On Inerrancy and the Biblical Use of Secondary Sources

In writing their inspired messages, several biblical authors saw fit to mention or cite books that would lend support to their historical claims. In the book of Ezra, over one-third of its contents are actually quotes from official legal documents. The question is raised, “if uninspired material is quoted in a supposedly infallible book, how does this effect the biblical understanding of inerrancy?”

On the surface it would seem that quoting flawed, or at least fallible, sources would cast a shadow of doubt on the truth of the Bible. Let’s explore what these citations or references do not imply. First, in quoting these sources the biblical writers and/or editors did not imply that books like The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and The Annotations on the Books of the Kings were separate vehicles of inspired revelation. When Jude makes reference to the Book of Enoch and The Bodily Assumption of Moses he is not telling us that we should find these books and include them into the canon of Scripture. Acknowledging that uninspired books that contain truth do in fact exist does not imply that we lack a complete canon and should therefore seek out these ‘revelations.’

Second, when we see a note directing our attention to a Book of Records of Nathan the Prophet it does not necessarily mean the inspired Writers agreed with everything in that uninspired source. The Book of Enoch contains several things that a biblically informed Christian would reject. But, as noted earlier, this does not stop an author from accepting a particular truth in a document. Paul, in Acts 17, made reference to the Greek philosopher Epimenides when he acknowledged that in God we “live and move, and have our being”, and that “we are His offspring”. Yet as we examine the actual work he cited, Epimenides was not referring to YHWH, the God of Israel, but of Zeus, the supreme deity of the Greek pantheon. Does this mean that Paul condoned pagan idol worship? No, of course not. Paul was simply confirming to the men of Athens that in our supreme Creator we owe all of our existence, though they substituted this Creator with Zeus.

Lastly, and typing together our first two points, when quoting outside sources the Prophets and Apostles claimed neither that those books where an authoritative rule of faith, nor were they infallible. Historical documents were cited simply to corroborate the truthfulness of what an inspired writer claimed. All these references were perfect, infallible uses of imperfect, fallible documents.

Yet, with these few notes having been made, we must now look to what actually was implied by the biblical Writers when they quoted from uninspired documents. First, if we are to define inerrancy by saying that the Bible is correct in all that it affirms, we must confess that these quotations taken from other sources are indeed correct, and reliable in conveying the reality which they dealt with. The entire concept of biblical inerrancy, when properly understood, is the natural, logical conclusion to the doctrine of biblical inspiration. The reasoning goes as follows:

  • God is truth, and cannot tell any falsehood. (John 3:33, 17:3, 1 Jn. 5:20)
  • All Scripture is inspired by God[1], and is the very source in which we find God speaking to us. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  • Therefore, all Scripture is without error in everything it affirms, and correct in all it documents. (Ps.19:7, Isa. 65:16)

It is with this presupposition that we come to the texts in question.

Another point we must realize is that the writers of these particular texts knew that the resources they cited would hold quite a bit of weight with their readers. For example, when Ezra quotes at length from the letters of King Darius and King Artaxerxes he knew that the authority lent to his writing by official royal decrees would confirm his writings. Therefore, anyone contesting the authenticity of his writing could confirm them within the annals of royal decrees.

And lastly, it is worthy of mention that we must always keep in mind that the concept of biblical inerrancy does not imply that the canon was written in a vacuum. When authors such as Ezra or the writers of such books as 1 & 2 Kings and Chronicles were addressing the pressing issues of their day, they were not exempt from gathering source data much like we today do.

The chief difference between their research and our own is that God superintended their writings of biblical authors in such a way, through inspiration, that their citations and references were completely free from error and misguidance.

[1] The literal rendering of the Greek text is “God-breathed”, theopneustos. For more see my What is Biblical Inerrancy? A Six-Part Series

A Real Life Dialogue on Abortion

Several Days ago I hopped on to social media and posted the following to Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”:

FB commentThis prompted a discussion with a gentleman I will refer to as “Nye Defender.” What resulted is what I believe is a helpful example of pro-life apologetics in action. My statements will appear in bold, when ND will appear in italics.

Nye Defender: Your point?

JT: I will not assume,, that you necessarily know of the recent video Mr. Nye posted claiming that those who claim that human life begins at conception “literally” have no idea what they are scientifically claiming. Placed in that context, the point above is clear. That human life begins at conception is an indisputable scientific and embryological fact. I have many such statements from a number of embryology textbooks to supplement this one if you are interested.

ND: Yes. I am quite aware of the video. He never said that am embryo was not the start of a human being. However, differentiating between the different stages of development is important. An embryo is a potential human being, but it is not yet one. These statements from these doctors do not refute anything Nye said in the video.

JT: An embryo is not a thing, it is a stage of development in the life of a thing, just as a toddler or teenager is not a thing but a stage of development. What is the thing? It is a human being. An embryo never “becomes” a human being. It is a human being at every level of development. It looks and acts just as any and every human being does at that stage. Also, please note that the quote I provided does address Nye’s claim in that fertilization begins a “human life,” not a potential human life.

ND: I never said it was a thing. An embryo is not a human being. It could not survive outside of the womb. This is why this is such a debate. There is much debate within the medical community and society as to what constitutes a human being. I support the idea that a human being does not exist until the stage of development where it could survive outside of the womb, generally the 3rd trimester. Until then, it is in various stages of development but is not fully a human being yet.

JT: Thank you for engaging in healthy discussion. It’s much more genuine, and less full of strawmen, than the words of Mr. Nye himself. You don’t strike me as an advocate of the “all pro-lifers are idiots” approach.

You touched upon a really important point when you write, “much debate within the medical community and society as to what constitutes a human being.” And your words highlight an important truth: the anthropological question of “What is a human?” is not a scientific question. It is in fact a philosophical/theological questions that presupposes a number of interrelated worldview questions. But that’s not to avoid the harder biological and scientific facts, but it is to acknowledge that other issues are at play.

And this is one of the things that I believe raises difficulties for your position. You stated, “I support the idea that a human being does not exist until the stage of development where it could survive outside of the womb, generally the 3rd trimester.” First, thank you for putting your cards on the table and making a concrete claim. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially compared to many abortion advocates who deny than human life begins at conception but refuse to say when it *does* start. Here is where I think the problem lies: defining human life in terms of viability 1) confuses biology with technology, and 2) proves too much.

I say that because viability, the ability for the fetus to survive outside of the mother’s body, is completely relative to technological advances in medicine. So the age of viability by that standard today would be different than the age of viability 30 years ago, and that would be different than 100 years before that, and therefore the answer to the question What is a human? Would keep changing. To make this point clear, it’s now strongly being argued that “Premature Babies May Survive at 22 Weeks if Treated” (see article attached).

[Incidently, this would also have the implication that you should considering opposing not only third trimester abortions, but also those in the second trimester (which lasts from week 13 to week 27).]

Another difficulty I would suggest you consider is that the viability of definition of human life proves too much. Why is that? Because newborn infants also cannot survive outside of the womb apart from outside sustenance. Would we be willing to deny their personhood based on that as well? If unborn babies inside the womb have no moral or legal standing based its ability to “survive” on their own outside of the womb, then neither should newborns babies outside of the womb.

My assumption is that you are *not* an advocate for infanticide.

ND: I don’t oppose anything when it is medically prudent for either the mother or the potential child. I support the right to choose. I do not believe the government, nor anyone else, has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. It should be up to her, the potential father (in some cases), and the doctor(s). I do not have the right to make a woman carry to term and give birth. The government does not have that right either. I do not advocate for people to undergo these procedures, but to have the right to make the decision that is best for them once presented with all necessary information.

JT: Just wanting to make sure I’m understanding you: Are you saying that you do not oppose infanticide?

ND: I did not say that. I did not even address that point because it is not relevant to the conversation. You are talking about killing a child who has been born already. That is a different argument from the discussion on abortion.

JT: Please help me understand the relevant moral distinction.

ND: We are not talking about the morals, because that is an entirely different debate. You asked about infanticide. It cannot be infanticide until the child is born. So, obviously I do not support the killing for a baby who has already been born. Once born, we should do everything we can to ensure its survival and health.

Again, I do not advocate for abortion. I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I support her right to make an informed decision for her own physical and mental health and that of her potential child. That is all I advocate for. It is not my place, your place, or anyone else’s, to make those decisions for someone else.

JT: Mr. _____ I’m not sure I understand what you mean to say when you say that the moral question of abortion is “an entirely different debate.” Civil laws are always a legislation of a moral perspective. Theft is illegal because it is deemed morally wrong, as is perjury, arson, and a host of illegal activities. And this is why, at the heart of the abortion debate is a moral issue. The true question is not one of “what a woman can or cannot do with her body.” That’s important, but handling that question is entirely dependent on another question, the primary question: What is the unborn? If the unborn is a human being, there is no moral justification for taking its life. If the unborn is not a human being, then no moral justification is necessary for abortion– just as there is no moral debate over the status of having one’s tooth pulled.

Much of what you have written already assumes your own position without defending it, thus begging the question. A woman is only free to do with her own body what she pleases if it is not used to bring harm to others. We must agree on this point. This is why it is illegal to strap a bomb on to our own bodies and walk into a crowded movie theater. Why? Because we would be using our bodies to harm others. I have provided you with biological evidence that what is growing in a mother’s womb is not her own body.

Abortion takes place within a woman’s body, not to a woman’s body, per se. The abortion happens to the body of the unborn as it is either burned with a saline solution, or ripped apart piece by piece out of the mother’s body. Unless we accept the absurd conclusion that each mother possesses 2 unique sets of DNA and generic make-up, we must acknowledge that the unborn is a unique, living, and distinct human person from the mother. If this is true, than the logic of the pro-life argument is valid. Again, a woman should have the (ethical) right to determine what is right for her own body in conjunction with her own doctor if and only if her body is not used to harm another person. If it is used in that way, she does not have the moral “right” to use it in that way.

Again, when you say “I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body,” the burden of proof falls on you to disprove the biological distinction between the mother and the unborn. Simply saying that it’s her body does not establish the claim.

Please reconsider the following argument. If the premises are true, the conclusion necessarily must be true. 1) Murder is morally wrong, 2) abortion is murder), 3) Therefore abortion is morally wrong.

The first premise is just about universally agreed upon by religious and non-religious people (here we must make the moral distinction between murder and killing). The second premise is true if the abortion is the intentional destruction of a living and biologically distinct human being (which is supported by the evidence provided in the link attached). If that is the case, premise 3 must follow, “Therefore abortion is morally wrong.”

ND: None of your initial points connected to the morality. If you want to discuss that, then that should be the focus. Everything until now has been about the definitions and the development process. I do not consider abortion to be murder, especially in the first trimester when the embryo or fetus would never be able to survive on its own anyways. You are using the concept of post hoc, ergo propter hoc to make a connection between things that are not definitively connected. Abortion is not defined as murder, therefore you cannot say it is morally wrong. I am no longer participating in this discussion because you will never see my view and I will never agree with your view either. Suffice it to say, as I have said repeatedly now, neither you nor the government gets to force a woman to carry an unwanted child (especially in the case of a rape or incest) to term and then to give birth to that child.

JT: The moral and medical are bound together. As I’ve tried to communicate (whether successfully or unsuccessfully), if premise 2 is established (that abortion is the destruction of a biologically distinct human person), and premise 1 is accepted (a nearly universal moral axiom that I didn’t bother to defend), the conclusion follows.

You have emphasized that you do not believe that abortion is murder “when the embryo or fetus would never be able to survive on its own.” This is the “viability” argument that I addressed earlier in our discussion. Would you please consider responding to what I said there? Likewise, I fail to see how I committed the “post hoc” fallacy. You failed to even explain how this was committed (perhaps believing that it is self-evident?) Whether it is self-evident I will leave to others to decide.

Rape and incest are horrible, abominable crimes (though, in statistically proven data they make up approx. 1% of abortion cases), and violators should be prosecuted harshly. Nevertheless those horrible actions wherein the mother is violated should not be used to justify further violence to another innocent party. What is needed is love for the victim, love that is concretely shown in support, encouragement, and finances. Pro-lifers must “put their money where their mouth is.” But there is no widespread lack of this considering there are far more crisis pregnancy centers and advocacy groups than there are abortion clinics.

In the name of intellectual honesty, I hope you will acknowledge to yourself that you have not defended, supported, or argued in favor of your position. You have merely asserted it and assumed it. I do pray that perhaps you will at least reread what I’ve written and consider the arguments, even if you are not inclined to agree.

Thank you for engaging in a civil discussion.

ND: I will reread what you have written. However, under no circumstance do I believe that a woman should be forced to carry a child . That would be cruel to the woman, especially in the case of rape or incest. It is irrelevant that those cases only make up a small portion of abortions. The fact is that they cases do exist.

I do not understand how someone who was not a willing participant in the act of conception should be forced to spend the next 9 months of her life with the constant reminder of that event and putting her body through the pregnancy. How is that right? I just do not understand that stance. I suppose I never will because I cannot put myself in the place of a woman and understand what she is going through at that point. I will also never understand how anyone can believe that the government should have a right to tell a woman that she should have to carry a child that is not wanted. I just don’t get it. Whether you believe abortion is right or wrong, the fact is that no one should be making that decision for another person.

JT: And yet, laws in fact do, all the time and always, “tell people what to do.” But you haven’t responded to this. As I said, a woman’s rape is a horrible, demonic act of violation. But that act does not change the medical fact that her “desire” for the child (or lack thereof) does not make the unborn less human. If a mother of a newborn that resulted from rape decides to kill the baby because it reminds her of her violation, would that be permissible? No, it wouldn’t, and I’m confident most people would say because the baby is a human being. And I would agree- We shouldn’t kill humans. And so, as I noted earlier, the one essential question is this: Is the unborn a human?

All the other questions are important in various ways, but they can only be addressed and answered rightly if we get to the heart of that one central question.

The False Analogy Between Interracial Marriage and Same-Sex “Marriage”

In the eyes of many same-sex “marriage” advocates, those who oppose this legal innovation are cultural throwbacks, akin to people who opposed interracial marriage. And so, once that analogy is made, it would only make sense that those who support interracial marriage would also support same-sex “marriage.” But does this analogy hold water?

According to Ryan T. Anderson, author of Truth Overruled, there are several reasons why we should reject this analogy as false:

Great thinkers throughout human history—and from every political community until about the year 2000— thought it reasonable and right to view marriage as the union of husband and wife. Indeed, this view of marriage has been nearly a human universal. It has been shared by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions; by ancient Greek and Roman thinkers not influenced by these religions; and by Enlightenment philosophers. It is affirmed by canon law as well as common and civil law.

Bans on interracial marriage, by contrast, were part of an insidious system of racial subordination and exploitation that denied the equality and dignity of all human beings and forcibly segregated citizens based on race. When these interracial marriage bans first arose in the American colonies, they were inconsistent not only with the common law of England but with the customs of every previous culture throughout human history.

As for the Bible, while it doesn’t present marriage as having anything to do with race, it insists that marriage has everything to do with sexual complementarity. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, the Bible is replete with spousal imagery and the language of husband and wife. One activist Supreme Court ruling cannot overthrow the truth about marriage expressed in faith, reason, and universal human experience.

We must now bear witness to the truth of marriage with more resolve and skill than ever before. We must now find ways to rebuild a marriage culture. The first step will be protecting our right to live in accordance with the truth. The key question, again, is whether the liberal elites who now have the upper hand will treat their dissenting fellow citizens as they treat racists or as they treat pro-lifers. While elites disagree with the pro-life position, most understand it. They can see why a pro-life citizen defends unborn life—so for the most part they agree government shouldn’t coerce citizens into performing or subsidizing abortions. The same needs to be true for marriage. And we need to make it true by making the arguments in defense of marriage.

Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, 6-7

When Grammar Changes Prayer

Shortly after my daughter turned two years old I began teaching her the Lord’s Prayer. But the version I taught her was slightly different than the one to which most of us are accustomed. Instead of praying, “And deliver us from evil,” I taught her to pray, “And deliver us from the evil one.” It’s a change of words, but one that has fairly significant theological implications.

But who am I to change the words of Scripture? Surely, tinkering with the words of Christ himself calls for linguistic and translational justification. Do I have one? I do, and it’s something I found long ago back at the beginning of my biblical studies. And it’s all about adjectives. Here it is:

Adjectives have a theological importance that is hard to rival. They can modify a noun (attributive), assert something about a noun (predicate), or stand in the place of a noun (substantival). Sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly which role a particular adjective is in.

Take the adjective (“evil”) in Matthew 6:13, for example. The King James Version (as well as more than one modern translation) translates this as “but deliver us from evil.” But the adjective has an article modifying it (tou [“the evil”]), indicating that it is to be taken substantivally: “the evil one.” [“A substantive is a noun, pronoun, or any word functioning like a noun”- source]

And there is no little theological difference between the two. The Father does not always keep his children out of danger, disasters, or the ugliness of the world. In short, he does not always deliver us from evil. But he does deliver us from the evil one. The text is not teaching that God will make our life a rose garden, but that he will protect us from the evil one, the devil himself (cf. John 10:28-30; 17:15).

—Daniel B. Wallace, quoted in William Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 64.

I want to instill in my daughter a realization that the prayer isn’t about God delivering us from the dangers and infelicities of this life. It is a cry from the battlefield, requesting that the King rescue us from the enemy of our souls.

Jesus’ Blood May Not be Precious for the Reasons You Think

On 9/16/15 I tweeted the following:

This came out of a discussion I had with a friend in which we reflected on a popular misunderstanding of Christ’s blood. As the tweet hit my Facebook account it engendered a bit of discussion, which was both expected and welcome. There are several reasons I think it’s wise to avoid affirming anything like magical properties in the blood of Jesus. There biblical reasons, linguistic reasons, and theological reasons.

Biblical reasons. I think we would agree that the death of Christ, and how it “works” in atoning for our sin, is patterned after the OT sacrificial system commanded by God. The quickest way to talk about this is to jump to Lev. 16, the Day of Atonement. There, starting in v. 11 we read, “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.” And again, from verses 15-19 we reading the longer explanation:

Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

I believe the point here, the point the priests would have understood, is this: The shedding of blood, apart from the actual death of the animal would not atone for sin. Applying the blood, sprinkling the blood, etc. was all to symbolically demonstrate that death had taken place. This is because of the sacrificial principle of substitution. The animal was killed in place of the worshipper who offered it, in their place. The worshipper deserves death, but through the sacrificial system God graciously provided a way in which fellowship with him could be maintained and the worshipper themselves not be destroyed.  If the blood was offered by wounding (but not killing) the animal, there would be no atonement. So the blood is by no means meaningless. The blood is proof of death.

Applying this to of Christ we find the same principle at play. If Jesus was merely wounded and shed tons of blood but didn’t die, then he would not be fulfilling the role of an OT sacrifice, and therefore atonement would not be complete.

Linguistic reasons. But I think there are linguistic reasons to support the first point I just made. I would say that speaking of the atonement in terms of the “blood” is what is called a metonymy. It’s a technical literary term for a concept we’re all familiar with, and the Bible itself employs. A metonymy is a figure of speech that

consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part, as “scepter” for “sovereignty,” or “the bottle” for “strong drink,” or “count heads (or noses)” for “count people.”

Further examples of this can be found in Isa. 22:22, 29:1 Matt. 16:19, and Luke 16:29. So speaking of the precious “blood” of Christ is the way the biblical writers refers to the sacrifice-onto-death of Jesus.  Of course, it’s a perfectly legitimate way of speaking, and I wouldn’t dare “censor” the Bible’s way of speaking.

Another really good example of this principle is found in Ezekiel 18:20, “The soul that sins shall die.” Obviously, the verse isn’t saying that if a soul (as opposed or distinct from a body) sins, only the soul will die. Here Ezekiel is using a metonymy, “soul” (a part of what makes up a person) is used to refer to the whole person. So the meaning is “The person who sins will die.”

Like I said, it’s a fairly common concept, and this should give you an idea of how I would read passages such as  Lev. 17:11 Ps. 72:14 John 6:53-54 Rev. 12:11.

Theological reasons. The last reason I said what I did basically takes the last two points and draws some theological conclusions. The problem is that if we say that Christ’s blood, the actual physical hemoglobin, had healing or spiritual power we are functional docetists,

Docetism is a subdivision of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that the material world was bad, and the immaterial (“spiritual”) world was superior. In contrast, the Bible tells us when God created the physical world he repeatedly called it “good.” The docetists applied this principle to the incarnation and therefore denied that Jesus Christ (who is good) took on a real, material, fully human body (which, in their minds, would be bad). The Greek term dokéo means “to seem,” as in Jesus only seemed to possess a material body. And so while there aren’t many explicit docetists in the church today, many are functional docetists because of what they believe about Christ’s humanity.

Jesus’ body was fully human, and humans (even perfectly sinless humans) do not possess magic or supernatural blood. His blood was the blood of a normal human being. And so just as real, normal humans do not have special properties to their hemoglobin, neither did Jesus. In terms of its physical nature, his blood was no different than the blood of any other ancient Mediterranean Jewish male. That’s not to take away from the glory of the incarnation. Rather I say that to robustly affirm the incarnation. Jesus became a real human, not a superhuman.

I should probably also clarify something I said that would be misunderstood. I wrote, “There’s nothing ontologically special about Jesus’ blood.” The key word for me in writing that was “ontologically.” In technical terms people are confusing ethics with ontology (being or nature). The worth of Christ’s sacrifice was because he was morally perfect (“without spot or wrinkle”), not because of any physical characteristics of his humanity (such as his blood). If there were, he wouldn’t be truly human, and therefore an unfit substitute for fallen and sinful humans. I believe this is a category confusion, and one that endangers a robust biblical Christology.

The Bible is very clear that our fallenness is a moral/ethical problem (rebellion to our Creator), and not an ontological/metaphysical problem (some about our created nature/being). Therefore the solution to the problem is moral as well, not ontological (it’s Christ’s obedience that is valued, not his hemoglobin).

The “blood” of Jesus– as in the value, power, and efficacy of his death– is of infinite value.

The Crucified King: Kingdom-Through-Cross

In his wonderful book The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat sees the theme of kingdom-through-the-cross reoccurring  throughout the Bible. For example he sees the theme show up in the book of Isaiah. He highlights of themes of suffering and victory throughout the prophetic book (while acknowledging the appropriate distinctions in emphasis in chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66). The depiction of royal figure of the first half of Isaiah is expanding and nuanced by the suffering figure of the latter half of the book. This figure establishes God’s kingdom reign by means of his atoning death.  When we bring together these twin themes in Isaiah we should see them as mutually reinforcing, not at odds. The kingdom of God is presented both in new creation (emphasizing the cosmic), and as new exodus (emphasizing liberation from enslavement).  Isa 52:13–53:12, according to Treat, serves as a vivid demonstration of how this is accomplished.

The paradoxical nature of the servant-king’s suffering and exaltation is at the heart of his glorious accomplishment. He who was “lifted up”…and exalted. (Isaiah 52:13) is the very one who “has born… our griefs” (53:4) and “bore… the sin of many” (53:12). In English, one simply misses the wordplay, but the irony could not be any greater. The one who is “lifted up” in exaltation is the one who has “lifted up” our sins onto himself in order that we may be reconciled to God and share in his victory. Although exaltation and humiliation seem to be extreme opposites, the servant is exalted through humiliation and victorious through suffering. Re-placing the song of the Suffering Servant in its canonical context provides a kingdom framework for the sin-bearing, sorrow-carrying, punishment-averting, guilt-offering, place-taking, atoning death of the servant-king. The significance could not be more crucial: the servant-king brings about a kingdom of servants through his atoning and victorious suffering (86).

But Mark’s Gospel, Treat argues, is also developed along these lines. As chapter 3 begins, Treat contrasts his understanding of the kingdom and cross relation in Mark with the following six positions: Kingdom despite the cross (Jesus’ life and resurrection, not death, bring the kingdom), cross despite kingdom (Jesus’ death is what really matters), kingdom and then cross (Jesus’ kingdom mission cut short by death), cross and then kingdom (Jesus’ death as precursor to the kingdom), kingdom qualifies Cross (theology of glory corrects theology of suffering), and cross qualifies kingdom (theology of suffering corrects theology of glory, 87-88). To this Treats responds, “I propose that the proper relationship is defined as ‘kingdom by ‘way’ of the cross”” (88).  He then outlines Mark’s Gospel as follows (89-110),

  • The kingdom in the shadow of the cross (1:1-8:26)
  • The kingdom redefined by the cross (8:27-10:52)
  • The kingdom established by the cross (11:1-16:8)

Treat contends that the cross is “the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom” (75), and that “the messianic mission culminates at Golgotha, where the crucified king establishes his kingdom by way of the cross” (110). In his crucifixion, the messianic king is exalted, and through his suffering is victorious  (86).

Lastly, at least for our purposes, he also the theme popping up in the book of Revelation:

These passages from Revelation enlighten the relationship between the kingdom of Christ and the blood of his cross in three ways. First, Christ atoning work on the cross results in the people of God being made a kingdom (Rev. 1:5B-6). Second, the Lion-like victory was achieved through a Lamb-like means (5:5–6). By the blood of Christ, people of all nations have been ransomed from sin and made to be kings and priests (5:9–10) in the pattern and fulfillment of the Exodus (Exod. 19:6). Third, the establishment of Gods kingdom entails the defeat of Satan by Christ and his followers (Rev.12:10–11). In what is primarily a legal battle, Christ, by shedding his blood, paid the penalty for sin and therefore defeated Satan by disarming him of his accusatory force. Though the final defeat is yet to come, Christians continue to conquer Satan, exposing his deception but witnessing to Christs obedient life and a true efficacy of his death (126-127) 

Treat’s point here is that Kingdom and cross presuppose one another and work in tandem. The proper view, the author persuasively argues, is exaltation in humiliation within a broader progression of exaltation through humiliation (156). As in Marks Gospel, the cross is where the messianic king rules. It is the scepter by which he exercises his dominion and defeats the enemy of the people of God. 

A Kingdom Perspective on Prayer Requests

We’ve all been guilty of it: Treating God like a slot machine or a genie. We turn to him only in order to determine what we can get from him. The Bible makes clear that we are to cast our cares before God, that he knows what we needs before we ask, and we should ask in faith, believing that we have what we have requested. And yet, it is still possible to pray selfish, negotiating prayers to God that border on manipulation. Other prayers seem trite or possibly even petty. Others still are just odd or even funny.

We must beware of pragmatic, self-centered prayers. Biblical prayer is not magic that manipulates God, nor is it “the law of attraction” that deals with impersonal forces, drawing to us those “positive energies” that we send out into the world.

Most of us intuitively know that this is not the way we should come to God in prayer. But if God knows us better than we know ourselves, then he also know the deepest desires of our hearts. He knows it all, and therefore these desires should be included in the way we pray to him.

Sure, we recognize that there is a bad, sinful, selfish way to ask this question, and in our darker moments we run the danger of sinking back into approaching God like that cosmic genie or slot machine. But there is likewise a sincere, pious, and God-centered way of coming to God with our requests. Does the Bible provide us with a way of speaking to God about the things we want?

Thankfully, the answer is yes.  Remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who is in heaven…” When we speak about prayers of request, we are talking about petitioning our royal Heavenly Father with our desires.

Scripture teaches not only that God is the sovereign king, but also that he is a loving and involved Father. And like all loving and involved Fathers, sometimes he will deny requests and petitions that in his greater wisdom and knowledge he knows aren’t good for his children. There may be a number of reasons why God may say no to our requests. God may deny our requests when…

  • we are fostering sin in our lives
  • saying yes would bring us harm we don’t foresee
  • he has something far greater in store for us
  • we pray at cross purposes with other believers
  • we pray for things where a yes” is impossible
  • we pray for things that are already determined.

Ultimately our greatest desire and prayer to God should be “your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom is God’s grand cosmic plan for his creation; it is his will. And when we pray for this (i.e. that his kingdom would come on earth and be recognized here as it is in the heavens) we’re aligning our desires with his purposes. As John wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 Jn. 5:14). When our prayers are not self-centered, and our requests are not made merely to waste on the disordered loves of our heart, we can have rock-solid assurance that God hears them with approval. Kingdom-focused prayers should be offered in faith, without doubting, ‘for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8).

Our narrow perspectives often cloud us from seeing things from God’s perspective, and that is why we need to have a long-term view of our lives. A “no” from God now, may produce generations and generations of blessing down the line.

Gospel Inclusivity and Same-Sex Attraction

I am incredibly thankful for people and ministries that devote themselves to minister to people who experience same-sex attraction. In fact, I’m glad whenever anyone establishes a ministry geared toward the “LGBT” community in general. After all, everyone needs the gospel! But here a crucial distinction that needs to be made and I believe is often overlook by those who embrace “homosexual Christianity.”

Here’s the distinction: Identifying as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction (SSA) is not the same as being a “gay Christian.” The latter denotes someone who identifies as a Christ follower and nevertheless openly embraces homosexuality and sees no moral problem with it (often knowingly or unknowingly reinterpreting Scripture in order to support a lifestyle it clearly does not.

On the other hand, being a Christian who admits to experiencing SSA is quite different. A Christian who experiences SSA is someone who recognizes two things:

  • First, that regardless of their desires, they find themselves romantically attracted to people of the same gender. For these people, it probably matters little whether this attraction developed through nature or nurture—the attraction is there and is real. But, the second realization is key.
  • Second, they also embrace Scripture as God’s word and agree with Scripture’s diagnosis of homosexuality as contrary to God’s creative purposes for human sexuality, and they seek to obey God even though it hurts to do so.

To my mind, this is incredibly commendable.

In the spirit of sympathy, we should recognize a distinctive challenge for Christians with SSA. The heterosexual Christian can pursue romantic relationships before marriage (as long as in doing so they follow the other moral commandments of Scripture). The Christian with SSA cannot “date” (insert whatever term you think appropriate here) whoever they wish. This is rough. They may want something at one level (their SSA), that at another level they know that cannot do without displeasing the God they love. We need to be willing to love, support, lose sleep over, and stand with those valuable image bearers as they struggle, fight, and claw their way to mortify their flesh as an expression of their treasuring Christ.

And yet, in another sense the call to sexual mortification is perfectly normal in the Christian life. Whether we are same-sex attracted or opposite sex attracted, all people everywhere are called to submit to the lordship of Christ through their sexuality. Our sexuality is given to us as something that comes with an instruction manual (Scripture). The Creator knows how best it functions and shares this information with us for maximum earthly fulfillment and flourishing. So heterosexual desires have only one proper channel through which will bring God’s approval (heterosexual monogamous marriage), and the person with SSA has the same channel. The standard is the same. The Bible does not teach that heterosexuals can do whatever they’d like with their sexuality with homosexuals oppressed with an unfair restriction.

In response to the struggles same-sex attracted Christian experience, our churches need to be places of inclusivity. But I am not advocating the kind of postmodern inclusivity that ultimately denies the reality of moral rebellion against God. What needed is gospel inclusivity. This is the kind of inclusivity that’s affirmed throughout the Bible itself. Biblical inclusivity affirms that each human being is valued and dignified by their Creator because we are fashioned in his image (Gen. 1:26). But it also includes every human being as equally fallen, in moral rebellion to their Creator apart from his grace (Rom. 3:23), and all subject to the effects of the fall (Rom. 8:20). Lastly, gospel inclusivity affirms that in Christ there is neither male or female, Jew nor Gentile, but we all have equal access to our Heavenly Father, and no one has any standing before God except the sole merits of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Gospel inclusivity looks like a bunch of broken sinners clinging to the cross together.

This is an inclusivity that is pleasing to God, and though humbles us to the dust is ultimately what—through God’s redeeming grace—will exalt us to the heavens.

Brief Answers to Pro-Abortion Claims

In light of the media explosion over the released Planned Parent videos by the Center for Medical Progress, I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief list of responses to some of the most common claims of in favor of elective abortion (abortion on demand), especially of those defending PP in light of this shocking footage.

People that are pro-life are merely irrational religious people.

It unfair to dismiss those who support the unborn’s right to life as irrational and or even influenced by fundamentalist Christian ideas. It also does not help to categorized arguments as religious or non-religious. Arguments in favor of any position are either true or false, valid or invalid. Those who appeal to supposed “secular” values are neither neutral nor do they stand on rational higher ground. Both sides are trying to present scientific and moral cases for their position.

When life begins is a decision each person (mother) must make for themselves.

This is sheer biological relativism. The science of embryology is clear on this matter, and has been for a long, long time. And it’s precisely this clarity that is the reason why so many abortion advocates will not engage the debate on the scientific issues. Here is a very helpful list of quotes from a multitude of embryology textbooks that clearly define human life as starting at conception.

It’s not a baby, it’s a fetus.

As noted above, the science is straightforward: a fetus is not a thing.  Calling a human being a “fetus” is like calling another human being a “teenager.” A teenager isn’t a thing, it’s a stage of development. The word ‘fetus’ applies to a stage of development in the life of a thing, and that “thing” is a human person.

A fetus is not a human being, just a clump of cells.

Again, this way of speaking of the unborn is unfair and biases the discussion. We simply cannot dismiss the unborn as a “bundle of cells.” We are all– whether at 7 weeks of development or 70 years of life — a “bundles of cells.” The number of cells we are made up of is irrelevant to the issue of human dignity. Adults may be a larger “bundle of cells” than their smaller siblings or relatives, but they do not thereby have a greater right to protection under the law than those who are smaller and therefore made up of fewer cells.

A woman has the right to do whatever she wants to her own body.

Abortion takes place within a woman’s body, not to a woman’s body, per se. The abortion happens to the body of the unborn as it is either burned with a saline solution, or ripped apart piece by piece out of the mother’s body. Unless we accept the absurd conclusion that each mother possesses 2 unique sets of DNA and generic make-up, we must agree with the link posted above that the unborn is a unique, living, and distinct human person from the mother.

Abortion on demand should be available to all, because it’s the only option for woman that are the victims of rape.

Statistically speaking, less than 1% of abortions take place because of rape/incest, and therefore it is a red-herring thrown it in the mix to justify unfettered abortion for all. In the few cases where a woman is pregnant as a result of rape, we must be supportive, compassion, and willing to help her get through both the initial pregnancy, but also help into the child’s early development. We care about unborn babies, mothers, and developing children. Nevertheless, there is no reason why an innocent child conceived by a violent act should be killed because of the sins of his or her father.

The real challenge is ultimately between the conflicting “rights” of two distinct people. On the one hand, there are the rights of the unborn human being who cannot protect, defend, or speak for themselves, and on the other hand pro-abortion advocates posit the rights of the mother to kill their undesired child.

Remember, if the unborn is not a human being, there is not moral justification needed for abortion (any more than we need a moral justification for a tooth removal). But, if the unborn is a human being, there is no moral justification for killing it.

Reaction To The Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

Is Same-Sex Marriage a Good Policy Decision?

Much thanks for Stand To Reason Ministries for creating such helpful videos.

Labor, Identity, and the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone

The gospel of justification by faith alone teaches us that we don’t have to prove our worth, value, or dignity to God and man based upon our productivity and accomplishments. Jesus lived a perfect life, one free from meaningless distractions and sloth, in order to pay the price for our petty laziness. Jesus’ work was singularly devoted to God and his kingdom, and yet he was crucified so our workaholism and other idolatries could be destroyed at their root. But he was raised to new life and lives today so his work record would be our work record.

When we believe in Jesus, his merit is our merit; therefore our identity isn’t determined by our work.

What does this mean for the way we should think about work? What practical effect does it have for the 9 to 5 grind? In the words of the apostle Paul, it means that whatever we do, we should work at it with all our heart, as if we were working for the Lord, not for human bosses or to gain accolades (cf. Colossians 3:23). If the gospel of grace really gets down into our bones it can’t fail to affect our work. That means that our work—whether we have our names on our office doors or on nametags—will be for the glory of God, for the betterment of the organizations we work for, and in service to those made in his image (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).

Unlike so many voices we hear in our culture, we are free to strive for excellence without the pressure to prove ourselves. We will no longer regard our work like a master that must be served. And when we fail, and we will fail, we won’t be crushed—since we understand that by faith in Jesus we have passed the cosmic performance review.

New Book Announcement: Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief

I proudly submit for your consideration the 20 anniversary edition of John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God, now renamed Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief. It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Frame on this dream project, and I put in a year’s worth of work into the editing. It is a substantial update and expansion of Apologetics to the Glory of God with two new introductions (one by myself, and the other by Dr. Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia), explanatory footnotes found throughout, and multiple additional appendices, two I which I wrote. That all equals approximately 100 new pages.

And now you all know why there’s been so little activity on the blog this year. :)


“If I were asked to list the top three books that have had the greatest impact on me as a Christian thinker, John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God would undoubtedly be one of them. It brought about a paradigm shift—one might even say a ‘Copernican revolution’—in my understanding not only of apologetics but of all other intellectual endeavors as a Christian. Ever since then, it has been the first book I recommend to those looking for an introduction to Christian apologetics, and it is required reading in my apologetics classes. I’m therefore delighted to recommend this updated and expanded twentieth- anniversary edition, which incorporates additional material by Dr. Frame, as well as many helpful annotations by Joseph Torres.
Soli Deo Gloria!”
James N. Anderson, Associate Professor of
Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte
“Over the last several decades, few books have been as helpful to so many for so long as Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame. I eagerly welcome the twentieth-anniversary edition of this important book. As apologetics takes on an even greater significance for every believer, I can only hope that the influence and impact of this book will spread far beyond even its original publication. This is a book that, twenty years after its initial publication, is even more timely—and that is a rare achievement.”
—R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The book is listed on Amazon, Westminster Online Bookstore, CBD, and directly through P&R Publishing’s website.

Will We See God?

Have you ever wondered whether, in the final state of all things, we will see the 3 persons of the godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)? I’ve been asked this several times and thought to write-up a few thoughts on this question.  In order to best respond to that question, an important biblical clarification is needed to be put in place.

The Bible teaches that when all is said and done—when Christ returns, the dead are raised, the unrighteous are judged, and those who trusted in Jesus alone are given glorified bodies—we will reign over the “new heavens and earth” In Rev. 21:1-3, the Apostle John recorded his vision of the future as follows:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

So we will inhabited a renewed earth, a place in which all sin has been removed, and the curse has been lifted. We will have glorified physical bodies, patterned after the glorified physical body of the risen Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 15).

This means that we will see in a very similar way to the way we see now. So, the question to ask is this: What can we see now? The answer is simple and straightforward, we can see physical objects, objects extended in space. So, how does this apply to our question? My conviction is that we will indeed see God, but we will see God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6). Only the second person of the Trinity (the Son) took on a human nature, and therefore is physically extended in space. Jesus Christ is now forever the God-man, fully God in his divine nature, and fully and perfectly human in respect to his human nature. This will not change in the new heavens and earth.

God the Father and the Holy Spirit are spirit and therefore do not have flesh and bones (see Luke 24:39, the word translated “ghost” in the KJV is the same Greek word translated “spirit” elsewhere, pneuma). As Scripture says, in his divine nature, no one can see God (John 1:18). We will not “see” the Father or the Spirit because, in the most literal sense, there is nothing to “see.” The being of God, though very real, active, and powerful, is not something to be seen. To apply the category of sight to a spirit is a confusion similar to asking how much a thought weighs. Weight does not apply to thoughts. I take it you understand my point.

But, lest we get the wrong impression from what I’ve said above, let me reassure you of this. The presence of Jesus will overwhelm us. The presence of the Father and Spirit will be so great that there will be no feeling of lack. We will forever rejoice in his presence all around us forever, and forever, and forever.

  • For another response to this question, see here.

31 Reasons For the Incarnation

Using biblical language, Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein present 31 biblical reasons for the incarnation. Here is their list.

  1. To do the will of the father
  2. To save sinners
  3. To bring light to a dark world
  4. To be made like his people
  5. To bear witness to the truth
  6. To destroy the devil and his works
  7. To give eternal life
  8. To receive worship
  9. To bring you great joy
  10. To demonstrate true humility
  11. To preach the gospel
  12. To bring judgment
  13. To give his life a ransom for many
  14. To fulfill the law and prophets
  15. To reveal God’s love for sinners
  16. To call sinners to repentance
  17. To die
  18. To seek and save the lost
  19. To serve
  20. To bring peace
  21. To bring a sword
  22. To bind up the broken hearts
  23. To give us a spirit of adoption
  24. To make us partakers of the divine nature
  25. To reign as king
  26. To restore human nature to holiness
  27. To be a merciful and faithful high priest
  28. To be the second and greater Adam
  29. To satisfy our deepest thirst
  30. To be loved by God’s children
  31. To reveal God’s glory

Each chapter of their small works takes up a biblical explanation of each point. It is a wonderful read, whether or not it’s the Christmas season.

See Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein, Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).


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