave to the descendants of Abraham) than with any other subject. Although the Old Testament mentions numerous things that God gave the Israelites (e.g., manna, quail, water, rest, etc.), the gift of God cited most frequently (especially in Genesis through Joshua) is that of God giving the Israelites the land of Canaan. He promised to give this land to Abraham almost 500 years before his descendants finally “received” it (Genesis 12:7; cf. 13:15,17; 15:7; 17:8). While the Israelites were still in Egyptian bondage, God spoke to Moses, and said: “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:8, emp. added). After the Exodus from Egypt, God instructed Moses to send twelve men “to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel” (Numbers 13:2, emp. added). In the book of Leviticus, one can read where Jehovah gave the Israelites laws concerning leprosy—laws that He introduced by saying, “When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give you as a possession...” (Leviticus 14:33-34, emp. added). During the years of wilderness wanderings, God reminded Israel of this gift numerous times—and it always was spoken of as a gift, never as an earned possession.
Notice, however, some of the things that the Israelites still had to do in order to “take possession” (Numbers 13:30; Joshua 1:15) of this gift. They had to prepare provisions (Joshua 1:11), cross the Jordan River (Joshua 3), march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, and seven times on the seventh day (Joshua 6:1-4), blow trumpets and shout (Joshua 6:5), and then utterly destroy all that was in Jericho (Joshua 6:21). They also proceeded to do battle with the inhabitants of Ai (Joshua 8). Joshua 10 records how the Israelites “chased” and “struck” the inhabitants of the southern part of Canaan (Joshua 10:10). They then battled their way up to the northern part of Canaan, and took possession of it, too (Joshua 11). Finally, after the land on both sides of the Jordan had been divided among the Israelites, the Bible records how Caleb courageously drove out the giant descendants of Anak from Hebron. He seized the land given to him by God (Joshua 14:6-15; 15:13-19; Judges 1:9-20). Such is an overriding theme throughout the first six books of the Bible—“The Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they [Israel] took possession of it” (Joshua 21:43, emp. added).
Perhaps the fact that God gave this land to the Israelites was never made clearer than when Moses spoke to them just prior to their entrance into Canaan.
So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage....
He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers (Deuteronomy 6:10-12,23).
God did not award this land to the Israelites because of some mighty work on their part. This land, which flowed “with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), was not a prize handed out to them because of some great achievement by the Israelites (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7). They did not deserve it. The Israelites did not purchase it from God with any kind of earned income. They did not earn the right to be there. God, Who owns everything (Psalm 24:1; 89:11), gave it to them as a gift. It was free. God described it as a gift when He first promised it to Abraham (Genesis 12:7), and He described it as a gift after Israel inhabited it hundreds of years later (Joshua 21:43). It was unmerited. The Israelites’ acceptance of God’s gift, however, did not exclude effort on their part.
When it comes to the spiritual Promised Land that God has freely offered to anyone who will “take” it (Revelation 22:17; Titus 2:11; cf. Matthew 11:28-30), some have a difficult time accepting the idea that man must put forth effort in order to receive it. Many today have come to the conclusion that effort cannot be part of the equation when the Bible speaks of God’s gracious gifts. The idea is: “Since God’s grace cannot be earned or merited, then anyone who claims that human effort is involved in its acceptance is in error.” Clearly, though, many scriptures indicate that man’s efforts are not always categorized as works of merit. God gavethe Israelites freedom from Egyptian bondage, but they still had to put forth some effort by walking from Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the Wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:22; cf. Exodus 16:32; Joshua 24:5). The Israelites did not “earn” Canaan, but they still exerted much effort (i.e., they worked) in possessing it. God gave the Israelites the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:2). But, He gave it to them only after they followed His instructions and encircled the city for seven days (Hebrews 11:30). Furthermore, Israel did not deserve manna from heaven; it was a free gift from God. Nevertheless, if they wanted to eat it, they were required to put forth effort in gathering it (Exodus 16; Numbers 11). These Old Testament examples clearly teach that something can be a gift from God, even though conditions must be met in order for that gift to be received.
This point also can be understood effectively by noting our attitude toward physical gifts today. If a friend wanted to give you $1,000,000, but said that in order to receive the million dollars you had to pick up a check at his house, take it to the bank, sign it, and cash it, would any rational person conclude that this gift was earned? Of course not. Even though some effort was exerted to receive the gift, the effort was not a work of merit. Similarly, consider the young boy who is on the verge of drowning in the middle of a small lake. If a man heard his cries, and then proceeded to save the boy by running to the edge of the lake, inflating an inner tube, tying some rope around it, and throwing it out to the young boy who was struggling to stay afloat, would any witness to this event describe the young boy as “saving himself ” (or “earning” his rescue) because he had to exert the energy to grab the inner tube and hold on while being pulled onto the bank by the passerby? No. A gift is still a gift even when the one receiving it must exert a certain amount of effort in order to possess it.


The New Testament leaves no doubt that the grandest of all gifts (salvation through Christ—a spiritual gift that was in God’s mind “before the foundation of the world”—Ephesians 1:4; 3:11) is not the result of any kind of meritorious work on the part of man. The apostle Paul stressed this point several times in his writings. To the Christians who made up the church at Ephesus, he wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In his epistle to Titus, Paul emphasized that we are saved, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy” (3:5). Then, again, while writing to young Timothy, Paul highlighted the fact that we are saved by the “power of God,” and “not according to our works” (2 Timothy 1:8-9). This truth cannot be overly stressed; however, it can be, and has been, perverted and misrepresented.
Unfortunately, some have come to the conclusion that man plays no part in his being saved from sin by God. They teach: “Salvation is a gift of God that is from nothing we do ourselves” (Schlemper, 1998). Or, “Salvation is a gift from God—we do nothing to get it” (MacPhail, n.d.). “[W]e do nothing to become righteous...God did all that was necessary in His Son” (“The Godhead,” n.d.). The truth is, however, when it comes to the gift of salvation that God extends to the whole world (John 3:16), there are requirements that must be met on the part of man in order for him to receive the gift. Contrary to what some are teaching, there is something that a person must do in order to be saved. The Jews on Pentecost understood this point, as is evident by their question: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Saul, later called Paul (Acts 13:9), believed that there was something else he needed to do besides experience a personal encounter with the resurrected Lord on his way to Damascus, for he asked Jesus, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). And the jailor at Philippi, after observing the righteousness of Paul and Silas and being awakened by the earthquake to see the prison doors opened (Acts 16:20-29), “fell down trembling before Paul and Silas...and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ ” (Acts 16:30). If those who responded to these questions (Peter in Acts 2, Jesus in Acts 9, and Paul and Silas in Acts 16) had the mindset of some today, they should have answered by saying, “There is nothing for you to do. Just wait, and salvation will come to you.” But their responses were quite different from this. All three times the question was asked, a command to do something was given. Peter told those on Pentecost to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38); Paul and Silas instructed the Philippian jailor and his household to “[b]elieve on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31); and Jesus commanded Saul to “[a]rise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Notice that none of them gave the impression that salvation involves us “doing nothing.” Jesus told Saul that he “must do” something. When Saul arrived in Damascus as Jesus had directed him, he did exactly what God’s spokesman, Ananias, commanded him to do (Acts 22:12-16; 9:17-18). Similar to how the land of Canaan was “received” by an active Israel, so the free gift of eternal life is received by man taking action.
Much controversy within Christendom is caused by disagreement on how much action an alien sinner should take. Since God has extended to mankind an indescribable (2 Corinthians 9:15), undeserved gift, we are told that the acceptance of such a gift can involve only the smallest amount of effort, else one might be accused of salvation by “works of righteousness.” Usually, this action is said to involve nothing more than confessing faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and praying that He will forgive sins and come into a person’s heart (see “Prayer of Salvation,” n.d.). This, we are told, is man’s way of “taking possession” of God’s grace. Allegedly, all one must do in order to lay hold on the eternal life that God freely gives to all is to
[a]ccept Christ into your heart through prayer and he’ll receive you. It doesn’t matter what church you belong to or if you ever do good works. You’ll be born again at the moment you receive Christ. He’s at the door knocking.... Just trust Christ as Savior. God loves you and forgives you unconditionally. Anyone out there can be saved if they accept Christ, now! Let’s pray for Christ to now come into your heart (see Staten, 2001).
The prayer that the alien sinner is urged to pray, frequently goes something like this:
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be (see McDowell, 1999, p. 759).
According to The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site, in an article titled, “How to Become a Christian,” “[w]hen you receive Christ into your heart you become a child of God, and have the privilege of talking to Him in prayer at any time about anything” (“How to Become a Christian,” n.d.). This is what many within Christendom believe one must do to take possession of God’s grace. The overriding thought seems to be, “There can’t be much involved in getting saved, because God saves, not man. We have to make it as easy and painless as possible so that no one will accuse us of ‘salvation by works.’ ”
Contrary to the above statements, the New Testament gives specific prerequisites that must be followed before one can receive the atoning benefit of Christ’s blood (Revelation 1:5; 1 John 1:7). These conditions are neither vague nor difficult to understand. A person must confess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24; Romans 10:9-10; cf. 1 Timothy 6:12), and he must repent of his past sins (Acts 26:20; Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38). Although these prerequisites are slightly different from those mentioned above by some modern-day denominational preachers, they are genuinely accepted within the Protestant world. By meeting these conditions, most people understand that a person is merely receiving God’s grace (by following God’s plan). Few, if any, would accuse a man who emphasizes these prerequisites of teaching “salvation by works of merit.”
However, the Bible discusses yet another step that precedes salvation—a step that has become unquestionably controversial within Christendom—water baptism. It is mentioned numerous times throughout the New Testament, and both Jesus and His disciples taught that it precedessalvation (Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul’s sins were washed away only after he was immersed in water (Acts 22:16; cf. Acts 9:18). [NOTE: Even though it was on the road to Damascus that Paul heard the Lord, spoke to Him, and believed on Him (Acts 9), Paul did not receive salvation until he went into Damascus and was baptized.] The book of Acts is replete with examples of those who did not receive the gift of salvation until after they professed faith in Christ, repented of their sins, and were baptized (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 8:26-40; 10:34-48; 16:14-15; 16:30-34; 18:8). Furthermore, the epistles of Peter and Paul also call attention to the necessity of baptism (1 Peter 3:21; Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:1-4). If a person wants the multitude of spiritual blessings found “in Christ” (e.g., salvation—2 Timothy 2:10; forgiveness—Ephesians 1:7; cf. Ephesians 2:12; etc.), he must not stop after confessing faith in the Lord Jesus, or after resolving within himself to turn from a sinful lifestyle. He also must be “baptized intoChrist” (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3) “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
So why, one might ask, if so many passages of Scripture teach the necessity of baptism, is there so much controversy about baptism being a condition of salvation? Several reasons could be mentioned here (e.g., “The thief on the cross was saved, yet not baptized. Thus, we do not have to be baptized to be saved.” For a full refutation of this line of reasoning, see Miller, 2003), but one that is extremely popular (and has been for some time) is the idea that baptism is a “work.” And, since we are not saved by “works” (Ephesians 2:8-9), then, allegedly, baptism cannot be required in order to receive (or “take possession of ”—cf. Revelation 22:17) salvation. Notice how some religionists have expressed these sentiments.
In Part three of a series of articles on baptism, called the “FUD Series” (FUD standing for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), Darrin Yeager wrote: “The act of baptism is a work (or ritual). Paul makes clear the point works do not (and cannot) save us. Even the faith we have is a gift of God. Since works cannot save us, baptism plays no part in the salvation of the believer” (2003). Yeager concluded this article by saying: “Its [sic] tragic baptism has become such a point of contention in the church. Considering the whole counsel of God, several points become clear.” Included in those points was: “Baptism is a work, and the Bible is clear works to [sic] not save us.... [B]aptism is absolutely, positively not required for salvation” (emp. in orig.).
In an article titled, “What Saves? Baptism or Jesus Christ?,” Buddy Bryant cited Titus 3:5, and then wrote: “Baptism is a work of righteousness and we are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done” (n.d.).
Under the heading, “Water Baptism is Not for Salvation,” one church Web site exclaimed: “Water baptism is a ‘work of righteousness’.... Our sins were not washed away by water, but by the Lord Jesus Christ...” (see “Water Baptism,” n.d., emp. in orig.). Similarly, another church Web site ran an article titled, “Does Water Baptism Save?,” declaring: “Water baptism is a work (something that man does to please God), and yet the Bible teaches again and again that a person is not saved by works” (see “Does Water,” n.d., parenthetical item and emp. in orig.).
These statements summarize the feelings of many within Christendom concerning baptism: “It is a ‘work,’ and thus not necessary for the person who wants to be saved.” The truth of the matter is, however, when careful consideration is given to what the Bible teaches on this subject, one will find no discrepancy between the idea that man is saved “by grace...through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works, and at the same time is saved following baptism.
Part of the confusion concerning baptism and works is the result of being uninformed about the biblical teaching regarding works. The New Testament mentions at least four kinds of works: (1) works of the Law of Moses (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20); (2) works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21); (3) works of merit (Titus 3:4-7); and (4) works resulting from obedience of faith (James 2:14-24; Luke 17:10; cf. Galatians 5:6). The first three works mentioned here certainly do not lead to eternal life. The last category frequently is referred to as “works of God.” This phrase does not mean works performed by God; rather, the intent is “works required and approved byGod” (Thayer, 1977, p. 248, emp. added; cf. Jackson, 1997, 32:47). Consider the following example from Jesus’ statements in John 6:27-29:
Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life.... They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent (ASV, emp. added).
Within this context, Christ made it clear that there are works that humans must do to receive eternal life. Moreover, the passage affirms that believing itself is a work (“This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent”). It therefore follows that if one is saved without any type of works, then he is saved without faith, because faith is a work. Such a conclusion would throw the Bible into hopeless confusion!
Will anyone step forward and espouse the idea that faith is a meritorious work? Can a person “earn salvation” by believing in Christ? To this day, we have never heard anyone assert that belief is a work of merit. Although it is described in the Bible as being a “work,” we correctly understand it to be a condition upon which one receives salvation. Salvation is still a free gift from God; it is the result of His grace and Jesus’ work on the cross, not our efforts.
But what about baptism? The New Testament specifically excludes baptism from the class of human meritorious works unrelated to redemption. In fact, the two books where the apostle Paul condemns most vehemently the idea of salvation by works—Romans and Galatians—are the very books that relate the fact that water baptism places a person “into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). Also, the fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized in Titus 3:4-7.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This passage reveals at least three things. First, we are not saved by works of righteousness that we do by ourselves (i.e., according to any plan or course of action that we devised—see Thayer, 1977, p. 526). Second, we are saved by the “washing of regeneration” (i.e., baptism), exactly as 1 Peter 3:21 states (see also Ephesians 5:26). [NOTE: Even Baptist theologian A.T. Robertson believed that the phrase “washing of regeneration” refers specifically to water baptism (1931, 4:607).] Thus, in the third place, baptism is excluded from all works of human righteousness that men contrive, but is itself a “work of God” (i.e., required and approved by God) necessary for salvation.
When one is raised from the watery grave of baptism, it is according to the “working of God” (Colossians 2:12), and not any manmade plan. Although many have tried, no one can suggest (justifiably) that baptism is a meritorious work of human design, anymore than he can logically conclude that Naaman “earned” his physical cleansing of leprosy by dipping in the River Jordan seven times (see 2 Kings 5:1-19). When we are baptized, we are completely passive. If you really think about it, baptism is something done to a person, not by a person (thus, one hardly can have performed any kind of meritorious “work”).


The Bible, in a multitude of passages, affirms that people are saved by, because of, on account of, or through their faith. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians: “Therefore, having been justified by faith (pistis), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). A few chapters earlier, Paul declared: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith (pistis) apart from the deeds of the law” (3:28). The writer of the book of Hebrews concluded that “without faith (pistis) it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe (pisteuo) that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: “For by grace you have been saved through faith (pistis), and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” With this tiny sampling of verses about faith, it is easily seen that every person who is saved must have faith. But what is biblical faith?
The word translated “faith” in each of the above verses derives from the Greek noun pistis (the verb form of which is pisteuo). Respected Greek scholar Joseph Thayer said that the word pistisin the New Testament is used of “a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it” (1977, p. 512). When the verb form pisteuo is used “especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus,” it means “a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah—the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (Thayer, p. 511).
The word pisteuo often is translated by the word “believe.” For instance, in Acts 10:43, the apostle Peter spoke of Jesus, saying: “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes (pisteuo) in Him will receive remission of sins.” The apostle Paul wrote: “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (pisteuo)” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Paul, in Romans 10:11, made a similar statement when he declared: “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes (pisteuo) on Him will not be put to shame.’ ”
These verses, taken by themselves, seem to suggest that any person who maintains a mere mental conviction that Jesus is the Son of God has eternal life. Many people (and denominations) have taken such a position. Baptist scholar L.S. Ballard, in his debate with Thomas B. Warren, affirmed this position: “The Scriptures teach that faith in Christ procures salvation without further acts of obedience” (Warren and Ballard, 1965, p. 1). Herschel Hobbs declared: “Instantaneous salvation refers to redemption from sin (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:10). This experience occurs immediately upon one’s believing in Jesus Christ as one’s Saviour” (1964, p. 90). Albert Mohler, in discussing his particular denomination, stated: “We cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of salvation to all who believe. We know that there is salvation in the name of Jesus and in no other name. Sinners come to Christ by faith, and are justified by faithalone” (2001, p. 63, emp. added).
It is to those last two words that we must direct our attention—“faith alone.” Mohler (and most of the denominational world) teaches that a person can be, and is in fact, saved by faith alone, or faith only. This idea of “faith only” was popularized by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. The Catholic Church of Luther’s day had grown corrupt, and was prescribing a host of unscriptural ways to obtain forgiveness. Forgiveness could be obtained, according to the Catholic Church, by purchasing “indulgences,” and a soul could be “bought” out of Purgatory if the proper amount of money flowed into the Church’s coffers. In reaction to this “works-based” plan of forgiveness, Martin Luther developed his idea of a “faith-only” plan of salvation. He took this idea so far, in fact, that when he translated Romans 3:28, he inserted the word alone into the text so that it would read, “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law,” even though the word alone is not found in the original text (see Lewis, 1991, pp. 353ff.). Luther’s “faith only” doctrine has become a principal tenet in the thinking and teaching of most denominations.
Interestingly, even though Martin Luther often taught that salvation is based on faith alone, and is not received based upon a person’s meritorious works, he did not take “faith alone” to mean that mere mental assent to Christ’s deity was sufficient to obtain salvation. Luther’s idea of faith alone does not conform to the modern-day idea that baptism is a work, and cannot be required for salvation. According to Luther:
[I] affirm that Baptism is no human trifle, but that it was established by God Himself. Moreover, He earnestly and solemnly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved.... The reason why we are striving and battling so strenuously for this view of Baptism is that the world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that Baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless.... Although Baptism is indeed performed by human hands, yet it is truly God’s own action (1530, pp. 98-99, emp. added).
Four primary lines of reasoning show that the Bible does not teach a “faith only” or “belief only” plan of salvation. First, numerous passages insist that other things besides belief in Christ are necessary to obtain salvation. Second, biblical faith involves not only mental assent, but also obedient action to God’s commands. Third, the book of James explicitly says that no man is justified “by faith only.” And fourth, the Bible contains examples of people who believed (pisteuo) in Jesus, yet who still were lost.
First, numerous Bible passages insist that something other than a mere belief in Christ is necessary to obtain salvation. Concerning confession, Paul wrote: “For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:10). In Luke 13:3, Jesus declared to His audience: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The inspired historian, Luke, in the book of Acts, recorded that God had “also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18). After healing the lame man, Peter instructed his audience to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). We see in these verses that belief, confession, and repentance are required of all who desire to obtain salvation through Christ.
Another item that the New Testament writers included as necessary for salvation is obedience. Hebrews 5:9 states: “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Peter made the statement, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Peter 4:17). In the second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul forewarned that Christ one day will execute judgment on those who “do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).
The list of things required of a person in order to obtain salvation could go on: hope (Romans 8:24), baptism (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), and love (1 John 4:7-8) are just a small sampling. The point is that none of these things, in and of itself, saves anyone. Faith without confession does not save. Confession without hope cannot save. And obedience without love is powerless to obtain salvation. The “faith only” doctrine is in error because it bases its entire case for salvation on one aspect listed in the New Testament. Using that type of logic, a person could turn to 1 John 4:7-8—“Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”—and say that love is the only thing necessary for salvation—apart from faith or repentance.
In several of these verses, we see the New Testament writers using one or more figures of speech. For instance, the figure of speech known as synecdoche, in which a part of a thing is used to describe the whole, is used often in passages that discuss salvation. Dungan wrote:
This is many times the case with the salvation of sinners. The whole number of conditions are indicated by the use of one. Generally the first is mentioned—that of faith—because without it nothing else could follow. Men were to call on the name of the Lord, in order to be saved (Romans 10:17); they must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31); they must repent of their sins (Acts 17:30); they must be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). But it is common to have one of these mentioned, without any statement to the presence of any other (1888, p. 305).
E.W. Bullinger, arguably the most respected scholar in the world on figures of speech in the Bible, specifically mentioned 1 John 4:15 as an example of a biblical idiom. He commented that the phrase, “to confess,” in this verse means more than a simple verbal statement. The phrase “is used of abiding in the faith, and walking according to truth” (1968, p. 828).
In truth, it would be possible to go to any number of verses and pick out a single thing that the verse says saves a person. According to the Bible, love, repentance, faith, baptism, confession, and obedience are but a few examples of the things that save. However, it would be dishonest, and poor Bible scholarship, to demand that “only” repentance saves, or “confession alone” saves, or that “baptism by itself ” has the power to save. In the same sense, one cannot (justifiably) pick the verses that mention faith and belief, and demand that a person is saved by “faith only” or “belief alone.”
Second, the biblical use of the word faith involves much more than mere mental assent to a certain fact. It also involves obedience to God’s commands. Recalling Thayer’s definition of the word, faith is “a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah—the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (1977, p. 511, emp. added). Throughout the New Testament, we see this definition of “obedient belief ” used by the inspired writers. In 1 Peter 2:7, the apostle wrote: “Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’ ” (emp. added). In this verse, Peter used disobedience as the opposite of belief. The Hebrews writer also equated unbelief and disobedience. In Hebrews 3:18-19, the Israelites were not allowed into the Promised Land because they “did not obey” (3:18). But the next verse states: “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief ” (3:19). And Hebrews 4:6 also declares that they “did not enter because of disobedience.”
Repeatedly, faith is coupled with action in the New Testament. In Galatians 5:6, we read that “faith working through love” is the process that avails for salvation. Hebrews 11, recognized by Bible students as “the faith chapter,” shows this action process by using Old Testament examples of individuals who pleased God. By faith, Abel “offered” (vs. 4); by faith, Noah “prepared” (vs. 7); and by faith, Abraham “obeyed” (vs. 8). Verse 30 of this chapter demonstrates perfectly the relationship between belief and action. The verse states: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.” Joshua and the Israelites believed that God would give them the city of Jericho, but that belief was effective only after they “encircled” the city for seven days.
Another good example of the biblical use of “belief coupled with action” is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were in prison, and were singing hymns when an earthquake loosed their chains. The Philippian jailer in charge of the prison thought his prisoners had escaped, and was about to kill himself, when Paul and Silas stopped him. Immediately, the jailer inquired: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (vs. 30). They replied: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (vs. 31).
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (vss. 32-34, emp. added).
When the jailer asked what he needed to do to be saved, Paul and Silas told him to “believe (pisteuo) on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet the passage does not say he “believed” until after he had been baptized. His belief was coupled with obedience. A similar situation is found in Acts 2. In that chapter, Peter’s listeners asked him, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (vs. 37). “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins’ ” (vs. 38). A few verses later, we read that about three thousand souls were obedient to Peter’s plea and were baptized. Then, in verse 44 the Bible describes the obedient group of followers by saying, “Now all who believed were together.”
But some object to this biblical usage, and maintain that such a use contradicts passages like Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8-9, which teach that a person is not saved by works. First, Romans 3:28 does not separate faith from all works; rather, it states: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (emp. added). The “law” discussed here is the Law of Moses, as is shown by Paul’s references to circumcision in verse 30. This passage does not say that faith saves apart from all works, but apart from works of the Law of Moses. Ephesians 2:8-9 states that a person is saved “by grace through faith...not of works,” yet verse 10 says Christians are created in Christ Jesus “for good works,” and the rest of the chapter discusses how the Jews and the Gentiles were both justified because the “law of commandments” (i.e., the Law of Moses) had been abolished (2:15). No person has ever been righteous enough to earn his or her salvation. Nor had any person been able to comply fully with the Law of Moses in order to earn salvation. But that does not mean that faith “apart from all action” saves a person. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
The second chapter of the book of James deals a crushing blow to the doctrine of “faith only.” Verses 14-26 systematically eliminate the possibility of a person being saved by “faith only.” James wrote to the Christians, asking, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” These rhetorical questions demand a “No” answer. Then, in verse 17 he declared: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” He went on to say that Abraham “was justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar. Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect” (vss. 21-22)? Of course, Abraham did not earn his salvation, nor was he saved because of a sinless adherence to the Law. On the contrary, he was saved by “offering” and “working” exactly as God commanded him. Abraham first showed his active faith when he obeyed God’s call to leave his homeland (Hebrews 11:8). He continued to show his active, living faith when he offered Isaac. Throughout his life, he was saved because he obeyed the “works of God”—works that God approved in order to obtain salvation.
James further commented: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (vs. 24, emp. added). It is interesting to note that this is the only place in the entire New Testament where the words “faith only” are found together, and it explicitly states that a person is not saved by faith only. James concluded his chapter on faith with this statement: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Faith without the “works of God” is a dead faith that cannot save. Abraham was justified after he “offered,” the walls of Jericho fell by faith after they were “encircled,” the Philippian jailer’s belief was not complete until he was baptized, and Noah’s faith caused him to “prepare.” It is the case that if the Israelites had not walked around Jericho, the walls would not have fallen, regardless of their belief. It is the case that if Noah had not “prepared” the Ark, he would not have been saved from the Flood, regardless of what he believed about God’s warning. And it is the case that if a person does not confess Christ, does not repent of his sins, and is not baptized for the remission of those sins, then that person will not be saved, regardless of what he or she believes about Christ.
In order to prove this last statement, we move to the fourth objection regarding “faith only”—the Bible refers to individuals who believed (pisteuo) that Jesus was the Son of God, yet who still were lost. In Mark 1:21-28, the Scriptures record an instance in which Jesus was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. Upon contacting Jesus, the spirit “cried out, saying, ‘Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God’ ” (vss. 23-24). No one would argue that the demon was saved just because he believed that Jesus was the “Holy One of God.” Why not? For the simple reason that, although the unclean spirit acknowledged the deity of Jesus, he was not willing to penitently obey Christ. James, in his moving chapter on faith, said as much when he wrote: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead” (2:19-20)?
The inspired apostle John documents another example of a group of people who “believed in” Christ, but who were lost in spite of their belief. In John 12:42-43, the text reads: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed (pisteuo) in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Is it the case that these rulers of the Jews were saved because they believed in Jesus, even though they were too scared to confess him? To ask is to answer. They were lost, even though they “believed (pisteuo) in Him.”


The Bible nowhere teaches that a person can be saved by “faith only.” No mere mental consent to the deity of Christ can save (cf. Matthew 7:21). True biblical faith in Christ is belief in His deity, conjoined with obedience to His commandments. Saving faith always has been made complete and living only through obedience to God’s commands. It is a living faith that “works through love” to accomplish the “works approved by God.” It is a living faith that brings about repentance, confession, submission to water baptism, and love for God and one’s fellow man. Similar to how Israel received the Promised Land from God after following His instructions, today, any alien sinner can “take possession” of the free gift of salvation at any time by taking these steps.


Bryant, Buddy (no date), “What Saves? Baptism or Jesus Christ?” Tabernacle Baptist Church, [On-line], URL: http://www.llano.net/baptist/whatsaves.htm.
Bullinger, E.W. (1968), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), orig. published in 1898.
“Does Water Baptism Save? A Biblical Refutation of Baptismal Regeneration” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/salvatio/baptsave.htm.
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light, reprint).
“The Godhead,” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atlantis/3074/GE13_trinity.htm.
Hobbs, Herschel (1964), What Baptists Believe (Nashville, TN: Broadman).
“How to Become a Christian” (no date), The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, [On-line], URL: http://www.billygraham.org/believe/howtobecomeachristian.asp.
Jackson, Wayne (1997), “The Role of ‘Works’ in the Plan of Salvation,” Christian Courier, 32:47, April.
Lewis, Jack P. (1991), Questions You’ve Asked About Bible Translations (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications).
Luther, Martin (1978 reprint), Luther’s Large Catechism, (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia), orig. published in 1530.
MacPhail, Bryn (no date), “Does James Contradict Paul Regarding Justification?,” The Reformed Theology Source, [On-line], URL: http://www.reformedtheology.ca/faithworks.html.
McDowell, Josh (1999), The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Nelson).
Miller, Dave (2003), “The Thief on the Cross,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/toughtexts/2003/tt-03-04.htm.
Mohler, R. Albert Jr. (2001), “Being Baptist Means Conviction,” Why I Am a Baptist, ed. Tom Nettles and Russell Moore (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman).
“Prayer of Salvation” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.jesussaves.cc/prayer_of_salvation.html.
Robertson, A.T. (1931), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman).
Schlemper, David (1998), “Two Heresies—Regarding Damnation and Salvation,” [On-line], URL: http://www.patriotist.com.miscarch/ds20030317.htm.
Staten, Steven F. (2001), “The Sinner’s Prayer,” [On-line], URL: http://www.chicagochurch.org/spirituallibrary/thesinnersprayer.htm.
Thayer, J.H. (1977 reprint), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Warren, Thomas B. and L.S. Ballard (1965), Warren/Ballard Debate on the Plan of Salvation(Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).
“Water Baptism is not for Salvation,” (no date), Southwest Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, TX, [On-line], URL: http://www.southwest-baptist.org/baptism.htm.
Yeager, Darrin (2003), “Baptism: Part 3 in the FUD Series,” [On-line], URL: http://www.dyeager.org/articles/baptism.php.