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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started going through the statement in Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”.

Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the fact that man was created male and female and with a reasonable and immortal soul. The next thing noted in this statement is that we were endued with knowledge. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to treat the next three things listed, which are knowledge, righteousness and holiness, all at the same time. In order to do this, I want to examine three verses from the Bible, which are, by the way, the verses cited by the Confession itself at this point.

Marc Roby: If I may begin, the first verse the Westminster divines cite is Genesis 1:26, where we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is also the verse we began with in our previous session and which led to the discussion of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

And the second verse they cite is from the New Testament, Colossians 3:10. But, in order to have a complete sentence, let me read Colossians 3:9-10. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And the final verse they cited was Ephesians 4:24. I’ll read Verses 22-24 in order to get a complete sentence. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And let me begin our examination of these New Testament passages by pointing out that both of them speak about an old self and a new self. The old self, of course, refers to an unregenerate person, in other words, a person who has not been born again. In other words, an unbeliever, someone who is still an enemy of God as Paul says in Colossians 1:21, where we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

And then, both passages also speak about a new self, which refers to a person who has been born again. The passages then tell us some things about the change that takes place when a person becomes a believer.

Marc Roby: There is also an interesting difference in the two passages that is worth pointing out before we go on. In Colossians 3:9-10 the past tense is used. We are said to have “taken off” our old self with its practices and to “have put on the new self”. Whereas, in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are commanded to “put off your old self” and “to put on the new self”, which describes something we are to do, not something that is a completed past event.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an interesting and important difference. There is a very real change that takes place when a person is born again and confesses Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And so, when the past tense is used, it is a clear indication of this change. It is evident in the life of a believer immediately.

Marc Roby: And yet, we are certainly not immediately made perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not. And that is why the Bible also uses the present tense to talk about the continuing change that must take place in the life of a believer. Hence, we can be said in Colossians 3 to have taken off our old self, and then in Ephesians 4 be told to put off our old self. Both are true. And we will discuss this in more detail later, but for now I want to focus on the changes that are being made because they all tell us something about the image and likeness of God.

That image was radically defaced in the fall, but in Christ it is being restored. And so, as we already read, Colossians 3:10 says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And so, clearly, knowledge is a part of the image with which man was originally made.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must note that for our knowledge to be in any way the image of God’s knowledge, it must be true and correct knowledge. The fall caused man to believe in lies. Paul tells us about unbelievers in Romans 1:21-23 and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Marc Roby: That is the exact opposite of the progression taught in our schools today. Pagan religions that worship images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles didn’t come first and Christianity didn’t evolve from those religions. True worship came first and those pagan religions came when man rebelled against God. They are a perversion of true worship, not the first step in an evolution of religion.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. Mans thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We didn’t start out that way in the Garden. We became fools as a result of sin.

Marc Roby: And we read in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the denial of God is the essence of foolishness and rebellion. And it is the source of our knowledge being corrupted by lies. This does not, of course, mean that an unbeliever is incapable to having any correct knowledge. Unbelievers can know many things that are factually correct and can use that knowledge to make useful objects and do useful work. But, at the core of the worldview of an unbeliever there is a lie. And that lie does corrupt many specific areas of knowledge as well, certainly including anything having to do with eternal realities, the nature of God or the nature of man.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have established, I think, that to made in God’s image includes the fact that man was made with true knowledge. Although that knowledge certainly was not exhaustive knowledge about our world.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. We aren’t told exactly how much Adam and Eve knew before the fall and it isn’t really important for us to know that. But what they knew, was true and correct. And, most importantly, their knowledge about God, however extensive it was, was true and correct.

Let me quote the theologian Charles Hodge about this knowledge. He wrote that “Adam knew God; whom to know is life eternal. Knowledge, of course, differs as to its objects. The cognition of mere speculative truths, as those of science and history, is a mere act of the understanding; the cognition of the beautiful involves the exercise of our aesthetic nature; of moral truths the exercise of our moral nature; and the knowledge of God the exercise of our spiritual and religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we could add that Adam not only knew moral truths, but he lived in accordance with them.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite right. In fact, Hodge also wrote that “The knowledge here intended is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge; such knowledge as is eternal life, so that this word [knowledge] here [in Colossians 3:10] includes what in Eph. iv. 24 is expressed by righteousness and holiness.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that quote provides a perfect segue to our discussion of the next verse cited by the Westminster Confession, which is Ephesians 4:24. This verse says that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we can again conclude that since the new man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, that must also have been the case for Adam and Eve prior to the fall. In redeeming his people from their bondage to sin, God is restoring the image that sin defaced, and that image included our being like God in righteousness and holiness.

Marc Roby: I think most people have a fair idea of what it means to be righteous, it is to do that which is right. And to be holy means, in this context, to be morally pure or blameless.

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to add that to be righteous is to do what is right in the sight of God, not what man thinks is right. Although the two terms righteousness and holiness can certainly be distinguished, Hodge points out that “These words when used in combination are intended to be exhaustive; i.e., to include all moral excellence.”[4]

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that when the Westminster Confession says that God “endued [man] with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”, it means that man was created with a true and proper understanding of who God is and who man is and that he was morally upright and faultless. He obeyed God’s precepts perfectly.

Marc Roby: And the result of his perfect obedience was perfect happiness and perfect fellowship with God.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: Your statement that man was created with a proper understanding of who God is and who man is also reminds me of the first line to Calvin’s great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which says that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: And the similarity to his statement was quite deliberate. Properly understanding the Creator/creature distinction is crucial for us to be good image bearers. An ambassador always has to remember his place. He represents his government and country. He has no authority to do or say what he wants to do or say.

Marc Roby: That’s a good analogy to keep in mind. As Christians, we are to always represent Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. But let’s get back to the statement from Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says that “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We have now discussed all of this except the last phrase, which says that man was created having the law of God written in his heart and with the power to fulfil it.

Having the law written in the heart is again an aspect of being endued with knowledge. That knowledge, as we have seen, includes moral knowledge.

Marc Roby: So the thing that is added by this last phrase is that man was created with the power to keep the moral law.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Theologians, as is often the case, have a Latin phrase that they use for this. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were posse non peccare, which means that it was possible for them to not sin. Of course, they were also posse peccare, which means that they were able to sin. God did not prevent their sinning.

In any event, the Confession is right in telling us that man was created with the power to keep the moral law. If that were not so, Genesis 1:31 would not be true. We read there that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Marc Roby: How sad it is that it didn’t remain very good.

Dr. Spencer: That is very sad indeed. All of the troubles we experience are the result of human sin. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory, not the immediate pleasure of man. We will get to the effects of sin as the last topic in our study of anthropology, but for now I want to continue looking at our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve finished looking at the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, so what is next?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy passage from Charles Hodge about what is called the essential image of God in man. But before I read it, I need to tell our listeners about Aristotle’s distinction between the essential nature of something and the accidental nature.

The essential nature, or essence, of a thing is its fundamental nature.[6] If you take away the essence, you take away the thing itself. The accidental nature of a thing includes all of those aspects that are not essential to its being.[7] So, for example, the essential nature of a chair would include the fact that you can sit on it. Its accidents might include the fact that it is made out of wood, or metal, or that it has four legs as opposed to a single large pedestal.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense. So what is the quote from Hodge?

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.”

Marc Roby: If I might try to summarize and explain, Hodge is saying that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s accurate. I’m not absolutely certain what would be considered accidental in this context, but I suppose the physical form of man; namely that we have a head, two arms, two legs and a torso might be the sort of thing that is meant. In any event, what is important, and the reason I read the quote, is that it tells us that reformed theologians have emphasized man’s original moral perfection and the fact that he is a rational, volitional being as being essential to our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Is there anything you want to add before we conclude for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, one thing. The fact that we are moral, rational creatures is also essential to our performing the one function that clearly distinguishes us from the animals. The great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote that “The approaching unto God in his service is the chief exaltation of our nature above the beasts that perish.”[8] He also wrote, in the Greater Catechism, “Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness.”[9]

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. Our being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from all other creatures and it is what enables us to worship and serve God, which is our greatest joy.

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

[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. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 751

[7] Ibid, pg. 739 (see page 150 and especially footnote 59 for further explanation of essence and accidents)

[8] Quoted in: Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 670

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to discuss what it means to be made in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’”. [1] Which raises the obvious question, “What does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?”

Marc Roby: In Session 95, when we were discussing 1 John 3:2, which says in part that when God appears at the end of the ages, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” You quoted the theologian John Murray who said that “it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We need to be very careful with this concept. Murray also said that the “genius” of the devil’s temptation to Eve was to twist the meaning of being made in God’s likeness. Man was made in the image of God, he severely defaced that image when he sinned, and if we are in Jesus Christ, then God is working through his Holy Spirit to restore that image. We are, as Paul said in Romans 8:29, being “conformed to the likeness” of Jesus Christ, who is God.

But nowhere are we told that we will be “like God” in the sense the devil implied in tempting Eve. We will always be creatures. We will never possess deity. We will not have omnipotence, omniscience, self-existence or any other of God’s attributes to the full degree God does.

Marc Roby: In other words, we must always be mindful of the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. God is self-existent, we are created. God is immutable, we were made mutable as is evident from the fall.

Marc Roby: Although in heaven we will be confirmed in righteousness and unable to sin.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God that’s true. But even then we won’t be immutable, we will still learn and grow in knowledge and understanding for example. We will never be God, but we were created in his image.

Marc Roby: And so we return to our original question. Bearing in mind the Creator/creature distinction, what does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?

Dr. Spencer: Wayne Grudem points out that our English words image and likeness do a pretty good job of representing the Hebrew words they translate. An image of something can be a statue or photograph for example and it can be used to represent the original. For example, Federal office buildings in this country typically display a picture of the current president in the lobby. The picture is there to honor him and could be said to represent him as the head of the government. Grudem proposes that to the original audience the statement in Genesis 1:26 would simply have meant, “Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s reasonable. But it still leaves open the question of what it means to be like God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Grudem points out that there have been three main views in the history of the church about what this means.[4] One is, “the substantive view, which identifies some particular quality of man (such as reason or spirituality) as being the image of God in man”. This view was held by Luther and Calvin, and many early church writers. Secondly, there have been “relational views, which held that the image of God had to do with our interpersonal relationships”. For example, Karl Barth saw the image as having to do with man being created male and female. Thirdly, there was “the functional view, which holds that the image of God has to do with a function we carry out, usually our exercise of dominion over the creation”.

Marc Roby: Well, those all seem like reasonable possibilities.

Dr. Spencer: And I think they all have merit and, in fact, are probably all correct. I suspect, as Grudem says, that “The expression refers to every way in which man is like God.”[5] And yet, I do think there is value in spending some time looking at a few of the specific things that this expression represents.

Marc Roby: Very well, which of the possibilities do you want to explore?

Dr. Spencer: Lets take a look at what the Westminster Confession of Faith says. It deals with this in Chapter IV, which is on Creation. In Paragraph 2 it says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We are told seven important things in this statement, all of which I think are involved in what it means to be made in the image of God. The first thing stated was that God created man male and female.

Marc Roby: How is that related to being made in the image of God?

Dr. Spencer: Because God is triune, or we could say tri-personal, the fact that man was created male and female makes us better able to mirror his nature. When Jesus taught his disciples that they should not divorce, he said in Mark 10:6-8, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.”

Marc Roby: I think it is important to point out that in a proper biblical marriage the expression “the two will become one flesh” has a much deeper meaning than just the physical union of a husband and wife.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. There is a profound emotional and spiritual unity in a proper marriage. The physical relationship alone can never make a successful marriage.

Marc Roby: Which may be part of the reason so many marriages end in divorce. People, especially men, tend to focus on external appearance and the physical relationship.

Dr. Spencer: I suspect you’re right about that being a significant contributing factor to the high divorce rate. The most important aspect of a successful marriage is the spiritual aspect. That is why God commands Christians to only marry “in the Lord” as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 7. In that passage the apostle Paul is giving instructions about marriage and he wrote, in Verse 39, that “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

Marc Roby: And that command applies to men as well as to women and it also applies to being married the first time, not just after a spouse has died. We can infer that from what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 he commanded, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” To be “yoked together” speaks, of course, of two oxen being connected by a wooden yoke and working together to pull a plow or cart. And Paul goes on to explain why we should not be yoked together with unbelievers, he writes in the last half of Verse 14 on through the first part of Verse 16, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”

Dr. Spencer: Paul doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does he? He asks four rhetorical questions, starting with, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” The obvious answer to that question is, “nothing”. And the others are equally obvious. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness. There is no harmony between Christ and Belial – which is referring to Satan. A believer and an unbeliever have nothing in common when we speak about the most fundamental issues in life, and there can be no agreement between the temple of God and the temple of idols. Paul then seals the whole argument by pointing out that “we are the temple of the living God.” Because God lives in his people by the Holy Spirit, we cannot form the most intimate relationships with unbelievers, we cannot be “yoked together”.

Marc Roby: This does not prohibit us from normal day-to-day interactions with unbelievers of course. We must still live in the world, and that even includes entering into contractual obligations with unbelievers and so on.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But I think the modern church has gone very far into the opposite error of living as if there were no truly significant difference between believers and unbelievers. That cannot be true. We’re getting too far off topic to spend any significant time on that now, but the Bible speaks from beginning to end about the need for separation. We are not to live as the world lives. We are to represent Christ, in other words we are to function as God’s image bearers, which brings us back to our topic.

A Christian husband and wife have a very deep spiritual unity in addition to the physical and emotional unity present in a healthy marriage. And that union of two persons does a better job of representing the triune God than an individual person can.

Marc Roby: I can imagine someone asking why, given that we are made in the image of a triune God, there are only two in a marriage.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem deals with this question.[6] He points out that the analogy between marriage and the Trinity is not perfect and secondly, and most importantly, that the Bible does not explicitly answer that question. Nevertheless, we can speculate that the difference may be a reflection of the fact that God is much greater than we are. Also, when a human father and mother have a child, there are three. Which makes the analogy to the Trinity somewhat better.

Marc Roby: But what about single people? There are also made in the image and likeness of God.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And they are not in any way inferior to those who are married. Nor are married couples who can’t have children in any way inferior to those that do. We don’t want to make too much of this aspect of our being made in the image and likeness of God. But we also don’t want to make too little of it. The fact that human beings exist as male and female is a very important part of who we are. And for people who are still single, or childless, there are still other important relationships that express the fact that we do not exist as individuals in isolation. The most important human relationship for a Christian is with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is expressed most tangibly in our being an active part of a local church.

Marc Roby: Alright. Getting back to the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, it goes on to say that God “created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls”.

Dr. Spencer: And the fact that we have “reasonable and immortal souls” is a very important part of our being made in his image and likeness. First of all, we have a soul. There is some debate among Christians as to whether there is a difference between the soul and spirit or whether those are two names for the same thing, but I want to put off that discussion for a later podcast. For the moment, let’s use the words soul and spirit as being interchangeable. The main point is that “God is Spirit” as Jesus told us in John 4:24, so our being made in his image includes the fact that we also have a spirit or soul.

Marc Roby: And the Confession says that our souls are “reasonable and immortal”.

Dr. Spencer: Which is also very important. Man’s ability to reason is one of the things that clearly separates us from animals. I’m not denying that some animals have the ability to reason in a limited sense, they can solve certain puzzles and problems and some of the higher animals can clearly communicate in various ways, but there is a clear difference between even the highest animals and man. I don’t want to spend time trying to quantify or specifically delineate the difference, I’ll just assume for the moment that the difference is obvious to all, or almost all, of our listeners.

The second thing said is also critically important; our souls are immortal. The clear teaching of the Bible is that when we die physically, our bodies cease functioning and are separated from our souls. But we go on living. The body is, in some sense, a physical habitation for the soul. But the essence of our being is immaterial, it is our soul. And that does not cease to exist when our body dies.

Marc Roby: The best passage I can think of to support that statement is in the book of Hebrews. In Chapter 12 the writer tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and his heavenly kingdom. In Hebrews 12:22-24 we are encouraged by reading, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Dr. Spencer: Praise God! He offers us salvation through Jesus Christ and that salvation culminates in our spending eternity with him in heaven. And, as you noted, this passage speaks about the immortality of the soul, because we are told that there is a great assembly right now in the heavenly Jerusalem, and that assembly includes thousands upon thousands of angels as well as “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”

If we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a result of being united to him by faith, then when we die our souls, or spirits, are instantly perfected and come into the very presence of God. We then live in that perfected but disembodied state until God finishes his work of creating the church. At which time Jesus will come to earth again to judge the living and the dead and we will receive our resurrection bodies.

Marc Roby: What a glorious hope that is!

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and we will spend more time on all of that when we get to soteriology and eschatology, but for now we want to stick to the fact that man has both a material part, which is our physical body, and an immaterial part, which is our soul or spirit. The immaterial part is by far the most important. We can live without a physical body, but without a soul or spirit to animate them our bodies would be nothing but dead lumps of highly organized chemicals.

Marc Roby: That isn’t a particularly flattering way to put it, but I think that your meaning is clear.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, we must also point out that our spirits are not the same as God’s spirit. As always, there is the Creator/creature distinction. God created us, body and spirit. Our spirits are immortal only because God has determined to keep them so. We don’t have the power of life within us. We are not self-existent. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are not God and we never will be.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we done with what you want to say about the soul for now?

Dr. Spencer: We are. And to recap, in examining the statement made in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV, Paragraph 2, we have noted that we are made in the image of likeness of God in terms of our being male and female, and in terms of having reasonable and immortal souls. The next thing that the Confession mentions is that we have knowledge.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to discussing that, but I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

[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. www.zondervan.com 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. 306

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 443

[4] Ibid, see footnote 8

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 455

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, in the past two sessions we have discussed the questions you called the bookends to life; where we came from and where we are going. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the creation of man. In Genesis 5:1-2 we read a summary statement; “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’” [1]

Marc Roby: And the Hebrew word translated as “man” in that verse is adam, the same word used for the name of the first man.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God used the same term to refer to the entire human race, both male and female, and to refer to men in distinction from women. Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that since this usage originated with God himself, “we should not find it objectionable or insensitive.”[2]

Now I personally think it is a good idea to use gender neutral terms when it is possible to do so without misrepresenting the Word of God or making our speech or writing awkward or ungrammatical, but no woman should take offense at being referred to as a part of mankind. The term man can be used as a generic term for human beings or as a term specifically referring to a male individual. Like many words it has more than one meaning. And, contrary to popular opinion among non-Christians, the biblical view of women is that they are absolutely equal with men in terms of dignity and worth.

Marc Roby: And no man would be here if it weren’t for a woman! We all have a mother.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, and so is the reverse, we all have a father as well. We need each other in many ways. We’ll get to the biblical view of women later, but I will continue at times to use the word man to refer to human beings in general, and I certainly do not mean in any way to denigrate women when I do so.

But, let’s return to the creation of mankind. One of the first questions that most people would think to ask about creation in general, and mankind specifically, is, “Why did God create man?”

Marc Roby: While discussing the question “Where did we come from?” in Session 94, we noted the purpose of life from our perspective is, first of all, to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and then secondly, to live for God’s glory. You could say that to ask why God created man is to examine the purpose of life from God’s perspective rather than ours.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good way of looking at it. And the most important point we should make at the start is that God didn’t need to create man at all. Our great triune God has had perfect love and fellowship within the persons of the trinity eternally. He certainly did not need us for fellowship, or for any other reason. It was his free choice to create anything at all, and, more to the point, it was his free choice to create man. He did not need us.

Marc Roby: That fact is very disappointing to some people.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose it is, but it shouldn’t be. It most certainly does not mean that our lives are meaningless. Quite the contrary. Our lives would be meaningless if we were cosmic accidents, but the fact that God created us for a purpose gives our lives great meaning. In addition, God takes delight in his people. We are, for example, called his treasured possession. The Hebrew word for treasured possession is segullah, which is used 8 times in the Old Testament. Six of those times it refers to God’s chosen people. For example, in Exodus 19:5 God told Moses to tell the people, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thing to consider, that the eternally perfect God considers us his treasured possession.

Dr. Spencer: It’s an astounding statement. But as a weak analogy, think of a great artist. He could take joy and receive pleasure from his greatest work of art and you could say it was his treasured possession.

Marc Roby: And to say that would not imply that the work of art was in any way necessary. The pleasure the artist had in it would be the pleasure of seeing his own handiwork, it would not be a property of the art itself.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The fact that God does not need us in no way diminishes our worth, but the pleasure he has in us is the pleasure of a Creator, it isn’t because we somehow add something. But I called the analogy of an artist and his work a weak one because it fails miserably in one way.

Marc Roby: In what way does it fail?

Dr. Spencer: It fails because as creatures we cannot create living beings. We can only create inanimate objects. But God created living beings who can, in fact, have real fellowship with him. The fact that he doesn’t need our fellowship does not mean that he will never enjoy it. We read in Isaiah 62:5, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It truly is. God doesn’t need us, but he does derive joy from us. We can also add to this discussion the observation that it is a very good thing that God doesn’t need us in any way.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because if God actually needed us in any way to accomplish his purposes, then we couldn’t be sure he would accomplish his purposes! His promises would not be certain because man is never infallibly dependable.

Our only real hope is in God. I trust his promises precisely because they don’t depend on anything outside of God and certainly not on me. No one can thwart his purposes. We read in Isaiah 14:27, “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is very comforting.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And we read in Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17:24 that Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Which backs up my statement that the persons of the Trinity have had perfect love and fellowship for all eternity.

Marc Roby: All right. We have established so far that God didn’t need us and that we are his treasured possession. What else do you want to say about why God made us?

Dr. Spencer: God created us for his glory. God himself says, in Isaiah 43:6-7, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” And in Ephesians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul wrote that we were chosen in Christ, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: What a wonderful purpose that is. And we should point out that we receive great joy from working to accomplish that purpose and from having fellowship with God as we do so. And our pleasure in God will be eternal. In Psalm 16:11 King David wrote, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Dr. Spencer: And there is no greater joy than having one of those moments when you are praying or meditating on God’s word and you get a slight glimmer of understanding of the divine majesty and a sense of his presence with you. In Psalm 27:4 the psalmist declared, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Marc Roby: The apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m really glad you brought up that passage because it shows that our love for God is not just based on emotion or some mystical experience as is often assumed by unbelievers. We have not seen God, and we don’t see him now, but Peter gives the reason for our faith. He says, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

In other words, we have a good reason for our faith. It is not an irrational leap in the dark, it is based on truth. We have looked at the Word of God and found it to be true and we see him working in our own lives bringing about our salvation. This is an intelligent apprehension of truth.

Marc Roby: And the Bible commands us in several places to examine ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In fact, Peter himself tells us in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure, and Paul similarly tells us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Many self-proclaimed Christians today want a faith that doesn’t need to be tested. They will tell you that they prayed to receive Christ once and so they are saved and it doesn’t really matter how they live because we are not saved by works.

Marc Roby: That is a very popular view of Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: And it is a profoundly unbiblical view, that is to say it’s an unchristian view of Christianity. When we are told to examine ourselves and to make our calling and election sure, there is an obvious assumption that if we have been saved there will necessarily be changes that can be observed. Otherwise, what could you examine?

But the purpose of examining ourselves is not to put is in a perpetual state of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. The purpose is that we may see God at work in our lives and draw the conclusion that we have been born again, that his word is true, and that we can have great hope, confidence and joy in knowing his promises are true and certain.

Marc Roby: Unless, of course, we see no evidence of God working in our lives. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul commanded, “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?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, as with any real test, there is a possibility of failure. But even failure is gracious because, if we fail the test, we clearly see our need and should be driven to cry out to God for mercy, and he will never turn away a truly repentant person. We are the beneficiaries no matter how the test turns out. Either we pass the test and have great assurance and hope, or we fail the test and are driven to seek salvation, which is the one thing we really need.

Marc Roby: Of course, all of this begs the question of how I go about testing myself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question. And the Bible gives us the answer. In fact, it is one theme of the apostle John’s first letter.  In 1 John 5:13 he wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: There isn’t anything more important than that; knowing that you have eternal life. And knowing that brings great joy. In the same letter John also wrote, in Chapter 1 Verses 3 and 4, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is also important to point out that the joy spoken of by John is not just a momentary feeling of happiness or pleasure. It is much deeper than that. It is the joy of the Lord, which we are told in Nehemiah 8:10 is our strength.

Marc Roby: And because it is a deep joy, not just momentary happiness, it is a joy that we can have even in the midst of suffering. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4 that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Dr. Spencer: That is true, and amazing. In Romans 8:28 we are told that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And that includes even suffering. God uses it for our good.

And now I’d like to look at a passage that puts together several things we’ve been discussing. In John 15:8-11 Jesus told us that “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a marvelous passage. And it does tie things together nicely. It is to the Father’s glory that we bear fruit by loving him, which means obeying his commands. If we do that, our joy will be complete.

But can we get back to John’s first letter? You noted that one reason he wrote it was so that we could know we have eternal life. What tests does he give us to use?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the Rev. P.G. Mathew noted in his commentary on 1 John, he provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[4]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul told his young protégé to “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, both are important. How we live and what we believe. The doctrinal test that John provides is not comprehensive, he uses a few essentials as representative of the essential body of doctrine. We’ll just examine a few of them today.

Let’s begin with the first two verses of this letter. In 1 John 1:1-2 we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

Marc Roby: There’s a lot of doctrine packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. For example, we note that he speaks of “That which was from the beginning”. In other words, in his deity, Jesus is eternal. There never was a time when he did not exist. This is a necessary doctrine of the Christian faith. And, as the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity he existed as Spirit. He did not have a body.

Marc Roby: And yet, John goes on to say that this is one “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”.

Dr. Spencer: Which clearly speaks of the incarnation. Jesus, the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity became man. He is truly God and he became truly man. He is the unique God-man. The only Savior. And the rest of that brief passage says essentially the same thing again. John wrote, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”, which harkens back to what he wrote in his gospel. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he goes on in this first letter to say that “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” This again clearly refers to the incarnation. This eternal life, Jesus, who was with the Father, appeared to John and others and they are declaring that to us.

Marc Roby: What other essential doctrines does John use as examples?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in 1 John 1:5 he says that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” In context it is obvious that he is using light and darkness metaphorically.

Marc Roby: Which is a common thing for John to do, he liked stark contrasts; light and darkness, love and hate, life and death, sons of God and sons of the devil.

Dr. Spencer: He does like stark contrasts. And to flesh out the metaphor he is using here in Verse 5 we could say that God is absolutely holy, just and truthful, in him there is no unholiness, injustice, or falsehood.

Another doctrine he highlights is the pervasive sinfulness of man. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

There are more doctrines stated or implied in this letter, but for our present purposes that is enough. The main point is that while we live in a free country and anyone can call himself a Christian, our testimony about ourselves is irrelevant on the day we appear before the judgment seat of God. All that will matter on that day is what Jesus Christ himself says about us.

Marc Roby: And if we have rejected God’s revelation of himself in the Bible, or twisted and distorted it suit our own ideas, that will not work with God.

Dr. Spencer: No, it won’t work at all. We don’t need to be expert theologians to be saved, and there are doctrines about which truly born-again people can disagree, as we have noted before in these podcasts. But there are also essential doctrines. If you don’t believe in the full deity and humanity of Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection for example, you are not a Christian.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think we are out of time today and will have to pick this up again next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

[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. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 440

[3] The people of God are also called his segullah in Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2 and 26:18, in Psalm 135:4 and in Malachi 3:17.

[4] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we discussed a few different views of the creation days in Genesis 1.

Dr. Spencer: before we move on to the next topic, I would like to ask a couple of final questions having to do with the Bible’s account of creation: first, what do you think of the view commonly called theistic evolution?

Dr. Spencer: Well, to be completely honest, I don’t think much of it. First, as I understand it, it assumes evolution to be basically true and simply says that God guided it in some way, or that he created the natural world in such a way that natural processes had the power necessary to produce life. But, I don’t think it is at all possible that natural processes can explain the origin of life, as we discussed at some length in Session 1. Living beings are simply not produced from non-living chemicals without the introduction of a vast amount of information, which requires intelligence. I also don’t think the evidence is there to support evolution as a plausible explanation for the diversity of life, although, as I said in Session 1, I do think that biological organisms are able to adapt, which is often called micro evolution.

Marc Roby: But you do believe that God used natural processes, starting with the Big Bang, to produce our sun and our planet, so why couldn’t natural processes also have produced living creatures?

Dr. Spencer: For two reasons. First, because, as I just said and argued at length in Session 1, life is different! It is not just quantitatively more complex than inanimate objects, even objects as complex as entire solar systems. No, it is qualitatively different, in other words, there is a radical, fundamental difference between nonliving and living things. Life is not simply the result of having the necessary chemicals around and then allowing the physical laws of the universe to operate on those materials for some length of time.

You will notice in Genesis 1 that most of the history of the universe, at least if the Big Bang theory is at all correct, is covered in the first verse; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1]Then the account tells us, in verse 2, that “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” I think John Lennox, in his book Seven Days that Divide the World, was right when he wrote about this verse that, “reference to the Spirit of God hovering near earth could be understood as a dramatic indication that God’s special action is now going to begin. The aeons of waiting are over. The Creator is about to shape his world, to create life and fill the earth with it in preparation for God’s crowning final act, the making of man and woman in his image.”[2]

Marc Roby: I will certainly grant that there is a significant difference between the inanimate creation and life. But, you said you had two reasons why the creation of life is so different, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason has to do not just with life in general, but specifically with man. Theistic evolution has at least one very serious theological problem when it comes to man. The Bible is clear that Adam and Eve were special creations of God, they were not the result of a long process of evolution. It isn’t acceptable, theologically, to say that at some point God gave a spirit to some hominid that had evolved from lower animals. Such a view would require that the creation account for Eve would have to be taken as pure fiction, but the apostle Paul, for example, does not treat it as fiction in his argument in 1 Timothy 2:13. I think John Lennox does a good job of discussing theistic evolution in an appendix to the book I mentioned a moment ago.

Marc Roby: Alright, I have one more question before we leave the creation narratives of Genesis. What about the different order of presentation for the creation events in Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis? Some people claim that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present, essentially, two different and incompatible accounts. What do you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: My answer to that is taken directly from the very fine Hebrew scholar E. J. Young and his book Thy Word is Truth.[3] He points out that the phrase in Genesis 2:4, which in the ESV begins “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth”, is a critical phrase. It occurs eleven times in the book of Genesis and always as a heading. Young proposes that it could be translated “These are the things generated …” and he says that “in these words, there is a clue to the fact that Genesis 2, instead of being a second account of creation, deals rather with the creation of man.” If you read that chapter with this thought in mind, it makes perfectly good sense.

Marc Roby: Can you flesh that thought out a bit for us?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. Genesis 2 is not giving a chronological listing of events, it is focused entirely on man as the creature God made to tend the garden, and it presents us with a picture of a benevolent God who gave man everything he could want or need. We are told in verse 9 that there were “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food”, so man’s physical needs and aesthetic desires were satisfied. We are also told there was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, there was gold, there were precious stones, and there were rivers, man was giving everything he needed or could possibly want. Then, of course, we also read that man was given the job of naming the animals and, in the process, discovered that there was no suitable helper for him, so God created Eve. Now, when you look at the account this way, you see clearly that there is no conflict at all with the first chapter, there is a very different focus and purpose.

Marc Roby: Alright. You have provided very reasonable arguments regarding the Genesis account of creation. What about the rest of Genesis? Do we have external evidence to corroborate what the Bible tells us about the early history of man?

Dr. Spencer: There is a tremendous amount of evidence, but certainly not all of it is archaeological evidence. For one thing, the biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve, as I mentioned in Session 8, must be considered factual by a true Christian. It is treated as factual in the Bible itself and is a very important part of Paul’s arguments in the book of Romans. And I think we can clearly see evidence of the fall in the present-day world and in world history. All are sinners. And I don’t mean to be at all trite in saying that, I mean it as a profound and depressing truth. And the history of the world, or the daily newspaper, give us ample evidence for the fact, as do our own hearts if we are at all honest. But, we must be careful to define sin biblically, as the answer to Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Sin is not the same thing as crime. Societies define what actions are crimes, but God is the only one with authority to define sin.

If the evolutionary view of man were true, we would be seen to be getting better all the time, but world history simply does not show that to be the case.

Marc Roby: I can completely agree with that assessment. Is there any other external corroboration for the biblical narrative between the time of creation and Abraham?

Dr. Spencer: I think so. Let me go back to the headings that E.J. Young notes, which begin with “These are the generations …” as we saw in Chapter 2 verse 4.

After discussing the creation of Adam and Eve and the fall, the Bible goes on to tell about Cain slaying his brother Abel, which is the first example of the terrible consequences of the fall. Then, in Genesis 5:1 we see the next of these headings, which in the 1984 NIV Bible we are using begins “This is the written account of Adam’s line”. That is followed by a listing of some of Adam’s descendants and a description of the increase in human sin, which culminated in the famous declaration in Genesis 6:5, that “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” This led to God’s deciding to wipe out almost all of mankind with a flood. And that account begins in Genesis 6:9 with the third of our headings, “This is the account of Noah”.

Marc Roby: And is there external evidence to support the flood narrative?

Dr. Spencer: There absolutely is. There was clearly a massive flood in the ancient world that we call the Near East. I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether that flood was truly global or local, I don’t consider that to be an extremely important point; it is much like the age of the earth, it can be a severe distraction and divide Christians unnecessarily. But, it is relatively clear that there was such a flood if for no other reason than it is a common theme in several ancient accounts, not just the Bible.

For example, in Kenneth Kitchen’s excellent book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament,[4] he cites three Mesopotamian “Primeval Protohistories”, as he calls them, from the early 2nd millennium before Christ; the Sumerian King List, the Atrahasis Epic, and the Eridu Genesis. Now I know a lot of people are familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, so before we go on I’ll point out that it is not included in that list because it appears to have taken its flood account directly from the Atrahasis Epic.

Marc Roby: I assume that all three of these extra-biblical sources have a story of a massive flood?

Dr. Spencer: Yes they do. And all three accounts share certain key features with the biblical account. In all three accounts the flood is sent as divine punishment, one man is told to build an ark and then he and some group of people, in the biblical accounts his family, and a number of animals survive. But, the differences in these accounts are, as Kitchens explains, “so numerous as to preclude either the Mesopotamian or Genesis accounts having been copied directly from the other.”

I’ll let our listeners consult his book for details, but I think there are three points of particular interest to take note of: First, that the Sumerians and Babylonians treated their accounts as historical; for example, they had historical lists of kings before and after the flood.  Second, floods in that part of the world were quite common, so this was obviously not just another flood, it was something quite extraordinary, one could say of biblical proportions I guess. And, third, even though these other accounts include their gods and other mythological features, that does not in any way mean that they aren’t based on a true historical event, nor does it imply that the Bible’s supernatural explanations for the event are wrong.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else of importance that we should know about the Mesopotamian  flood accounts?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. I think they are illustrative of the fact that the Bible is clearly distinct from all types of mythology. In the Mesopotamian versions the gods are angry with man for being too noisy, which is rather silly. Whereas, in the Bible, God’s anger is because of the wickedness of man.

Secondly, in the Mesopotamian versions most of the gods hide what they are going to do from man, but one man was secretly told by a friendly god, about what was happening. And the other gods were then angry that some people survived the flood as a result of this warning. This is the kind of petty fighting between gods that is common in mythology; the intent of all but one of them was, evidently, to wipe mankind out, but they didn’t succeed.

Whereas, the true and living God who has revealed himself in the Bible had a clear purpose in bringing the flood. He then communicated clearly to Noah what that purpose was and what Noah was to do. And no one can thwart God’s plans; he accomplishes what he desires.

Thirdly, the Mesopotamian versions describe a ship that is completely unrealistic and unseaworthy; it is shaped like a giant cube! Hardly a believable account. Whereas, in the biblical account, the ship has perfectly believable and functional proportions.

Marc Roby: Those are pretty significant differences. Of course, you and I both grew up being taught that religion started out as primitive man coming up with explanations for the lightning and thunder and so on – things that scared him, and then – or so that story goes – religion evolved with man and became more and more sophisticated. Eventually culminating in the development of monotheism.

Dr. Spencer: That is the picture we were given, and not just us. I think that is still the picture many people have in their heads. There may be some truth to the fact that myths were made up by men to deal with things that scared them, and I’ve always personally thought that the Greek and Nordic mythologies, along with Native American mythologies and so on must have developed as a combination of these kinds of explanations and just plain old-fashioned story telling. But, Christianity is in no way the end result of some kind of evolutionary development of religion beginning with myths.

First of all, the Bible and mythology stand side-by-side historically. Greek mythology is thought to have developed from stories beginning sometime around 2000 BC, which is right about the time of Abraham and probably well before the time of development of Nordic or Native American myths. Secondly, God is never presented in the Bible as merely an explanation for natural phenomena like lightning. Rather, he is presented as the Sovereign Creator of everything and the Genesis account is, in many ways, a polemic against the mythologies that were around at that time.

I think that the theologian and mathematician Vern Poythress put it well in his book Redeeming Science.[5] He discusses some of the ancient Near Eastern creation stories and compares them with Genesis and writes that “In contrast to the crass, immoral, quarreling gods of polytheism stands the majestic, ordered, unopposed work of the one true God. Instead of creating man to serve the needs of complaining gods, God creates man out of his sheer bounty, blessing him and caring for him. Disorder and suffering come from the human fall and apostasy, not from the disorder of gods in conflict.”

Marc Roby: That does summarize the difference quite well. But, returning to extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the early chapters of Genesis, what else do we have?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the next one of our major headings occurs in Genesis 10:1, right after the account of the flood. It reads, “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons”. This section of Scripture is sometimes called the Table of Nations.

Marc Roby: Do we have external evidence for these descendants?

Dr. Spencer: We do have external evidence that the names are legitimate names from that period and location, which in itself is very strong evidence that the document was written at that time. As we’ve noted before, someone writing a few hundred, or more than a thousand years later, as the biblical minimalists would claim, would simply not have been able to get these names right. I’ll let the interested listeners look in Kitchen’s book for the details.[6]

Marc Roby: This is all fascinating evidence for something so ancient. I look forward to getting into more of it next time, 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. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Zondervan, 2011, pg. 172

[3] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957, reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 121

[4] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, see Chapter 9

[5] Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, Crossway Books, 2006, pg 72

[6] Kitchen op. cit. pp 430-438

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time, Dr. Spencer, you argued that the Genesis account of creation is not intended to be a scientific description of how the universe was created and also that it was not intended to tell us when the universe was created. You then briefly outlined what is important for a Christian to believe about the Genesis account of creation. So, I think we are now ready to discuss how the Genesis account of creation can possibly be consistent with our modern scientific understanding. How would you like to proceed?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to proceed by giving a sampling of different ideas that have been proposed for how to reconcile the apparent differences between what we know from Genesis and our current scientific understanding. It would take far too long to go into any of the proposals in great detail, and I don’t think it would be profitable for most of our listeners, but I will give some references for those who want to look into this topic in more detail.

What I hope to accomplish is simply to demonstrate that there are a number of possible ways in which our modern scientific understanding might be in complete harmony with the truth presented in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. So, if you are a believer, you should not in any way fear science, nor should you think that science is entirely wrong. And if you are an unbeliever, I hope to make you realize that you don’t have to abandon science or reason to believe the Bible, nor do you have to believe that Genesis is just a myth. The rest of the Bible treats Genesis as factual, and so should we.

Marc Roby: Fair enough. The controversy really centers on how we interpret the six days of creation; so, what about the days in Genesis 1? What do you think about them?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of different views about those days and I’m not certain which one is correct. I do, however, favor the idea that they are normal days, not long epochs or mere literary devices, but, I must emphasize that I would not be dogmatic on that point.

Also, even if they are indeed real days, that still does not by any means settle the question about how long the process of creation described in Genesis 1 took. I would like to briefly examine three possible ways to understand these days.

First, it has been suggested that these days could be normal 24-hour days that are markers at the end of long periods of time, so they are six normal days, but they are not consecutive. This suggestion can be found, for example, in the book Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth, by Robert Newman and Herman Eckelmann, Jr.[1], although there are others who hold the same view. The book is a bit old, but it still provides a reasonable summary of the scientific evidence pointing to the age of the Earth and then also a reasonable possible exegesis of Genesis 1.

If you read the Genesis account carefully, even in the English, you will note that it does not say that all of the creative activity took place on the day mentioned; rather, it lists the activities for a given period of time and then concludes by saying, “and there was evening, and there was morning, the first [2nd, or whatever] day”. [2] So, it is certainly possible that there were extended periods of creative activity separated by special days called out by God as markers.

Marc Roby: OK, you mentioned three views that you wanted to examine; what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second view I want to mention has to do with the point of view of the one writing the Genesis account. If you are going to try and read Genesis 1 in what I would describe as a woodenly literal way, then you have a problem to deal with. The sun and moon are not mentioned until the fourth day, and many take this to mean that that is when they were created. But, of course, we define a day by the rotation of the earth and the concomitant appearance of the sunrise and sunset, so how do you know the length of the so-called days that occurred prior to the fourth day?

Newman, and others, have proposed that the description of creation in Genesis 1 is from the perspective of an observer on the surface of earth, and have pointed out that the sun and moon would not have been visible to this observer at first because the atmosphere was originally opaque. The appearance of plants on earth however, which consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, helped to change the earth’s atmosphere so that it was no longer opaque. Therefore, after plants had been around a while, the sun, moon and stars would become visible to this earth-bound observer. And remember that plants are created on the third day, so the sequence is correct in saying that the sun, moon and stars would then become visible on the fourth day. If you don’t adopt something like Newman’s view, you have a problem determining the length of the first three days.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is the third view you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: The third view I want to mention again has to do with the location of the observer through whose eyes, if you will, the creation account is described, and I must warn you and our listeners that this view is a bit difficult, but I will keep the description as brief as I can and then will also summarize the main point at the end to try and make it clear.

Marc Roby: Thanks for the warning – we all know to listen a bit more carefully for a while. So, what is this difficult view?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we tend to think of time as immutable, but this is not at all the case. One of the most shocking developments of 20th-century science was Einstein’s theory of relativity, which clearly shows that under some conditions the passage of time is different for different observers. And I don’t mean that their subjective experience of time is different, their perception of time is actually the same. I literally mean that time is different for different observers under some conditions. This sounds very much like science fiction to most people, but it absolutely is not fiction. The theory of relativity has been experimentally verified time and time again and has been proven to be correct.

Now, there are really two theories of relativity, one dealing with observers moving at a constant velocity relative to each other, this is the special theory of relativity, and the other dealing with observers who are accelerating, or, equivalently, are in a gravitational field, this is called the general theory of relativity. In any event, the special theory shows us that if you are sitting stationary on the earth and I am moving past you at some constant velocity, you will observe my clock to be running slow compared to your clock. And this has been confirmed experimentally many times. The difference is extremely small at normal speeds, but at speeds approaching the speed of light, the difference can become quite large. The general theory of relativity says that clocks also run slower when they are accelerating, or equivalently, when they are in a gravitational field.

Marc Roby: Alright, that is very troubling. Does this mean that the movie Back to the Future might describe something that is actually possible?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. Time travel, in the sense that science fiction presents it, is not possible. What is possible, is for two different people to age at different rates.

Marc Roby: I’m glad I don’t need to worry about anyone going back and changing the past. But, can you give us any common examples where these theories make a difference?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, let me give you one concrete example with which everyone is familiar and where relativity matters a great deal. That example is the GPS system most of use for navigation. The operation of that system depends critically on being able to accurately measure time. But, the GPS satellites are in orbit around the earth and so are moving very rapidly relative to us on the ground, which causes their clocks to run slower than ours in accordance with special relativity. In addition, the satellites are in a smaller gravitational field than we are here on the surface of the earth, which means that we observe their clocks running faster than ours in accordance with general relativity. It turns out that the gravitational effect is the larger of the two, so overall, we observe the clocks in the satellites running faster than ours do, but both effects must be taken into account, or the GPS system will not work properly. And the error that would occur if we didn’t take these effects into account is not small, one estimate I found[3] said that the errors would accumulate at the rate of 10 km per day if relativity were ignored!

Marc Roby: Wow, that is a huge error. But, I think it’s time to slow down a bit now because a lot of people might be confused at this point. How is this relevant to our understanding of Genesis 1?

Dr. Spencer: Alright, this is the most important point certainly. It’s relevant because of the fact that time progresses at different rates for different observers. And, when you are talking about extremely large gravitational fields and high velocities, as would have been present everywhere in the early universe, the difference can be massive. So, where you place the observer in Genesis One can make a huge difference in the length of what is called a day. My basic point here is simply that time is not the absolute, immutable thing we think it is. So, when it comes to saying how long it took to create the universe, you have to know where the observer is. This particular view is explored in an interesting book by Gerald Schroeder called Genesis and the Big Bang Theory.[4]

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what you said last time about God not experiencing time the same way we do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although there are actually two different points, both of which may come into play. One is that God is a completely different kind of being than we are; as we noted last time he experiences all moments in time – what we call the past, present and future – with equal immediacy. The second point, is that even creatures like us will have time pass at different rates if they in different gravitational fields or moving very rapidly relative to each other. And, while I think this view is extremely speculative, it does give us an example of how we need to be humble. A hundred and twenty years ago, no one on earth would have had any basis for proposing such an idea, but now this idea has a solid scientific basis.

Marc Roby: Well, that view certainly stretches the mind a bit. Do you want to say anything at all about other possibilities?

Dr. Spencer: I do want to mention one more, but first, I would like to summarize the main point I’m trying to make with the examples I’ve just given; namely, I think it is safe to say that there are multiple ways in which the modern scientific view that the universe began around 14 billion years ago can be true, and yet be completely consistent with the Genesis account of creation, which I am absolutely convinced is true, even though I’m not completely certain about how best to interpret it.

I do want to remind everyone of what we said last time though, and that is that how we, as Christians, interpret the Genesis account of creation is extremely important theologically. But, exactly how long it took God to create the universe, and when, exactly, he began that creation, have no theological importance whatsoever.

Marc Roby: OK. Now, what is the last view that you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: I want to mention that it is possible, although I personally find it unlikely, that the universe is actually relatively young and God simply created it with the appearance of age.

Marc Roby: But, wouldn’t that be a deceptive thing for God to do?

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly the main objection that’s usually raised against this view. Why, for example, would God create light on its way to earth, apparently showing us things that never really happened? We see many super novae for example, each one of which appears to be the death of a star that occurred billions of years ago, but if the universe is truly only thousands of years old, then these events never actually happened.

But, I think it is worth mentioning a response to that objection given by Vern Poythress in his book Redeeming Science.[5] In that book he discusses what he calls a coherent mature creation, and by that he means that God created a universe in which things that were directly created by God are coherent with things that then later arise through natural processes. For example, the ground in the Garden of Eden probably had nutrients in the soil that we would conclude came from decaying plant material even though no plants had existed before.

The point is that God could have created a world in which it was possible for man to learn about the physical laws God put in place by examining that world, and, therefore, the things that God created directly had to look as if they came about by those natural processes; there would then be continuity between the present and what Poythress calls “ideal time”, which is the time before creation, which never really existed, but is coherent with real time. I’ve summarized his argument very briefly, but I hope not unfairly, so if anyone is interested, I recommend that they read his book. The references for all of the books I’ve mentioned today are given in the transcript of this session, which you can find online at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: I must say that’s an interesting view. There are, of course, other views you have not mentioned, aren’t there?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of other views. For a discussion of some of them I would recommend the book Seven Days that Divide the World, by John Lennox.[6] I think this it’s a marvelous book, and it is quite short and easy to read.

And, I really want to say that if some of our listeners are Christians who believe in a young-earth and are bristling about some of what I’ve said, I would encourage them to read James Boice’s commentary on Genesis,[7] particularly Volume 1, or, if they want something much shorter, Wayne Grudem does an excellent job in Chapter 15 of his Systematic Theology text.[8]

I would also point out to them that it simply is not true that people only disagree about how to interpret the days because they are capitulating to modern science. For example, in his essay The Literal Meaning of Genesis, St. Augustine – who lived well before modern science existed – proposed that the universe was created in an instant!

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that wraps up our time for today, I look forward to continuing our discussion of the evidence corroborating the veracity of the Bible next time.

[1] Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Gensesis One and the Origin of the Earth, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1977

[2] 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. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] See http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

[4] Gerald L. Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang Theory: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible, Bantom, 1990

[5] Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, Crossway Books, 2006

[6] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Zondervan, 2011

[7] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982

[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our study of theology today by considering the basic message of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer, in our last session, you presented some arguments for why you think it is important for everyone to understand what the Bible teaches. How would you summarize the Bible’s message in a sentence or two?

Dr. Spencer: The best short summary I know of is the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

But, of course, the Bible is not just a series of doctrinal statements and bare commands. It is also a historical document that teaches us about how God has interacted with his creation from the very beginning and it is in the course of giving us this history, which includes all sorts of fascinating true characters and stories and poetry and so on, that the Bible teaches us what we are to believe and what duty God requires of us.

Marc Roby: Let’s start with what we are to believe. Can you summarize that?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The Bible begins, in the first verse of Genesis Chapter 1, by saying “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1] That is perhaps the most important thing we need to know and the statement teaches us a lot. First of all, it teaches us that everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and so on, every inanimate object and every living thing, was created by God. We are just creatures, absolutely dependent on our creator for our existence.

Marc Roby: That certainly humbles man, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. This creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible and we must understand it to be able to please God. In Isaiah Chapter 42, verse 8, God tells us through the prophet, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” And we are also told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, we must grasp this creator/creature distinction.

The first line of the first chapter of the first book of John Calvin’s famous work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,[2] reads, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

Marc Roby: And, I might add, that the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. But, what else does the first verse teach us?

Dr. Spencer: The first three words, “In the beginning”, teach us two things; first, that all of creation had a beginning – before God’s creative work, the universe simply did not exist. And, secondly, God himself did not have a beginning, he is eternal.

Marc Roby: Let me stop you there for just a moment because you will hear people ask, who created God? I tend to think this is a nonsensical question, but what do you say?

Dr. Spencer: I would say, first of all, that there must be something, or someone, that is eternal. As we noted in our first session, if there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, nothing would exist now, because nothing comes out of nothing. But our universe does not appear in any way, shape or form to be eternal. It had a beginning. It does not at all follow logically however, that God must have had a beginning. In fact, as I said, something, or someone, must be eternal. In other words, to say that we are created by an eternal God does answer the question of where we came from, because the only question that needs answering is how our universe came into existence. The universe clearly had a beginning and, if natural laws are allowed to run their course uninterrupted, will have an end, so it needs to be explained. But, on the other hand, the question, “where did God come from”, or perhaps, “who created God”, is, as you noted, a meaningless question because God is the only eternal reality that exists.

Marc Roby: Exactly. What else can we learn from Genesis?

Dr. Spencer: For one thing, we learn that God exists in more than one person.

Marc Roby: And, of course, that term “person” is problematic, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that word is often a problem for people. When we think of a person, we think of a distinct human being, who has his own mind and will and who is not in any organic sense part of, or synonymous with, any other human being. But God, we learn through the teaching of the entire Bible, exists eternally in three persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And these three persons are not three separate gods, they are three persons that comprise one God. The word ‘person’ is, as you point out, often a stumbling block here.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly seen that to be the case. So, how do you deal with this perceived problem?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is critical to make the point that God is unique and we can’t expect any term that we borrow from other relationships to fit him perfectly. The important thing is that there is no contradiction in this doctrine. We are not, for example, saying that God is, at the same time and in exactly the same sense of the term, three persons and one person. We are, rather, saying that he is one God, who has eternally existed in three co-equal persons. We can’t really grasp this, but it is not a contradiction.

There is perfect love and fellowship within the godhead and that is why, when God made man in his own image, he made us in such a way that we need fellowship. We are all made, first and foremost, for fellowship with God himself, and secondly, for fellowship with each other.

Marc Roby: And, in terms of this fellowship, the relationship between a husband and a wife – which is under severe attack in our culture – is very special.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. In fact, God himself said that it is not good for man to be alone, and so he created us male and female. Men and women are obviously different, not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually as well. We are complements – spelled with an ‘e’ – to each other. Together, a husband and wife, along with their children, are the closest we can come to understanding and reflecting the unity of the three persons in the godhead. We are all of equal value, neither men nor women are inherently superior to the other, but there are functional distinctions, just like there are within the godhead itself.

Marc Roby: So, we have established that the Bible teaches us that God is eternal, that he exists in three persons, and that he created all things. What else does it teach us?

Dr. Spencer: It also teaches us why God created. We may not be given an answer that is as full-orbed as we might like, but we are clearly told what we need to know, which is that God created all things for his own glory. For example, one of the best-known verses to express this idea is 1 Corinthians 10:31 where we read, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” But there are many other verses we could cite as well. For example, in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, God is comforting his people and tells them that he will gather them from the four corners of the earth and in verse 7 God says that he will gather, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Finally, in Philippians 2, after describing the amazing humility of Christ in dying for our sins, Paul tells us, in verses 9-11, “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.”

And it isn’t just living beings that exist for God’s glory, the 19th Psalm famously opens with the line, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Over and over in the Bible we are told that God will not give his glory to another.

Marc Roby: That’s a huge disappointment to most people!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, if we’re honest, we all have a tendency to think that the world revolves around us. But the reality is that we are finite, dependent, weak, sinful creatures who haven’t been around all that long and exist only because of God’s mercy.

Marc Roby: And yet, sad-to-say, most of what passes for religion today revolves around how to make our life better. In other words, it is anthropocentric; man-centered.

Dr. Spencer: You’ve hit the nail on the head. But the Bible is very different, it is theocentric, or God-centered, from beginning to end.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve come across people who think it is somehow unseemly for God’s purpose in creating to be his own glory, how would you answer them?

Dr. Spencer: I think there are two things we need to understand about the fact that God created all things for his own glory. The first, is that creation does not in any way add to God’s glory. He doesn’t need us, or anything else in creation. He has had perfect fellowship within the godhead for all eternity and man has not been around very long, so the idea that he somehow needed us for fellowship or needed our worship is simply nonsensical.

The second thing we need to understand is that there is no better purpose for creation. If you think about God for even a moment, that he is the only eternal, infinite, independent, necessarily existent, absolutely holy, just, loving, merciful, and perfect being in existence, what purpose for creation could possibly be better than to make his own glory manifest? It will be to our eternal joy to be in his presence and to learn and experience more and more of him. So, so far from being unseemly, this is the best possible purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we are also told that God himself takes pleasure in his creation; for example, we read in Psalm 147 verse 11 that “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I like that verse. It is sometimes a bit surprising when you look at how badly sin has messed up this world, but God definitely derives pleasure from his creation, and I think that is why we also enjoy creating. We are made in God’s image, so we enjoy creating, whether it is painting, or writing, or making music, or whatever.

Marc Roby: That always amazes me to think that we have been created in God’s own image. What else does the Bible tell us about ourselves?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible teaches us that man was made perfect by God, but that he had the ability to disobey if he chose to. And, as we know, Adam did disobey God. I think this is the greatest mystery of all; it is called the mystery of iniquity. Why on earth would Adam and Eve, or Satan before them, disobey and rebel against God? They enjoyed perfect fellowship with him and lacked nothing, and yet Satan wanted to be God and fell from his exalted position, and then he led Adam and Eve into sin as well by tempting them with the prospect of being gods. And so, they sinned against God, which is called the fall. The result was exactly what God told them it would be; they immediately died spiritually – meaning that they lost fellowship with God – and they started to die physically – and eventually did die of course – and all of their posterity, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, inherited their sinful nature; in other words, we are fallen.

Marc Roby: And it is pretty easy to see the results in the morning newspaper, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. You don’t have to look too far. The reason we have keys to our houses and our cars, and passwords to our bank accounts and other things, the reason we have wars, prisons, death, sickness, all of it is caused by sin. The Bible teaches us that man is fallen and is at enmity with God and will be justly punished in hell unless something is done to redeem us. But, because we are sinful creatures, we cannot redeem ourselves.

Nothing I do is ever perfect. Even if I do something that is, in and of itself, a good thing, my motives and execution will not be perfect. So, there is absolutely nothing I can ever do to pay for my own sins. Everything I do is worthy of condemnation, not commendation. So, the idea that God will weigh my good and bad deeds on a balance at the end of my life and see whether or not the good outweighs the bad is based on a completely unbiblical understanding of the nature of man. I have no good deeds in the absolute sense, nor does anyone else.

Marc Roby: Isn’t it wonderful that God’s plan doesn’t end there?

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is wonderful beyond measure. We must praise God that there is more to the story. God chose to redeem a people for himself. Therefore, he sent his perfect Son, the second person of the holy Trinity, to become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, to live a perfect, sinless life, and then to offer himself on the cross as a sacrifice of atonement to pay for the sins of every person who will completely surrender all faith in himself and place his trust in Jesus Christ alone. That is the gospel.

Marc Roby: And the word gospel, of course, means ‘good news’… which it most definitely is. We’re just about out of time for today, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I’ve obviously just given a bare-bones partial outline of what the Bible teaches, but I think it is important to point out that there is much more there and it includes a great deal of very practical information about how to live in a way that pleases God, which is also the best way to have a life filled with joy.

Marc Roby: What the apostle Peter called joy inexpressible and full of glory.

Dr. Spencer: Amen.

Marc Roby: That ends our time for today. Let me summarize what we have covered so far; we have seen that the Bible teaches us that God is eternal, that he exists in three persons, that he created all things, that he created for his own glory, that man fell by sinning against God, and that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem sinful men through faith in him.

Dr. Spencer: I think that sums it up.

Marc Roby: Great, I look forward to seeing you 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. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

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Marc Roby: We are beginning our study of theology today by considering why you should be interested in what the Word says.

Dr. Spencer, I’m guessing that at least some people are wondering about the title of this series, “What does the Word Say?” Why was that name chosen?

Dr. Spencer: That name was chosen because the purpose of these podcasts is to examine what God himself says we should believe and what he says about how we should live. But in order to know what God says, we need to turn to the Bible, which is the very Word of God. Therefore, the name is short for “What Does the Word of God Say?”, which is equivalent to asking, “What Does the Bible Say”. In other words, these podcasts are going to cover systematic theology, which is simply the study of what the entire Word of God says about any particular subject.

Marc Roby: For a lot of people today the Bible doesn’t seem particularly relevant. Why should they care about what the Bible says?

There are several answers that could be given to that question. Some people, of course, would say that the Bible is only of interest because it is great literature and there are many allusions to it in modern literature, art, and even in our language. For example, when we say that the writing is on the wall, or that there is a fly in the ointment, or we tell someone to go the extra mile, these expressions all come from the Bible.

Marc Roby: And so many universities have a course called “The Bible as literature”, or something similar.

Dr. Spencer: Right. But, there is also a far more important reason why everyone should be concerned about what the Bible says. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. It tells us that in the beginning God created this universe, including all living beings, and it tells us that in our natural state we are estranged from him and, therefore, we need to be reconciled to him. It also tells us that there is an eternal heaven and an eternal hell, and it tells us that so long as we remain estranged from God we are headed for hell. But, praise God, it also tells us what we need to do to be saved; in other words, to be reconciled to God and admitted into heaven.

Marc Roby: I agree that this is of the utmost importance, but a lot of people are going to say that the Bible has been outdated by what we now know to be true from science. I mean… scientists now say that the universe started with the big bang, a little less than 14 billion years ago, and all living beings are the result of natural processes—evolution. So, many people would argue, we don’t really need God anymore, do we?

Dr. Spencer: I think we absolutely do need God to explain the universe. In fact, I think that modern science provides us with tremendous evidence for the existence of God. I’m not saying that you can prove the existence of God, or that true saving faith is founded on external evidence, but I am saying two things: First, true biblical saving faith is perfectly consistent with a proper understanding of modern science, and, secondly, atheism is not.

In fact, it is hard for me to understand how an intelligent, well educated person can be an atheist given all that we now know about this universe and about life. I just don’t think it is intellectually tenable to be an atheist any more, it takes far more faith than I have.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: I say that for a number of reasons, but the four most important are: First, that without God you simply cannot explain the existence of this universe. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, then nothing would exist now. There is a Latin phrase that expresses this basic tenet of philosophy, ex nihilo, nihil fit, which simply means, out of nothing, nothing comes. And since we have very strong evidence that this universe is not eternal, but had a beginning, the obvious question is, where did it come from? And the answer is that there must be something, or someone, who is eternal and who created this universe.

Marc Roby: I always find it interesting that most people want something to be eternal, not someone. What’s your second reason?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason I have for saying that I don’t find atheism to be intellectually tenable is that it is essentially impossible for life to be created by purely random processes. We now know enough about the nature of living organisms to be able to calculate some of the relevant probabilities, and the numbers are staggering. Let me just give a very quick summary. Proteins are the building blocks of life, and proteins are made up of a sequence of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that comprise proteins, but an unimaginably small percentage of the possible combinations form functional proteins. For example, a relatively small protein might comprise a sequence about 150 amino acids long, and roughly only one sequence out of every 10164 sequences forms a functional protein.[1]

Marc Roby: 10 to the 164th power is meaningless to most of us non-scientist types…

Dr. Spencer: Trust me Marc, that number is very hard for engineers and scientists to grasp too, but let me try to explain it. First, 10 to the 164th power means a one followed by 164 zeros. As one example, the odds of winning the Powerball lottery on any given ticket are about one in 292 million, so getting a working 150-amino-acid-long protein by a random combination of these 20 amino acids is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 19 times in a row when buying just one ticket each time. (see Note 1 at the end of this file for the math)

Marc Roby: That certainly is unlikely, but given billions of years and all the possible planets in the universe doesn’t it in fact become quite likely?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. First, generating a single functional protein is a long way from having a living organism. It is estimated that the simplest possible living cell would require at least 250 proteins. If we ignore for the moment that these would have to be 250 very specific proteins – which is a lot to ignore by the way – and just ask how likely it is to get any 250 functional proteins by random combinations of amino acids, we have to multiply that number, 10164, by itself 250 times. The result is that we have one chance in 1041,000 of getting those 250 proteins! That number is a one followed by 41,000 zeros!

Marc Roby: OK – now that number is truly incomprehensible. Can you do anything to put it into perspective?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t know if it’s possible to put a number that large in perspective, but I’ll do the best I can. Scientists have estimated that there are about 1080 electrons, protons and neutrons in the visible universe.[2] This number is unimaginably larger than that. So, finding one particular electron out of all the subatomic particles in our universe would be massively more likely than this.

Marc Roby: That’s a little hard to wrap your mind around when you look out at the night sky and try to think of all the protons, neutrons and electrons present. And you’re saying it is vastly more likely to find one particular electron out of all of those than it is to get 250 functional proteins by random combinations of amino acids.

Dr. Spencer: Right; and not only is it more likely, but the comparison is so far off I hesitate to give it because it is misleading, but it is hard to come up with examples that are not misleading. In fact, if we have 1080 universes each with 1080 particles, we would only have a total of 10160 particles, so it would still be unimaginably more likely to find one specific electron out of all the electrons, protons and neutrons in those 1080 universes than it would be to get 250 functional proteins by random combinations of amino acids! Or, perhaps it will help some people to point out that one chance in 1041,000 is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 4,842 times in a row buying just one ticket each time. (See Note 2 at the end of this file for the math)

Marc Roby: Now you’ve gone completely past the bounds of my imagination.

Dr. Spencer: And mine as well. To talk about these kinds of numbers at all gets very hard when you can’t see them written out, even for those who like math and work with large numbers a lot. So, for those who are interested, there is more information available if you go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and look at the transcript for this session. But for our purposes today I’ll just note that this number is so insanely large that if we increase the number of universes by a trillion, trillion, and increase the number of planets in each universe by a trillion, trillion, and make each universe a trillion, trillion times older, we don’t change the overall probability of generating the proteins needed for a single living cell by random combinations of amino acids by enough to even bother mentioning. (See Note 3 at the end of this file for the math)

So, people should not be swayed when someone says that there may be billions, or even trillions, of inhabitable planets out there, it simply doesn’t help.

Marc Roby: I must admit I didn’t know just how improbable it is to have life arise by chance… like impossible! And you even have a third reason why atheism is unreasonable?

Dr. Spencer: The third reason is similar to the second. We’ve been talking about just one cell, but it takes an enormous amount of information to build a living being, much of which is needed to describe how to make the proteins, but there are other things as well. That information is stored in the DNA. Now, I believe there is plenty of evidence to support the idea of micro evolution; that is, for example, that bacteria can evolve into anti-bacterial resistant strains, or horses can evolve into different kinds of horses.

But the idea of macro evolution, that all living organisms evolved from some prototypical life form by natural processes is, again, impossible for me to believe. There is a vast gulf between horses changing size or color or how hairy they are, which just involves changes to existing characteristics, and saying that the horse is directly related to the horsefly biting his neck. The horsefly has an entirely different body plan with different complex structures, like wings. There simply is no reasonable chance of both of them evolving from the same ancestor by undirected natural processes.

Marc Roby: We probably don’t even need a fourth reason to put the lie to atheism, but let’s hear it.

Dr. Spencer: The fourth reason is the impossibility of explaining the existence of volitional creatures like you and me.

Marc Roby: And, by “volitional” you just mean creatures that make real decisions, right?

Dr. Spencer: Right. If there is no God, and no such thing as a spirit, then this universe is simply matter and energy under the rule of physical laws.

Now I don’t have any problem believing that the behavior of a fly, for example, can be explained in a purely materialistic way. The behavior of creatures as simple as flies can be understood as purely instinctive. But when it comes to being able to make real choices, you have a serious problem to overcome if you assume the world is limited to mass, energy and the physical laws of our universe.

All physical laws are either purely deterministic or random. Deterministic laws are like Newton’s laws, which govern, for example, the movements of billiard balls when you strike them. Randomness comes in because of quantum-mechanical effects, for example, the decay of radioactive substances is a random process. But neither deterministic laws nor randomness, nor any combination of them, can account for a being that makes real free-will decisions.[3]

Marc Roby: I see what you mean when you say that atheism is intellectually untenable. But this leads me to ask you an important question… does atheism’s failure prove the existence of God? Is that the basis for our faith?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly, any argument against an atheistic worldview is also an argument in favor a theistic worldview, but these arguments are absolutely not the basis for our faith. I don’t believe that you can prove the existence of God in any formal sense of the word proof.

But, at the same time I want to emphasize what the Bible itself declares, which is that what we observe in nature is sufficient for us to know that God exists. In the book of Romans Chapter 1, verse 20, the apostle Paul wrote 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.”[4] He says that men suppress this truth and exchange the truth for a lie because they are in rebellion against God and his rule. In our natural state, we do not want God. We want to live as though we are the ultimate authority and judge.

Marc Roby: I’ve noticed that. So, what do these arguments accomplish?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would say that these kinds of arguments accomplish two things: First, they help to strengthen the faith of true believers by showing our faith to be completely rational and reasonable. Second, for unbelievers, they help to bring to the fore their suppression of the truth that they know.

But, I’ll say again that these arguments are not the basis for true saving faith. Anyone who “comes to faith” by virtue of such arguments alone has at best an intellectual assent, not true saving faith. In the book of James, Chapter 2, verse 19, he tells us that even the demons believe there is a God and shudder.

The only foundation for our faith is the truth of the gospel, that Jesus Christ died for sinners, such as us, and that if we will repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone as our Lord and Savior, we will be saved.

Marc Roby: That’s a perfect place to stop for today. I think you’ve provided some very sound reasons for why all people should be interested in finding out what the Word of God says.

 

Extra material for those who want to see some math:

Note 1: Dr. Spencer said that one chance in 10164 is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 19 times in a row buying just one ticket each time. Here is how you can calculate this number:

The probability of winning the Powerball lottery on any one ticket is about 1 in 292 million[5], or, if we call that probability p we have

Similarly, one chance in 10164 yields a probability of

If you have N attempts at the lottery, your probability of winning every time is the product of the probabilities; that is,

Finally, we set these probabilities equal and solve:

Taking the base-10 logarithm of both sides yields

 

Note 2: Dr. Spencer said that one chance in 1041,000 is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 4,842 times in a row buying just one ticket each time. Here is how you can calculate this number:

We again have the probability of winning the Powerball lottery on any one ticket is about 1 in 292 million, or, if we call that probability p we have

Similarly, one chance in 1041,000 yields a probability of

If you have N attempts at the lottery, your probability of winning every time is the product of the probabilities; that is,

Finally, we set these probabilities equal and solve:

Taking the base-10 logarithm of both sides yields

Note 3: Here is another way of thinking about this. If you take all of the electrons, protons and neutrons in the observable universe and let them interact as fast as it is physically possible for them to interact , and let them do that for 15 billion years  – roughly what we think the age of the universe to be – you have less than 10141 possible interactions (, where the number of seconds has been rounded up to 1018). This number has been called the probabilistic resources of the universe.[6]

Given that many combinations, which is obviously way more chances than we have for amino acids to combine, you can ask how likely it would be to get the 250 functional proteins. All you do is subtract 141 from 41,000, so your chance is now one in 1040,859 of creating 250 functional proteins. In other words, having that many chances doesn’t appreciably increase the odds at all. In fact, let’s get really ridiculous here, and give ourselves way more chances; remember that a trillion is a million millions, which is 1012, or a 1 followed by 12 zeros. Now, if you have a trillion universes and each one of them has a trillion times more particles than ours, and each one is a trillion times older than ours, the number of interactions only increases by 1012 times 1012 times 1012, which is 1036, so instead of subtracting 141 from 41,000 we now subtract 141 + 36 = 177 from 41,000, so the chance of getting the 250 proteins with this many tries is one in 1040,823, which is really not much different at all. In fact, you can increase the number of universes by trillions of trillions many times over and make them trillions of trillions of times larger and trillions of trillions of times older and the chances will not change by an appreciable amount. I know these numbers are insane, but the point is that even though we can’t say the probability is zero, it is so small that no rational person should believe it.

That is why many modern scientists believe that there are potentially an infinite number of universes. You need an infinite number of attempts to make this seem at all plausible!

 

[1] Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, Harper One, 2009, pp 204-213

[2] See, for example, “Is the Total Number of Particles in the Universe Stable Over Long Periods of Time?”, Frank Heile (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/is-the-total-number-of-pa_b_4987369.html)

[3] This argument is also made in the excellent and thought-provoking book Modern Physics and Ancient Fatih, by Stephen Barr, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003

[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. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] That number was taken from their official website (http://www.lotteryusa.com/powerball/) on February 14, 2017

[6] See Meyer, Signature in the Cell, again; pages 216-217 (although his number is smaller because he rounds the number of seconds in the age of the universe down, rather than up)

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