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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of the Word of God, which is the Bible. Dr. Spencer, last time you discussed general and special revelation and then briefly defined four characteristics of Scripture, which can be remembered by the acrostic SNAC; sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity.

But, before we begin today, I think it would be good to suggest some reading material for those listeners who want to follow along in our study in a little more depth.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a good idea. The first, and by far most important, book I recommend is the Bible itself. Every Christian should be reading the Word of God every day. Jesus told us in Matthew 4:4 that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [1] The Word of God is food for a Christian. And you should read all of it, not just your favorite Psalms and stories. I strongly recommend having a good reading list and going through the entire Bible every year. It isn’t like a novel, which you usually read only once. The Bible should be read over and over again throughout the Christian life. Just like we need to eat real, physical food regularly, so we also need a regular diet of the Word of God. The reading list we use in our church, which I think is a good one, is available online as a pdf file that you can download, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[2] In addition, I would recommend that you use a good study Bible, like the ESV Reformation Study Bible. The notes are a big help, especially for a Christian who is not yet extremely familiar with the Bible. Just remember that the notes are not inspired.

Marc Roby: I wholeheartedly agree that daily reading of the Word of God is a necessary discipline for a Christian to be able to have what the Puritans used to call an overcoming life. In other words, a life that overcomes sin, the world and the devil. What books do you recommend in addition to the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: Let me start with theology books. If you have never read much theology before, I suggest beginning with James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith.[3] It is an excellent book, very readable, not too long, readily available and not very expensive. You will also find it valuable even if you are already familiar with theology. If you want something a bit longer and more detailed, I would suggest Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[4] If you want to go even further, I would suggest Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology[5] and, of course, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.[6] Finally, in addition to the Bible and systematic theology, I would also suggest reading commentaries to help you with specific books of the Bible. Pastor Matthew’s commentaries, available at, are all outstanding.[7] Also, the classic Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the complete Bible is wonderful and is available both online and in book form.[8] The detailed references for all of these are in the transcript.

Marc Roby: That list should keep people busy for a while. What do you want to begin with today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start fleshing out the characteristics we mentioned last time; sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we going to look at them in that order?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at the first two in order, yes. So, let’s go ahead and begin with sufficiency.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said last time that the Bible provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. What else do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I want to do is contrast the Bible with general revelation. Remember that by general revelation we mean all of creation, including our own conscience, our sense of right and wrong, and our intuitive sense that there is more to a person than just their physical body. As we noted last time, that revelation is sufficient to leave people without excuse before God. We read in Psalm 19:1-4 that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Just as Paul declared in Romans 1, which we quoted last session, general revelation is sufficient for every person to realize that God exists, and it should cause us all to give thanks to him for this life and to seek to know him. But, that knowledge is not sufficient for salvation, or to tell us how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will bother some people, because they wonder about the fairness of someone who has never heard the gospel being sent to hell.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly understand that objection. It was one that I had before I was saved. But the answer given to us in Romans 1 is that all people have sufficient information to leave them without that excuse. They know that God exists, but they refuse to give him thanks and truly seek him. That is why they are condemned. God tells us in Deuteronomy 4:29 that if “you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The problem is that no one does that until and unless God himself draws us, as we are told in John 6:44.

Marc Roby: The fact that our salvation is based on a gracious work of God is emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is not deserved. We all deserve hell. What is surprising is that God chooses to save some. And he does that through his word, the Bible.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Also, in James 1:18, the Lord’s brother wrote that God the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Also, the apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:23, that we “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” All three of these Scriptures show us that God uses his Word, the Bible, to bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But, as you shared from 1 Corinthians 2:14 last session, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When we say that the Word of God is sufficient for salvation, we mean that it reveals all of the information necessary to be saved, but we need more than just information. The devil has all of the information, and he also knows it’s all true. But intellectual assent to the truth of the Bible will not save us, which is why in James 2:19 we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” To be saved, we must first be born again. Without that, we will never repent and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Remember last session I quoted from James Boice’s book, Foundations of the Christian Faith. He said that “special revelation has three stages. First, … redemption in history. … Second, … revelation in writing.” And third, “the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit.” [9] That application by the Holy Spirit begins with new birth, or regeneration. Without regeneration, knowledge of the Bible simply adds to our guilt.

Marc Roby: So, when we talk about the sufficiency of the Bible, we are not saying it is sufficient for salvation all by itself.

Dr. Spencer: Right. It contains all of the information necessary, but the Holy Spirit must do a work in us to allow us to receive that information with faith.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we now know what it means to say that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, what about the fact that we also said it is sufficient to guide us in living the Christian life?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we can again contrast special and general revelation. God has given every human being a conscience. And even in people who have not been born again the conscience mediates against many of our most wicked impulses. For example, most people are not going to murder someone just because they get angry at the person. Nor are most people willing to mug someone and take his money because they want it. But, we all know that there are many exceptions to this rule. Our conscience can be a good guide, but if we repeatedly violate it the Bible tells us it can stop working properly. In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul writes about “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” For example, if you keep lying over and over, you reach a point where your conscience no longer objects. It has ceased to function properly.

Marc Roby:  At that point I think you’re eligible to become a politician.

Dr. Spencer:  You might be right about that. But in addition to becoming seared, our conscience can also be corrupted. People can, for example, use their reason to convince themselves that something is alright when, in fact, it is clearly not alright. A good example of this might be sex before marriage. People may argue that since God made sex it is good and natural and that waiting for marriage is just an old-fashioned idea that was part of the culture at the time of the Bible, but is not true anymore, especially since we have birth control now. But, if we examine the Bible carefully, we see that sex outside of marriage is clearly a sin and will always be sin. The point is that we need to train our conscience using the Word of God, in other words, using special revelation.

God is the one who defines what is sin and what is not sin. And God is the one who tells us what we are to do to live a life pleasing to him. The only objective place we can turn for that kind of moral guidance is the Bible. And the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we need to know to please God. In Deuteronomy 32:47, Moses had told the people God’s commands and then said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” The Bible tells us in many places that we will be blessed if we obey the commands of God, which are given to us in the Bible. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:2 we are told that “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God”, and this statement is then followed by a lengthy listing of the many blessings of God. The same message is in the New Testament. For example, in John 13:17, Jesus tells us, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the commands given to us in the Bible are sufficient for the purpose of living in a way that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Psalm 1, where we read “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a classic passage to make this point and, of course, in that passage, when he talks about the ‘law’ of the Lord, he’s talking about the whole of the Bible. Or we can look in Matthew 7:24-25 where Jesus tells us that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” This parable is again telling us that if you put Jesus’ words into practice you will be blessed.

Marc Roby: I think we have established that the Bible, when heard or read by someone who has been born again, is sufficient for salvation and to direct us in how to live. Is there anything else to say about this characteristic of the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. The sufficiency of the Bible makes clear that we don’t need any new revelation from God, either for salvation or for life. This speaks powerfully against the Roman Catholic church’s view of tradition. The Roman Catholic church places the traditions of the church on an equal footing with Scripture. Which, in practice, really means that they trump scripture. But, even if they didn’t, there is a clear problem. If any of the teachings of the church were necessary for life or doctrine, what can we say about the people who lived prior to the time the church came up with that teaching? The Bible would not have been sufficient for those people.

This also speaks against the Mormon cult. I had some Mormons come to my door one day who said that Mormonism was just like the reformation. Their claim was that just as Martin Luther and the other reformers corrected the abuses that had developed over time in the Roman Catholic church, so Joseph Smith corrected abuses that had developed since the time of the reformation. But that is complete nonsense. The reformation did not introduce any new revelation from God, it went back to the Word of God itself, which had been there the whole time. The existing errors were errors in interpretation and application of the existing revelation. Whereas Joseph Smith introduced a whole new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which contradicts the Bible at many points. Knowing that Scripture is sufficient for salvation and life guards against our being deceived by any new so-called revelation.

Marc Roby: The Bible itself tells us in many places to not add to the words of God. For example, in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses tells the people “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And similar warnings are given in Deuteronomy 12:32, Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19.

Marc Roby: That raises and interesting question though. How do we reconcile these statements with progressive revelation? If we consider the statement I quoted from Moses, I can imagine someone might object and say that if Moses told the people not to add to his commands, what are we to say about the rest of the Old and New Testaments, which were revealed after the time of Moses?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem talks about this in Chapter 8 of his Systematic Theology, which is on the sufficiency of the Bible. He points out that to say that man can’t add to the Scripture is not the same thing as saying that God can’t add to it. Now, of course, the Mormon’s for example, would say that God did add to it with the Book of Mormon. But, I think that view is impossible to accept for two reasons. One, the Book of Mormon contains so many counterfactual elements and, two, there is no need for further revelation. Let me quote Grudem on this second point because I think he says it very well, and his explanation tells us both why there was more revelation after the time of Moses, and why there hasn’t been more after the time of Christ. He wrote that “At each stage in redemptive history, the things that God had revealed were for his people for that time, and they were to study, believe, and obey those things. With further progress in the history of redemption, more of God’s words were added, recording and interpreting that history”[10]. “After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the founding of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, and the assembling of the books of the New Testament canon, no further central redemptive acts of God in history (…) have occurred, and thus no further words of God have been given to record and interpret those acts for us.”[11]

Marc Roby: That certainly is a powerful argument that we have no need for further revelation. And I think that is a good place to stop for today. I again want to encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to


[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997 (3-volume set)

[6] E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson, 2008


[8] E.g., Matthew Henry’s Commentary, New Modern Edition in six volumes, Hendrickson, 1991 and

[9] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

[10] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 130

[11] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by beginning a study of systematic theology. Dr. Spencer, I think it would be a good idea to define what systematic theology is.

Dr. Spencer: That would certainly be a good place to start. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (θεός), which means God, and logos (λόγος), which can mean word, or statement, or reasoning.[1] It is the origin of our English word logic, for example. But it is also the root of a suffix in many words, like anthropology or archaeology, where it has come to mean the study of something. So, theology is the study of God.

There are different kinds of theology and the modifiers aren’t always used in a consistent way. In our podcast introductions we have been saying that we are studying “biblical theology”, by which we mean theology according to the Bible. But, according to the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge, biblical theology would, strictly speaking, be a compilation of the facts presented in the Bible.[2] In contrast, systematic theology looks for the relations between these facts and seeks to draw conclusions from them. He uses geology as an illustration. You can simply compile a list of facts; for example, the locations, size shape and so on of different rivers. Or you can study the causes and relations between different geological facts, which is, in general, more useful.

Overall, I like the definition given by Wayne Grudem the best. In his book Systematic Theology, he writes that “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.”[3]

Marc Roby: Now, I have to point out that that definition originally came from John Frame.

Dr. Spencer: OK, I knew you’d been itching to get a reference in to one of your favorite theologians. And you’re right, the definition comes from Frame and Grudem does gives him credit in a footnote.

Marc Roby: Just wanted to make sure the record was straight.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s straight. And it is a good definition. What we are interested in doing is seeing what the whole Bible teaches us, specifically about we are to believe, and how we are to live our lives.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do we want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We want to begin, as Wayne Grudem and many others have done, with the Word of God itself.

Marc Roby: Perhaps I should remind our listeners that we have already covered this topic to some extent. In Session 4 we discussed the fact that the Bible itself claims to be the very Word of God and that it alone is the ultimate standard, or authority, for a Christian. Then, in Sessions 5 and 6, we discussed the Bible’s authority and its progressive revelation of Jesus Christ as the Savior. So, what else do want to say about the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: I want, first, to stress the importance of the Word of God. Although it is not the only revelation we have from God, it is the only revelation we have that tells us what we must do to be saved. Theologians often speak of both general and special revelation. General revelation refers to creation itself, including man, our conscience, reasoning and entire being. While special revelation is often used to refer to the Bible, although we’ll see in a few minutes there is more to it.

General revelation is so named because it is available to everyone in general. We are told about it in Romans 1:20-21, which say that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him”. [4] This is a very important point. General revelation is sufficient for the purpose of leaving men without excuse. We should know that there is a God, we should give him glory and thanks, and we should seek to know him and please him. But, in our natural state, we do none of those things.

Marc Roby: And, of course, because men reject God, Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-19 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is where special revelation comes into the picture. It is called special revelation because it is not available to every single person. And it is only in special revelation that God reveals to us how we can be reconciled to him and have the sentence of his wrath removed from us.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, by being united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: Right. That’s the core of the gospel message. In his natural state, man is a sinner who has rejected God and is under his wrath. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But, if we repent of our sins and place our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, we’ll be saved.

It is the unique job of God’s special revelation to give us this gospel message.

Marc Roby: But it gives us a lot more than just the bare gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. It gives us everything we need for life and doctrine. In other words, it tells us everything we must believe and everything we must do. Not only to be saved, but to live a life pleasing to God. And not only does it tell us these things, it is our only infallible, objective guide for salvation and the Christian life. Remember in Sessions 2 and 3 we examined the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” That is the same as saying it teaches us doctrine and life.

Marc Roby: Now I can hear some Christians objecting at this point, because they will say that God reveals to them directly, by his Holy Spirit, what they are to do.

Dr. Spencer: I believe that God does reveal things to his people by his Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit is also the author of the Bible, and God cannot lie, and he cannot change or contradict himself. So, the subjective revelation that a Christian may get from the Holy Spirit must always be subservient to the objective Word of God.

If you think the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you that contradicts the Bible, then you are wrong. And we need this kind of objective standard, because we are all prone to misunderstanding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or to thinking the Holy Spirit is speaking when, in fact, it is either our own sinful nature welling up, or a suggestion even of the devil. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes”. In the Greek, the word the NIV translates here as “schemes”, and which the ESV and other versions translate as “devices” is noama (νόημα), and the root meaning is really “thoughts”. So, the verse could perhaps be better translated as “we are not unaware of Satan’s thoughts.” In other words, Satan puts thoughts into our minds. And we need some objective standard for distinguishing between our own sinful thoughts, the thoughts of Satan, and the thoughts the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is that objective standard.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is, which is why we have said a number of times in these podcasts that the Bible must be the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian. We can’t let our subjective experiences be the ultimate rule because they can simply be wrong. And there is no way for anyone else to help me if my subjective understanding is the ultimate standard. Suppose, for example, I tell you that God has spoken to me and told me that I should do something, if my subjective experience is the ultimate standard, then you can’t say much at that point. Who are you to contradict God? So, if you think I’m wrong, your only options would be to leave it alone or call me a liar. But, if I tell you that I think God spoke and told me to do something, you can speak to me if what I think God wants me to do is unbiblical. You can, and should, say to me, “Richard, I don’t think that is the Holy Spirit speaking. Let’s look at what the Holy Spirit said in the Scripture.”

Marc Roby: And I think we all need that kind of correction from time to time.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. Which is why being a member of good church and having good Christian fellowship is so important.

Marc Roby: It reminds me of the apostle Paul rebuking and correcting Peter in Galatians 2:11.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example. We aren’t told the entire conversation, but I’m confident that if Peter didn’t immediately recognize he was wrong and repent, Paul would have argued from the Scriptures to show him that he was wrong.

Marc Roby: Of course, the apostles had the advantage of having heard Jesus himself speak.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly was a great privilege. But, I think that in many ways we are far more privileged today.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Because God has provided us with a written record of all the words and deeds of Jesus that it is important for us to know about. We don’t have to rely on our memories.

Marc Roby: That is certainly a good thing, especially as we get older!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. My memory is sometimes pretty bad. But, we have an even greater advantage because not only do we have the written record, we have nearly 2,000 years of scholarship and exhortations from godly men and women to help us understand and apply the Word of God, and to encourage us to hold firmly to the faith.

Marc Roby: That is a tremendous benefit indeed. And it is sometimes astounding, as well as humbling and edifying, to read the insights of some of the great saints of the past.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. But, I also want to point out that the Bible is not going to be properly understood by anyone unless and until that person is born again. What I mean by “properly understood” here is that the message is received and responded to with saving faith. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: That is so true.

Dr. Spencer: The fact that the Bible cannot be properly understood without the Holy Spirit working in us is why I said there was more to special revelation than just the Bible itself. Since the whole point of the term “special revelation” is to talk about what is needed for salvation and living the Christian life, we need to keep in mind this necessary work of the Holy Spirit even if we say that special revelation is the Bible, as is frequently done.

I think James Boice makes a good point in his wonderful book called Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “special revelation has three stages. First, there is redemption in history. This centers in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died in the place of sinners and rose as proof of their divine justification. Second, there is a revelation in writing. This is the Bible. God has provided interpretive records of what he has done for our redemption. Finally, there is the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit. As a result the individual is born again, receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and is enabled to follow him faithfully until life’s end.”[5]

Marc Roby: It is clear from my own experience that we need the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives.

Dr. Spencer: My experience is the same. Not only must we be born again, we must also be walking in humble obedience and be filled with the Spirit or our reading of the Bible will not be as useful as it could be. God refuses to speak to someone who is sinning and refusing to repent. But, when we are right with God, his Holy Spirit causes the Bible to come alive. When we read it we see ourselves, and it brings us to repentance, greater faith, a deeper understanding of God, and a clearer understanding of what he wants us to do.

Marc Roby: I find it amazing how you can read a passage you’ve read many times before and yet, because of your different situation, God shows you something completely new and different in the passage.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve had the exact same experience. But, as I’ve been saying, this standard is an objective standard. And one of the things that means is that I’m not free to run off and go crazy with my subjective interpretations of what the Word of God says. That is part of the reason it is so important that this revelation be in written form. If I have misinterpreted it, I need to be able to sit down with someone and have him show me where I went wrong.

Marc Roby: That, of course, requires that we agree on how to read the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must agree on how to properly read and understand the Word. The science of properly interpreting the Word of God is called Hermeneutics, and we will get into that in a later session. For now, I want to move on to mention four key characteristics of special revelation.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: They are sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity.

Marc Roby: I’m sure at least some of our listeners are not familiar with the word perspicuity.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right. Perspicuity means clarity. So, perhaps, we could say that the word perspicuity is not particularly perspicuous.

Marc Roby: Maybe it would be better not to have said that.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, perhaps you’re right. In any event, I thought it was important to at least introduce the term since it is used in theology and since the acronym you will sometimes hear for these four characteristics is SNAP, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity. But, if you like, we can change the acronym to SNAC, standing for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Why are these terms so important?

Dr. Spencer: They are important because they tell us some very important things about the Word of God given to us in the Bible. First, it is sufficient, which of course begs the question, “Sufficient for what?” And the short answer is, that it provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. The Bible is also necessary, which again begs the same question, “Necessary for what?” And the short answer is also the same, it is necessary for salvation and a proper Christian life. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. But, the only place we learn who Christ is, what he did, and how we can be saved is the Bible. So, either a person has to read it for himself, or he has to be told what it says by someone sent to preach the gospel to him. Thirdly, the Bible is authoritative, which again begs the question, “Authoritative for what?” This time the answer is more comprehensive. The Bible is authoritative for everything it speaks about. As we have pointed out several times, it is a Christian’s ultimate authority. And, finally, we come to clarity, or using the old term, perspicuity. What this means is that the Bible is clear about those things for which it is necessary and sufficient. In other words, the basic message of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to God is clear. You don’t need a degree in theology, nor do you need to be exceptionally bright in order to understand the basic message of the Bible. A child is able to understand it sufficiently to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, of course, there is so much more there as well. Even a very intelligent and learned person can spend a lifetime studying the Word of God and never fully plumb the depths.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true. There is always more that we can learn about from the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I look forward to exploring the Word of God further, but we are out of time for today. I want to close by reminding and encouraging our listeners to send their questions and comments to


[1] E.g., see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pp. 477-478

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 1-2

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 21

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by finishing our examination of extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible. We ended last time by looking at few Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. Dr. Spencer, where do you want to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to first refer to the discussion we had back in Session 7, where I pointed out that the New Testament is the best attested book from antiquity by a huge margin. We have extremely good manuscripts for every part and that, combined with the science of textual criticism, which I also discussed in that session, allows us to have great confidence that we know what the original manuscripts said. Also, I want to lay to rest a notion that is, unfortunately, not uncommon today.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: It is the nonsensical view of some professing Christians that the New Testament does not have to be historically factual for the Christian faith to be meaningful. Some will say that it doesn’t even matter if Jesus actually lived or not, all that matters is the good moral teaching that is credited to him. If you put that teaching into practice, then you are a Christian. But, to claim that the good moral teachings of Jesus, or of some mythical figure called Jesus, are all that matter is to completely eviscerate the gospel message.

The Christian faith is founded on historical fact. Let me quote the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15:14 he wrote that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” [1] In other words, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a real historical event, the Christian faith is useless. And you can extend this argument very easily. If the New Testament is not true in every detail, then our faith has no solid objective foundation. We are left with pure subjectivism.

Marc Roby: I couldn’t agree with you more.

Dr. Spencer: But, praise God, the reality is that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. He came to earth in the man Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life of obedience and willingly gave himself as a sacrifice of atonement on the cross to pay for the sins of his people, and he was raised from the dead on the third day as foretold in the Bible. He then appeared to many people. And after he ascended into heaven he sent his Holy Spirit down on the apostles and they preached the good news of the forgiveness of sins in his name, which is called the gospel. Through that preaching, the Christian church was started and grew rapidly.

And what was true then is still true today; unless and until we come to know the real, historical Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and bound for eternal hell. But, if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we are saved and bound for heaven. Although, as we discussed in Sessions 12 through 16, that simple statement of faith is loaded with meaning and we must guard against a false, easy type of faith.

So, what I want to do today is to provide a sampling of the extra-biblical evidence we have that corroborates the New Testament.

Marc Roby: OK. What would you like to examine first?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to note that Dr. Stephen Meyer, in his video series “Is the Bible Reliable?[2] does a good job of presented a significant amount of detailed evidence showing that the New Testament is historically accurate. For example, it gets the names of places and people just right. We have noted before that getting details right is a significant sign of historical accuracy and is not as easy as one might suppose. Let me give just one example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: In Romans 16:23, which the apostle Paul wrote from Corinth, he sent greetings from a man named Erastus, whom Paul said was the “city’s director of public works”. Now, this is not some major figure in history, so it is quite surprising that an inscription was found on an old Roman road in Corinth that names him.[3] F.F. Bruce, in his excellent, but somewhat old, book “The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?”, mentions this same inscription.[4]

Marc Roby: That is pretty incredible to find such a minor figure from so long ago.

Dr. Spencer: It is incredible, and getting such a minor detail right is strong evidence of historical reliability. There are two others items that Meyer brings up in his video that I think it is worthwhile to mention, even though they are both disputed. They are both ossuaries, which are boxes the Jews used to re-bury bones after the body had decayed.

Marc Roby: That sounds a bit macabre.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it does. In any event, this process of digging up a grave and re-burying the bones was only practiced for about a hundred years, from roughly 20 BC to 70 AD. One of the ossuaries was found in an official archaeological dig in 1990, so there is no question about its being authentic, the question is about whether or not the person named is the person from the Bible. The ossuary is very ornate and the inscription, when translated, reads “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”, which many think is the High Priest Caiaphas mentioned, for example, in Matthew 26 in connection with Jesus’ trial.[5]

Marc Roby: That would be pretty incredible if true, and given the time period, the location and the fact that it was such an ornate ossuary, it certainly seems probable.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But the other ossuary is potentially even more incredible. It is a very simple one that came to light from the antiquities market, so no one knows for sure when or where it was found or by whom. No one doubts that it is a first-century piece, the question is whether or not the entire inscription is first century, or whether some of it is a modern forgery. The inscription reads, when translated, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” and so this is called the James ossuary. If the entire inscription is legitimate, this would almost certainly be the ossuary for James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, because all three names are correct, the period is correct, and you wouldn’t name a brother unless he was extremely prominent.

The evidence for this inscription being entirely legitimate has gone back and forth over the years as different types of testing have been done. The most recent testing was in 2008 and seems to confirm that it is genuine.[6] One thing is certain, if the inscription has been added to by a modern forger, the person who did it was extremely good and very, very knowledgeable. So, over all, I’d have to say I think it is most likely genuine.

Marc Roby: That would be amazing. But, even if it turns out to be a forgery, we don’t need to worry too much, because we have a lot of other extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who was crucified by the Romans and whose followers started the Christian church.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly do. In fact, I would say that there is no serious basis for anyone to doubt the existence of Jesus Christ, or the fact that he was crucified, or the fact that his disciples said he was raised from the dead. For example, the Jewish-Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, whom we’ve talked about before, mentions Jesus twice in his Antiquities in Books 18 and 20, and he also mentions John the Baptist in Book 18.[7] The Antiquities was written near the end of the first century AD, which is only about 60 years or so after the death of Christ. The account about Jesus in Book 20 also mentions his brother James, it says that the high priest Ananus “assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”[8]. Now listening to that quote without being able to see the commas might be a bit confusing. James is called the brother of Jesus, and it is Jesus, we are told, who was called Christ.

Marc Roby: What about the other reference to Jesus?

Dr. Spencer: That one is a bit more problematic. We have several copies of it and the most famous one has pretty clearly, and regrettably, been modified by Christians, it has Josephus, who was certainly not a believer, calling Jesus the Christ, which is not believable. However, in 1971 a 10th-century Arabic version came to light, which still has the same basic material, but with a few key word changes. For example, instead of saying Jesus “was the Christ”, it says Jesus “was believed to be the Christ”. Since this version was in Arabic hands, there is no reason to suspect that it was modified to be better evidence for Christianity, so most scholars think it is genuine, and it still provides clear evidence for Jesus.

Marc Roby: Do we have other extra-biblical sources mentioning Jesus Christ?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote a history of the reign of Emperor Nero in about 112 AD, and in that history he notes that it was rumored that Nero himself started the great fire in Rome in 64 AD and then he writes that, in order to stop the rumor, Nero “substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, from whom they got their name, had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor; and the pernicious superstition was checked for a short time, only to break out afresh, not only in Judea, the home of the plague, but in Rome itself”.[9]

Marc Roby: Wow. Tacitus was clearly not a friend of Christians! He said that they were “loathed for their vices” and called Christianity a “pernicious superstition” and a “plague”.

Dr. Spencer: It is pretty clear alright that he didn’t think much of Christianity. But that makes this quote all the more valuable. I’m confident that he would not have wanted to provide evidence that would support Christianity! But, I suppose that since he knew what had happened, he probably didn’t think there would come a time when people would try to deny the basic facts.

Marc Roby: Well, if you’re right about that, he could not have been more wrong. But, I guess he can be forgiven for not foreseeing the deep animosity of modern anti-Christian, so-called scholars.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly can be forgiven. The great fire of Rome and Nero’s resulting persecution of Christians is also mentioned by Suetonius.[10] And all of this is written within less than 100 years of the crucifixion of Christ, so we are not talking about oral traditions being blown up into a legend.

Marc Roby: Alright. What else do you have?

Dr. Spencer: F.F. Bruce, in the book I mentioned before, quotes from a letter written by a man named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son, also named Serapion.[11] The letter was written sometime after 73 AD, and, although we don’t know the exact date, most scholars think it was fairly soon thereafter.[12] In any event, this man was in prison and wrote to his son to encourage him to pursue wisdom. In doing so he mentions three wise men who were put to death; Socrates, Pythagoras, and – although he doesn’t name him – Jesus. He wrote, “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. … Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.” It seems clear that since this letter was written not long after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD it is referring to Christ. Meyer also mentions this letter in his video.[13]

Marc Roby: It sounds like this man was very modern – he viewed Jesus solely as a great philosopher!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But, as with Tacitus, the fact that he carried no brief for Christianity makes his comments more valuable. They show us that the basic facts about the life, death, resurrection and following of Christ were widely known.

Marc Roby: That is an important point. What do you want to present next?

Dr. Spencer: The next thing I want to mention is very important. Around 156 AD a man named Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity to the Roman Emperor Pius.[14] F.F. Bruce notes a very important detail in this defense. Martyr wrote that “the words, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet,’” are “a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the ‘Acts’ which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.” Notice that last statement! Martyr knew that there had been a record of these events made, which he calls the “Acts” and that this record was available to the emperor! This is again clear evidence that what happened to Jesus was well known. And it is not credible to claim it was a legend that grew because this letter was written less than 130 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and it bears witness to the fact that there were written descriptions of what had happened that were available from the original timeframe.

Marc Roby: Very interesting. What else do you have for us?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to present just one more quote that makes it clear that even secular scholars who do not believe at all in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, if they are being honest, find the New Testament to be a reliable presentation of history. In a book called Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, published in 1963, the British academic Mr. Sherwin-White, who very obviously does not believe in Christ, wrote the following about the book of Acts in the New Testament; “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. … any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.”[15]

Marc Roby: That is a rather strong statement. Are you done with the evidence you want to present?

Dr. Spencer: Yes I am. We could go on for a very long time talking about the evidence we have and the fact that we have so many things written so close to the time of the events they describe. We can clearly put to rest the different wrong ideas people have about Jesus of Nazareth. The idea, for example, that there is only a tiny core of truth in the New Testament and the rest is legend that developed over time is simply preposterous and unbelievable. Sherwin-White points out in the book I just mentioned that legends take time to develop and there simply was nowhere near enough time between the events and the written descriptions we have of them for a legend to develop.

There is just so much more that could be said, and I again encourage those who are interested to look into some of the resources I’ve mentioned. But, the bottom line is that there really is no evidence, none, that clearly demonstrates any part of the Bible to be in error. Which should strike any reasonable person as a complete miracle given that the Bible is over 2,000 years old and has had many serious enemies for that entire time! It simply could not be true unless the Bible is exactly what it claims to be, the word of the sovereign Lord of the universe. The main reason people have for rejecting the Bible is very simple; they don’t want to accept the fact that there is a Creator who is going to hold them accountable for how they have lived their lives.

Marc Roby: I completely agree with that assessment. So, what do you have planned for our next session?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start going over systematic theology; which is an examination of what the entire Bible teaches us about different topics.

Marc Roby: I look forward to starting on that. I also want to remind our listeners that they can send a question to us by sending an email to


[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Is the Bible Reliable?, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[3] Ibid

[4] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?, Eerdmans, 6th Ed., 1981, pg. 96




[8] Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1, from The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, Translated by William Whiston, 1737, see also Bruce, op. cit., pg. 109

[9] Bruce, op. cit., pp 120-121, see also Meyer, op. cit., and

[10] Bruce, op. cit., op. cit., pp 121-122

[11] Ibid., pg. 117


[13] Meyer, op. cit.


[15] A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1963, pg. 189

Yes Single

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible. We left off last time during the period of the divided kingdom in the early first millennium BC. What do you have for us today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we ended last time talking about the Moabite stone, which clearly mentions “Omri king of Israel”, so let’s start with a second reference to this king of the northern kingdom of Israel. In 1846 a 6½-foot-tall black stone monument, called the Black Obelisk, was found in what is now northern Iraq. It dates from about 825 BC and commemorates the military campaigns of the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III. It contains a carved picture of a king bowing and paying tribute to Shalmaneser and the inscription says that the king is Jehu, son of Omri.[1] It is in the British museum and I strongly recommend going to see it if you have a chance, it is amazing thing to see.

Marc Roby: I’ve seen that stone too and it is amazing to see something from that long ago and to see it clearly corroborate the Bible. What else do you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: We noted last time that Samaria, the capital city of the norther kingdom, fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, but that wasn’t the end of the Assyrian’s aggression against the Jews. They came again against the southern kingdom in 701 BC and captured all of the fortified cities except for Jerusalem. The Assyrians were known for their brutality and we are told in 2 Chronicles 32:9 that the Assyrian king Sennacherib laid siege to the Jewish town of Lachish during this campaign. There is a famous 90-foot long carved mural that depicts this siege in gruesome detail. It was found in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, which was then the capital city of the Assyrian empire. Nineveh was on the eastern bank of the Tigris River and is now part the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq. This mural is also in the British museum and I again recommend going to see it if you get a chance.

Marc Roby: I concur that it is well worth going to see. And, of course, the Bible tells us that Sennacherib’s troops came to Jerusalem to lay siege to it after finishing with Lachish.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And that is the next, and in many ways most amazing, evidence I want to cite. There is a lengthy description of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18 & 19, 2 Chronicles 32 and also Isaiah 36 & 37. And we also, amazingly, have multiple copies of the Annals of Sennacherib, which describe the same events. One of these, the Taylor prism, is a 15-inch tall hexagonal clay piece with Akkadian cuneiform writing on all six sides. It was found in 1830 in Nineveh by a British Colonel named Robert Taylor and is again in the British Museum.[2]

Marc Roby: And do Sennacherib’s Annals agree with the biblical account?

Dr. Spencer: The Assyrian account agrees in many details with the biblical account and there is one particularly interesting and important correspondence. The biblical account tells us that Hezekiah, the king of Judah, prayed for deliverance and we read in 2 Kings 19:33-36 that God told him through the prophet Isaiah, “‘By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’ That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. … So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.” [3]

Now, we would not expect Sennacherib’s account to mention this miracle, but it is interesting that his account is clear that he did not enter Jerusalem, but instead he returned to Nineveh, so it’s obvious that something prevented him from destroying the city.[4] After boasting about capturing 46 fortified cities, all he says about Hezekiah is, “I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem”[5]. There is no reasonable natural way to explain why the most powerful empire of the time was unable to capture Jerusalem after already capturing so many other fortified cities in Judah. The Bible’s explanation, while obviously supernatural and therefore offensive to unbelievers, makes good sense and is consistent with all that we know about the events.

Marc Roby: Sennacherib’s silence does speak volumes in this case. What other evidence would you like to present?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible also tells us that after Sennacherib returned to Nineveh, he was assassinated by one of his sons, and this fact is corroborated by extra-biblical sources.[6] In addition, several bullae, which are clay seals used to seal documents, have been found with King Hezekiah’s seal, the most recent was found just a couple of years ago in Jerusalem.[7] There is more that we could say, for example about Hezekiah’s tunnel and his wall, but as I’ve noted, the historical accuracy of the biblical account for this period is not controversial, so I’ll let people who are interested in more detail watch Dr. Meyer’s video[8] or read other sources.[9] The detailed references are in the transcript online as always.

Marc Roby: Alright. If we move on about a hundred years in biblical history, we come to the next major event, the fall of Jerusalem. Is that what we want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The Babylonian chronicles[10] provide extra-biblical evidence of that important event. In fact, they agree with many details of the biblical narrative. Going back a few years before the fall of Jerusalem, Jehoiakim became king of Judah in 609 BC right after his godly father, King Josiah, was killed in battle against Pharaoh Neco. The Bible tells us about this in 2 Kings 23. Josiah was, at that time, allied with Babylon and he was trying to stop Neco from getting up to Carchemish to help the Assyrians fight against Babylon. After Josiah was killed, his son Jehoahaz was named king. But after only three months, Neco took Jehoahaz captive to Egypt, and placed his brother, Eliakim on the throne in his place, renaming him Jehoiakim and making him pay tribute to the Egyptians.

Neco then went on up to Carchemish to join his Assyrian allies. The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC[11] and Judah then became a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as we are told in 2 Kings 24:1. The Babylonians did not invade Egypt though, because Neco was able to successfully defend his country in 601 BC.[12] Nevertheless, perhaps because he was emboldened by Egypt’s victory at home, we are told in 2 Kings 24:1 that Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who then came against Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died during the siege and his son Jehoiachin became king, but only for three months before surrendering to the Babylonians in 597 BC. He was then taken captive to Babylon, along with about 10,000 other people. His uncle, Mattaniah, was then installed as king by Nebuchadnezzar, who also changed his name to Zedekiah. We are told about all of this in 2 Kings 24 and with other details in Jeremiah, who was the main prophet in Jerusalem at the time. And the Babylonian records agree with many of the details.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Zedekiah didn’t remain king for all that long either. He again rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, leading to the final destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And many of the details provided in the Bible about the power struggles between Assyria, Egypt and Babylon in the late 7th and early 6th century BC are in agreement with the extra-biblical accounts, while none of the Bible’s details are contradicted.

Marc Roby: All of this goes a long way in confirming what you said before; the Bible is our greatest archaeological treasure.

Dr. Spencer: It most definitely is. I want to give just one more amazing example of the evidence we have. Remember we talked earlier about clay seals called bullae? Well, they have found bullae of two of Jeremiah’s opponents, mentioned together in Jeremiah 38:1, Shephatiah son of Mattan and Gedaliah son of Pashhur. We don’t know anything more about these men, but the bullae were found in 2005 and 2008 only a few yards apart in excavations in the old City of David in modern Jerusalem.[13] Even though these are relatively common names from the time, the fact that they are mentioned together in that verse as having heard Jeremiah’s prophecy, which led to some unspecified officials telling the king that Jeremiah was worthy of death, would seem to imply that they were either officials themselves, or were at least called as official witnesses. When you combine this with the fact that both names also having the correct names for their fathers and the bullae being found in the same place, it all seems to add up to these being the very men mentioned by Jeremiah.

Marc Roby: That is truly incredible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. But as I said earlier, even secular archaeologists do not seriously challenge the accuracy of the Bible’s narrative for this part of history, so I don’t want to spend much more time on it. What I want to do instead, is to finish looking at the Old Testament history and to simultaneously begin examining some of the prophecies made in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright. How do you plan to do those two things together?

Dr. Spencer: I want to briefly examine Isaiah’s prophecy about Cyrus. This prophecy deals with the last historical period of the Old Testament, the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem in 537 BC.

Marc Roby: And this Cyrus is, of course, Cyrus the 2nd, king of Persia, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC.

Dr. Spencer: Right. He is also known as Cyrus the Great and he is an important figure in biblical history. In fact, one interesting little fact about him is that he is the only non-Jew ever said to be called “Yahweh’s anointed” in the Bible.[14] Remember that people could be anointed for various tasks, like being a king or a priest, but in this case a foreigner is given this honor. He was, we are told in Isaiah 45:1, anointed “to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor”. And in Isaiah 44:28, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” And this is true prophecy because Isaiah wrote this no later than the early 7th century BC, roughly 150 years before Cyrus fulfilled the prophecy by allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

We know a great deal about Cyrus from extra-biblical historical references, like the Histories by Herodotus[15] – also known as the Persian Wars, the Nabonidus Chronicle[16] and the Cyrus Cylinder[17]. And these extra-biblical references corroborate the biblical narrative of the fall of Babylon and Cyrus’ decree to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. In fact, there is a very interesting story told by the 1st-century Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus. He said that Cyrus’ decree to release the Jews was prompted by his being shown Isaiah’s prophecy. It is entirely possible that the biblical Daniel, who was a high official in Babylon when Cyrus conquered it, showed Isaiah’s prophecy to him, so the story may very well be true.

Marc Roby: That is amazing. But I know that modern scholars typically divide the book of Isaiah up into different pieces and claim that the prophecy about Cyrus was written after the events it describes. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: I would first note that Bible believing scholars defend the unity of the book, and the main reason these unbelieving scholars have for dividing the book is precisely their presupposition that true predictive prophecy is impossible. But, secondly, I would say that such a view strikes me as incredibly hard to swallow. The oldest extant copy of the book of Isaiah, which is substantially the same as our current copies, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and dates from no later than the 2nd century before Christ. It is impossible to believe that it was the only copy of Isaiah around at the time. In fact, given the importance of the book and the geographical dispersion of the Israelites, I would say there must have been a number of copies available in antiquity in a number of different places. So, to believe that someone modified or added to the book in order to make it look like prophecy, and to believe that we have absolutely no indication that anyone pointed this out until the last 200 years is ridiculous.

In addition, the purpose of this prophecy, and the one by Jeremiah that the captivity of the Israelites would last for 70 years[18], was to encourage the Israelites in this desperate time that their God was fully in control of history. If this had not really been prophecy, people would have known that and there would be some indication in our written histories that this was severely contested. Randall Price does a good job of discussing this in his book The Stones Cry Out.[19]

Marc Roby: You make a good case. I think it is very hard to believe that such wholesale changes could be made and we would have no historical record mentioning that. But, it is easy to see how those who think prophecy is simply impossible would arrive at such a conclusion.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it’s very easy to see how they arrive at such a conclusion. But, simply assuming that prophecy is impossible does not in any way make you right. And there are other prophecies in Isaiah that it is much harder to dismiss since we have a copy from over 100 years before Christ, and some of Isaiah’s prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, it sounds like we are ready to move on the next phase of biblical history. So, which of these prophecies would you like to highlight?

Dr. Spencer: With the time we have left today I’d like to stick with ones that are in Isaiah, or some other passage that is attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so there can be no question at all that they were written prior to the time of Christ, and also to stick with prophecies that were recognized as having to do with the Messiah by Jewish scholars at the time of Christ so that we can’t be accused of searching the Old Testament and looking for things that could possibly be taken as prophecies about Christ.

Marc Roby: That sounds like a reasonable approach. I assume that means that we want to look at Chapter 53 of Isaiah?

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly one of the passages, yes. There are also two other verses we will get to in a moment, but, let’s begin with Isaiah 53. It was recognized by the Jews at the time as being Messianic, simply meaning, as I said, that it was speaking about the promised Messiah. In Verses 3 through 5 it says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Marc Roby: That passage is always amazing to read, it so clearly fits Jesus Christ and his redeeming work on the cross.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and it so clearly speaks of God’s amazing love for sinners too. We are not able to save ourselves, but “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” and “he was pierced for our transgressions”. It always reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we are told that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is also clear that this coming Messiah was not going to be an earthly king since it says “He was despised and rejected by men” and “we esteemed him not”. We are also told in Verse 9 that he was assigned a grave with the rich, and we know from Matthew 27:57-60 that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man. Then, in Verse 10 Isaiah tells us that “the LORD makes his life a guilt offering”, which agrees perfectly with what we are told in Ephesians 5:1-2, where we read “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” There is much more that could be said, but I think that is enough for now.

Marc Roby: That is a lot. But you mentioned two other verses you wanted to mention?

Dr. Spencer: Yes I did. And both of these verses were also recognized as Messianic by the Jews at the time of Christ[20], and both of them are attested to in the Dead Sea Scrolls[21], so there can be no doubt about them pre-dating Christ. One is Psalm 22 Verse 16, which says “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” This verse is clearly speaking about the crucifixion of Christ. And this is an interesting verse because it has long been a subject of dispute between Jews and Christians. The Jews claim that it should read something like “For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me, like a lion, my hands and feet.”[22] It turns out that the difference between the two translations depends on just one letter in the Hebrew. But, there are two major problems with this alternate view. First, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, finished long before the time of Christ, agrees with our version about Christ’s hands and feet being pierced, so the Jews have to claim that Christians changed the Septuagint – an unlikely proposal to say the least in my mind. Secondly, since the verse has now been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, they have to claim that the letter is being misread and or the word mistranslated. I think that given the preponderance of evidence, including the next verse I want to mention, our translations stand.

The other verse is Zechariah 12 Verse 10, which says in part, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced”. This again is in a passage known at the time of Christ to be Messianic, and it has also been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Marc Roby: That is absolutely amazing. In fact, it appears to be clear evidence that God has deliberately given us more revelation to bolster our faith. But, we are out of time for today.


[1] Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, Harvest House Pub., 1997, pg. 77, see also

[2] Price, op. cit., pg. 272, also

[3] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[4] Price, op. cit., pp 272-274


[6] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg. 42 and


[8] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[9] E.g., Kitchen op. cit., Price op. cit.





[14] Lisbeth S. Fried, Cyrus the Messiah, Bible Review 19:5, October 2003

[15] Price, op. cit., pg. 248, also


[17] Price, pp. 251-252

[18] See Jer 25:11-12, 29:10 and Dan 9:2

[19] Price, op. cit., pp 246-252

[20] Robert C. Newman, The Evidence of Prophecy, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1988, pg. 104

[21] For Psalm 22:16 see, for example, Shon Hopkin, The Psalm 22:16 Controversy: New Evidence from

the Dead Sea Scrolls, BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol. 44, Issue 3, available at
For Zech 12:10 see, or


Yes Single

[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we discussed evidence for the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Dr. Spencer, what would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: The next phase of biblical history is the period covered by the book of Judges along with the first seven chapters of 1 Samuel. This period begins with the death of Joshua and extends up to the beginning of the monarchy under Saul. We are told in Joshua 24:29 that he died at the age of 110. And we also know that he was Moses’ aid when the Israelites first came out of Egypt, so assuming he was a young man of, let’s say, 18 or 20 at that time, he must have died a few years before 1350 BC. We also know that Saul started to rule around 1050 BC, so the period of the judges extends for about 300 years, from around 1350 to 1050 BC.

Marc Roby: And what extra-biblical evidence do we have for that period?

Dr. Spencer: Let me first say a little about the dates, and in doing so also provide a bit more evidence for the conquest, before I get into any of the evidence for the time of the Judges, because this is a period, just like the Exodus, about which there is a great deal of controversy. There are those, like Kenneth Kitchen, who hold to a late date for the Exodus, around 1250 BC,[1] which I think is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the biblical accounts, and they point to the fact that much of the evidence for destruction and resettlement of towns in Canaan comes from the 13th and 12th centuries BC, rather than the 14th century. But, as Kitchen himself points out in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, which we’ve used quite a bit, the biblical account of the conquest does not say that the Israelites came in, totally destroyed and then immediately occupied most or even many of the towns in Canaan.[2]

In fact, we are told in Joshua 13:1 that “When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, ‘You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.’” [3] So, we know that around the middle of the 14th century the Israelites had not yet occupied much of the land of Canaan. We are only told that the Israelites totally destroyed and burned three cities: Jericho, Ai, and Hazor. We discussed Jericho at some length last time, and the exact location of Ai is still in doubt, but we have not yet said anything about Hazor, which is north of the Sea of Galilee.

Marc Roby: Is there evidence for the conquest of Hazor?

Dr. Spencer: We have a tremendous amount of evidence that Hazor was a very large Canaanite settlement, including extra-biblical references to it, for example in the Amarna letters we discussed in Session 18, all of which is consistent with it being described in Joshua 11:10 as “the head of all” the Canaanite kingdoms in the north. In fact, the excavations at Hazor are still going on now and this most recent round of excavations was begun almost 30 years ago, in 1990.

Marc Roby: That’s a long time to be digging in one place.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is, and yet they have still only excavated a small percentage of the site. And it has been under the direction of the same person for the entire time, Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In any event, these are some of the most extensive excavations in the region and they have yielded a lot of evidence as I said. There is also clear evidence of a massive destruction of the site by fire, which Prof. Ben-Tor dates to the time of Joshua, although – as you might guess – the date is controversial.

In any event, the main point I want to make is that independent of the exact date of the destruction by fire seen in the excavation at Hazor, there is a tremendous amount of evidence that corroborates the biblical narrative of both the conquest and the period of the Judges. In addition, as has been pointed out by many, the entire period of the Judges, which we are going to briefly examine now, is a time of many conflicts and changes in this region. So, the evidence of destruction and resettlement in this period of time is consistent with the biblical narrative and is not evidence that uniquely points to a late date for the Exodus.

Let me quote Randall Price from his book called The Stones Cry Out, which is another very useful book. He writes, “the signs of widespread destruction at certain sites should not be considered as archaeological evidence against the biblical chronology and for a late date for the Conquest. These destructions better fit the period of the Judges, during which ongoing warfare was commonplace.”[4]

Marc Roby: I think we are clear on the fact that archaeologists disagree about some of the dates. But what evidence do we have for the period of the Judges?

Dr. Spencer: We have a good deal of evidence, with much of it again being circumstantial. For example, we read in Judges 18 the sad story of the tribe of Dan, who, having not been successful in occupying the territory God assigned to them, sent out spies to look for somewhere else to go. And we are told in Judges 18:7 that the spies “came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, unsuspecting and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.” The spies then returned to the rest of the tribe and said, “let’s attack them!” And they did so, taking the city and renaming it Dan.

As Kitchens details, we have significant archaeological evidence for Laish having a large Canaanite settlement, which was then destroyed around 1200 BC and resettled by Israelites.[5]

Marc Roby: That’s impressive evidence. What else do we have?

Dr. Spencer: One of the more interesting bits of indirect evidence is provided by the Midianites, whom the Bible describes as one of the enemies of the Jewish people during this time. As it turns out, the Midianites where a people with a very short history. They seem to have existed for only 200 years or so, starting from about 1300 BC.[6] So, the Bible mentioning them at this point is a very specific bit of evidence for the historicity of the account, and is again something it would have been virtually impossible for someone to get right if this account were written hundreds of years later as the minimalists would have us believe. A similar situation is true of another enemy of the Jewish people in this period, called the Amalekites.

There are a number of other specifics I could cite, but you get into arguments about dates and so forth for much of them, so I’ll just finish by reminding our listeners that the Amarna letters we’ve discussed before illustrate the kind of constant conflict that was going on during this period. In addition, since there was no large or powerful Jewish state during the time of the judges, one would not expect to find a great deal of evidence. The Amarna letters and the Merneptah Stele, both of which were discussed last time, along with the evidence from Laish and the general archaeological evidence of a volatile time of destruction and re-settlement, is probably more than we should reasonably have expected to find.

Marc Roby: Very well. So what do we look at next?

Dr. Spencer: The next period in biblical history is the united monarchy. This started, as I noted a while ago, about 1050 BC when the Jewish people asked for a king and God complied.

Marc Roby: I think it would be a good idea to pause and point out the theological importance of this episode in Jewish history at this point.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. The book of Judges has a clear theme. Over and over again we see the people being punished for their disobedience to God’s commands, followed by their crying out in repentance for relief and God, in his great mercy, providing deliverance. Overall then, it is a book about the unfaithful apostasy and idolatry of God’s people and his faithful mercy and long-suffering. There is a phrase repeated four times in the book, “In those days Israel had no king”, which is a terrible thing to have said about them since they did, in fact, have a king. And not just any king, they had the King of kings! And twice in the book, that phrase is combined with another sad statement that further explains it; in both Judges 17:6 and 21:25 we read, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Marc Roby: That sounds a lot like our time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. But, returning to the united kingdom, we have no good direct evidence for Saul, but we do have for his successor David, who is, of course, the most famous of all the Jewish kings.

Marc Roby: It’s particularly interesting that we have solid direct evidence for him since for many years the skeptics have been saying that King David was a figment of the Jewish imagination; a purely mythical ideal king.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is interesting. I think that God has a great sense of humor and sometimes delights in giving people just enough rope to hang themselves. It is also a clear demonstration of how inconsistent and downright silly some of the critics of the Bile can be. If the Jewish people were going to construct a mythical perfect king, I don’t find it credible to believe that they would come up with David, who while certainly a great king, was also severely flawed. I mean, who would create a mythical supposedly ideal king who is also guilty of adultery and murder?

Marc Roby: That’s a good point. But what is the extra-biblical evidence for David, and just how recent is it?

Dr. Spencer: The best evidence comes from a 1993 find in our old friend, the city of Dan. Called the Tell Dan Stele, it was a black basalt monument erected in the late 9th century BC, about 150 years after David died. It is a victory stele put up by the Arameans to commemorate a victory over their enemies, the Israelites. One line of the stele says, with some reconstruction, “I killed Jehoram son of Ahab king of Israel and I killed Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of the House of David.”[7]

The reconstruction of a couple of names is all but certain, but more importantly there is no reconstruction necessary for the part that says, “the house of David”. So, first of all, we have absolutely irrefutable extra-biblical evidence for the existence of David. Secondly, the silly proposals that the real David was a petty tribal king and that the mythical David simply borrowed his name are put to rest because kings in the ancient world were no different than people today. They didn’t make a big deal out of commemorating a victory over a nobody. And, in addition, if David was such a minor figure, Jehoram would not have been called “king of the House of David” nearly 150 years after David lived.

Marc Roby: That does seem unlikely. You said this is the “best evidence”, so I assume there is more?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Another piece of direct evidence, which, although less certain than the Tell Dan Stele, is also solid – no pun intended – is the Mesha Stele, which is also called the Moabite stone. Mesha was the king of Moab and this stele, which was also erected in the 9th century BC, links the house of David with an occupation in part of southern Moab.[8] But our evidence doesn’t stop there. There is a third, less certain but nonetheless probable reference to David in a list of place names conquered by Shoshenq I of Egypt. This list was engraved around 925 BC at the Great Temple of Karnak in Egypt and includes a place called “the heights of David.”[9]

Marc Roby: That is truly amazing that after so many years we have solid evidence for this most famous of all Israelite kings. Do you want to say any more about the united monarchy?

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot more indirect evidence that I’ll let people look at on their own if they are interested, but I do want to mention that Kitchen does a good job of listing evidence from other ancient rulers that completely puts the lie to the idea that Solomon’s riches and fame are somehow not believable.[10] Solomon, as many of our listeners know, was David’s son and was named by David as his successor. And many people have claimed that Solomon’s riches, like his throne and vast amounts of gold and silver, are not believable. But, it turns out that there is a tremendous amount of evidence for other rulers of the same time frame having similar thrones, similarly huge amounts of gold and silver and so on. In addition, Solomon’s relations with other kingdoms at the time, like the famous visit by the Queen of Sheba, all make historical sense. But, I’d like to move on now to the period of the divided kingdom.

Marc Roby: Alright. And for those listeners who don’t know the history, after Solomon’s son Rehoboam took over the kingdom was split in two. The southern kingdom, usually called Judah, was first ruled by Rehoboam and included the holy city of Jerusalem, while the northern kingdom, usually called Israel, was ruled at first by Jeroboam.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And this period of history, starting roughly in 930 BC, is one of great turmoil, as anyone who has read the biblical account in 1st & 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles knows. The Bible tells us that all of the kings of the northern kingdom were wicked and, as a result, that kingdom was totally destroyed and the Israelites carried off into captivity by the Assyrians. The capital city of Samaria fell in 722 BC.

Marc Roby: And the southern kingdom didn’t fare much better.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. It did have some kings who were good, even very good, but because they also failed to remain faithful to God in spite of repeated warnings from the prophets and the example of the northern kingdom, they too were defeated, this time by the Babylonian empire, with most of the leading citizens of Jerusalem being carried into captivity in Babylon and the city itself being destroyed in 586 BC.

Marc Roby: And do we have evidence to corroborate the Bible’s narrative of this period of history?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. In fact, we have an embarrassment of riches and it is safe to say that it would be completely futile to challenge the veracity of the biblical accounts in this period. I won’t spend much time on it because it is really not controversial except for some minor details. The bottom line is that we have a lot of extra-biblical evidence that shows the biblical narrative to be factual. Let me give a couple of quick examples.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Let’s look at some evidence for the very beginning of the divided kingdom. In 1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-9 we are told of Pharaoh Shishak’s military campaign against Rehoboam. Shishak is also known as Shoshenq I.[11] No mention is made in the Bible of his also going into the northern kingdom of Israel, but Shoshenq I did leave a list of cities conquered in the Great Temple of Karnak[12] as I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, and that list allows people to trace the route of his military campaign into Canaan, which definitely included a foray into the north.[13] Kitchen speculates, I think reasonably, that since Jeroboam had fled to Egypt before taking power in the north, he was a vassal of the pharaoh and had, perhaps, stopped making payments, which would certainly have brought the pharaoh up north to collect.[14] In any event, we know from the city list that the pharaoh went there, and a portion of a victory stele was found in Megiddo, which clearly identifies Pharaoh Shoshenq I.[15]

Marc Roby: That’s pretty solid evidence indeed. What else do you have to share?

Dr. Spencer: Well, moving along a bit in the list of kings, one of the most prominent kings of the northern kingdom of Israel was Omri. There was yet another stele found in 1868, which is called either the Mesha stele, or the Moabite stone. It was erected by Mesha, king of Moab, around 840 BC and it describes him gaining a victory over a son of “Omri king of Israel”.[16] Not only does it specifically name Omri king of Israel, it also gives a description of the battle which is consistent with the account given in 2 Kings Chapter 3. Anyone who is interested can read the inscription for himself on Wikipedia.

Marc Roby: I continue to be astounded by all of the extra-biblical evidence and how it continually proves the Bible to be an accurate source. But we are out of time for today and will have to continue this next time.

Dr. Spencer: That’s fine, but I do want to remind our listeners to email their questions on this session, or any previous sessions, to

[1] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg. 359

[2] Ibid, pp. 161-163

[3] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[4] Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, Harvest House Publishers, 1997, pg. 147

[5] Kitchen, op. cit., pg. 211

[6] Ibid, pp. 213-214

[7] Price, op. cit., pg. 170

[8] Kitchen, op. cit., pp 92-93

[9] Ibid, pg. 93, see also

[10] Ibid, pp 107-137

[11] Ibid, pg. 33

[12] Ibid, pg 33

[13] E.g., see The Harper Concise Atlas of the Bible, Harper Collins Publ., 1991, pg. 63

[14] Kitchen, op. cit., pg. 34

[15] Ibid, pg. 33, also Price, pg. 227


Yes Single

[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: Before we resume our study of theology, we have a question from a listener. This question refers to Session 16, where we discussed the need to make our calling and election sure. Our listener writes, “You talked a lot about questioning your own profession of faith to make sure it’s true – questioning your motives, actions, habits, and heart-attitude. This is something that tends to get me stuck in introspection and self-focus. How can I gain strong assurance of salvation without getting stuck in an unproductive circle of introspection?”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important question. One of the main points I was trying to make in that session is that my confidence and hope are not based on anything that I am or have done, they are based on the work Jesus Christ is doing in me and God’s promise in Philippians 1:6 that he will complete the work he has started. So, in examining myself, I am not looking to see perfection, or to see that I am good enough for heaven. I can tell you for certain that none of us are perfect, and none of us are good enough for heaven. What we are looking for are signs that God is working in us to bring about serious change in our inner being. The real danger here is in mistaking some good change in habit – like stopping excessive drinking – for a deep-seated inner work of God.

Many people who are alcoholics, or addicted to cigarettes, or grossly obese are able to radically change their lives and stop these destructive behaviors on their own. You don’t need to be born again to accomplish these things. What you should be looking for to have assurance of salvation is evidence that there is a deeper work going on within.

So, for example, if someone has been an alcoholic and is born again, he doesn’t stop getting drunk just because it’s better for his health and will make his life better here and now. Having been born again, he knows that getting drunk is a sin that dishonors God and is disobedient to his commands and deserves punishment, and he is being transformed to see this truth more clearly as time goes on. He is also being transformed to realize that life is a gift from God, his body and his life are not his own, and he needs to work hard to use his gifts and resources for the good of God’s church. And he is being transformed to depend more and more on God’s power working within him to do what is right, rather than trying to do it in his own strength. In other words, his motives and methods will not be selfish, powered by human will alone, and focused on this life.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to notice that you said one who has been born again “is being transformed”, meaning that it is a continual work in progress.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a critically important point, none of these changes will be complete and perfect in this life. The former drunk may still find a seed within him that takes selfish pride in stopping his drinking and he may tend to focus on the benefits he gets in this life. And he may even fall down and drink at some time as well if he starts to depend entirely on himself. But, of course, if he is a true Christian he will repent and pray for God’s help to live in obedience. Nevertheless, neither our motives nor our actions are ever perfect in this life.

Marc Roby: I certainly know that mine aren’t, so it is comforting to know I’m not alone.

Dr. Spencer: Not only are you not alone, you are among the best possible company. Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3. After saying in Verse 10 that he wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” he wrote, in Verses 12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” [1]

The Christian life is one of constant warfare. We have enemies on the outside; the world, Satan and his demons, and we have a traitorous enemy within, our old sinful nature, which is being put to death, but will never be completely dead in this life. I said during that session that “If you have never had the experience of being deeply grieved by your own sin, of finding it loathsome and ugly and wanting to be rid of it, then you are not a Christian.” I think that is the key. A Christian has been humbled and sees himself as a sinner in need of a Savior and incapable of saving himself, and so he places his trust in Jesus Christ alone.

He doesn’t think that his problems are caused by bad things that have happened to him or been done to him, nor does he think his problems are just bad habits. And he isn’t primarily focused on this life. He realizes that he is a sinner. And that is a profound realization. A sinner is one who has offended Almighty God. He has violated God’s law and deserves punishment.

Marc Roby: That is a frightening realization.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. But here is exactly where the power of the gospel comes into play. If you examine your life and find it wanting, and then Satan attacks and brings all of your sins to mind, accusing you of not being a Christian, your response should be “You’re right Satan, I am a wretched sinner. But I’m saved by grace and Jesus Christ is my Lord, so go away!” We are promised in James 4:7 that if we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest pieces of evidence you can have that you are truly born again is to find yourself seriously questioning whether or not you are born again. So, take heart. If you see that you are sinner in need of a Savior, cry out for God to have mercy and forgive your sins on the basis of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and then trust that he is faithful and will do what he has promised. When a Christian does this, he can come away with great confidence and assurance. A confidence and assurance that are based on God – his faithfulness, his ability, and his promises.  In his excellent commentary on the verses I read from Philippians 3, Matthew Henry wrote that “A holy fear of coming short is an excellent means of perseverance.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we see again that fear can be a good thing!

Dr. Spencer: Yes we do. And we also see that fear of coming short is great evidence that you are born again and, therefore, you can be confident that God will preserve you; I noted Philippians 1:6 earlier, but you can also look at Jude 24, where we read that God “is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy”. But, two caveats are in order here. First, our present assurance can only be as strong as our present obedience. If you are not experiencing any victory over sin at all, you have no basis for assurance. You should be questioning your salvation. But the right response is to humble yourself, cry out for mercy and trust God and his promises. The second caveat is that the only place we learn about God’s plan of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to him is from the Bible. So, your faith and life must be based on the Bible. If you don’t have an interest in learning what the Bible teaches, you are not born again. If you do have that interest, then praise God, and keep listening to our podcasts!

Marc Roby: Knowing that God has promised to complete his work is great assurance. Are we ready to move on with our study?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are. But I really appreciate that question and want to encourage our listeners to email their questions to

Marc Roby: Alright. So, we are now ready to resume our study of biblical theology by continuing to examine extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we finished looking at evidence for the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt. And today we will examine evidence for the Israelites coming into Canaan sometime after 1400 BC.

Dr. Spencer, where would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin with solid, direct evidence that cannot reasonably be refuted. The Merneptah Stele was discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1896 in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. It is also sometimes called the Israel Stele, and it dates from about 1210 BC. The last three lines of this stele describe a military campaign in Canaan and almost all scholars agree that they contain the oldest extra-biblical reference to Israel yet found.[3] Israel is described as one of the enemies that the Egyptians had to deal with in the region of Canaan, so it’s clear they were well established, and the Egyptians considered them a formidable enemy by 1210 BC.

Marc Roby: Alright. What else do we have?

Dr. Spencer: The next evidence I would cite comes from the Amarna letters from the mid-14th century BC. These are clay tablets that contain diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and her representatives in Canaan. They discuss, among other things, dealing with a group of people called the Apiru, or Habiru. Some people think these are the Hebrews, although Kenneth Kitchen says that these terms cannot readily be linguistically related and he refers to them as “displaced people.”[4]

Nevertheless, at the very least these letters provide us with a clear picture of the activity in this region at the time that is completely consistent with the biblical account in the book of Joshua. And, if the people who think that the Apiru are the Hebrews are correct, these letters provide amazing evidence for the activity described in the book of Joshua.

Marc Roby: That would be truly incredible. Do we have anything more?

Dr. Spencer: We have quite a bit of indirect evidence for the entry of the Israelites into Canaan as described in the book of Joshua. But, before we get to that, let me talk about the most controversial of the evidence, the evidence for the destruction of Jericho.

Marc Roby: I’m sure most of our listeners have at least heard of Jericho, but perhaps I should quickly relate the biblical description of what happened there?

Dr. Spencer: Please do.

Marc Roby: Alright. According to the book of Joshua, the first city the Israelites captured after crossing the Jordon into Canaan was Jericho. God chose to make an example of Jericho to show the Israelites that he would give them victory in the conquest of the land, so we read in Joshua Chapter 6 that he had them march around Jericho once a day for six days and then, on the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times. When they finished the seventh circuit, the people shouted and the city walls collapsed so that the Israelites were able to go in and conquer the city.

Dr. Spencer: I think we should add that we are told the Israelites then destroyed the city completely and burned it. But, they were commanded to not loot the city and they also spared the prostitute Rahab and her family because she had hidden and protected the spies that Joshua had previously sent into the city.

Marc Roby: Very well. So, what evidence do we have for this?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I mentioned, the evidence is controversial. In the 1930’s, Jericho was excavated by John Gastang, a British professor, and he concluded that the city was destroyed at the time of Joshua and corroborated the biblical account. But, Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated the site in the 1950’s concluded that Jericho was destroyed around 1550 BC, almost 150 years before the Israelites arrived. Most archaeologists today agree with Kenyon. This conclusion is based on the fact that Kenyon did not find any Cypriot pottery, which was common from around the time of the conquest,[5] and also on Carbon-14 dating of some items from the site.

The evidence from both Gastang’s and Kenyon’s excavations was re-examined by Dr. Bryant Wood around 1990 and he found that some of the pottery found by Gastang was in fact Cypriot pottery, which would date the layer later than Kenyon did, and put it around the time the conquest starting in roughly 1406 BC.[6] Kenyon had excavated a different section of the city and because Cypriot pottery was only used by the wealthy, it wasn’t found in the section she examined. As for the Carbon-14 dates, there is a well-known discrepancy between Carbon-14 dates and dates determined from other historical factors in the second millennium BC, with the Carbon-14 dates being one or two hundred years earlier, and this isn’t true just for biblical archaeology, so it isn’t clear that the Carbon 14 dates are correct.[7]

If you accept Wood’s conclusions, then there are a number of interesting features in the Jericho excavations that fit the biblical description. Meyer does a good job of presenting these in his video,[8] but let me give you a couple of examples. The walls appear to have fallen outward, which is not what you would expect if they were broken down by a conquering army from the outside. Also, there were jars with lots of grain still in them, which would be unusual since grain was valuable at the time and would typically have been plundered. But, remember that the Israelites had been specifically prohibited by God from taking any of the plunder.

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. And, of course, the Bible indicates that the Israelites were very careful to keep this prohibition, since we are told about what we can reasonably assume was the only exception. Achan took some items and, when it was discovered, he and his family were put to death as punishment.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And, strangely enough, the items he took provide some indirect evidence for the account in Joshua. Kenneth Kitchen examines the list of items taken and notes that they fit very well in that period.[9]

Marc Roby: Interesting. Is there anything else to say about Jericho?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are two more things to note. First, a minor but interesting bit of indirect evidence concerns the prostitute Rahab. There is a debate about whether she was a prostitute or ran a tavern, although I suppose she certainly could have been both. In any event, the idea that she might have been a tavern-keeper fits the period well. Kitchen notes that the Code of Hammurabi mentions tavern keepers.[10] In Section 109 of the code we read, “If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.”[11]

Marc Roby: That is very interesting, and if anything could classify as a trivial detail, that would be it. You mentioned a second additional comment?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Kenyon concluded that Jericho was totally destroyed around 1550 BC and was then uninhabited for quite some time, including the time of the Israelite conquest. But Gastang’s excavations at Jericho found some very interesting items in tombs. He found some scarabs, which are Egyptian amulets shaped like a beetle, that had inscriptions with the names of pharaohs who lived after 1500 BC. Obviously, that would not be possible if the city was destroyed completely prior to that time and was then uninhabited.[12]

Marc Roby: Again, some very interesting pieces evidence. What other indirect evidence do we have for the conquest of Canaan?

Dr. Spencer: Kitchen goes through the towns named in the Joshua accounts and shows that there is archaeological evidence for almost all of them.[13] In addition, he points out that the descriptions of the military campaigns fit the pattern in use at the time[14], the names of people and of places are right for the period[15], and the descriptions of the boundaries of territories fit the pattern in use at the time.[16] As we have noted before, it is really impossible to imagine that someone writing hundreds of years later could have gotten all of these details right, so all of this indirect evidence very strongly points to the account having been written at the time.

Marc Roby: All fascinating. But, we are almost out of time, is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I’d like to point out that even though Kenneth Kitchen holds to a later date for the Exodus than I have been using, the things I have cited from his book today are still perfectly valid because we are just talking about the general time frame. Also, should it turn out that the date for the ruins excavated at Jericho is prior to the conquest, that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. Kitchen himself assumes that the earlier date for the destruction is correct, but argues that the huge amount of erosion seen at that site during the long period of its being uninhabited would likely have wiped out the remains of a small city.[17] I don’t think that is the most likely scenario, but it isn’t impossible.

Marc Roby: There is obviously some degree of doubt about some of the evidence that we’ve looked at, but other pieces of evidence, like the Merneptah Stele are hard to deny. Overall I think it is a very, very compelling case for the accuracy of the Bible. But, we are out of time for today.


[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 6, pg. 596

[3] Wikipedia, also Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg. 159

[4] Kitchen, op. cit. pg. 165

[5] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family, also the Carbon-14 dating of charcoal from Gastang was redone and gave an earlier date (see )

[6] Ibid

[7] See, and also note that Wikipedia makes a similar comment; “As in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, radiocarbon dates run one or two centuries earlier than the dates proposed by archaeologists.” (

[8] Meyer, op. cit.

[9] Kenneth A. Kitchen, op. cit., pg. 177

[10] Ibid, pg. 167


[12] Meyer, op. cit., and

[13] Kitchen, op. cit., pg. 186

[14] Ibid, pg. 173

[15] Ibid, pg. 175

[16] Ibid, pg. 181

[17] Ibid, pg. 187

Yes Single

[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by returning to our consideration of evidence that corroborates the Bible. We left off, in Session 11, having considered extra-biblical evidence for the Patriarchs, which basically took us to the end of Genesis. Dr. Spencer, what would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to continue going through biblical history in sequence, so that means examining some of the evidence that corroborates the biblical narrative about the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt and then being led out by Moses in what is known as the Exodus, and then being led into the Promised Land by Joshua after wandering in the desert for 40 years. Let me set the stage by giving some approximate dates. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt a little after 1900 BC, the exodus occurred about 1446 BC, and so the Israelites came into Canaan about 1406 BC.

Marc Roby: Alright, what evidence do we have for this part of biblical history?

Dr. Spencer: We don’t have any direct extra-biblical evidence for Moses, or the exodus, or the desert wanderings, or Joshua, but we actually have quite a bit of indirect evidence. And, if you think about it for a few moments there are a lot of reasons why we wouldn’t expect to find any direct evidence.

Marc Roby: Like the fact that these events happened over 3,000 years ago?

Dr. Spencer: Well that would certainly be one good reason, yes. But, in addition to that you wouldn’t expect even an exceptionally large group of people wandering in the desert for 40 years while living in tents to leave behind any trail that would be evident to archaeologists after 3,400 years.

Also, when the Jewish nation was in Egypt they lived in the Nile Delta region, which is an alluvial fan mud plain. There is no stone in the area, so stone structures were built out of stone that was brought in from elsewhere, and that stone was then re-used to make new structures. Buildings made out of mud bricks by the Hebrew slaves, or anyone else for that matter, have quite understandably not survived.[1]

Finally, with regard to any possible Egyptian records, there are almost no records from the Delta region because papyri do not survive in that climate. And, as Kenneth Kitchen explains in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, “as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.”[2]

Marc Roby: I must admit that I can’t imagine a Pharaoh advertising such a defeat. But what kind of indirect evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: We have quite a bit. Let me first present evidence for there being a large number of Asiatic slaves in Egypt from the time of Joseph on down to the exodus, and after that I’ll present evidence for there being a large influx of Hebrews into Canaan after 1400 BC.

Marc Roby: Why do you mention “Asiatic” slaves when we’re talking about Jewish slaves?

Dr. Spencer: Asiatic was a general term used by the Egyptians at that time to refer to a number of different people groups living to the east of Egypt, which includes Canaan, and therefore includes the descendants of the patriarchs.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense.

Dr. Spencer:  So, turning to the evidence, let me just quickly list three things. First, the Annals of Amenemhot II, from around 1900 BC, list Asiatic slaves and prisoners being brought to Egypt.[3] Second, there is a wall painting at the Beni Hasan Cemetery from around 1870 BC, which shows Asiatic slaves.[4] And, third, there is a papyrus, called the Papyrus Brooklyn, from about 1730 BC, which also lists Asiatic slaves.[5] All of these can be looked up online and are presented either by Kitchen in his book or Stephen Meyer in his video series Is the Bible Reliable?

In addition, we know that Asiatic slaves were used in building projects from a famous set of wall paintings in the tomb chapel of Rekhmire, from about 1450 BC. You can look at these paintings online and they show Asiatic slaves making bricks out of mud and water in molds.[6] They also show Egyptian overseers with rods. From other sources we also know that they used a 2-level system of oversight, with Egyptian overseers having native foremen under them, just as described in Exodus Chapter 5. We also know from the Louvre leather scroll from year 5 of Ramesses II, around 1275 BC, that they kept careful track of how many bricks were being made. And, finally, we even have a story of two workers fleeing after being beaten by their overseer, which is on the papyrus Bologna 1094.[7] All of this fits the descriptions from Exodus perfectly. I’ve listed the detailed references in the written transcript for people who are interested, but all of this is either in Kitchen’s book or the video series by Meyer and can be found online as well.

Marc Roby: I am continually amazed at how much we do know about history from so long ago, and how well it fits the Bible’s description. What other evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: One more interesting detail discussed by Kitchens is the Egyptian name given to Joseph. We’re told in Genesis 41:45 that “Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah” [8] and Kitchen gives a very interesting set of evidence to show that this name fits a known pattern for naming foreigners in Egypt at that time.[9]

In addition, there is one other type of evidence for the Israelites having come out of Egypt that I find very interesting.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is the Egyptian influence seen in the Israelites after they left Egypt. For example, the tabernacle that God instructed them to set up for worship bears an amazing resemblance to one set up by Ramesses II. His was rectangular, like the tabernacle, and unlike the circular or oval camps of the Assyrians. It was divided into two parts with the outer room twice the length of the inner room, like the tabernacle. And the inner room has figures of divine falcons facing each other and overshadowing the royal name with their wings, much like the cherubim in the holy of holies of the Israelite’s tabernacle overshadow the ark of the covenant.[10] Now, of course, God did not have to give plans to Moses that in any way copied anything the Egyptians had, but it does makes sense that he would give him plans for something with which he was familiar.

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. What other influences do we see?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the ark itself is similar to a box found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, complete with the rings on the corners and the poles for carrying it.[11] Also, the Sinaitic covenant that God made with the Israelites through Moses follows the form of a Hittite covenant in use in Egypt at the time of Moses, but is different from all covenants made in other periods, and we have 30 examples on which to base the comparison.[12] Let me quote from Kitchen on this point. He wrote, “The particular and special form of covenant evidenced by Exodus-Leviticus and in Deuteronomy (and mirrored In Josh. 24) could not possibly have been reinvented even in the fourteenth/thirteenth centuries by a runaway rabble of brick-making slaves under some uncouth leader no more educated than themselves. … In short, to explain what exists in our Hebrew documents we need a Hebrew leader who had had experience of life at the Egyptian court, … In other words, somebody distressingly like that old ‘hero’ of biblical tradition, Moses”.[13]

Marc Roby: But, of course, God could have disclosed the specific form of the covenant to anyone, he isn’t dependent on the knowledge of human beings.

Dr. Spencer: That’s certainly true. But, God’s normal mode of operation, as revealed to us in the Scriptures, is to prepare the leaders of his people by sovereignly arranging their education, their life-experiences, and so on. Think of the apostle Paul as an example – in God’s providence, Paul was born a Roman citizen, was a brilliant thinker who was fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” who received a first-class education in Judaism. God is, of course, fully sovereign over how and when people develop their skills and knowledge, and he is not limited by them, but he most often makes use of them.

The other interesting thing here is that we also see clear differences between the Israelites and the Egyptians, which is what we would expect. Kitchen explains that, while the form of the covenant is the same as used by the Egyptians and would have been known to Moses from his time in Pharaoh’s household, the legal content has much more in common with the customs of the Semitic Near East.[14]

Marc Roby: That is all fascinating, and completely consistent with the biblical record. What else do you have for us to consider?

Dr. Spencer: Well, before we go on I need to mention something more about the date of the Exodus. The book I’ve been mentioning by Kitchen, while I find it to be very good and to contain a lot of useful information, does advocate a late date for the Exodus, mid-thirteenth century BC,[15] rather than the more traditional date of 1446 BC that I noted earlier. That is one point where I have to disagree with him and I think there is a good article available online that presents a solid case against his view, the reference is in the written transcript. [16]

I should also note that one of the arguments Kitchen uses in support of the late date is the form of the Hittite covenants, or treaties that we discussed earlier. He pins it down to a very tight timeframe, which others dispute because they don’t think he has accurately dealt with all of the biblical data. But, whether he is right or wrong does not affect the argument we’ve made here, because we aren’t trying to argue over one or two hundred years. The important point is that the Sinaitic covenant agrees with the form of Hittite covenants used in the general timeframe of the mid-to-late 2nd millennium BC and is not representative of the forms in use much later. Therefore, the biblical minimalist argument that these documents were written perhaps a thousand years later is simply wrong. Also, the fact that Moses would have been familiar with such documents is important.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else important for us to note about this dispute about the time of the Exodus?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. One of the other reasons Kitchen has for preferring the late date is that the Bible refers to the city of Ramesses in Exodus 1:11, but Pharaoh Ramesses II lived from about 1303 to 1213 BC, and the city was named after him. So, that name would be a clear anachronism in Exodus 1:11 if the Exodus occurred in 1446 BC.

Marc Roby: OK, so how do we explain this anachronism if the traditional date for the Exodus is correct?

Dr. Spencer: We explain it very easily. As we discussed in Session 11 with respect to the town of Laish being referred to as Dan in Genesis 14:14, this change was made later because the previous name of the city would not be well known. The interesting thing is that Kitchen uses this exact explanation for the name Ramesses being used for the region of Goshen in Genesis 47:11,[17] but doesn’t think that is the case in Exodus 1:11.

Marc Roby: That explanation sounds perfectly reasonable, is there anything else to be said about the dating?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is worthwhile to briefly mention that when I brought up the tabernacle used by Ramesses II and the box found in Tutankhamun’s tomb earlier, both of those pharaohs lived after the date of the Exodus, but the point I was making is still valid because those objects demonstrate things that were known by the Egyptians in this general timeframe. It isn’t really necessary that they be from before the time of Moses.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we finished with this topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think this quick survey has made a reasonable case that there is significant extra-biblical evidence for the Israelites having been in Egypt as slaves, and for their having been influenced by their time in Egypt.

Kitchen also gives descriptions of how the various plagues God sent on Egypt could have occurred. And, even though I don’t think there is any need to explain the plagues since God can certainly work miracles, some of what Kitchen discusses may explain how the Egyptian magicians could mimic some of the plagues, which I find interesting.

Also, as a final point, there are some people who think that the Ipuwer Papyrus provides evidence that corroborates some of the plagues,[18] although I think it is unlikely since not only secular historians but others as well date this papyrus from well before the time of the Exodus.[19]

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned that you also want to present evidence for the Israelites entering Canaan after 1400 BC, but I think we will have to postpone that to our next session.

Dr. Spencer: That’s fine. But, I do want to mention one change we are making to the podcasts. If any of our listeners has a question he or she would like to ask, we would be very happy to hear it. Questions can be emailed to, and we will then select questions we think are of general interest and answer them in a future podcast.

Marc Roby: Great, well I think that concludes our time for today.

[1] See, Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg 246 (also, his notes on pages 255-256 about the stone from Pi-Ramesse/Raamses being taken to Tanis)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid pg 636, Fig. 38

[4] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[5] Kitchen op. cit. pg. 346

[6] e.g., see

[7] Kitchen op. cit. pg. 248

[8] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[9] Kitchen op. cit. pp. 345-346

[10] Ibid pg. 278

[11] Ibid pg. 280

[12] Ibid pp. 283-288

[13] Ibid pg. 295

[14] Ibid pg. 298

[15] Ibid pg. 359

[16] Bryant G. Wood, The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory, 2008, from

[17] Ibid pg. 348

[18] Meyer, op. cit.

[19] E.g., see

Yes Single

[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you noted that because of total depravity, we must be born again to be saved. You then went on to point out that God’s grace is continually given to all who are born again and that grace gives us the power to live the Christian life. You ended by quoting Philippians 2:12-13, where Paul commands us, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” [1] So, why does a Christian need to work out his or her salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: We must make certain that we are saved because there is nothing more important in this life! Our eternal destiny is at stake, which is also why we should do it with fear and trembling. We are in serious trouble if we just go through life assuming we are saved, but never carefully examining ourselves. Christ warned the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

The whole purpose of this life is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to live according to his commands, being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, and thereby being prepared for eternity in God’s presence. And God makes it quite clear that it is not enough to just say “I believe in Jesus and therefore I’m saved.” Or, “I prayed to receive Christ twelve years ago, so I’m saved.” We must not trust in such superficial pronouncements.

In addition to the verses you just read, Philippians 2:12-13, we also have 2 Corinthians 13:5 where Paul commands us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” We must receive the warning implicit in this statement, Paul leaves open the possibility that we may, in fact, fail the test. And then in 2 Peter 1:10-11 we read, “be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Notice again the conditional nature of the statement, “if you do these things, you will never fall”. The stakes could not possibly be higher. We can afford to be wrong about many things in life, but the penalty for being wrong about our salvation is missing out on heaven and suffering eternal hell instead.

Marc Roby: I remember that when we began this recent group of podcasts on the nature of true saving faith in Session 12, you quoted Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That prospect should produce some fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it should. My claim to be a Christian will not save me. I will only be saved if Jesus Christ owns me as his on that day. This passage in Matthew 7 goes along with the verses I just quoted as part of the biblical warning to be very careful in this regard. Salvation is a free gift, and we do not and cannot do anything to earn it, but we must be certain that we have actually received it. It’s easy to fool ourselves, and eternity is a very, very long time. So, as I said, this is the most important thing in life. Nothing else in this life even comes close to being as important as our eternal salvation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many modern churches help people along in deceiving themselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. There is absolutely nothing in this world I can do to another human being that is worse than to call myself a minister of the gospel and then to tell him that he is on his way to heaven if I have no valid basis for saying so. And it isn’t only bad for the person being deceived, it is also quite bad for the so-called minister doing the deceiving.

In Acts 20:26-27, when Paul is saying goodbye to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he says, “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” Notice the reasoning he used. Paul said he is “innocent of the blood of all men”, because he proclaimed the whole will of God. So we can reasonably conclude that had he failed to proclaim the whole will of God he would have been guilty of their blood!

Marc Roby: And, of course, the whole will of God includes the commands to repent, believe and love one another as we are told in Acts 17:30 and 1 John 3:23.

Dr. Spencer: Right, we can’t pick and choose what to preach, we must preach the whole counsel of God. And we must point out that the command to love another in 1 John 3:23 is being used as a figure of speech called a synecdoche – which means to use a part of something to represent the whole. For example, when we refer to putting “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan or somewhere else, we’re not talking about just putting boots there, we’re talking about putting troops and all of their equipment there. In the same way, the command to love another is being used to represent the whole law of God. Paul tells us this explicitly in Galatians 5:14, where we read that “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus himself emphasized the need for Christians to obey. In the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” But, how does this all tie back into the admonition to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: It all ties back in because we must realize that if we have been born again we are new creations, and new creations are evident for all to see. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” There must be a radical change evident in our lives or we have no sound basis for believing that we have been saved. The old must be gone, and the new must be there.

Paul gives an example of this in Ephesians 4:28 where he says that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” If a thief is saved by God’s mighty work of regeneration, then he will not only believe, he will also repent, stop being a thief and will do useful work and, even more, he will be generous in helping others in need.

Marc Roby: But, of course, we aren’t talking about perfection are we? We’re still sinners saved by grace.

Dr. Spencer: Of course we are. We don’t look for perfection to make our calling and election sure. But we do look for radical change, and for continual change throughout life. I saw a good illustration of this when my wife and I went on a road trip this past summer. Here in California our roads are in terrible condition and, for the most part, road work consists in putting patches over the holes and cracks. But we saw a number of places east of the Mississippi where they had completely dug out miles of road down to bare dirt a couple of feet or more deep, and were completely building new roads. That is the kind of work we should see in our lives if we are born again; not some little patching of a few symptoms of the underlying sin problem, but a radical digging out and removing of the sin and replacing it with a new nature. If you have never had the experience of being deeply grieved by your own sin, of finding it loathsome and ugly and wanting to be rid of it, then you are not a Christian.

And this work will go on throughout all of life, although not always with the same intensity. But the point I am trying to make is that the work should be a deep, radical work in the core of our being. And if there is some huge besetting sin in a person’s life; like drug addiction, adultery, being a thief or whatever, you would expect there to be a very dramatic shift in the person’s life immediately. Not perfection, but an immediate radical change.

Marc Roby: Now I know that many people will voice two objections to this idea: First, that only God knows the heart, and second, that you are adding the requirement of works when the Bible says we are saved by grace alone.

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, it is true that only God knows the heart. But the Scriptures that we have cited about the importance of making our salvation sure must be dealt with. If there was no way at all for us to know, then these admonitions would not make any sense. They also would not make any sense if all we had to do was have some warm fuzzy feeling in our heart for someone we call Jesus, or some desire to be a better person. We have to be extremely careful to avoid the sentimental, feeling-based pseudo-Christianity that is so common today. The passage in Matthew 7, which you read earlier, makes clear how dangerous that is.

Secondly, it is not true that we are adding a requirement for works to be saved. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone just as the Bible and the reformers declare. When we talk about examining our works, we are not talking about the basis of our salvation, we are talking about the evidence of our salvation. As we discussed in Session 3, we don’t want to have a shallow view of the work that God is doing to sanctify us, obedience is necessary. He is changing us in a radical and serious way and such changes cannot be hidden. It isn’t just a warm feeling in my heart and then I go on living the same old way.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the first of John’s letters, where he makes this same point. In 1 John 2:3-4 we are told that “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Dr. Spencer: That whole letter is a great one to read in this regard. He gives us a number of tests for true faith. But, he also points out near the beginning that we are still sinners, so no one can think he is talking about sinless perfection. In 1 John 1:8 we read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There is a wonderful balance being maintained here that we should work to develop in our own thinking. Yes, we are sinners saved by grace. But, that does not mean that there is no change. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 6, “If we claim to have fellowship with [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” And in Chapter 2 Verse 29 he writes that “If you know that [God] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He says much the same thing in Chapter 3 Verse 9 where we read, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

You see, if we have been born again, there should be some visible similarity between us and our heavenly Father and our older brother Jesus Christ. God is holy and he will have a holy people. He does not save us so that we can go on sinning just like before. This verse is not speaking about sinless perfection or it would contradict his earlier statement in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that all sin. Rather, this verse is speaking about Sanctification, the process of becoming more holy. This process necessarily follows regeneration in the life of every true believer.

Marc Roby: As our Pastor likes to say, children look and act like their parents.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And if there is no visible similarity between my life and Christ, then you have a perfect right to conclude that I am not born again. That is why the Bible tells us to work out our salvation, God is warning us to avoid presumption and self deception.

Marc Roby: It’s interesting that in 2 Peter 1:10-11, which you cited a few minutes ago, we are told to make both our “calling and election” sure. I can imagine someone asking, “How can I be sure about my election? That occurs in the mind of God.” What would say in response to such a question?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I would say is that the problem is even worse than the person thinks. Not only did my election occur in the mind of God, but it did so before the creation of the universe! We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in him [that is in Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” So, when Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure we must conclude that there is some evidence we can look at that will indicate we were chosen. He certainly can’t mean that we are to peer into God’s eternal counsel! No one can do that.

But notice he does not just say make your election sure, he says your “calling and election”. There are different calls in the Bible, there is a general call, meaning that someone has been told the gospel, and there is what theologians call the Effectual Call, which means that it is a call that God, by the working of his Holy Spirit, makes effectual for salvation. In other words, it produces regeneration, or new birth. And, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 a few minutes ago, if we have been born again we are new creations.

The logical chain of reasoning here is completely clear. If I have been born again, I am a new creation. If I am a new creation, the old me is gone and there is a new me. And this new me is different. Not perfect, but different. And the difference should be evident to anyone who knows me reasonably well. Look again at Ephesians 1:4, it says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” God has a purpose in calling us. It is to make us holy and blameless and fit for heaven.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful purpose. But we also have work to do here on earth, don’t we?

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul wrote that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is all part of God’s perfect, eternal plan. He doesn’t need any of us, but he chooses to use us. We are to tell others about the gospel and we are to live changed lives that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. If my life is a mess, you aren’t going to be too interested if I start to tell you about Jesus Christ. But, if you look at me and see someone who is full of joy, cares about other people, is honest, does what is right and so on, then you would be more inclined to listen to what I have to say.

Marc Roby: And, I might add, I would be even more inclined to listen if I knew you before you were saved and then saw a dramatic and desirable change in your life.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, of course. If I used to waste time at work, speak ill of the boss, go to a bar and get drunk every Friday night, tell off-color jokes and so on, and then all of a sudden I start working hard, I’m respectful of the boss and others even when they aren’t around, I clean up my language and spend Friday evenings with my family, you would probably want to know what happened.

Marc Roby: The changes are not always so dramatic though.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Many of us have our worst sins hidden pretty well from other people. But there should still be some change evident in my life, even if it isn’t as obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well. And there certainly shouldn’t be obvious open sin in my life or you aren’t going to want to listen to what I say at all.

Marc Roby: I also think it is important to talk about the changes that others may not be able to see.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. There is a lot that goes on inside that isn’t evident to others, but is important evidence when we examine ourselves to make our calling and election sure. For example, what do I think about? What do I desire? What are my motives? These are questions I have to ask myself. If I profess to be a Christian, but I’m only thinking about the affairs of this world and have no concern for what God says, no desire to pray and worship him, or to read and study his Word, or to have fellowship with other Christians, then I had better seriously question my profession of faith.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve met people who claim to be Christians, but when you ask where they go to church they hem and haw around and finally admit that they don’t go very often and don’t belong to any particular church.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I’ve met people like that. And the bottom line is that they are not Christians. A real Christian will want to be a vital member of a church so he can worship with other Christians and hear the Word of God preached. The idea that if you have been baptized and go to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe a couple of other times a year you’re a Christian is nonsense. Christianity is not just a minor addition to life, it is new life in Christ Jesus. It is a new creation. And we are all part of the body of Christ, there is no solo Christianity. We “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” we read in Ephesians 2:22.

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned reading and even studying the Word of God. But I dare say that most professing Christians have not read the entire Bible, do not read it very often at all, and have never actually studied it. They would probably say that is for people who want to be ministers. How would you respond to such people?

Dr. Spencer: I would say two things. First, you must seriously question whether you are really a Christian at all. And, secondly, if you are a Christian, you are living an impoverished Christian life and I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to start reading the Bible every day. Follow a reading plan that will get you through the whole Bible and then do it over and over again. Read the study notes, get a Bible dictionary, pay attention to what you read and even take notes. You will find your life greatly enriched.

Marc Roby: I heartily agree. What else would you like to say about making our calling and election sure?

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps the most important thing is to realize what great peace and assurance we can have as Christians, and how that can make us able to go through trials in this life with great joy. If we see evidence that God has begun a work in us to change us, in other words, solid evidence that we have been born again, then our trust and hope are not in ourselves, they are in God’s promises and God’s power. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” If God is doing a mighty work in me, I don’t need to worry about whether or not he will complete it, he has promised that he will.

Marc Roby: And we can be certain that God will keep his promises.

Dr. Spencer: Amen! And I think that we have now completed a reasonable first-pass treatment on the nature of true saving faith, so in our next session I want to return to the topic of external evidence that corroborates the Bible.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that concludes this session and I look forward to next time.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

Yes Single

[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to consider the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you spoke about living in union with Christ, and made the point that the most important thing we need to know is that Jesus Christ is the supreme Lord of all. You ended by saying that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in us. I’d like to explore that statement today.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The first point is that we must be born again. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” [1] This is speaking of a radical change in our inmost being.

Marc Roby: But, many would say that this change is the result of our having decided to follow Jesus. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: That idea has the cause and effect backwards. It’s true that a Christian has decided to follow Jesus. But, remember what we said last time about our nature. No one can choose to do something that is completely contrary to his nature. So, no one will choose to follow Jesus Christ unless his nature has been changed first. And that is what being born again is all about.

God must do a miraculous work in us first, and only after God has done that work will we respond in repentance and faith. We make a free-will decision to follow Jesus, but we are only able to make such a decision after God has given us a new nature. And, further, if God has given us that new nature, we certainly will respond in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: I want to make sure this point is clear to our listeners, because much of the modern church world has this important point backwards. Many would say that when we repent and believe we are born again. But, that is not the order presented in the Bible, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t the biblical order at all. And it doesn’t make sense. Just like you can’t do anything to cause yourself to be born physically, so also you can’t do anything to bring about your rebirth. That is the point of the metaphor. We read in Romans 8:5-8 that, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires … The mind of sinful man is death, … the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” And, in speaking about the “sinful mind” here, Paul is talking about unbelievers; people who have not been born again. The sinful nature we are born with affects the mind and prevents an unbeliever from willfully submitting to God’s law, or from doing anything to please God. The unbeliever is hostile to God. So how can he choose to follow God?

Marc Roby: That’s a good question.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray gave a lengthier version of the question that I think it would be well worth our time to read. He wrote, “Enmity against God must express itself in opposition to every manifestation of his holy will. How then can we expect that man will answer with delight the call to enter into God’s kingdom of glory and virtue? How can a man dead in trespasses and sins, and at enmity with God, answer a call to the fellowship of the Father and the Son? How can a mind darkened and depraved have any understanding or appreciation of the treasures of divine grace? How can his will incline to the overtures of God’s grace in the gospel?”[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that quote will rile up some of our listeners!

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will too. But it is completely biblical. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 2:1-2, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So, calling us dead in trespasses and sins is a direct quote from the Bible. Murray next said that the natural man is “at enmity with God”, which is also straight from the Bible, we just quoted Romans 8:7 a minute ago and it says that “the sinful mind is hostile to God”, in the King James version the word enmity is used instead of hostile. Murray next says that the natural man has a mind that is “darkened and depraved”. And in Romans 1:21 & 28 Paul wrote that unregenerate people have hearts that are darkened and minds that are depraved. So, if someone wants to take exception to what Dr. Murray wrote, he needs to take it up with God, not Dr. Murray.

Marc Roby: I don’t think anyone will get very far taking the issue up with God. And, perhaps it would be good to point out now that the fact that man is hostile to God and unable to do anything that pleases God is part of the doctrine called Total Depravity.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, although the name total depravity can be misleading, so some have suggested giving the doctrine a different name, something like Radical Corruption. The doctrine does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be. There is no doubt, for example, that many unbelievers do many things that are, in themselves, good things. We are not all serial rapists or murderers or anything of the sort. What the doctrine does mean is that there is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin. And that is why we cannot, in our natural estate, respond to God’s offer of salvation in the gospel. We mentioned Ephesians 2:1 before, where Paul wrote that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins”. And dead people don’t reach out and lay ahold of a lifesaver that is thrown to them. Dead people do nothing.

Marc Roby: The point you are making, that natural man cannot choose to follow Christ, also fits perfectly with what Paul wrote in Romans 3:11, where he said that there is “no one who seeks God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Unless God works first, no one will turn to Jesus in saving faith. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. And the Greek verb used for draw in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuo), which means to drag, it is not speaking about a mere wooing or even coercion. It is the same word used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. So, this is not describing God gently wooing people.

Marc Roby: At this point I’m pretty sure that some, if not many, of our listeners are objecting strenuously!

Dr. Spencer: I’m again sure that’s true. And I clearly remember this being one of the points that I found most disturbing before God mercifully saved me. I can remember objecting that the gospel was not a legitimate offer of salvation if I didn’t have the power to accept it.

Marc Roby: That is a very common argument.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. It’s a common argument because the unregenerate mind does not think biblically. The bottom line is that before I was born again, I was responsible before God. He created me, and yet I was a rebellious sinner who rejected him and, therefore, deserved his wrath. And the reason I wouldn’t accept his offer of salvation was not because there was any fault in the offer or the One making the offer, it was because there was a fault in me. I could not humble myself and acknowledge God to be just and true. I could not seek God until he started to draw me unto himself. My sinful nature made me incapable of accepting his offer.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that at this point many people will want to ask the question, “Why would God choose to draw you, but not some other person?”

Dr. Spencer: I would say that is an outstanding question. And I am perpetually astounded that God would choose to draw me! But, the bottom line is that we aren’t given the answer to that question in the Bible. What we are told, is that God did not choose me because of anything I have ever done or will do. In Romans 9:16 the apostle Paul speaks about God’s electing some and not others and writes that it “does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” In other words, the reason for his choice was not based on anything worthy in the person chosen, it was based on his own good pleasure. This is called the doctrine of election.

Marc Roby: And Chapter 9 of Romans, which you just quoted, has a clear presentation of the biblical doctrine of election.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. Paul uses the twin sons of the patriarch Isaac, Jacob and Esau, as an example. He writes, in verses 10-13, that “Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Marc Roby: That is a very difficult doctrine for most of us to accept.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But we can’t determine what is true based on what we like or don’t like. There are many things in this life I don’t like. I don’t like getting sick, I don’t like getting old, I don’t like it when I can’t do something as well as I want to and so on. But I’ve never noticed any real correlation between what I would like to be true and what is true.

Marc Roby: Nor have I.

Dr. Spencer: So, as we noted in Sessions 4 and 7, a Christian’s ultimate standard for truth is the Bible. If there is something taught in the Bible that I don’t like, then it is not the Bible’s problem, it is my problem. First of all, what is taught there is true. And secondly, since it is God’s word and all that he does is perfect, I need to change. I need to try and understand why the truth that I don’t like is displeasing to me and I need to take action to correct my thinking and my feelings.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how do you deal with this doctrine of election?

Dr. Spencer: As I noted before, we all begin with a sinful nature handed down to us from our parents. And, because of that sinful nature, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor can we accept his free offer of salvation because we are, in the core of our being, hostile to him. Therefore, if God had only chosen to make salvation possible for everyone through Christ’s death on the cross, but left it up to us to choose, no one would be saved. We would all reject the offer because of our sinful natures. Therefore, given God’s desire to save a people for himself, it was necessary for him to change our natures so that we can accept his offer.

Marc Roby: And we are first told of this monergistic work of God in the Old Testament, aren’t we?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, for example, we read about this in Ezekiel 36. But, before I read that passage, let me point out that the word you just used, monergistic, simply means that regeneration is a work of God alone. It is not a work in which we cooperate, it is a work in which we are entirely passive. But we must emphasize that as we saw in the quote from John 6:44, God does work to draw us to him, which is certainly something we’ll be very aware of and participate in, and then, once he has regenerated us, we are also active in repenting and believing. So, saying we are passive in regeneration does not in any way imply that we are passive in coming to faith in Christ. We may go through a great deal as God draws us to himself and then we each must individually repent of our sins, trust in Christ, and walk in obedience. God does not do these things for us.

Marc Roby: That is an important point.

Dr. Spencer: But, now let me get to the passage in Ezekiel. In Chapter 36, verses 26 and 27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is speaking of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. It is a work that has been done in every true Christian. And note that three times in this short passage God says “I will”; this is his work in us. We must have our hearts of stone removed and be given new hearts of flesh, and we must be given God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and empower us to keep God’s laws.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful passage. But let me summarize what we’ve covered so far. You’ve argued that in his natural state, man is not able to repent and believe in Jesus Christ because man hates God. Then you argued that God chose to save some people, for reasons known only to him, and that he then draws these people to himself and regenerates them, or we could say causes them to be born again, so that they then repent and believe and are saved. Is that an accurate summary?

Dr. Spencer: It is an accurate summary. And the particular doctrine of election we have been discussing, which is the biblical doctrine, is called Unconditional Election. It is unconditional in the sense that God’s choosing someone does not in any way depend on what that person has done or will do in the future. And this doctrine necessarily follows from a proper understanding of the pervasive and profound effects of sin in us, which we noted earlier is called the doctrine of total depravity. And it is because of total depravity that we must be born again in order to be saved. Our nature must be changed so that we are able to respond to God’s offer of salvation. But, praise God, he causes all those whom he has chosen to be born again.

Marc Roby: But how should one of our listeners deal with this if he or she hasn’t been born again. Are they just to sit around and wait for God to act?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely not! That is a common charge made against this doctrine, that it leaves people without hope. But that is the opposite of the truth. If God only made salvation possible, but it depended on us to respond, then we would be without any hope because, as we have argued before, no one would respond and be saved.

But given the possibility of new birth there is hope. So, my counsel to anyone who is not yet born again, or isn’t sure, is to cry out for God’s mercy. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So, don’t let yourself be concerned about the fact that you can’t cause yourself to be born again. If you are becoming conscious of your sin and your need for a Savior, it may very well be the sign that God is drawing you. So don’t resist. God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) So, don’t delay, don’t waste time probing into the mystery of how to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, simply cry out “Have mercy on me a sinner!” Order a copy of the book we offer at the end of each podcast, read it, believe it, and then look for a good church to join.

Marc Roby: Alright. I’m sure we will come back to this critically important topic again, but for now let’s move on. We started this session by looking at the statement you made last time, that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in him. We have discussed the first part, the need to be born again, but let’s address the second part. What do you mean by saying that we need God’s grace working in us to obey God?

Dr. Spencer: Being born again is a radical transformation, but it does not remove sin from us. We have a new nature, which desires to please God, and we have a new ability to obey, but we also still have our sinful nature, which wars against us, as we’ve said before. We also have powerful external enemies. Satan does not stand idly by and let God rip someone out from under his dominion. The minute we are born again we also enter into spiritual warfare. Satan will come and try to destroy our faith.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was confident that God, having begun a good work in us, would “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” But, even though the ultimate victory is certain, the war still needs to be fought, and we must fight it. Our enemies are powerful. We must oppose Satan and his demons, the world itself, which is opposed to God’s kingdom, and the indwelling sin that rises up as a traitor within us.

Marc Roby: And that is why you are saying we need God’s grace. So, perhaps it would be good to define what is meant by grace.

Dr. Spencer: People often define it as the unmerited favor of God, which is true. You could go further and say that it is God’s favor granted to those who deserve his condemnation. But, even that doesn’t fully grasp the New Testament usage of the term. To understand the full meaning of the term you need to see how it is used throughout the New Testament. I like how Louis Berkhof defines it in his systematic theology. He says that the most common meaning is that “it signifies the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit. … it is in reality the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit.”[3] So, perhaps we could say that the grace of God is the source of a Christian’s power to overcome sin, Satan and the world, and to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: And I certainly know that I need help to live that life.

Dr. Spencer: We all need help to live that life. But God gives us the help that we need. In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul calls himself the least of all the apostles because he had persecuted the church prior to his conversion. He then compares himself with the other apostles and writes, in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” And, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is exhorting them to fulfill their promise to give generously to the church in Jerusalem and he writes, in 2 Corinthians 9:8, that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. But how does one go about obtaining this grace?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first thing of course is that we must be born again as we have been discussing. Then, secondly, we need to make use of what are called the means of grace. The 88th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism deals with this, although it doesn’t use the word grace. The answer reads, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption [or we could say, the means of grace] are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” There isn’t any magic incantation or anything like that, we are to read God’s Word, seek him in prayer, and join a proper church that preaches the Word faithfully, and which faithfully administers the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not stated in the answer, but certainly included in the scope of belonging to a good church, is the idea of Christian fellowship. In addition to needing God’s help, we need each other in order to faithfully live out the Christian life.

Marc Roby: I find John Calvin’s statement about this encouraging, he wrote the following; “What God demands from us by his word he likewise bestows by his Spirit, so that we are strengthened in the grace which he has given to us.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great statement of God’s promise to us in his Word.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes there is. An important part of the Christian life involves examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith and to see how we need to change to progress in that faith. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12-13 to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Notice in this verse we see both our activity, we are the ones who are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we also see God’s activity, we can work out because he is working in us. In our next podcast I want to explore this aspect of the Christian life.

Marc Roby: Alright, that certainly gives us something to look forward to.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 169

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996 (combined edition of Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology), pg. 427

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in Calvins Commentaries, Vol. XXI, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 208

Yes Single

[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true saving faith. In our last session, Dr. Spencer argued that Christianity is not a self-help program and, in fact, is not primarily focused on improving this life, but instead places its emphasis squarely on eternity—the life to come. He then explained the double imputation, wherein our sins are imputed to Christ and his perfect righteousness is imputed to us. And we then briefly discussed the doctrine of union with Christ.

Dr. Spencer, you finished last session by arguing that a true Christian, that is, someone who is united by faith to Jesus Christ, will live an obedient life. What else should we know about living in union with Christ?

Dr. Spencer: The most important thing we need is a proper understanding of the relationship. The modern church loves to talk about Jesus as my friend, or my big brother, or my helper, or my guide, or my example; all of which are true in some measure. But the one thing the modern church avoids like the plague is the most important thing that must be said about my relationship with Jesus Christ; he is my Lord!

Marc Roby: Many modern Christians have been raised with the idea that I can have Jesus as my Savior, but that submitting to him as Lord is an optional step.

Dr. Spencer: I am well aware of that idea, but it could not possibly be more contrary to what the Bible teaches. As we saw last time with the story about the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, the Bible does say that if we believe in Jesus Christ we will be saved. But, as I endeavored to show last time, you have to flesh out what it means to “believe in Jesus.” You must believe in the true Jesus, not some counterfeit. And the true Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe, whether we acknowledge that fact or not. And this is a critical point, our confessing Jesus as Lord does not affect reality one way or the other, he is Lord. So, if you look at Romans 10:9 for example, you get a slightly fuller picture of what it means to believe in Jesus. That verse says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”[1]

Marc Roby: I find it interesting that this verse doesn’t just say you must believe in the resurrection, it says you must “believe in your heart”.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is an important point. Now when Paul talks about our heart, he doesn’t mean our emotions or something that is somehow opposed to our intellect. Nor does he mean mere intellectual assent to some Bible truths. In the Bible, the word ‘heart’ refers to the totality of the person, that which constitutes the very core of our being. Our heart includes our mind, our will, and our affections. And saving faith, that faith which unites us to Jesus Christ, is only found in a heart that God has made good by the miracle of regeneration. Such a person is the one whom Paul is talking about when he says, “believe in your heart.” And such a faith will produce a changed life.

But, I want to focus on the first part of Paul’s statement. He said “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ … you will be saved.” This gives us a bit more information than we are given in the account of the Philippian jailer.

Marc Roby: Although I’m confident that the Philippian jailer was also told about the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, I’m quite certain that you’re right. In fact, going back to Acts 16 for just a moment, right after the jailer was told to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved, we read, in verse 32, “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” We should ask ourselves, what was this “word of the Lord” that Paul and Silas spoke? I’m sure it included that fact that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all and that he demands obedience. Look at the great commission in Matthew 28. In verses 18-20 Christ told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” So I’m confident this was part of the word of the Lord that was spoken to the jailer’s household.

Marc Roby: Alright, we don’t call other people lord in America, and although the title is still used in England, I think it would good to explain what it means for Jesus to be called Lord.

Dr. Spencer: Let’s go back to Romans 10:9 – where we are told “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ … you will be saved”. The Greek word translated as Lord in that sentence is κύριος (kurios). This word has different meanings. It can, for example, be translated as “sir” or “master” as it is many times in the New Testament. In that sense it is simply a title of honor. But it can also mean far, far more! The Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was in use at the time of Jesus, uses the word κύριος to translate the Hebrew name for God, usually pronounced Jehovah, or Yahweh. And there are several places in the New Testament when an Old Testament reference to Jehovah is clearly applied to Jesus Christ.

For example, in the passage we are looking at in Romans Chapter 10, a few verses after being told “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ … you will be saved” we read, in verse 13, that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel, and if you look at Joel 2:32 you will see that the word Lord is in all capital letters, which means it is the Hebrew word Jehovah as we noted in Session 6. So, this passage in Romans tells us that Jesus Christ is God, he is Lord in the sense of being the Sovereign Lord of all creation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Romans 10:13 is not the only New Testament reference to equate Jesus Christ with the Old Testament Jehovah. We could also cite Hebrews 1:10, 1 Peter 2:3 and 3:15.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We could go on and make a much more lengthy argument to prove that Jesus Christ is God, and we will do that in a later podcast, but right now I want to go back to consider what it means for him to be Lord. And the point I am making is that we need to take the word Lord in the highest possible sense when we use it to refer to Christ.

Marc Roby: It makes me think of the passage in Philippians 2:8-11 where we read, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: Amen. And every knee certainly will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We can either confess now and be saved, or we can confess later and be damned, but everyone will confess.

Marc Roby: And all of this will redound to the glory of God the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We could also cite Hebrews 1:1-3 where we are told that, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” We see that the universe was made through Jesus Christ and that he sustains it. He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. In other words, he is God. When the people saw the man Jesus Christ, they were seeing the exact representation of God in human form.

John says the same thing in John 1:18 where we read, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Notice that “God the One and Only” is “at the Father’s side”! This is a clear statement that both Jesus and the Father are God, two persons of the Holy Trinity.

Marc Roby: So, when we declare “Jesus is Lord”, we are simply acknowledging the fact that he is God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And he will be the Judge of everything as well. He came the first time to bring salvation, but we are told in Acts 10:42 that he is also the one who will judge both the living and the dead. Therefore, when we say “Jesus is Lord”, there should be some trembling. I’m afraid the modern church has lost its fear of God, which is to say that it has lost true Christianity. We are told in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”, and in Romans Chapter 3, where Paul gives a terrible list of the sins of men, he ends by saying, in verse 18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes”, which is a summary statement that explains all of the sins and is, itself, a horrible sin. It is unbelief.

Right after Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments, they were terrified because of the thunder and lightning and smoke on Mt. Sinai, and Moses said to them, in Exodus 20:20, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Marc Roby: Fear can be a good thing!

Dr. Spencer: Fear is often a very good thing. Fear of physical harm keeps us from many stupid mistakes in this world, but most importantly, the fear of God will keep us from sinning. As has been said many times, we would live differently if God were visibly standing next to us all of the time.

Marc Roby: And yet, we need to remember that God is with us at all times.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he is, and it is a very good thing to keep in mind. But this all comes back to realizing that he is Lord. I am but a sinful creature, he is my creator. As we said back in Session 2, the Creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible. And yet, this idea of coming into the presence of a holy, omnipotent, omniscient, absolutely just God is completely absent from most modern churches.

When I travel and visit other churches, I’m careful to look online and try to find a church that appears to be faithful to the Bible, but I am often appalled at the casual manner of most of the people who come to church. They don’t act or dress any differently than they might to go out to Starbucks for a cup of coffee on Saturday morning. And yet, here they are supposedly coming into the presence of God Almighty to worship him.

Marc Roby: I’ve had the same sad experience. I’m sure they would dress and act differently if they were going to see some important person here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they would.

Marc Roby: So, we’ve made the point that true Christians must understand that their confession includes the statement “Jesus is Lord”, and they must know how serious that is.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a critical point. It isn’t just that we believe in him as a good moral teacher or example of self-sacrifice, it must be that we come to him as our Lord. And that means that we are his blood-bought slaves.

Marc Roby: Slave is a term loaded with all sorts of negative connotations.

Dr. Spencer: And for good reason given human history. But, it is a term that the Bible uses unashamedly. Paul begins the book of Romans by introducing himself, saying, in the Greek, “Παῦλος, δοῦλος Χριστοῦ ᾿Ιησοῦ” (Paulos, doulos Christou Iasou), which means, Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus. And that same expression is used elsewhere as well.

In fact, Paul argues quite forcefully, and quite clearly, in Romans 6 and elsewhere that everyone is a slave. The only question is, who is your master? In Romans 6:16 he wrote, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Marc Roby: I’m quite confident that many, if not most, of our listeners will object that they are not slaves to anyone or anything.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that you’re right. But, what does it mean to be a slave? It means that you have no freedom, you are bound to someone or something as your master. And if someone is outside of Jesus Christ, meaning simply that he has not been born again and has not confessed Jesus as Lord, that person has a sinful nature handed down to him. And we are all slaves to our nature. We cannot choose to do that which we do not in any sense want to do.

We will discuss human free will in a later podcast, but it is important to note that we do not have absolute freedom. There is the obvious fact that we are not free to do things we are not physically capable of, but it is equally true that we are not free – unless we are forced – to choose things that are completely inconsistent with our nature. As a rather silly example, I would never choose a cup of coffee, because I hate coffee. And a sinner hates God, so he will never choose to obey God, which means that everything he does is sin. Even when an external action is in agreement with God’s law, an unbeliever’s motive is wrong and so it is still sin. There is a Latin phrase that theologians use for this condition, it is non posse non peccare, which means not able to not sin. That is the condition of anyone who have not confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, and who is, in other words, outside of Christ. He can only sin, and it is in that sense that we can say he is a slave to sin.

Marc Roby: I dare say that most people have a hard time swallowing that idea.

Dr. Spencer: I know I had a hard time, so I’m sure you’re right. But, part of the problem is our definition of sin. We tend to look at gross external sins against other people; for example, murder, or rape, or stealing, or something along those lines. And most of us can say that we’ve never done these things, so we tend not to think of ourselves as sinners. But, as we said in Session 10, sin is properly defined by Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism as “any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” And his law requires, as just one perfectly sufficient example, that I love the Lord God with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength (Dt 6:5, Mrk 12:30, Lk 10:27). So we all stand condemned of not having kept God’s law.

Marc Roby: Alright, but what about a Christian? We still sin, and I don’t think any of us can say that we keep God’s law perfectly at any time – especially when I consider the command you just mentioned to love God with my whole being. So, in what sense can we be considered to be slaves to righteousness as Paul calls us in Romans 6?

Dr. Spencer: I certainly agree that none of us keep God’s law perfectly. He has not chosen to remove sin from us, so we still struggle with the sinful nature. There is a battle going on inside every Christian. There is a desire, and an ability, to obey God; but there is also a sinful nature still resident that wars against us. So, we are slaves of Christ, but we are not yet perfected. God has begun a good work in us, and we can be confident, as Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, that God will complete that work. But, in the meantime, we struggle. There is a Latin phrase for our condition too, it is posse non peccare, meaning simply that it is possible to not sin, and there is another Latin phrase that describes this internal conflict, we are simul justus et peccator, which means simultaneously just and sinner. We are just in God’s sight because we are united to Christ by faith, but we still have a sinful nature within us.

Faith is called by the reformers the instrumental cause of our justification, which is one of the five causes Aristotle listed for any effect. The instrumental cause is the means, or instrument, through which an effect is brought about. The example is often used of a statue, in which case the chisel is the instrumental cause.

So, to answer your question, I think there are two ways in which we can be considered to be righteous. First, and most importantly, we are perfectly righteous in union with Jesus Christ, his righteousness has been imputed to us. But, secondarily, there is also an imperfect, but improving, practical righteousness of our own.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think I can summarize what we’ve said so far by saying that a true Christian acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord both with his mouth, and albeit imperfectly, with his life.

Dr. Spencer: Well said. And, as I said, that is the most important point in living out our lives in union with Christ. He is our Lord. But, there is more, because we are also given the ability to obey. I argued a few minutes ago that an unbeliever is not able to obey God, which is true. But the ability to obey is itself a gift, it isn’t something that we conjure up, it is the result of our being born again and of God’s grace working in our lives.

Marc Roby: Well, that should serve as a good teaser for our next session, because we are out of time for today.

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