Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

We examined the fall of Satan last time, and we know that after his fall Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin. But we didn’t have time to answer the question of how Adam’s sin affects the rest of us. I know that this is a question that has been controversial throughout the ages but, Dr. Spencer, what does the Bible say about it?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible is clear that Adam was acting as our representative, what theologians call our federal head. We briefly mentioned this in Session 45 when we were discussing hermeneutics, the science of how to interpret the Bible. And we noted at that time that God uses a kind of representative government for his creatures. While he treats every individual with absolute justice or rich mercy, it is still true that he sees all human beings as being in one of two camps. We are all either in Adam, or in Christ. They are the two federal heads and we are all represented by one or the other.

Marc Roby: As I remember, you quoted Romans 5 in support of this view.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. But we only took a brief look at a couple of verses. In answering this important question today, I’d like to take a longer look at Romans 5:12-21. In examining this passage I’m going to draw heavily on P.G. Mathew’s book on Romans. He points out that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that Roman 5:12-21 is the key to understanding the whole book of Romans, but then Rev. Mathew states that “I would say this section is the key to interpreting all Scripture and all human history. If we want to know why people are bad and do bad things, or why a sinner cannot save himself, we should read this passage. If we want to understand why human salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, we should read this passage. If we want to comprehend the doctrine of union with Christ and be fully assured of our ultimate salvation, we must read this passage.”[1]

Marc Roby: Those are bold claims about the importance of this passage. I’m looking forward to getting into it.

Dr. Spencer: They are bold claims, but they are also true. The core of the gospel message is presented in this passage and it is often rejected by people because, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [2] And, in 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: And therefore, this passage in Romans is particularly important for anyone who considers himself a Christian. If we cannot accept this teaching about God’s way of salvation, we need to cry out to God for his Holy Spirit to grant us understanding and salvation.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. This passage is that important. And it fits in with a discussion of God’s attribute of goodness because I can’t think of anything that illustrates God’s goodness more than the gospel of salvation by grace.

Marc Roby: Nor can I.

Dr. Spencer: The passage begins, in Verse 12, by saying, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”. The first thing we need to look at is the word “Therefore”.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, refers to what Paul had said prior to this verse.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, certainly, in part it refers back to Verse 10, where we read, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” This verse clearly states man’s problem, “we were God’s enemies”.

Marc Roby: And it is never a good thing to have the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things as your enemy.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. You’re bound to lose. And Paul goes on to argue that we were God’s enemies precisely because we were still in Adam; in other words, he was still our representative. But, in Verse 10 he tells us that we were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ and that, having been reconciled, we will be saved. So, the word “therefore” at the beginning of Verse 12 is pointing back to this reconciliation and salvation that we have in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Alright, let me read the verse again with that thought in mind. It says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”.

Dr. Spencer: And notice that this verse does not express a complete thought, it leaves you expecting something, expecting it to go on. And yet the next verse, Verse 13, starts a new sentence. In other words, Paul leaves his thought half finished. And this is indicated in some Bibles by ending Verse 12 with a dash or a colon. Also, in some Bibles Verse 13 begins with a parenthesis, indicating that it is the start of a parenthetical section that continues through Verse 17. Paul is doing what we all do often, he starts a thought and then realizes that he needs to explain it more fully before continuing. So, let’s look at the thought. He said, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”.

Marc Roby: That is a statement loaded with meaning.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why Paul realized it needed to be fleshed out. The statement makes three points. First, sin entered the world through one man. Second, death is the result of sin. And, third, all die because all sinned in Adam. Let’s deal with the second point first.

Marc Roby: And that second point is that death is the result of sin.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but it is specifically the sin of Adam as we’ll get to in a minute. The apostle says that death came “through” sin. He says the same thing somewhat differently in Romans 6:23, where we read that “the wages of sin is death”. In other words, death is not natural. It is the punishment God promised Adam and Eve for sinning as we read in Genesis 2:17. And so, in Verses 13 and 14, Paul explains this further.

Marc Roby: Let me read those verses before you go on. Romans 5:13-14 say, “for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”

Dr. Spencer: And notice Paul’s logic here. He points out that sin is not taken into account when there is no law. He doesn’t say that people didn’t sin during this period of time, because they most certainly did; in fact, he says “sin was in the world.” But he says that sin isn’t taken into account. Nevertheless, he points out that the people who lived between the time of Adam and Moses and “did not sin by breaking a command”, still died. This proves that these people died for Adam’s sin. He makes that explicit in Verse 15 where he says that “many died by the trespass of the one man”. In fact, he repeats this point several times so that we can’t get it wrong. He also says in Verse 16 that “judgment followed one sin” and in Verse 17 he says that “by the trespass of the one man” death reigned.

Marc Roby: I can hear many of our listeners just bristling at the thought that people would die because of someone else’s sin.

Dr. Spencer: I understand the objection. But let me put off dealing with it for a few minutes, there is a very good answer to it. We can summarize Paul’s argument as follows: sin entered the world through Adam and all people since the time of Adam are subject to death as a result of his sin. So far this doesn’t sound good for us, but then Paul ends Verse 14 by saying that Adam “was a pattern of the one to come.” And he goes on to explain that in Verse 15.

Marc Roby: Which says, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”

Dr. Spencer: And here is the gospel message! Adam was a pattern of the one to come, which is speaking of Christ, but there is a drastic difference, because we are condemned if we are in Adam, but eternally saved if we are in Christ. He was a pattern only in the sense that he was our head before and Christ is our head now.

Paul starts off Verse 15 by saying that “the gift is not like the trespass”. Salvation is a free gift. Paul also tells us that in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, grace is unmerited favor. Or, we could even say, it is showing favor to those who deserve condemnation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Paul then explains further. He goes on in Romans 5:15 to say, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” As I noted earlier, this verse makes it even more explicit that many died because of the sin of the one man, which refers to Adam. But the gift, which we are told came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflows to many.

Marc Roby: Praise God for his rich mercy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, praise God indeed. And Paul goes on, in Verse 16, to say that “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Here he again makes it clear that death, which is the just judgment for sin, followed “one sin”, which was the sin of Adam. But the gift, which followed many trespasses, or sins, brought justification. As he said in Verse 10, we are reconciled to God.

Marc Roby: And in Verse 10 it had said that “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son”.

Dr. Spencer: Which, of course, refers to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Then, in Verse 17, Paul says, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” We again see the emphasis on the “one man” through whom death reigned, which is Adam, and the “one man” through whom righteousness and life reign, who is Christ. This passage clearly shows that the theological idea of Adam and Christ as the two federal heads is completely biblical.

Marc Roby: And it again speaks of God’s grace and gift. Salvation is clearly not by works.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that point is abundantly clear in this passage. And we have now finished the parenthetical comments that began in Verse 13, so Verse 18 finishes the thought that Paul started in Verse 12. Let me read both verses. Verse 12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—” and then Verse 18 says, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Marc Roby: And I must praise God again. And I must point out that we have to be careful with this verse, when it says that this one act of righteousness, which is referring to Christ’s atoning sacrifice, “brings life for all men”, it is not telling us that every single human being will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. It means that all who are saved by the grace of God are saved as a result of this one act of righteousness. In fact, Paul phrases it differently in the very next verse. Verse 19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” We have to interpret these verses in a way that is consistent with all of Scripture.

Marc Roby: The first principle of hermeneutics as you taught in Sessions 39 through 48.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is the most important principle of hermeneutics. And when you apply it here it is obvious the statements about death coming to all men and the many being made sinners both refer to every single human being who has descended from Adam and Eve in the natural way. Whereas, the statements about bringing life to all men and the many being made righteous do not refer to every single human being, but only to those who are born again and justified by faith in Christ.

Marc Roby: Now the last two verses, 20 and 21, then say “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: We don’t have time today to deal with what is meant by saying that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”, but notice again that sin reigned in death – in other words, death is the penalty for sin, but specifically for the sin of Adam. And then also note that grace reigns through righteousness and brings eternal life through Jesus Christ. Saying “through Jesus Christ” means that eternal life comes to those people, and only those people, who are united to Christ by true saving faith. We are all conceived with Adam as our federal head and we are, therefore, subject to death. But, praise God, if we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are united to him by faith and receive eternal life. In Romans 8:1 Paul wrote that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Marc Roby: What a glorious promise that is. But I’m not going to let you forget the question you put off earlier. You said that you have a good answer for those who think it is unfair for them to be born subject to the penalty of death because of the sin of Adam.

Dr. Spencer: There is a great answer to that question. First, let me point out that God is perfect and all he does is perfect, so he chose the perfect representative for the human race. None of us would have done any better than Adam did. And so, if what you want is fairness, and you interpret that to mean that you should be judged on your own merits, you need to realize that we would all have fallen and would go to hell for our own sins if we were put in the same situation as Adam. God’s representative government is the only way anyone can be saved! It is only because we can be united to Christ as our federal head that salvation is possible. If you have a problem with being represented by Adam, then logically, you should also have a problem with being represented by Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. We like the one, but not the other.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we like. What matters is what is true. And God’s Word makes it clear, as we have just seen, that this is how he has chosen to deal with his creation. And who are we to complain?

Marc Roby: Well, we certainly shouldn’t, but unfortunately people often do.

Dr. Spencer: It is unfortunate, but it is also because we are sinners. Not only do we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin, we also inherit his sinful nature. When Adam and Eve sinned, it produced a real change in their natures. We aren’t told exactly how that works, but it is clear that it did. They used to have perfect fellowship with God, but right after the fall we see them hiding from God.

Marc Roby: Sin always produces fear and animosity.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. And the sinful nature that is displayed by their fear and animosity is handed down to us. We aren’t told exactly how that occurs, but however it happens, the results are clear. Every single human being who has descended from Adam and Eve by the ordinary means of procreation is, conceived in sin, born in sin, and practices sin. As David put it in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And because we are sinners by nature, we sin.

Marc Roby: Which is abundantly obvious in the world all around us. And I think you have answered the question of how Adam’s sin affects us. Since he was our representative, we share in his guilt and all of the bitter fruit of his sin.

Dr. Spencer: The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it well. Question 16 asks, “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?” and the answer is given, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.” But, praise God, in his great love and according to his attribute of goodness, he provided us with a Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And with that, I think we are out of time for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d love to hear from you.

 

[1] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 302

[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.™.

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our last session, you said that we need a proper biblical perspective to understand how a completely good and omnipotent God can allow evil into his creation. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend more time on the topic of evil and its relation to the goodness of God because it is an extremely important and difficult topic.

I noted last time that many people in history have argued that the existence of sin and suffering prove that God must either not be good, or not able to prevent evil, in other words, not be omnipotent. I also pointed out that that argument is wrong because it assumes the unbiblical, that is to say, incorrect, idea that the purpose of creation is, or should be, to maximize our pleasure in this life.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should mention that a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence given the fact that evil exists, that’s called a theodicy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think it’s good for people to know that term. And that is exactly what I want to do today. I want to explain, or justify, how it is possible for evil to exist in a universe ruled by an all-powerful, or omnipotent, and all-good, or omnibenevolent, God.

Marc Roby: You noted last time that a proper biblical perspective requires us to recognize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that we also need to recognize that there is an eternal destiny for human beings. In other words, this life is not all there is.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right, this life is definitely not all there is and we’ll deal with that more in a minute. But first, let me say a little more about the first of those two points, God’s purpose.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: We spoke in both Sessions 2 and 67 about God’s purpose in creation, but it would be good to give just a couple of Scriptures at this time to support the claim that his purpose is the manifestation of his own glory.

Marc Roby: I agree, what Scriptures would you like to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the prophet Isaiah. God spoke through the prophet about his redeemed people, meaning the church, and in Isaiah 43:6-7 we read that God said, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ 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.” [1] There are many other verses as well that tell us God’s purpose in creation and redemption is the manifestation of his glory. But to give just one more example, Psalm 19 famously begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

Marc Roby: I think it is also helpful to remember one other thing you said before, that there is no better purpose for creation than the manifestation of the glory of God. He chose the best possible purpose.

Now, returning to the second point, that this life is not all there is, it’s also pretty easy to come up with Scriptures that support the idea that human beings have an eternal destiny.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the first one that pops into my mind is the 25th chapter of Matthew.

Marc Roby: Where Christ describes the final judgment.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And after separating the sheep from the goats and telling the goats that they must depart from him, he ends, in Verse 46, by saying, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” And the same exact Greek word for eternal is used in both places in that verse, which makes it clear that it is exegetically impossible to believe in eternal heaven and deny the existence of eternal hell.

So, getting back to your statement that this life is not all there is, we can go further and say that that is, in fact, a gross understatement. When compared with eternity, this life is, quite literally, nothing. There really is only one important question to answer in life, and that is, “Where am I going when I die?” The Bible tells us that there are only two possible places. I will either go to eternal hell and suffer for my sins, or eternal heaven and live in bliss forever in the presence of the perfect God.

Marc Roby: Of course, not everyone is going to agree that those are the only two destinies.

Dr. Spencer: I’m well aware of that, but those are the only two destinies described in the Bible, which is the infallible Word of God, so I’m confident that that is the truth. And I would point out that even people who say they believe that we simply cease to exist when we die frequently speak and act in ways that make it clear they know it isn’t true.

Marc Roby: Yes, especially when someone close to them dies.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, that is the most common time. You will often hear them say something like, “Aunt Mary will be very pleased to see you graduate” or whatever. But, of course, if Aunt Mary is dead, and if people simply cease to exist, then Aunt Mary can’t possibly know that someone is graduating, let alone be pleased by it.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard people say many things that would indicate they know there is some mode of existence beyond the grave.

Dr. Spencer: And not only do they know that, but they also know there will be a judgment. That is one of the major reasons people fear death. They know they will be judged, and they aren’t confident it will go well for them in that judgment.

Marc Roby: Although most people flatter themselves and think they aren’t really all that bad. They might admit that they deserve a mild rebuke for some things they have said or done, but they don’t believe they have done anything deserving of real wrath.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And there are two reasons most people think they will get a passing grade. First, they grade themselves on a curve, in other words, they compare themselves to other people. But God doesn’t grade on a curve. Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: That is definitely not grading on a curve. What is the second reason people think they will get a passing grade?

Dr. Spencer: It’s because they only consider external sins, not sins of the heart. So, since most people have never murdered, or raped or committed grand theft or anything like that, they assume that they are relatively good. And, of course, they may actually be good in a relative sense. But there are two problems with that view.

Marc Roby: What problems are those?

Dr. Spencer: First, as I mentioned, they are ignoring the heart. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” And in Hebrews 4:12 we read that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Marc Roby: That’s a problem for us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is a serious problem. And Jesus illustrated just how serious that problem is when he told the people in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now many men can truthfully say that they have never committed the physical act of adultery, but how many can say that they have never once looked at a woman lustfully?

Marc Roby: I’d rather not answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I think you just did. And, of course, adultery isn’t the only sin for which this applies. We are also told that unholy anger is committing murder in the heart and so on. When you apply the true standard, even most law-abiding people do not do very well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said that there are two problems with the view that we really aren’t all that bad; what is the second one?

Dr. Spencer: The second problem is even more serious. It is that we misjudge sin itself. The worst sin of all isn’t something I do to other people, it is my attitude toward God. If I don’t consciously give him thanks for life and material blessings, and if I don’t live to please him, I am insulting the living God, my Creator. Even if I murder someone, the worst sin involved is not what I did to that person. The worst sin involved is that in murdering the person I rejected God’s law and his authority to command me to not murder. And, even worse, if I live as though I am independent and he doesn’t exist, that is a huge insult to God. Rejecting the sovereign Creator and Lord of all is a very serious offense, it is an offence that deserves God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: That makes perfectly good sense. In fact, the Bible tells us that anything not done in obedience to God and for his glory is sin.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are famously told, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And the Greek verb in that sentence is in the imperative mood, so it is a command. And in John 14:15 Jesus told us that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” We can conclude therefore, that any disobedience is a lack of love for God, which is most certainly a sin because Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-38 that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Therefore, anything that is not done in conscious obedience to God and for his glory, is sin.

Marc Roby: That is a very convicting, but true, statement. But we were justifying God’s goodness given the presence of evil. How does this all tie back into that topic?

Dr. Spencer: It ties back in in at least two ways. First, because there is an eternal destiny awaiting every human being, we can’t judge what is good in any meaningful ultimate sense by looking at what happens just in this short life. And secondly, if we recognize that the worst sin is not murder, or any thing like that, but rather is rejecting the sovereign God who made us, then we will understand that we all deserve punishment. And if we then receive what we deserve, that is certainly just and we must agree that is good. And when we consider those to whom God has granted repentance and saving faith, we see that they receive mercy, rather than justice, and spend eternity in heaven. And certainly we must agree that is also good.

Marc Roby: I think everyone would agree that bringing people to heaven is good. I’m not sure many people are willing to accept that hell is good, although the fact that guilty sinners deserve God’s wrath certainly argues that it is. But I suspect that many people would ask why God can’t simply show mercy and forgive. After all, God commands us to be merciful and to forgive others.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question, and we dealt with it in Session 24. I pointed out then that God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be punished and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right, and the just and right penalty for sinning against God is death—eternal death.

Marc Roby: That helps. And it is also important to remember the fact you pointed out in Session 72, that people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness, but continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which actually increases their guilt every day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When you put all of this together, you realize that hell is good. It is not pleasant, but it is just and fair and right. And so, in a deep sense of the term, it is good.

Marc Roby: But, at the same time, God does show mercy to some and save them. And that brings up another problem for many people. It seems unfair for God to choose some people to be saved while leaving others to suffer for their sins.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common complaint. You’re speaking about the doctrine of divine election, and we dealt with that doctrine back in Session 15, but we must say a few words again here. The basic problem is that we think we want to be judged based on our own effort. That somehow sounds fair to us because in terms of dealings with other human beings that is, in general, fair. But, as I noted a minute ago, when we consider the true nature of sin, and we judge the heart and not just the external actions, we find that we all have a serious problem. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So, if we think more carefully, we will recognize that we don’t really want to be judged fairly, or justly, we want mercy.

Marc Roby: And, of course, by definition mercy is not something we deserve, so God is not under obligation to show mercy to anyone.

Dr. Spencer: No, he isn’t. It would be completely just and fair for God to send all of us to hell. The huge surprise, the great mystery and amazing demonstration of God’s love and mercy is that he chose to save anyone at all. Especially when you consider the cost.

Marc Roby: Which was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we find ourselves right back at John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And this is good in the most profound possible sense of the word, even though perishing in this verse refers to eternal hell. And notice that it is only those who believe who will not perish. In fact, just two verses later, in John 3:18, we read that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Refusing to believe in Jesus Christ is the most serious sin a person can commit it is, ultimately, the sin that sends you to hell. In 1 John 5 the apostle tells us about God’s testimony about Christ and he says in Verse10 that “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Marc Roby: Calling the perfectly holy and just Creator a liar is a terrible thing. And I think we have made a good case for the fact that the existence of hell is actually good, given the fact that evil does exist.

We got onto this topic because of the importance of having an eternal perspective in understanding the presence of evil. Can we go back now and tie it all together somehow? Why is it good that God allowed evil to enter his creation?

Dr. Spencer: Because it allowed a more complete manifestation of God’s multifaceted glory. Without allowing evil to enter creation God would not have been able to demonstrate his just wrath against evil, nor would he have been able to demonstrate his astounding merciful love in redeeming some people. I don’t think we can understand it fully, but you have to consider the finished product so to speak. Years ago I read something very profound that is relevant to this topic in, of all places, a devotional my wife and I were reading with our children when they were young.

Marc Roby: What was that?

Dr. Spencer: The author used the analogy of a cake to illustrate Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Now I don’t remember the story in detail, but it went something like this; a child had asked the mother about something that wasn’t good, and questioned whether God was good for allowing such a thing. The mother’s response in the story was great. She asked the child, “Do you like chocolate cake?” And, like most children, the child responded, “Of course.” And then the mother said, “Well, do you like to eat flour?” And he said, “No.” Then the mother asked if he liked to eat baking powder, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked to eat salt, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked raw egg and he said no. But she then told him that all of those things were used in making chocolate cake.

Marc Roby: That is a great illustration. The ingredients may not be good in and of themselves, but the final result is good.

Dr. Spencer: And so it is with God’s works. We do not know enough or have a wide enough perspective to properly judge his works. We know that evil exists and we know that evil is not good in itself. In fact, it is the opposite of good. But we know that God is not the author of evil and God is good. In fact, he is the standard of good. He is absolutely, perfectly and immutably good. And he is omnipotent. Therefore, we can conclude that the presence of evil was necessary for the accomplishing of God’s perfect eternal plan for creation, which is good.

Marc Roby: And I think that is a good place to end for today – pun intended. I want to remind our listeners that they can email any questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will 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.™.

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Before we begin I’d like to let our listeners know that we have added a new feature to the website for this podcast. At the top of the transcript for every session, including all previous sessions, is a link to a pdf file for the session. You are free to download, save and share these files with others. In addition, if you go to the Archive link at the top of the home page for whatdoesthewordsay.org, you will also find links to pdf versions of three indexes. An index of references, an index of topics, and an index of Scriptures. These are updated with each new podcast. And now, let’s get back to our topic.

Dr. Spencer, we finished last time by noting that God is truth in all three of the meanings of that term; that is, metaphysical, propositional and ethical. What do you want to look at today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the topic of ethical truth a little more. Remember that ethics refers to the set of moral rules that govern how we live. In my experience, most people seem to agree with the idea that morality is absolute. They may say that morality can be different in different cultures, but then they will strongly denounce and even work to change practices they disagree with, even practices in other countries with completely different cultures.

So, for example, I doubt that very many women in the United States would have said that it was just a matter of culture and not a problem when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and prevented women from working, attending school, or being in public places without a male family member.

Marc Roby: I’m quite sure you are right about that. Women, and most men as well, would agree that such rules are a violation of basic human rights.

Dr. Spencer: I think they would. So, independent of the politically correct postmodern notion that truth and morality are social constructs and vary from culture to culture, we see that most people prove by their actions that they firmly believe in moral absolutes. This is especially true when you discuss hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and so on.

The problem, as I demonstrated by talking about slavery last time and Hitler in the session before that, is that without God, there is no absolute authority anyone can point to as a basis for these moral absolutes. Therefore, if atheism were true, morality would be determined solely by the group with the power to enact and enforce the laws in a given time and place and we would have no basis for saying that the laws put in place by the Taliban were wrong.

Marc Roby: And, even within one culture, laws change over time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do. Is that because what is moral changes over time? I think most people would say it does not. But, when you and I were young, it was illegal to be a practicing homosexual in this country, it was illegal to get an abortion, and it was out of the question for same-sex couples to get married. And yet, a large percentage of our population, including some who call themselves Christians, now approve of such practices and they are legal. In fact, if you disagree with these practices, the so-called progressives will call you hateful and send you to sensitivity training to try and correct your socially aberrant views.

Marc Roby: It is really difficult to believe how much has changed since the 1950’s.

Dr. Spencer: It is unbelievable how much they have changed. But, independent of what any of our listeners may think about such changes, I challenge them, as I did when we talked about slavery, to explain – without reference to God – on what logical basis someone could say that we are right now and the people were wrong 60 years ago? Or that the people were right 60 years ago and we are wrong now?

Marc Roby: I don’t think that’s possible without reference to God.

Dr. Spencer: And that is my point. Without God, it isn’t possible. In fact man, because he is a creature, has no authority to decide for himself what is right or wrong. God alone has the authority to tell us what is sin and what is pleasing to him, and he has done that in the Bible. And, not only has God clearly told us what behavior he approves, he has clearly warned us of the penalty for disobedience. The moral laws are no different than any other laws in the sense that there is a penalty to be paid for violating them.

Marc Roby: But, there is a huge difference between God’s enforcement of his laws and the state’s enforcement of our civil laws.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. In fact, there are at least three major differences I can think of.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first is that God does not always enforce his laws immediately, or even in this life. For his own purposes he sometimes allows people to do wicked things without being justly punished in this life. Of course the state also fails to punish people sometimes, but only because the state is incapable of perfectly enforcing its laws.

But, even though God may choose to not enforce his laws immediately, the second major difference I see is that God does, ultimately, enforce his laws absolutely perfectly. He has perfect knowledge of everything and everyone, including our thoughts and motives and he is absolutely sovereign, so no violation of his law will ever go unpunished. Every single sin ever committed will receive the punishment that justice demands. Either we will be punished for our sins or, if we have accepted God’s gracious offer of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Jesus will have borne the penalty for our sins on the cross.

Marc Roby: Which is absolutely amazing grace. What is the third difference you see in God’s enforcement of his laws versus the state’s enforcement of its laws?

Dr. Spencer: God’s penalty for disobedience is far more severe than the greatest penalty man can mete out. People don’t like the doctrine of hell, but it is a clear teaching of the Bible. If you are a Christian, you really have no option but to believe that hell exists. You don’t have to take my word for it, read your Bible. Jesus Christ himself spoke of eternal hell more than anyone else. You have to do exegetical backflips, or simply not believe God’s Word, to not believe in eternal hell.

Marc Roby: But, of course, different sins will not all receive the same punishment.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. The Bible indicates that there are different levels of punishment in hell. But no matter the level of punishment, hell is a terrible place, and it is eternal, with no hope of escape.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, one of the main reasons many people reject the doctrine; it seems completely unfair to punish people eternally.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I don’t personally like the doctrine either. But God didn’t ask me, and he isn’t going to, and, more to the point, what I think doesn’t matter. I am a sinner and don’t fully grasp God’s holiness and the depth of sin. What does matter is that we grasp the fact that even the smallest sin you can imagine is motivated by a rebellious heart, and that rebellion is against the infinite, almighty, all holy, perfectly just Creator, so it deserves eternal punishment. Not only that, but people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Without his saving grace they cannot do so. Therefore, they continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which increases their guilt every day.

Marc Roby: Hell is an unpleasant topic to say the least, but I think we have said enough about God being the one who has authority to establish moral law, that he will, ultimately, judge everyone, and that we will all either receive mercy based on the merit of Jesus Christ, or be eternally punished for our sin.

So, we have now established that God is truth in all three biblical senses of the term: he is metaphysical truth because he is the genuine God, he is epistemological, or propositional, truth because all that he says is perfectly true, and he is ethical truth because he establishes and enforces the moral law. What else do you want to say about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: It is important to point out that God’s moral law is not arbitrary. It is based on God’s own character, it is a reflection of his perfect character. And we are made in God’s image and are made for fellowship with him. So, obeying God’s moral law is what is best for us. A Christian should delight in God’s moral law, even if it goes against what the person has believed all of his or her life prior to becoming a Christian. Romans 12:2 commands us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [1]

Marc Roby: And our minds are renewed by meditating on God’s Word and submitting to it as our ultimate authority.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Our minds are very important. Christianity is not all about feeling. Feelings are there of course, and they are important. But our emotions are not to rule us in any way. Our minds – which really means our spirits – are to rule us, and our minds are to be submitted fully to the Word of God. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul tell us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter what I think about homosexuality for example, nor does it matter what society says. God says it is sin. And unrepentant sinners will go to hell. Therefore, the only loving thing for me to do with a homosexual is to tell that person of God’s law and of the consequences for violating that law, and then to tell him or her that Jesus Christ has provided a way to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, that salvation requires true biblical repentance.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does, and true biblical repentance requires forsaking our sin and walking in holiness. It does not, praise God, require perfection or none of us would be saved. But when we sin, we must repent and ask for forgiveness and, as Paul said in Acts 26:20, prove our repentance by our deeds.

Marc Roby: And praise God that he has made salvation possible. Do you want to say anything else about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I have a three more short points make. First, in examining God’s truthfulness, we again see God’s simplicity.

Marc Roby: We should remind our listeners that by God’s simplicity we mean the fact that his attributes cannot be thought of separately, they all work together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And with regard to God’s truthfulness, we have argued that he is truth in the propositional sense precisely because he has the power necessary to make what he thinks is true actually be true. And, even more than that, when you look at the different possible meanings of the word true, you see that God’s truthfulness also includes his perfect knowledge in knowing what it means to be the only true God, his faithfulness in always keeping his word, his unchangeableness in not changing his word, his moral perfection in establishing and enforcing the moral law and so on.

Marc Roby: It is clear that his attributes all work together. And it makes me remember Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which we have mentioned before. The answer to that question says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” But, you said you had three more points to make, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second point I want to make is that God’s truthfulness was what Satan challenged when he first tempted Eve. We read about this in Genesis Chapter 3. The serpent came to Eve and asked, in Verse 1, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Of course, that is not what God had said. God had said that they could eat of any tree in the garden with the sole exception of one tree. But, as James Boice points out in his commentary on Genesis, Satan’s question was meant “to suggest that God is not benevolent and that His word cannot be trusted.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now, we must say that Eve didn’t completely accept Satan’s suggestion. She answered, in Verses 2 and 3, that “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right, she didn’t accept Satan’s lie completely, but notice that his lie had already borne some fruit; she added to God’s word by saying “you must not touch it”. God had not said that. He had said that the day you eat of it you will die, not that you will die if you touch it. In any event, Satan then goes on to directly contradict God. He says, in Verse 4, “You will not surely die”. And then he gives his false explanation for God’s prohibition. He says, in Verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” John Murray explains that at this point, Satan “accuses God of deliberate falsehood and deception. God has perpetrated a lie, he avers, because he is jealous of his own selfish and exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil!”[3]

Marc Roby: And, sadly, Eve believed Satan. We read in the first part of Verse 6 that “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the sad truth. Paul writes about this in 1 Timothy 2:14. He wrote that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” But Adam is a different story. He was not deceived, his sin was far worse for at least two reasons. First, it was worse because he was the one put in charge by God and he was the representative for the human race. Greater responsibility always implies greater culpability. And secondly, he sinned out of pure rebellion against God as James Boice notes.[4] This is why Scripture always lays the blame for the fall on Adam, not on Eve. In Romans 5:12 we read that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” and Verse 14 clearly tells us that one man is Adam.

Marc Roby: Paul also tells us this in 1 Corinthians 15:22 where he says that “in Adam all die”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. But, let’s get back to the point I wanted to make about God’s truthfulness, which is simply this; it is an absolutely essential aspect of the being of God. If God were not truthful, then having his infallible word would be of no real value. How would we be able to tell which parts where true and which were lies? And his threats and promises would have no value either, how would we know that they were true? Now, it must be said that God’s other attributes are essential too. For example, if he were not omnipotent we couldn’t be sure that he had the power to keep his threats and promises. But his truthfulness somehow seems to more directly impinge on his holiness, justice, goodness and so on.

That is why Satan didn’t question God’s power to bring death, nor did he question God’s knowledge about the tree, instead he directly questioned God’s truthfulness. A God who is not truthful is no god, he is a devil.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself said to the Jews, as we read in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Dr. Spencer: And, a little earlier in the same discourse he had said that “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Marc Roby: I see your point. Truth is an essential characteristic of the true and living God and is essential for salvation. Lies destroy, truth saves.

Dr. Spencer: We see that even in more mundane matters. If you go to see the doctor and he determines that you have cancer, that isn’t something you want to hear. But if he lies and says you’re fine, you’ll die. If he tells you the truth, then perhaps it can be treated and you may live.

Marc Roby: Very well. You said you had three points to make, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: It is that because truth is so important, and lies are the “native language” of the devil, we, as Christians must be zealous to know and speak truth. John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, wrote, “This is why all untruth or falsehood is wrong; it is a contradiction of that which God is.”[5]

Marc Roby: Being truthful is not a common characteristic in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But a Christian must be. That does not mean that we have to tell everyone all of the truth all of the time of course, but when we do say something, we must seek to convey truth.

Marc Roby: I notice you didn’t simply say that when we do say something it must be true, you said we must seek to convey truth. I assume you have a reason for the more complex statement?

Dr. Spencer: I do. You can tell something that is completely true with the intent of leading people to believe something that isn’t true. But, when you do that, you are lying. The classical biblical example is Abraham telling people that Sarah was his sister. That statement was true, but he said it to make them think that she wasn’t his wife. In other words, it is the best possible kind of lie! If you’re caught, you can always say that what you said was true, even though your purpose was to deceive.

Marc Roby: Alright. Are we done discussing God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: I think so.

Marc Roby: Then let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. 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] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982, Vol. I, pg. 134

[3] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 126

[4] Boice, op. cit., pg. 136

[5] Murray, op. cit., pg. 125

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our previous session you made a shift that I didn’t notice at the time. We had been talking about moral laws and the idea that if God doesn’t exist, might, in a human sense, does make right. You then said that “at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority.” So, you switched from talking about what is right, to talking about what is true. Can you explain that shift?

Dr. Spencer: I did make a jump there in order to get to the conclusion before we ran out of time and, in hindsight, the jump was too large. So, let’s go back and fill in the blanks so to speak to make it clear how I got to that conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, please do.

Dr. Spencer: We had finished briefly discussing different theories of truth and had then pointed out that our worldview has a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true. It is therefore, extremely important that our worldview be correct. But, our worldview is not something most of us consciously develop or even think about, so you had asked for an example of how we can test whether or not our own worldview is true.

Marc Roby: Yes, I recall that.

Dr. Spencer: And I responded by saying that we can test whether some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not. Our worldview comprises a set of beliefs about the world we live in, things we believe to be true. And those beliefs can be examined by realizing that we can draw conclusions based on them, in other words things that should be true if the underlying beliefs are true, and then we can check those conclusions to see if they’re right. And I gave the example that if an atheistic worldview is correct, then there can be no absolute morality.

Marc Roby: And I think we established that conclusion reasonably well.

Dr. Spencer: I do too, although I may want to come back to that topic later. But, getting back to our example, if an atheist believes in absolute morality, and in my experience most do, even if they won’t say so, his worldview is inconsistent. I argued that absolute morality only exists because God has the authority and power to establish and enforce moral law. But I skipped over making the connection that God’s authority and power do not end with his being able to establish the moral law. In fact, he has the authority and power to determine everything that exists in this universe and is absolute sovereign over everything that happens in the universe, so that whatever he thinks is true, is necessarily true.

Marc Roby: And that is what is meant by saying that truth is, ultimately, a person, it is God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. Of course, truth is also a property of a statement, but ultimately, a statement is true if it corresponds to what God thinks is true. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines God’s attribute of truthfulness this way: “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.”[1]

Marc Roby: Grudem uses the word “true” in two different ways in that definition, doesn’t he? To say that God is “the true God” is a different usage of the word than to say that his words are true.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. John Frame, in his book The Doctrine of God, discusses three different meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible.[2] And all three meanings are important because God is truth in all three senses of the term. The first of these three meanings is called the metaphysical.

Marc Roby: Metaphysics refers to the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental causes and nature of things.

Dr. Spencer: Mm-Hmm. In talking about the truth as being a person last time, we quoted what is perhaps the most famous verse in this regard, John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” [3] Jesus was using the word truth in its metaphysical sense there. We sometimes use the word that way in our normal speech as well. For example, you might hear someone be described as a true outdoorsman. Which means that the person corresponds to the ideal picture of what an outdoorsman should be.

Marc Roby: Of course, my picture of an ideal outdoorsman might be different than yours.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly possible. And that brings up an interesting point relating to the truthfulness of God. In John 17:3, the great high priestly prayer of Jesus, he is praying to his Father in heaven and says, “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” When Jesus says the Father is “the only true God” he is using the term in its metaphysical sense, but we have to deal with the same question you raised; whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God? Many people throughout history have rejected the true God because the God of the Bible doesn’t fit their personal idea of what God should be like. For example, many reject God because in their view he shouldn’t allow any suffering in this world.

Marc Roby: In fact, many people at the time of Jesus rejected him because they were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver them from their bondage to the Romans.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. In fact, Jesus spoke about the fact that people rejected him for not living up to their expectations for the Messiah. In Luke 7:31-35 he says, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Jesus was making the point that the people who rejected John for being too ascetic and Jesus for not upholding the Jewish traditions of the time were just like children who were upset with others who wouldn’t join in one game by dancing, or in another one by crying. But, we don’t get to choose the game! God is sovereign, not us.

Marc Roby: And, as Jesus said, “wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. And what he meant was that the fruit produced by the ministry of John the Baptist, which was serious repentance, and the fruit produced by Jesus’ own ministry, which was salvation for sinners, would prove them to be true. And so, when people today refuse to accept the God of the Bible because the God they want would never allow suffering into this world, or would never send people to hell, they are being just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. Therefore, we must again ask, in the high priestly prayer of John 17, when Jesus said that the Father is “the only true God”, whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God?

Marc Roby: Well, I would assume that, since Jesus is the one praying, it would be his idea of the true God that he has in mind.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. But Grudem points out an interesting and unavoidable circularity here. He says, correctly, “that it is God himself who has the only perfect idea of what the true God should be like. And he himself is the true God because in his being and character he perfectly conforms to his own idea of what the true God should be. In addition, he has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.”[4]

Marc Roby: And, I might add, he has also revealed to us in his Word what it means to be the true God. I am thinking, for example, of places like Isaiah 41:22-23, where God mocks the idols of the people saying, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a good passage. According to God, a true God should be able to tell us what the future holds.

In addition, the Bible tells us that a true God should also be the one who created all things. Over and over again in the Old Testament God reminds his people that he is the one who created the heavens and the earth. For example, in Isaiah 45:18 we read, “For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

Marc Roby: There is only one Creator, and he alone is the true and living God.

Dr. Spencer: And, as Grudem pointed out, God “implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.” So, when God points out that he alone is the Creator, the Lord of history, the Savior of his people, and the Judge of all, it resonates with our inner sense of what it means to be God and, if we have been born again, we recognize it as true.

So, when we read that God is the true God, the metaphysical use of the term truth here means that we recognize God, as he reveals himself to us in his Word, to correspond in his fundamental nature, to what it means to be God. But we also see that he is the one who defines what it means to be God, so we need to jettison any unbiblical notions of God from our thinking. There is no external standard to which God must conform. He is the standard.

Marc Roby: I think we all need to meditate for a while on God’s description of what the true God should be and his revelation of himself as that true God.

Dr. Spencer: These ideas definitely warrant some careful thought. And let me add one more quick point related to the metaphysical meaning of truth. In John 1:17 the apostle says that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John Murray makes an important point about this verse in his book Principles of Conduct. He wrote that “We should bear in mind that ‘the true’ in the usage of John is not so much the true in contrast with the false, or the real in contrast with the fictitious. It is the absolute as contrasted with the relative, the ultimate as contrasted with the derived, the eternal as contrasted with the temporal, the permanent as contrasted with the temporary, the complete in contrast with the partial, the substantial in contrast with the shadowy. … What John is contrasting here is the partial, incomplete character of the Mosaic dispensation with the completeness and fulness of the revelation of grace and truth in Jesus Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: That statement gives us even more to meditate on. In the meantime, you said that Frame lists three meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible. What is the second meaning?

Dr. Spencer: The second is epistemological, or propositional truth, which is, as Frame points out, “a property of language, rather than reality.”[6] In other words, if I say that I was born in California, the proposition is either true or false. That is the predominant sense in which we were using the term in our last session when we discussed theories of truth. A statement is true if it corresponds to reality as far as that can be determined, and if it is also consistent with all other statements we know to be true.

Marc Roby: And God is also truth in this propositional sense. For example, we are told in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie”.

Dr. Spencer: We also read in 1 Samuel 15:29 that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind”. That is why Grudem’s definition says, “all his knowledge and words are” true. And this is the point I was making last time. Since God is the Creator and the sovereign Lord of history, he controls this universe both in terms of its underlying nature and in terms of what happens to it over time. Therefore, whatever God thinks is true, is necessarily true as we have said. Grudem says, “since God knows all things infinitely well, we can say that the standard of true knowledge is conformity to God’s knowledge. If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, God is not only true, he is the standard of truth. Grudem’s definition also says that God’s knowledge and words are “the final standard of truth.”

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem explains that statement further. He says that “God’s words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth.”

Marc Roby: We talked about ultimate standards of truth way back in Session 4 and you pointed out that there really are only two possibilities; either human reason or divine revelation.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the only two options. But we also pointed out that even though human reason is not the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian, it is necessary. It is a gift from God and without it we can’t understand his revelation to us. But, we must use our reason in a subservient role. It cannot stand in judgment over God’s revelation, it must be used to understand that revelation correctly.

Marc Roby: And that applies to general revelation as well as to the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. We must be careful to never let human reason be the ultimate standard for truth, even when we are doing science. Francis Bacon, often considered the father of empirical science, is famous for his statement about God’s two books; the book of nature and the book of the Bible. But, as Christians, we must place the Bible above nature because it is God’s infallible word to us. We can use our understanding of nature to help understand the Bible correctly, but we can never let what we think we know from nature overrule the Bible. So, for example, the idea that all life emerged from non-life by some natural process is unacceptable because it clearly contradicts the Bible. Of course, as I pointed out in Session 1, I don’t think that idea has much scientific merit either, it is the result of an atheistic worldview.

Marc Roby: Which again points out the importance of our worldview. But, let me bring us back to our topic of God’s truthfulness. You said that Frame discussed three biblical meanings of the word truth and we’ve covered two of them, the metaphysical and the propositional meanings. What then is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third meaning is the ethical. The three meanings are, of course, all related. Frame says that “Metaphysical truth is genuineness; epistemological truth faithfully represents what is genuine; ethical truth is faithfulness in all areas of life.”[8]

So, with regard to metaphysical truth we quoted John 17:3, which called God the Father “the only true God”, and which speaks of his being the genuine article, to use a colloquial expression. Then with regard to epistemological, or propositional, truth you quoted Hebrews 6:18, which says that “it is impossible for God to lie” and that tells us that God faithfully represents what is genuine. Then, finally, ethical truth, as Frame says, is “faithfulness in all areas of life.”

Marc Roby: And ethics refers to the moral rules that govern our behavior.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And God is ethical truth in at least two ways. First, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate and, as we are told in John 1:18, makes the Father known to us, walked in perfect obedience to God’s commands. He himself declared in John 8:29 that he always did what pleased the Father. And, secondly, God is ethical truth in the sense that he alone has authority to tell us what is right and what is sin. In other words, he alone has authority to give us the moral rules that govern our behavior. Without God’s authority to do that, we are left with moral relativism and morality must be defined by human reason and is, therefore, changeable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I liked what you said in our previous session; that if someone is a logically consistent atheist, he must agree with the premise that might makes right.

Dr. Spencer: I did say that, yes. And I was deliberately being provocative. I certainly did not mean, for example, that any individual who has sufficient might to take something from another is morally right to do so. But, as I noted, if there is no God, we have a serious problem trying to defend any set of laws as being inherently right.

For example, in 1830 it was legal in some states in this country to own a slave. But now it is illegal everywhere in this country. Was there a change in some underlying law of morality? No, there was a Civil War and the 13th Amendment to our Constitution was passed. Now I certainly hope, and expect, that our listeners will all agree slavery as it existed in this country prior to the 13th Amendment was morally wrong. But there is a very serious question that we should all ask ourselves; namely, “On what basis can we make the statement that slavery is wrong?” What makes us right and the people who were in favor of it in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: That is a question most people would find unsettling to even ask.

Dr. Spencer: I realize that, but it is an important question. We all tend to think that we are morally superior to people we disagree with. And, if we are part of a group that has the power at the moment, we may even feel somewhat smugly justified in feeling that way. But the question stands. Other than the fact that the majority view is in our favor and the north was able to win the Civil War, what makes us right and the people in favor of slavery in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point, although I’m sure it will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Dr. Spencer: It does make us uncomfortable. When we find ourselves objecting to the statement that “might makes right”, and even self-proclaimed atheists typically do so, we are implicitly saying that there is some higher authority or standard for right conduct. But where does that standard come from?

Marc Roby: Obviously I would say it comes from God.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. And I would agree. But if someone claims to not believe in God, how can they answer the question?

Marc Roby: I don’t think they can. And we are out of time, so I think we will need to finish this discussion next time. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org; we’d love to hear from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

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

[4] Grudem, op.cit., pg. 195

[5] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 123

[6] Frame, op. cit., pg. 477

[7] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 195

[8] Frame, op. cit., pg. 478

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the attributes of God. We have been discussing God’s immutability, which means that he does not change. Are we done with that topic Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. It is such an important issue in the modern church that I want to really drive home the point that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the very same God, he has not changed.

Marc Roby: Very well, what else do you want to say to support this view?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that there has never been a time when anyone was saved by keeping the law. Salvation has always been by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Immediately after the fall God promised a redeemer. And the only way of salvation in the Old Testament times was by faith in that promised redeemer just as it is today.

Marc Roby: When you say that God promised a redeemer immediately after the fall, you are of course referring to Genesis 3:15, sometimes called the protoevangelium, which tells us that when God pronounced his curse on Satan he said to him, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what I was referring to. Jesus Christ is the offspring of the woman and he figuratively crushed Satan’s head when he died on the cross to pay the penalty owed by all of his chosen followers. And no one was saved in the time before Jesus Christ except by believing in this promised Messiah. And yet, God established both an elaborate system of sacrifices, which pointed forward to Christ and ended when he came, as well as the moral law, which is summarized by the Ten Commandments. So, in order to fully understand that God has not changed, we need to ask what role the law played in the Old Testament, and then we will see that it functions in exactly the same way today.

Marc Roby: What role then did the law play in Old Testament times?

Dr. Spencer: The law played three roles in the Old Testament, just as it does today. John Calvin wrote about the threefold use of the law in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.[2] The first use of the law is that it shows us where we fall short of meeting God’s standard of righteousness. That standard has not changed since Old Testament times and there is absolutely nothing in the New Testament that indicates that God has relaxed his standard in any way. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 12:14 that we must, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of Paul’s introduction to his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 he wrote, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (emphasis added).

Dr. Spencer: Paul also wrote in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” And Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” And Peter was quoting from Leviticus 11:44 where God said to his people, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” This demonstrates the continuity of God’s requirement that his people must be holy.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to add that being holy requires obedience.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. Our obedience doesn’t earn anything from God, salvation is by grace, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that the requirement to be holy is only referring to our being united with Christ and clothed with his perfect righteousness. If we have been born again, it will be evident in our lives. We must have obedient lives or our claim to be a Christian is false.

As it says in Hebrews 5:8-9, Christ “learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. So, Christ’s obedience in suffering made him the perfect sacrifice required and as a result he is the source of eternal salvation “for all who obey him”. It doesn’t say that he is the source of eternal salvation for those who call themselves Christians.

If some of our listeners don’t like this idea of obedience being necessary, I encourage them to look up the word obey in a concordance and look at the New Testament verses that use the word. There are quite a few that speak about the need for Christians to obey. For example, anyone who is interested should at a bare minimum look at John 14:15 and 15:10, Acts 5:32, Hebrews 13:17 and 1 John 2:3, but there are many, many more.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think that is enough to establish that God’s standard for us in both the Old and New Testament times is that we be holy, which means that we obey God’s commands. And, of course, it is obvious to any reasonable person that none of us are holy. So, you said that the first use of the law is to show us that very fact.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Calvin wrote that our being convicted by the law of God “is necessary, in order that man, who is blind and intoxicated with self-love, may be brought at once to know and to confess his weakness and impurity.”[3] He also wrote that “the Law is a kind of mirror. As in a mirror we discover any stains upon our face, so in the Law we behold, first, our impotence; then, in consequence of it, our iniquity; and, finally, the curse, as the consequence of both.” In other words, we must conclude from the fact that we don’t measure up to God’s standard that we have a serious problem, which should drive us to cry out “What must I do to be saved?”

Marc Roby: That is the rational response. What is the second use of the law as elucidated by Calvin?

Dr. Spencer: The second use is to restrain moral evil in this world. Calvin wrote that “The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”[4] The fact that there are serious punishments threatened for disobeying God’s law is a strong incentive for people to not break that law. This is the function of the law that Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, where he said that “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

This is why properly functioning civil governments should have laws that mirror God’s laws. Not all people will respond to God’s threats – although they are far more consequential and serious than anything man can do to us. And because not all people will respond to God’s threats, our civil governments have the responsibility of imposing sanctions on those who violate God’s laws. That is the basis of any proper legal system.

Marc Roby: That idea is not very popular today.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t, because people have an unbiblical worldview. That worldview ignores what the Bible teaches us about human nature. This false worldview says that man is basically good. The idea is that people only steal because they need something. And people only do terrible things to other people because somewhere along the line someone did something terrible to them.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly come across that view as well. But all of human history, and any honest evaluation of our own hearts, argues quite strongly against it.

Dr. Spencer: The facts argue very strongly against that view. The human heart harbors tremendous evil. Fortunately, most people keep it under wraps most of the time, and I don’t think that we are all capable of the same depths of evil and depravity, but to deny the existence of real evil in human beings is to put your head in the sand and ignore the obvious. And to think that people only do bad things because bad things have happened to them ignores the obvious problem of how did all these bad things get started? And why are they many people who do terrible things who have never had any terrible thing done to them?

Marc Roby: That is a good question.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. I remember just a few years ago there was a young man in our town, who hadn’t had anything terribly unusual happen to him, but he brutally murdered an elderly couple in their bed with a knife just because he wanted to know what it felt like to kill people. Now that depth of depravity and wickedness is, admittedly and thankfully, quite rare. But, any theory of human behavior has to take that sort of thing into account because it is not so exceptionally rare that it can be explained away as some extreme aberration. And when you include actions like rape, assault and robbery, which while certainly less wicked are, nonetheless, still wicked, you have a serious problem defending the idea that people are basically good at heart.

Marc Roby: OK. We’ve established two uses of the law: first, to show us that we ourselves do not meet God’s standard and need a Savior, and second, to moderate evil in society. What is the law’s third use?

Dr. Spencer: The third use that Calvin listed, which he called “the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end”[5], only applies to believers and was to show God’s people how we can please him. Every child who loves his parents wants to know what he can do to please them. And every true child of God will want to live a life that is pleasing to God. But, no one can do that if we aren’t told what pleases God. The law serves that purpose, and every single person who has been born again will lead a changed life; a life that is characterized by obedience to God’s law.

Marc Roby: But, we must be clear that we are not saying that our obedience earns salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Our obedience is never perfect in this life, and God’s standard is perfection. Therefore, it is fundamentally impossible for us to earn our salvation. Nevertheless, a born-again person has a new heart and desires to please God and will strive for holiness. We must be different than the rest of the world or we are not truly God’s people.

Marc Roby: And that has not changed since Old Testament times.

Dr. Spencer: No, it hasn’t changed at all. And we can now see that these three uses of the law are the same today as they were at the time of Moses, or King David, or any other Old Testament saint. As we noted in Session 57 there are three things that have changed since the Old Testament: First, we have much greater revelation than even Moses had; Second, the promised Messiah has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so the ceremonial law has been done away with because its only purpose was to point to the coming Redeemer; And, third, we no longer live under the same civil government.

So there have been changes, and they are significant. But God has not changed. His standard of holiness has not changed, and the way of salvation has not changed. The Old Testament is still relevant today, but we have to be intelligent in applying it. We no longer stone adulterers for example because that was part of the civil law in effect at that time. But adultery is still a terrible sin and a properly functioning government will have some kind of penalty in place for people who commit that sin.

Marc Roby: But we as individuals do not have authority to punish anyone for their sins, even if the civil government fails to.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God has only given that power to the state, not to individuals or to the church. As we’ve said, unless we are commanded to sin, we should obey the civil authorities. The church, of course, still has the power of the keys and must exercise authority in disciplining people who sin and refuse to repent.

Marc Roby: Are we done with discussing God’s immutability now?

Dr. Spencer: We are.

Marc Roby: What’s next then?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s eternity. I want to discuss it next because it is related to God’s immutability. Wayne Grudem defines God’s eternity as meaning that “God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.”[6]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a difficult definition to wrap your mind around completely.

Dr. Spencer: It is, especially for our listeners who aren’t following allowing in the written transcript. But, I think it will become clearer as I explain how it is related to God’s immutability.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: If God is immutable as we have claimed, then it follows that his knowledge does not increase or decrease from one moment to the next. In other words, as Grudem said, he has no “succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly”. This is a very difficult thing for us to grasp because we experience only the present vividly. We experience the past less vividly and the further we go back in time the worse our memory becomes in general.

Marc Roby: Although we all have particularly memorable events or experiences that we remember better than others.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But the point is that God sees all times equally well. It is as if everything were the present to him. There isn’t some particular moment in time that God sees or experiences more clearly or vividly than others. If that were not the case, he would not be immutable. Grudem notes that when Jesus said, in John 8:58, that “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” He used the present tense verb in referring to his existence prior to the time of Abraham, which in Greek indicates something that continues to be true.[7] Therefore, Jesus’ statement suggests that every moment in our history is, essentially, the present to God.

Marc Roby: That is extremely hard for us to understand.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. In fact, it is impossible for us to grasp fully. But it is a necessary conclusion based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. Many of the Scriptures that we cited when we discussed God’s self-existence, or aseity, are also applicable here. For example, the fact that God existed prior to this universe, which is clearly taught in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, is evidence that he is not subject to the succession of events that occur in this universe, which is what we think of as defining the passage of time.

Marc Roby: The fact that God can predict the future also requires that he does not experience time as we do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And God uses that fact to mock idols. For example, in Isaiah 41:22-23 God says to his people, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.”

Marc Roby: And this contrasts with God himself. He tells us, in Isaiah 46:9-10, to, “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

Dr. Spencer: I think this is the hardest thing for us to grasp, that what we think of as future is equally vivid in God’s sight as our present. And yet, as Grudem’s definition says, “God sees events in time and acts in time.” Which means that he understands how we perceive time as a succession of events. He knows that we can’t see the future and he is able to interact with us in time.

Marc Roby: I think a good part of the reason why we can’t understand God’s knowing the future is that the future seems to us to not yet be determined. It depends on exactly what we and billions of other people and animals do, which seems to us to be fundamentally unknowable until it happens.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point. God’s eternity and immutability are difficult to reconcile with man’s free will or the free actions of animals. But, I want to leave that topic for later. For now, let me cite one other verse that is very interesting to examine. In 2 Peter 3:8 the apostle wrote that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” The second part of this statement, that “a thousand years are like a day” is the same point made in Verse 4 of Psalm 90, which says that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by”. In other words, God doesn’t have trouble remembering things from a thousand years ago, they are just like yesterday. And this is, of course, a figurative way of saying that he knows all of the past perfectly.

But, the first part of Peter’s statement, that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years” is new and very interesting. Let me quote from Grudem here. He notes that “since ‘a thousand years’ is a figurative expression for ‘as long a time as we can imagine,’ or ‘all history,’ we can say from this verse that any one day seems to God to be present to his consciousness forever.”[8] In other words, every moment of human history is like the immediate present to God.

Marc Roby: It is clear from these verses that God does not experience time as we do.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is clear but it is also impossible for us to grasp completely.

Marc Roby: It certainly is, and I think we need to end here for today. But I look forward to continuing this discussion next time. I would like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We 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] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 2.7.6

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 2.7.10

[5] Ibid, 2.7.12

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 168

[7] Ibid, pg. 169

[8] Grudem, pg. 170

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to present the biblical case for the deity of Jesus Christ. How do you want to begin today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take a look at another part of the gospel of John. In Chapter 14 Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he says, in Verse 7, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [1]

Marc Roby: That’s a serious claim; if we know Christ, we know the Father, and having seen Christ, we have seen the Father.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing claim. And James Boice mentions this, along with a number of other claims, in his Foundations of the Christian Faith.[2] This passage goes on to say more too. The apostle Philip obviously did not fully grasp what Jesus said, because we read in Verse 8 that he said to Christ, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Then, in Verses 9 and 10, Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Marc Roby: I’m confident that was not the answer that Philip was expecting. Don’t you wish that we were told how he responded to that?

Dr. Spencer: That would be very interesting to know, but we aren’t told. And it may well be that he had no response. How could you respond to statements like those? Christ equates seeing him with seeing the Father. And he says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. It is an amazing claim. Then he goes on and says that he is speaking the Father’s words. But unlike the Old Testament prophets he doesn’t say that God gave him the words to say, he says that the Father is living in him.

Marc Roby: Which is something we will never completely understand.

Dr. Spencer: No, we won’t.  And in John 12:44 Jesus said that “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.” And we know who sent Jesus, we are told in John 17:25 and a number of other places that the Father sent him, so this statement equates faith in Jesus Christ with faith in God the Father. Then, in Mark 9:37, we read that “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Which equates welcoming Jesus with welcoming the Father. Also, in John 15:23 we read that Jesus said, “He who hates me hates my Father as well.” And in John 5:23 Jesus says that “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

Marc Roby: Jesus very clearly claimed a relationship with God the Father that is much closer than would be possible for any created being.

Dr. Spencer: He most certainly did. The 20th-century theologian Louis Berkhof gives a great summary of the scriptural evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ. He states that the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ is so great that it is only “those who disregard the teachings of Scripture”[3] who can deny the doctrine. He summarizes the biblical evidence under 5 headings.[4] The first of these is Scriptures that explicitly assert the deity of Christ. In that category he lists, along with others, three verses that we have already looked at, John 1:1, John 20:28 and Titus 2:13. The second category he lists is Scriptures that apply divine names to Jesus.

Marc Roby: What verses does he list in that category?

Dr. Spencer: He lists Isaiah 40:3, which is the famous prophecy about John the Baptist. It says, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” The word Lord in that verse is the tetragrammaton, Jehovah. This verse is quoted in Matthew 3:3 and we are told there that it was speaking about John the Baptist. So, let’s put those two statements together. Isaiah tells us that the voice that is calling is preparing the way for Jehovah, and then we are told that the voice is John the Baptist, who we know prepared the way for Jesus Christ. The conclusion is inescapable, Jesus Christ is Jehovah, he is God.

Marc Roby: That is the only possible conclusion. What other verses does Berkhof cite?

Dr. Spencer: I’ll just mention one more. He cites Jeremiah 23:5-6 where we read, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’” This tells us about a King who will come, who is a descendant of David and who will save Israel, which is clearly Jesus Christ, and it then tells us that the name by which he will be called is the Lord, where that is again Jehovah.

Marc Roby: That definitely is a clear reference to Jesus Christ. What else does Berkhof have to say?

Dr. Spencer: His third category is Scriptures that ascribe divine attributes to Christ. For instance, we’ve already looked at John 1:1 and Colossians 1:16-17, both of which speak about his existing before the creation, in other words eternally, which is an incommunicable attribute of God. Also, in Matthew 18:20 we read that Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This requires that Jesus be able to be in multiple places at once, in other words that he be omnipresent, which is another incommunicable attribute of God.

Marc Roby: Of course, that is not speaking about Jesus Christ in his human body being present in multiple places at the same time.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. In his humanity Jesus was, and is, limited to being in one place at a time, just as we are. But, in his divinity, he is omnipresent, meaning that he is everywhere all at the same time. Also, in Hebrews 13:8 we are told that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Which is the same unchangeable nature as Jehovah, which is called his immutability. We read in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.” And Lord in that verse is Jehovah. I think this is sufficient evidence to make the point that divine attributes are ascribed to Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: What is Berkhof’s fourth category of evidence?

Dr. Spencer: He mentions Scriptures that speak of Christ doing works that only God can do. For example, we’ve already discussed verses, like John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, that speak of Jesus Christ as the Creator. In addition, in Hebrews 1:3 we are told that Jesus sustains all things by his powerful word, but sustaining the creation is also a work that only God can do.

Then, in Mark Chapter 2 a paralytic is brought to Jesus and instead of healing him as people expected, we read in Verse 5 that Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now this upset some teachers who were present and we are told that they were thinking to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming, because only God has the authority to forgive sins. Then, in Verses 8-11, Jesus says to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’”

Marc Roby: I’m sure it got their attention very quickly when Jesus told them what they were thinking!

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it did. Only God can know our thoughts. In addition, these teachers were correct in thinking that only God has authority to forgive sins, which was precisely Jesus’ point in this situation. Notice that he used the miracle of physical healing to validate his authority to forgive the man’s sins. In other words, he was acting as only the sovereign Lord of all creation can act.

Marc Roby: Very well. I believe that you said Berkhof had five categories of evidence, and we’ve covered four of them. So what is the fifth?

Dr. Spencer: The fifth category is Scriptures that accord divine honor to Christ. But before we give examples of this, I should point out that in Isaiah 42:8 Jehovah declares, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” So, when the Bible ascribes the honor, glory or praise due to God to Jesus Christ, it is affirming his deity.

We’ve already seen one example of this, although it isn’t in Berkhof’s list. Remember that in Philippians 2:9-11 it says that “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 while this says it is to the glory of God the Father, we noted before that saying “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” is an allusion to Isaiah 45:23 and gives God’s honor to Christ as well.

And now, let me also give one example off of Berkhof’s list, he cites John 5, Verses 22-23, which say that “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

Marc Roby: That completes Berkhof’s list of five areas of scriptural evidence. What else do you want to look at?

Dr. Spencer: There is another very compelling type of evidence in the New Testament that we have not yet discussed, and that is that Jesus Christ spoke with the very authority of God. In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke the words of God, but they always prefaced them with a statement something like “This is what the Lord says”. In fact, if you look up that exact phrase in the 1984 NIV that we are using, you will see that it occurs 167 times in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: And there are also a number of other ways of saying the same thing.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are. But when we look at Jesus we find that he said something altogether different. In the Sermon on the Mount, five times Jesus says “You have heard” and then quotes an Old Testament passage, or in one place the Jews’ misunderstanding of an Old Testament passage, and then he follows that by saying “But I tell you” and goes on to expand on what is said in the Old Testament. In other words, he adds to God’s words as recorded in Scripture, which is something that only God can do.

Marc Roby: In other words, Jesus asserted his divine prerogative in those instances.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he did it in other similar ways too. Jonathan Edwards pointed out that when Jesus predicted future events, he also did that in a way that is qualitatively different from the Old Testament prophets.[5] For example, after speaking to the crowds about the signs of the end of the ages and his own second coming, we read in Matthew 24:34-35 that Jesus told the crowd, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Notice that he didn’t say, as an Old Testament prophet would, that the Lord says this, he said “I tell you the truth”, and he didn’t say that God’s words will never pass away, he said “my words will never pass away.”

Marc Roby: And in saying this, he again assumed to himself a power and privilege that belongs to God alone.

Dr. Spencer: He does. And Jesus uses this phrase “I tell you the truth”, 78 times in the gospels. And in 72 of those verses it is how our Bible translates the Greek word ἀμὴν (amān), which is where we get our word amen, and it means truly, or so let it be.

Marc Roby: Jesus used that as a way to sort of wake his listeners up and let them know he was getting ready to say something very important.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in 24 of those verses we read that Jesus repeated the word for emphasis; he said ἀμὴν ἀμὴν, which the English Standard Version translates as truly, truly. I like that more than the NIV because it retains the emphasis that Christ was putting on the following statements. By repeating the word, he was saying to them essentially, “What I am about to say is incredibly important, so be quiet, listen carefully and pay attention!”

Marc Roby: One of those statements is in John 5:24, where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. In the Greek, that verse begins ἀμὴν ἀμὴν. And that verse is a great example of the point we have been making because Jesus says “whoever hears my word … has eternal life” (emphasis added). And he says that such a person “has crossed over from death to life.” What a great statement to show that Jesus absolutely assumed to himself the privileges that are God’s alone. No Old Testament prophet ever said anything like this unless he prefaced it by saying it was the word of the Lord.

Marc Roby: That is very clear evidence for the deity of Christ. Is there anything else you want to mention from Jonathan Edwards’ treatment?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, another verse that he mentions is very important. In John 10:17-18 Jesus declared, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” In the King James Version it says he has the power to lay down his life and take it up again. The Greek word can mean authority or power, so both translations are fine. The main point is that Jesus not only predicted the future here, he also claimed to have the power, or authority, to raise himself from the dead!

Marc Roby: OK, I’m quite confident that no mere man can do that. Do you have anything more to say about the Scriptural evidence for the deity of Christ?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to finish this topic by mentioning the systematic theology text of Charles Hodge and giving one short quote from the book. He has an absolutely wonderful summary of the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ.[6] His book is even available for free online as a pdf, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[7] We have covered many of the points he makes, but he ties it all together very well. The only problem with his presentation is that he often cites words, or even phrases, in the Greek without providing the translation or telling you where they are in the New Testament, so his work is harder for a layperson to follow. Nevertheless, even if you skip over the Greek, and one short passage in Latin, his presentation is excellent.

Marc Roby: What is the quote you would like to read?

Dr. Spencer: He makes an overall comment about the Book of Revelation that I think is worth taking note of. He writes that “The Book of Revelation is one continued hymn of praise to Christ, setting forth the glory of his person and the triumph of his kingdom; representing Him as the ground of confidence to his people, and the object of worship to all the inhabitants of heaven.”[8] He then goes on to point out that in Revelation Jesus Christ is declared to be the ruler of the kings of the earth, he is presented to us as the first and the last, he assumes the titles and prerogatives of God, he is the Holy and the True, he has the keys of David, all the inhabitants of heaven lie prostrate at his feet in worship and so on. We have covered some of these points in other passages, but if you read the Book of Revelation with all of this in mind, it bears powerful testimony to the deity of Christ.

Marc Roby: I agree. And it also presents you with the true Christ, not the effeminate and weak Christ of many modern churches. He is presented as one whose eyes are like blazing fire and who judges the living and the dead and defeats all of his enemies.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. In fact, in Revelation 6:16 the wrath of God is called the “wrath of the Lamb”. It is Jesus Christ himself who has prepared hell for the devil, his demons, and all who follow him. This is the Christ who is the judge before whom we must appear. We dare not treat him as a buddy. And with that, I think we are finished with our examination of the scriptural evidence for the deity of Christ, although I must say that we have not in any sense given an exhaustive presentation of that evidence.

Marc Roby: And I would like to once again encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and to go to our website to order their free copy of Good News for All People.

 

[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] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 274

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 94

[4] Ibid, pp 94-95

[5] Edwards, Jonathan, “Jesus’s prophecies a proof that he was the Christ, and a divine person”, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2, Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, pp 468-470

[6]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. 1, pp 504-521

[7] See  https://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge

[8] Hode, op. cit., pg. 510

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the biblical case for the deity of Jesus Christ and we ended last time by starting to look at the passage in Philippians 2:5-11, which says this, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [1]

We pointed out last session that the first part of the passage tells us plainly that Jesus Christ is God. Dr. Spencer, the next line has caused trouble for some; it begins by saying that Jesus “made himself nothing”. What does that mean?

Dr. Spencer: The question of what it means for Jesus to have “made himself nothing”, or as the ESV and some other translations put it, to have “emptied himself”, has caused trouble for some since the mid 1800’s. But it should not be a problem since the sentence itself goes on to tell us what is meant by the phrase; it tells us that Jesus took “the very nature of a servant” and was “made in human likeness.” In other words, it means that he humbled himself and took on human nature. He did not somehow stop being God, nor did he give up any of the attributes that are essential to God’s being.

Marc Roby: I like what the Westminster Shorter Catechism says on this point. Question 27 asks, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?” And the answer is this; “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very succinct and yet complete description of what is meant by Christ’s humiliation. But getting back specifically to what it meant for Christ to have “made himself nothing”, the right meaning is stated by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology book. He says that “The emptying includes change of role and status, not essential attributes or nature.”[2] But let’s not lose sight of the main point we were making; the verse states in unequivocal language that Jesus Christ already existed prior to his incarnation and that he is fully God. But, it also says more. Before we go on though, I want to point out again that James Boice uses this passage from Philippians 2 in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith to argue for the divinity of Christ and I am summarizing his arguments here.[3]

Marc Roby: What else does Boice say about that passage?

Dr. Spencer: He wrote that “having described how Jesus laid aside his former glory in order to become a man and die for us, Paul goes on to show how he received that glory back, noting that he is now to be confessed as Lord”.

Marc Roby: Before you go on I want to discuss that statement. You said a moment ago that God did not give up any of the attributes that are essential to God’s being when he became incarnate, but Boice says here that he laid aside his former glory. Now, isn’t God’s glory one of his attributes? Can you explain why it is not one that is essential to God’s being?

Dr. Spencer: Whether glory is or is not an attribute depends on how you define it.[4] The word glory has a wide range of meanings. Grudem points out that it often means simply honor or excellent reputation and that “In this sense, the glory of God is not exactly an attribute of his being but rather describes the superlative honor that should be given to God by everything in the universe”.[5]

And what Boice said is perfectly biblical. In John 17:5 Jesus is praying and requests of the Father, “glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” When Jesus said that he “had” this glory, which is past tense, it is clear that he didn’t possess it at the time he made this statement. So, this verse makes it clear that Jesus laid aside his glory, meaning the honor due to him as God, when he became incarnate. That honor is something that is due to him as God, but is not an essential attribute of his being. So, what I said is accurate, Jesus Christ did not cease to be God when he became incarnate, nor did he surrender any of the attributes that are essential to God’s being.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think that explains it well enough, so let’s get back to Boice’s argument. He says that Jesus received his glory back, meaning when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection, and that he is to be confessed as Lord.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And here is the really important point. When Paul wrote that God “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” he is obviously alluding to Isaiah 45:23 where we read that Jehovah God declared, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”

Marc Roby: Paul’s allusion to that verse is indeed obvious.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And Boice points out what is perhaps the most amazing fact about this passage.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: It is that Paul was not to making an argument for the deity of Christ! Paul’s major point in the passage is that we should be humble and he uses Jesus Christ as the supreme example of that humility. In the course of making that argument, he simply assumes, as it were, the deity of Christ. Now you have to think about that fact for a moment for it to have its full impact.

If I want to make an argument to prove some point, I am not going to introduce something else that needs to be proven first if I can possibly avoid doing so. I’m going to make my argument using information that is already known and agreed to by my listeners.

Marc Roby: Therefore the implication is that Paul assumed the recipients of his letter already believed that Jesus Christ is fully God.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. Paul himself had founded the church in Philippi. In fact, one of its early members was the famous Philippian jailer who had cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” In any event, Paul had stayed in contact with this church and undoubtedly had made sure that they had good teaching. Therefore, he knew that they were fully aware of this fundamental Christian doctrine; that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Marc Roby: You’re right; once you think that through it is a very impressive bit of evidence.

Dr. Spencer: Boice quotes an English commentator, Bishop Handley Moule on this point, and I think he does an excellent job of driving home the implication of the argument. He wrote, “We have here a chain of assertions about our Lord Jesus Christ, made within some thirty years of his death at Jerusalem; made in the open day of public Christian intercourse, and made (every reader must feel this) not in the least manner of controversy, of assertion against difficulties and denials, but in the tone of a settled, common, and most living certainty. These assertions give us on the one hand the fullest possible assurance that he is man, man in nature, in circumstances and experience, and particularly in the sphere of relation to God the Father. But they also assure us, in precisely the same tone, and in a way which is equally vital to the arguments in hand, that he is as genuinely divine as he is genuinely human.”[6]

Marc Roby: What a great summary of the importance of this passage. And this passage also reminds me of another one that speaks about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. The writer of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 8 and then applies it to Christ and says, in Verse 9 of Chapter 2, “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

Dr. Spencer: That does make the same point clearly. Theologians talk about the humiliation of Christ. And by that they are referring not just to his being tried, mocked, spit upon, flogged and crucified, but they are referring to the fact that he became man.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t exactly flatter us human beings.

Dr. Spencer: It isn’t meant to flatter us. But it is accurate. It would be infinitely less of a humiliation for me to become an ant than it was for the Creator and Lord of the universe to become man.

Marc Roby: We again see the need for us to properly grasp the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But let’s get back to the point of proving that Jesus Christ is God.

Marc Roby: Very well, what do you want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s look at Chapter 12 of John’s gospel. We read there about the unbelief of the Jewish people with regard to Christ. John tells us that in spite of all the miracles he performed among them, they would not believe and he says, in Verses 39 and 40, “they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’” Now, this is a quote from Chapter 6 of Isaiah, which is where we read of Isaiah’s amazing vision of God on his throne in heaven.

Marc Roby: Which I might add is, perhaps, the greatest vision of God given to anyone in all of history.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, it is. And let me quote a lengthy passage from Boice because he summarizes what this means very well. He wrote, “To people living today, particularly Christians, the reference may seem natural, for we are used to theological statements giving full deity to Christ. But that was hardly natural for John, a monotheistic Jew, or for his contemporaries. For a Jew of John’s time God was almost inaccessible in his transcendence. He was the holy One of Israel. He dwelt in glory unapproachable. None actually saw him. And when on some unusual occasion some remarkably privileged person, such as Moses or Isaiah, had received a vision of God in his glory, it was not believed even then to be an actual vision of God as he is in himself but rather only an image or reflection of him. Yet such a vision filled one with awe and wonder.

“What Isaiah saw was the closest thing in all Jewish writings or tradition to an actual ‘portrait’ of the living and holy God. Yet that vision with all its breathtaking splendor John applies to Jesus. Without questioning, it would seem, John takes the most exalted vision of God in the Old Testament and says that it was a portrait of a carpenter from Nazareth who was about to be crucified – so great is John’s opinion of him.”[7]

Marc Roby: It is hard for us to grasp just how radical that view was at that time.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is, but Boice does a good job of explaining the importance. John was clearly convinced by all that he had seen, heard and experienced that Jesus Christ was God. So, anyone who believes the Bible to be true must join with John in recognizing this fact. To do otherwise is to deny the veracity of the New Testament and the apostle whom Jesus loved.

Marc Roby: I agree. What other evidence do you want to adduce in support of this view?

Dr. Spencer: Another important point that often goes unnoticed by modern readers is the way Jesus referred to God the Father. As we have noted, the Jews considered God’s name to be so holy that it should not even be spoken. And they considered, as Boice pointed out in the passage I just read, God to be so transcendent that he was inaccessible to human beings. No first century Jew would ever have thought of referring to God as his personal father, and yet, that is the way Jesus most commonly referred to him.

Marc Roby: That is a fascinating observation, and I agree that most modern readers gloss right over that point because we are used to people referring to God as their Father.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and Jesus even went further. In John 10 we read about a very interesting exchange between Jesus and some Jews in an area near the temple in Jerusalem. They asked him to tell them plainly if he was the Christ, the promised Savior of the Jews. Jesus responded by saying that he had already told them because his miracles spoke for him. And he then said to them, in John 10:26, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

Marc Roby: That was not a very politically correct response.

Dr. Spencer: Thankfully, they didn’t have our modern idea of political correctness. And it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because Jesus simply spoke the truth. We need to remember that the Jews at this time were expecting a political Messiah who would deliver the Jewish people from Roman rule and establish a new Jewish state. They were not thinking about eternal salvation. For Jesus to say that he is the promised Messiah, but they, as Jews, were not his sheep, was a shocking a statement. They thought that all Jews were God’s chosen people and would be saved – again in the political sense – by the Messiah.

Marc Roby: Jesus often had to contend with this false understanding of what the Messiah would do.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he did, that wrong understanding frequently caused problems. And Jesus went on in what he said to them. We read in John 10:27-30 that he said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Marc Roby: And we read in Verses 31-33 that the people picked up stones to try and stone Jesus for blasphemy, so they certainly understood that he was claiming to be God.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly did understand. How can you not understand what he meant? He calls God his Father, not in some abstract sense, but in a very personal sense, implying the closest of all relationships. And then he makes a completely explicit claim; “I and the Father are one.” The only way someone can fail to understand what he is saying is if they refuse to accept that the one true and living God might exist in more than one person.

Marc Roby: We discussed way back in Session 2 that this word “person” can be a problem for people in this regard.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly can be, but we shouldn’t get hung up on that. We are made in God’s image, but he is the original, the archetype, we are made in his image and therefore share some of his qualities, but we are not exactly like him. He is tri-personal, we are not.

Marc Roby: And it shouldn’t be at all surprising, as we have pointed out before, that God is greater and more complex in a sense than we are.

Dr. Spencer: Not only should that not be surprising, it is what we should expect. No matter how great and beautiful a human creation is, say a statue, or a painting, or a piece of music, or whatever, it is certainly not as complex, deep and beautiful as the person who created it. In the same way, we as creatures are not as complex and deep as our Creator.

Marc Roby: We are out of time today and this looks like a good place to stop. I would like to once again remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to 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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 550

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 268-270

[4] E.g., see John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 593 and Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 220

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 220

[6] Boice, op. cit., pp 269-270

[7] Ibid, pp 272-273

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: Well, Dr. Spencer, it’s a little hard to believe, but this is our 52nd session. We are completing one full year of podcasts.

Dr. Spencer: That is hard to believe. I’ve enjoyed the year and I hope our listeners have as well. I’m ready to start a second year. But, before we do, I need to clarify something from our last session. In speaking about the I Am statements of Jesus, where I Am is the English translation of ἐγὼ εἰμί (āgō āmē) in the Greek, I said that “the Greek construction ἐγὼ εἰμί is the way the Jews rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton, Jehovah, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament”, which is unintentionally misleading. It sounds like I’m saying that is the way they rendered the tetragrammaton everywhere in that translation, when, in fact, what I had in mind was only the statement in Exodus 3:14 where God first revealed his covenant name to Moses as we discussed in Session 49. Elsewhere in that Greek translation, which is called the Septuagint, the Jews rendered the tetragrammaton as Κύριος (Kurios), the Greek word for Lord.

Marc Roby: But, in any event, the ἐγὼ εἰμί construction is used in Exodus 3:14 and the point we were making is completely correct. The Jews who heard Jesus knew he was claiming to be God, which is why they picked up stones to stone him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we ready to resume our study of the doctrine of the Trinity?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are.

Marc Roby: At the end of our previous session, you said that to establish the doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. And we then looked at John 1:1-2 as an example of a passage where we see a plurality of persons in the godhead; in that case Jesus Christ and God the Father. What do you want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at the famous high priestly prayer of Jesus, which is found in John Chapter 17. Jesus is praying to God the Father and in Verse 5 he says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”[1] This statement makes no sense unless Jesus is a separate person from the Father, so it again shows that they are distinct persons. But it goes further because it also makes it clear that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Father prior to the creation of the world.

There are many other verses we could cite, but let’s look at just one more for now. In Acts Chapter 7 we read about the stoning of Stephen and as he was dying God graciously gave him a vision of heaven.

Marc Roby: That passage is always moving to read. What an amazing experience that had to be for Stephen, as he is going through this terribly painful ordeal God granted him a vision of heaven itself. He must have been filled with great joy even as he was being stoned.

Dr. Spencer: It’s incredible to think about what that must have been like. But my point here is that in Acts 7:55 we are told that “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” I want us to notice two things about this statement. First of all, Jesus is standing at the right hand of God, which must be God the Father, so the two of them are clearly distinct persons. Also notice that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, so we have now introduced the third person of the Trinity as well, and it is also clear that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person.

Marc Roby: Of course, there are those who would say the Holy Spirit represents the power of God, or something along those lines, rather than being a real person.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but that view is incompatible with the totality of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. For example, consider Luke Chapter 4 where we are told about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert fasting and being tempted by Satan. When the 40 days are over we read in Verse 14 that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit”. Now, if the Spirit is the power of God, then this verse would mean that Jesus returned in the power of the power, which makes no sense.

Marc Roby: It certainly doesn’t. And that is similar to Acts 10:38, where we read that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power”.

Dr. Spencer: Right. If the Holy Spirit is the power of God that would be saying that Jesus was anointed with the power and power, which again makes no sense. Wayne Grudem also gives a list of scriptures showing that various activities are ascribed to the Holy Spirit that only make sense if the Holy Spirit is a person.[2] For example, in Romans 8:26 we are told that “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Now, first of all, it says “the Spirit himself”, which only makes sense if the Spirit is a person. Secondly, he intercedes for us, which is not something a power or cosmic force can do. This verse also does not allow for saying the personal reference to the Holy Spirit is just a metaphorical personification, which has been suggested by some.[3]

Marc Roby: No, that doesn’t work in this verse at all.

Dr. Spencer: It also doesn’t work in John 14:26 where we read that Jesus said, “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Marc Roby: That obviously cannot be a personification. And it is also impossible to reconcile this verse with the idea of the Spirit being the power of God. A power doesn’t teach and remind and would not be called a counselor.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it wouldn’t work at all.

Marc Roby: I also find this verse very interesting in the Greek. The word for Spirit is neuter in the Greek, and yet the verse uses the masculine demonstrative pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekānos) to refer to the Holy Spirit, which violates the rule of grammar, but makes perfect sense if the Holy Spirit is a person.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting point. Finally, let me point out that there are verses in the New Testament than name all three persons of the Trinity in a way that implies that they are equal, and yet separate, persons. For example, in what is commonly called the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us, in Matthew 28:19, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. That clearly implies that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate persons, and yet equal. It is also interesting that it says, “in the name of”, using the singular for name, rather than saying “in the names of” as we might expect. Which is consistent with the fact that these three persons are one and the same God.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there is also the familiar benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14, where we read, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another good statement. I think we’ve put forward enough examples to reasonably prove our first point; namely that the Bible teaches that God exists in three persons. So, now we need to go on the second point, which is that each person is fully God.

Marc Roby: I don’t think we need to do much to prove the case for God the Father.

Dr. Spencer: No. If someone believes in a personal God at all, then they have to accept that God exists in at least one person, so I don’t think we need to do any work at all to make the case that God the Father is God.

Marc Roby: I agree. So, how do you want to make the case for the deity of Jesus Christ?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with John 1 again. We looked at it before, but there is more to be said. Verses 1-4 say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

Marc Roby: We previously noted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Verse 1 should say that “the Word was a god.” And we argued that the Greek does not support their position.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct. In fact, if any of our listeners have a serious interest in this issue – perhaps you are thinking about becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, or you know someone who is. If that is the case, I strongly recommend that you look at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. He discusses a tract put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves where they acknowledge that the Greek grammar in Verse 1 is, by itself, inconclusive and that the context must decide how to translate the verse.[4] But they then fail to examine the context and simply state as somehow obvious that it should be translated “a god.”

Marc Roby: And yet, the first four verses, which you just read, certainly argue against that view. They tell us that all things were made through Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And, just in case we might think that means everything other than Jesus himself, it goes on to say that “without him nothing was made that has been made”, which is pretty clearly exhaustive. Nothing that has been made, in other words no created being, was made without the work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is clear that he himself cannot be a created being; he is the Creator. In other words, he is God.

We also see his deity in the last verse I read, Verse 4, which begins by saying “In him was life”. That cannot be said of any creature. Life is given to creatures, it is not in them inherently. This is in agreement with John 5:26, which we examined in Session 50, where Jesus says that “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” As we noted at the time, to have life in himself is a clear statement of his independent self-existence; in other words, of his deity.

Marc Roby: That is very clear. And of course, there is more in John 1 as well. We read in Verse 14 that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes. This verse clearly says that the glory of the Word, who is Jesus Christ, is “the glory of the One and Only”, in other words, God. And Jesus possesses the glory of God precisely because he is God.

We can also look at Verse 18 of this chapter, where we read that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” This speaks of two separate persons, both called God. If you put the sentence in front of you, and I encourage our listeners to do this, and stare at it for a minute, it is absolutely clear. The first clause says that “No one has ever seen God”, and uses the standard Greek word for God, θεός (theos). Then the next clause says “but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” It is probably a little hard to get this while listening, but it is clear if you look that “God the One and Only”, which again uses θεός in the Greek, is a separate person from God in the first clause, who is the antecedent of the pronoun him when it says “has made him known.” Therefore, God has made God known to us. If you now go back to Verse 14 that we read a moment ago, you see that it was the Word, Jesus Christ, who became flesh, who came and dwelt with us and made the Father known. So, we could say simply that God the Son made God the Father known.

Marc Roby: John 1:1-18 really is an amazing passage to read. And if you read it carefully in a good translation it forcefully presents Jesus Christ as God.

Dr. Spencer: I completely agree. But let’s move on to another verse. In John Chapter 20 we read about the apostle Thomas, often called doubting Thomas because of this passage. The other apostles tell him about Jesus appearing to them when Thomas was not there and he says, in Verse 25, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Then, a week later, Jesus appears to them again while Thomas is with them and Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” We then read Thomas’ response in John 20:28, “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” And, rather than rebuking him as you would expect if Jesus were not God, Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Marc Roby: Jesus is saying that we, who have not seen him, will be blessed if we will join with Thomas in believing that he is our Lord and our God.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what Jesus is saying. And there is no doubt that John wanted us to get that message from this story because the next two verses, 29 and 30, say, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. What else would you like to look at?

Dr. Spencer: Another passage that is very compelling is Philippians 2:5-11. The apostle Paul wrote this passage to convince Christians to live humble lives in service of others by using Jesus Christ as our prime example of humble service. He wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Marc Roby: That is a very rich passage.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is, and we will not be looking at every aspect of it. But James Boice uses this passage in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith to argue for the divinity of Christ and I’d like to summarize his arguments here.[5] He first examines the phrase that, in our translation, says that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. Notice that this verse first says that Jesus had the “very nature” of God. Boice points out that the Greek word rendered here by “very nature” means that “he possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the very nature of God himself.”[6] Secondly, the verse says that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”, which means that Jesus did not consider his equality with God to be something he had to hold on to. Boice again points out that the Greek word used for equal here is very strong.

Marc Roby: That verse is quite clear. And I look forward to hearing what else this passage says in our next session, but we are out of time for today. So, let me remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we truly 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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 232

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 96 (This can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996)

[4] Grudem, op. cit., see the extensive footnote 13 on page 234

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 268-270

[6] Ibid, pg. 269

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the Trinity. We ended last time citing a number of scriptural passages to show that God had provided evidence of his triune nature even in the Old Testament. How do you want to proceed today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend a little more time in the Old Testament, specifically, I want to look at Isaiah 48. In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology he notes that Verse 16 of that chapter provides evidence for the Trinity, and he is in agreement on this point with the great Old Testament scholar E.J. Young.

Marc Roby: Some background to Isaiah 48 will probably help many of our listeners. Isaiah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah beginning slightly before the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was carried into captivity by the Assyrians in 721 BC and continuing on into the early 7th century BC. Even though this was about 100 years before the southern kingdom was carried into captivity by the Babylonians, Isaiah spoke of their captivity as God’s punishment for their apostasy and, most amazingly, he prophesied, by name, that Cyrus would deliver them from that captivity.

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the most amazing and specific of all biblical prophecies. We spoke about it in Session 20. In Isaiah 44:28, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” [1] And Cyrus the 2nd, the king of Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BC and let the exiles return to rebuild Jerusalem in 537 BC just as Isaiah had predicted about 150 years before.

Marc Roby: That is irrefutable evidence that the God of the Bible is the Lord of history. And after talking about Cyrus in Chapters 44 and 45, Isaiah goes on to describe the fall of Babylon and to assert the Lord’s superiority over the so-called gods of the Babylonians, whom he mocks. He points out that the Lord alone is the creator of all things, that he alone predicts the future, and that he alone will redeem his people.

Dr. Spencer: And, in Chapter 48, God addresses himself to his people and chastises them for their false religion. He tells them that his “chosen ally” – referring to Cyrus – will defeat Babylon. And then we get to the verse we want to look at. At the end of Verse 16 we read, “And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.” And we must ask, “Who is speaking in this verse?” Both Wayne Grudem[2] and E.J. Young[3] say that the speaker is the Servant of the Lord, to whom we are first introduced in Isaiah 42:1, which says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” In other words, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. And look at what he says. He says that the “Sovereign LORD” has sent him, along with his Spirit. In other words, looking back at this passage with the knowledge added by the New Testament, we can clearly see all three persons of the Trinity. It is not explicit in the passage itself, but it is there. We aren’t adding something foreign to the passage, we are just making explicit what is already there. As John Murray said, “because of the unity of revelation and the unity of what we call both Testaments, what is patent in the New is latent in the Old.”[4]

Marc Roby: And I think you have demonstrated that the Trinity is certainly latent in this verse in Isaiah. Is there more to say about the Trinity in the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. In the chapters we have mentioned in Isaiah for example, we see that God – meaning Jehovah – is the Savior. We read in Isaiah 45:21, for example, that God says, “there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.” We also see that God calls himself the Redeemer. In Isaiah 44:24 we read, “This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb”, which equates Jehovah the Creator with our Redeemer. And yet, based on the New Testament, who is our Savior and Redeemer?

Marc Roby: The Lord Jesus Christ. His name is Jesus because he will save his people from their sins we are told in Matthew 1:21.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And there are many other places in Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament were God tells us that he alone is our Savior and will redeem his people. So, if you believe the New Testament at all, you must conclude that Jesus Christ is God. And even if you don’t believe the New Testament, you must conclude that the Old Testament speaks about one God who is, nonetheless, plural in some sense.

Marc Roby: To modify Murray’s line we could say that the Trinity, which is explicit in the New Testament, is latent in the Old.

Dr. Spencer: We definitely could say that. And now I would like to turn to the New Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do you want us to look in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: I want to start with Hebrews Chapter 1. We read, in Verses 1-3, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Marc Roby: I love that passage. And for those of our listeners who may not be familiar with it, if they go on and look at Hebrews 2:9 they will see that this passage is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ, even though he is not explicitly named in these verses.

Dr. Spencer: I love this passage too. And it is a very important passage because it tells us a several things we need to know about Christ. We learn that Jesus “provided purification for sins”, which speaks of his being our Redeemer. But we saw in Isaiah that our Redeemer is Jehovah. The passage also tells us that Jesus is the heir of all things and that God created the universe through him, which is a point we will come back to, but clearly points to his deity, he is the Creator. We are also told that Jesus Christ “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word”. That is an amazing statement and we should take a minute to look at it.

First of all, Jesus sustains all things by his powerful word. That is clearly something that only God can do. Secondly, we are told that he “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult phrase to understand.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Let me use an analogy to help. If you see a great painting of someone, you might say something like “that is a perfect representation of him”. What you mean is that given the medium of paint on a canvas, the artist has done the best possible job of representing the person.

In the same way, given the medium of a human being, Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God. Now if you go back and look in Genesis, you see that man was originally created in God’s image. Unfortunately, that image was radically defaced by the fall. So, in the New Testament, we are told, in Romans 8:29, that we are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of” Jesus Christ. In other words, the radical defacing of the image of God brought about by sin is being repaired, so that when we finally receive our glorified bodies in heaven we will perfectly represent God in human form, just as Jesus Christ, in his humanity, perfectly represented God in human form.

Marc Roby: But, of course, Jesus Christ was more than just a perfect man; he was also fully God.

Dr. Spencer: And we will never be gods, contrary to what Mormons and the Word of Life preachers say. But, our point here is just that Jesus Christ is perfect man and, as we read, he is also God because all things were created through him and he upholds all things. If you go on in that passage of Hebrews you will see that the author applies several Old Testament passages to Jesus Christ in a way that makes his deity clear. But I want to jump to another passage.

Marc Roby: Which passage is that?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at Titus 2:13, where Paul writes about the grace of God teaching us to say “no” to ungodliness, “while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: I know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible says that we wait for the “hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I know they parse it that way, which requires inserting a comma in the Greek to separate God from Savior. But that cannot be justified because even in the Jehovah’s Witness’ own Bible it says a few lines later, in Titus 3:4, that God is our Savior. It also says that in Titus 1:3. So in the local context of this letter, it is clear that our God and our Savior are one and the same, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We have also looked at Colossians 1:16 before, in Session 43, and in that verse, Paul is speaking about Christ and says that “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another very good verse. Everything was created by Jesus Christ, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, everything was created by him. There is no escaping the fact that he must be God for that to be true. He is not a created being, he is the Creator.

Marc Roby: And he himself clearly claimed to be God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he did. Probably the most famous statement to that effect was made when he was disputing with some of the Jewish teachers of the law and he said, in John 8:56, that “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” To which they responded incredulously, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!” And, in response to this, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” And that statement in the English does not properly give the force of the Greek.

We must remember that Jesus was speaking Aramaic, so we are reading a translation. But the way in which Jesus is reported as saying “I am” was not the normal, straightforward way of saying it. Instead, the Greek construction ἐγὼ εἰμί, is the way the Jews rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton, Jehovah, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament[5]. And it is in the present tense, even though he is speaking about the past. The idea is clearly that he himself had no beginning, but existed always, certainly before Abraham. It is certainly reasonable to conclude that in writing his gospel, John chose this Greek construction deliberately to give the full force of Jesus’ assertion.

Marc Roby: And the people who heard him say this certainly understood his statement to be a claim to deity since we read in the next verse that “they picked up stones to stone him”.

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. Whatever Jesus’ actual words in Aramaic were, they were clearly understood as being an assertion of his deity. And, I’m sure many of our listeners are aware that Jesus didn’t just say this one time. There are seven famous “I am” statements in John. In John 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” In both John 8:12 and 9:5 he said, “I am the light of the world.” In John 10:7 he said, “I am the gate for the sheep” and then he repeated “I am the gate” in John 10:9. In John 10:11 and 14 he said, “I am the good shepherd.” And in John 11:25 he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In John 14:6 he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And, finally, in John 15:1 he said, “I am the true vine” and then nearly repeated that in Verse 5, saying, “I am the vine”.

Marc Roby: Those are all amazing claims to deity. And he repeated that claim again when he was being arrested on the Mount of Olives. In John 18 we see in three places, in Verses 5, 6 and 8, that he again said, “I am”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and we’re told that the people fell down when he said it. There really is no doubt that he claimed to be God. Let me quote from C.S. Lewis because I think he summed up this point very well. He wrote that we should never say we will accept Jesus as a good moral teacher, but not accept his claim to be God incarnate. And he wrote, “That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any partronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[6]

Marc Roby: Lewis had a way with words; that is a great statement.

Dr. Spencer: It is a wonderful statement. And because the doctrine of the Trinity is so important, I want to take some more time to lay out a careful biblical case for it. In doing so, I’m going to follow the outline given in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,[7] which is very similar to what is used by Boice in his Foundations of the Christian Faith.[8]

Marc Roby: What is that outline?

Dr. Spencer: To firmly establish the doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God.

Marc Roby: Very well. I assume you are going to start by showing that the Bible teaches that God exists in three persons. What verses do you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the famous beginning of the gospel of John. In John 1:1-2 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

Marc Roby: When John wrote “In the beginning was the Word”, I’m sure he had Genesis 1:1 in mind, where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure he did have that verse in mind, and he wanted his readers to recall it as well. The point there is that the Word existed eternally, prior to the creation, just as Genesis 1:1 tells us that God was pre-existent. But, for our present purposes the only thing I want us to see from this verse is that this it shows there are at least two different persons referred to as God. We see that “the Word was with God” and that “He was with God in the beginning”, which clearly speaks of two different persons, and yet we are also told the “the Word was God.” Later in the passage, in verses 14-17, it becomes clear that the Word is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I’m sure many of our listeners are aware that the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this should be translated to say that “the Word was a god”, which a little ‘g’ since the Greek does not have the definite article.

Dr. Spencer: As you well know, this verse by itself is not definitive on this point. We will make the case for the deity of Christ later, but this verse clearly is consistent with that view and shows that the Word, Jesus Christ, is distinct from the Father, who is just called God in this verse, which is the main point I want to make for now.

But, let me say just a bit more about this verse at this time. The definite article in the Greek tells us which word is the subject in this statement; so the subject is ὁ Λόγος, the Word. The word order, however, emphasizes Θεὸς, the Greek word for God. The context of the passage makes it clear that the Word refers to Jesus Christ and that when the Word is distinguished from God, God refers to God the Father. The lack of an article on Θεὸς simply tells us that the Word, Jesus Christ, and God the Father are not exactly the same person. William Mounce[9] relates what Martin Luther said about this verse, that “the lack of an article is against Sabellianism”. Sabellianism is the view also called modalism; namely that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different modes of one God, sort of like my being a father, a son and a brother. If that view were correct, then there would be a definite article in front of Θεὸς. Luther also said that “the word order is against Arianism”. Arianism is the view that Jesus Christ is not God. Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with Arianism on this point, so the word order argues against their translation. And, as we will see in a later session, there is a great deal of other evidence to show conclusively that their view is unbiblical, Jesus Christ is God.

Marc Roby: I’m glad you said “in a later session,” because we are out of time for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can send their comments and questions to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would truly love to hear 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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 228

[3] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1972, Vol 3, pg. 259

[4] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pp 172-173

[5] I was not clear in this statement; ἐγὼ εἰμί is used for the tetragrammaton in Exodus 3:14, which is where God reveals his name to Moses as was discussed in Session 49. Elsewhere in the Septuagint the tetragrammaton was rendered by the Κύριος, the Greek word for Lord.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan Pub. Co., 1952, pg. 56

[7] Grudem, Op. cit.

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

[9] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 3rd Ed., Zondervan, 2009, pg. 27

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine hermeneutics, the principles that we use to properly interpret the Bible. Last time we gave a number of examples for how to properly use the context of a verse, including its historical context. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: We could go on giving many more examples about the use of context, but I want to keep moving forward. So, I’d like to take a look at a few key ideas that we need to keep in mind as we study the Bible.

Marc Roby: What ideas are these?

Dr. Spencer: The first one is that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the entire Bible. The Old Testament looks forward to Jesus Christ and the New Testament tells us about his birth, life, death, resurrection and then also tells us that he will come again to judge the living and the dead as we are told in Acts 10:42, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 2 Timothy 4:1. At that time the world as we know it will be destroyed and God will create a new heavens and a new earth. From that time on everyone will either live eternally in heaven or in hell.

Also, Jesus himself told us that the Old Testament testified about him. After his resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and we are told in Luke 24:44 that “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’”[1]

Marc Roby: And by listing Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, Jesus was referring to the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible, which is our Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. In other words, he was saying that the entire Old Testament speaks about him. In addition, the New Testament is entirely about Jesus Christ and his church. So, whenever we read the Bible, any part of the Bible, we need to ask ourselves, “What is this saying about Jesus Christ?”

Marc Roby: In other words, there is a Christological focus to the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In their excellent book A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for Life, Joel Beeke and Mark Jones demonstrate that the Puritans considered a Christological focus to be a major principle of biblical interpretation. They quote the famous Puritan John Owen, who wrote that “the revelation and doctrine of the person of Christ and his office, is the foundation whereon all other instructions of the prophets and apostles for the edification of the church are built”.[2] We must keep this Christological focus in mind as we read the Bible or we will not get a complete understanding of what God is teaching us in each section.

Marc Roby: How, in a practical sense, does our being aware of this Christological focus affect our Bible study?

Dr. Spencer: It affects our Bible study very deeply. When we say that the entire Old Testament points forward to Christ what we mean is that God controlled every event of human history during that time to reveal exactly what he wanted people to know. Not only is Jesus Christ the focus of the Bible, he is also the focus of all history. History is linear and God has a purpose in creation. The Bible is telling us real history, but that history is not a sequence of random events controlled by the whims of men. It isn’t that God let things run on their own and then sent a prophet to speak once in a while. No, everything unfolded according to God’s eternal plan, he providentially rules all of history.

Marc Roby: That probably sounds a bit fatalistic to some of our listeners. Do you mean that God determines every detail, or just the general scope or grand plan of history?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that God has sovereign control over every detail. But, if you think about it for a minute, how could he possibly control the grand scheme if he didn’t have control over every detail? Remember the old proverb that for the want of a nail the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; for the want of a horse the battle was lost; and for the loss of the battle the war was lost? The reality is that if God is not able to control every detail, he could never guarantee anything with absolute certainty.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that some of our listeners might be objecting at this point. After all, we live in a world with physical laws and people at least appear to have some kind of free will – an ability to make real decisions. How on earth then can God control everything without doing away with free will and physical laws?

Dr. Spencer: We would be getting too far off topic to discuss that at length right now but let me make two quick comments. First, with regard to the inanimate creation, God does use the fixed laws that he put in place most of the time, but he is free to overrule them at any time. I don’t think he does that very often at all, but he can. He also has the ability to perfectly predict exactly how everything is guided by those laws.

Marc Roby: Alright, you said you wanted to make two comments, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: The second one deals with living things, most specifically with human beings. Suffice it to say for now that there is no logical contradiction in saying that I make real decisions for which I can be justly held accountable and that, at the same time, God has foreordained exactly what will happen. God understands me perfectly and knows exactly what I will do in each and every situation, so he doesn’t need to force me to do anything.

Let me use a very unflattering analogy, but one that I think at least illustrates that there is no logical contradiction between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. I used to have a dog that loved to chase a tennis ball. If I grabbed a tennis ball I could lead that dog all over the place without ever having to lay a hand on him. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do at that moment, and yet I was getting him to do exactly what I wanted him to do. There is no contradiction in saying that my dog was doing exactly what he wanted to do and that I was controlling the situation. You don’t want to take this analogy very far at all of course, we are not puppets, and God never leads us into sin, although he does allow us to be tempted, but it at least shows that there is no necessary logical contradiction.

Suffice it to say that God is infinitely more knowledgeable, wise, and capable than we are, and he is able to ordain exactly what will happen without, in general, overriding the free will of any creature, although he has the right and ability to do that when he chooses.

Marc Roby: That example is unflattering – I happen to remember that dog you refer to! But, I think it does give at least a hint of an answer, and I can see that pursuing that subject right now would get us way off track.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely would. But I would like to quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith because it contains a brilliant, yet succinct statement that deals with this topic. In Chapter III, on God’s eternal decree, Paragraph 1 the confession says that “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

Marc Roby: That is a great statement, although it certainly includes some very deep topics for further discussion.

Dr. Spencer: Further discussion at a different time. For now, I want to get back to hermeneutics.

Marc Roby: Very well, you were discussing how our being aware of the Christological focus of the Bible affects our study.

Dr. Spencer: And I made the point that God is completely in control of all history, so the events described in the Old Testament all fit into his eternal plan. He knew that he was going to send Jesus Christ into the world, to be born in the small Jewish town of Bethlehem to a virgin who was pledged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. He knew everything about the life, death and resurrection of Christ and how he was going to use that to redeem a people for himself.

And in addition to revealing progressively more and more over time about this coming Messiah, he deliberately brought about certain events in the history of his people to serve as illustrations and precursors pointing to these later events.

Marc Roby: And we are told about many of these in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. For example, we are told in the book of Hebrews that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing forward to Jesus Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for sins. In Hebrews 10 the writer speaks about the Old Testament ceremonial law and says it was only a shadow of the true sacrifice, which is Christ. He points out that the sacrifices were repeated over and over again precisely because they were not effective; they did not truly cleanse people from their sins. He writes in Verse 4 that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” And then, in Verse 10 he writes that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: The writer of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is our permanent high priest.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. In the Old Testament times, the high priest was the religious leader of the Jewish people. He was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses and he would go into the holy of holies once a year, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, to make atonement for the people. In Hebrews 7:23-26 we are told that “there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Marc Roby: And, unlike the high priests in the Old Testament, Jesus is also the sacrifice of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In John 1:29 we are told that “John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” He was referring to the fact that the lamb was the most common sacrificial animal in the Jewish sacrificial system. In particular, it was a lamb that was to be sacrificed the night before God destroyed all the firstborn of Egypt. The blood from this lamb was then to be sprinkled on the door frames of the Jewish homes and God would pass over those homes when he destroyed all of the firstborn in the land. This is the origin of the Jewish Passover celebration.

We are told in a number of places in the New Testament that Jesus is the final sacrifice of atonement. For example, in Romans 3:25 we are told that “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Then, in Hebrews 10 we this final efficacious sacrifice of Jesus Christ contrasted with the continual sacrifices of the Old Testament. In Verses 11-12, 14 we read, “Day after day every priest [this is talking about the Old Testament priests] stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [which is speaking about Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. … because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious promise for those who have placed their trust in Christ. And it is very clear how much the Old Testament presents us with a pattern for things that are revealed in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do. The word we use to describe this typology. The Old Testament events, objects and people who in some way point to New Testament realities are called types, and the realities that they point to are called the antitypes. So, for example, the Old Testament lamb is a type of Christ in his role as our sacrifice, and the Old Testament high priest is a type of Christ in his role as our permanent high priest.

We must be careful here however. Typology must be distinguished from allegorizing.  Allegorizing can be dangerous as we have noted before and can lead people into all sorts of fanciful interpretations.

Marc Roby: What would you say is the key difference?

Dr. Spencer: The key difference is that in typology we are not adding anything to the meaning of the text.[3] Mickelsen, in his book Interpreting the Bible, does a good job of explaining what typology is. He writes that “In typology the interpreter finds a correspondence in one or more respects between a person, event, or thing in the Old Testament and a person, event, or thing closer to or contemporaneous with a New Testament writer. It is this correspondence that determines the meaning in the Old Testament narrative that is stressed by a later speaker or writer. The correspondence is present because God controls history, and this control of God over history is axiomatic with the New Testament writers. It is God who causes earlier individuals, groups, experiences, institutions, etc., to embody characteristics which later he will cause to reappear.”[4]

Mickelsen also goes on to contrast typology with allegorizing. He then quotes K.J. Woolcombe, writing that “Typology as a method of exegesis is ‘the search for linkages between events, persons or things within the historical framework of revelation, whereas allegorism is the search for secondary and hidden meaning underlying the primary and obvious meanings of a narrative.”

Marc Roby: So, the basic difference is between noticing certain similarities that are there as opposed to reading a bunch of hidden meaning into a passage.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And you can’t miss most of the clear typology in the Bible. The Jewish people were in slavery to the Egyptians for example, and were led out of that bondage, through Passover and the Exodus, into the Promised Land.  And Christians are led out of their bondage to sin, through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, into new life in Christ. The Israelites in the Promised Land still had to contend with enemies who were there and had to trust in God’s promises to deliver them. And Christians still have to deal with indwelling sin and enemies in this world, trusting in God’s promises that we will ultimately be victorious. There is much more than we have covered, but I think that gives the basic idea. And this kind of typology is often used in recognizing the many ways in which the Old Testament speaks of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But there are also many direct prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly are, and we went over a few of them in Session 20 when we were discussing external evidence that corroborates the Bible.

Marc Roby: Have we finished with what you want to say about the Bible’s Christological focus and typology?

Dr. Spencer: We have for now.

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned at the beginning that you wanted to look at a few key ideas, so what is the next one?

Dr. Spencer: The next idea is that of covenants. The Bible talks a great deal about covenants and by looking for them and thinking carefully about them we can significantly enhance our understanding of God’s word.

Marc Roby: And a covenant is simply an agreement between two parties.

Dr. Spencer: It is, but it is not necessarily an agreement between equals and it isn’t necessarily voluntary on both sides either. The Bible talks about a number of covenants; for example, God made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth by a flood, and the rainbow is the sign God gave us to remind us of that covenant. He also made a covenant with Abraham to make him the father of many nations. And he made a covenant with the people on Mt. Sinai, with Moses as their representative. There are others, but there are two major covenants that I want to discuss, usually called the Covenant of works and the Covenant of grace.

Marc Roby: I think we had better hold off discussing those until next time, because we are out of time for today. I’d like to encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would 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] Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 31

[3] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pg. 252

[4] Ibid, pg. 237

Play