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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our previous sessions on this topic we have shown why Jesus Christ had to be both God and man in order to save us and we provided biblical support for the fact that Jesus Christ is fully God. We ended our previous session by beginning to examine the biblical teaching that Jesus is also fully man. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: By reminding ourselves of our ultimate standard for truth, in other words, our ultimate authority. If you are a true Christian, then the Bible is your ultimate standard for truth, your ultimate authority. We cannot reject something the Bible clearly teaches just because we don’t understand it. This principle is never more important than when we discuss doctrines like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, those are definitely two doctrines that go way beyond our ability to understand.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, they go way beyond it, yes. But we must not conclude from our inability to fully comprehend them that we can’t comprehend them correctly. God is able to communicate true knowledge to us even about things we can’t fully grasp. Our knowledge will not be complete, but it can be true.

Marc Roby: And, of course, no reasonable person would expect that a creature could fully understand its Creator!

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not.

Marc Roby: But you make an important point that our knowledge can be true and correct independent of the fact that it is incomplete. The same thing is true even in our understanding of the physical world around us. The fact that we don’t know everything certainly doesn’t imply that what we do know is necessarily false.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not. And the issue of authority is critical because there have been improper objections to the dual nature of Christ from the very beginning. The Jews at the time of Jesus had an extremely difficult time with the idea that God could become incarnate. They quite properly had an extremely high view of God, as should we. He is the transcendent Creator, totally separate from his creation.  But it is wrong to conclude from that fact that he could not become incarnate.

Marc Roby: And, as we pointed out in our last Session in discussing the passage in Philippians 2:5-11, the apostle Paul clearly assumed that his readers understood that the man Jesus Christ was fully God.

Dr. Spencer: And he made that assumption because Jesus had convincingly demonstrated his divinity in a number of different ways. The people clearly understood the implications of his actions. For example, in Chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we read about the people coming to Jesus and saying, in Verse 24, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [1] And Jesus went on to remind them of the miracles he had performed and ended by saying, in Verse 30, that “I and the Father are one.”

Marc Roby: Yes, and at which point the people picked up stones and prepared to stone him to death.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And Jesus then asked them, in Verse 32, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” And the people responded, in Verse 33, by saying, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Marc Roby: That does show clearly that they understood his claim to be God, and so the many people who became convinced and actually placed their faith in him certainly knew that he is God. As doubting Thomas confessed in John 20:28 when he finally believed, “My Lord and my God!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. The believers at that time knew that Jesus was God. But there were some people who doubted his humanity. Some said that he only appeared to be like a man, but wasn’t really a man.

Marc Roby: Which was a heresy that appeared very early on, called Docetism, which comes from the Greek word δοκέω (dokeō), meaning “to seem”.

Dr. Spencer: And this heresy came about in part because of their properly high view of God as I noted before and in part because of pagan philosophies of the time that taught that matter is inherently evil and the spirit is good. Therefore, since they thought that matter is evil, they couldn’t accept the idea that God would truly become man.[2]

Marc Roby: Yet another example of men rejecting God’s revelation because it doesn’t make sense to them.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And we noted last time that the apostle John dealt with this heresy in his first letter. In 1 John 4:2 we read, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God”. And John goes on in Verse 3 to tell us that this heresy is serious. It is, in fact, deadly. Let me read Verses 2 and 3 together; “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Marc Roby: That is serious error! To deny the full humanity of Christ, that he has come in the flesh as John put it, is the spirit of the antichrist.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why I want to spend more time on the doctrine of the humanity of Jesus Christ. In the following treatment, I’m going to draw heavily on the material in Chapter 26 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[3]

Marc Roby: Okay. Where would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, to use a cliché, let’s begin at the beginning. But not the beginning of Jesus’ deity of course, because there is no beginning to God, he necessarily exists eternally and unconditionally. But let’s begin at the beginning of his incarnation, which is the virgin birth.

Marc Roby: Now the idea of a virgin giving birth is something that many modern people, even some professing Christians, find seriously objectionable.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, but the virgin birth of Christ is an essential doctrine of biblical Christianity. And it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who believes the first four words of the Bible.

Marc Roby: Which are, “In the beginning God …”.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. If someone doesn’t believe that, then he or she has no legitimate claim to being a Christian, or even any kind of theist. But if you do believe that, namely that God exists, a God who created this entire universe, then why on earth is it a problem to believe that he could cause a virgin to conceive a child?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. And the apostle Paul used similar logic in arguing for the resurrection of Christ before King Agrippa. In Acts 26:8 he asked this rhetorical question, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” His point obviously being that since God exists – a God who can create all things – then it shouldn’t be a problem for him to raise the dead.

Dr. Spencer: Nor should it be a problem for him to cause a virgin to conceive and give birth to a son. And that is exactly what the Bible tells us. In Matthew 1:18 we read; “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Now, although we are not provided with a detailed explanation, this verse couldn’t be clearer. Before Joseph and Mary came together as husband and wife, she conceived a child “through the Holy Spirit.” This is not implying some vulgar act like you find in ancient myths, it is speaking of a miraculous conception without a human father by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Joseph initially assumed that the child had been conceived in the ordinary way, and he knew it wasn’t his, which was a serious problem. So we read in Verses 19-21, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

Dr. Spencer: Now modern readers can be confused by the statement that Joseph “had in mind to divorce her quietly.” We are told that they had not yet come together as husband and wife, but they were pledged to be married. Now, in the culture of the time that pledge was itself a binding commitment and would need to be broken in a formal way, which is what the NIV here renders as divorce. In any event, the angel told Joseph that “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”, which again describes this miraculous conception. And he goes on to give the child a name. He tells Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Marc Roby: We should point out that the Greek word Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) is a transliteration of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s an important point. And Matthew then ties this back to the Old Testament prophecy. In Verse 22 he writes that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” Matthew is referring to the famous prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet tells King Ahaz about a coming child who will deliver his people and says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Marc Roby: So this passage in Matthew explicitly tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, that he was to be named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins, and that his birth was the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah about 700 years before that a child named “God with us” would be born to a virgin and would deliver his people.

Dr. Spencer: That is all true and all very important. The birth is also the fulfillment of the prophecy given by God himself in the Garden of Eden immediately after the fall. In pronouncing his judgment against the serpent, God said, as we read in Genesis 3:15, “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.”  Notice that it says it is the offspring of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, not the offspring of the man.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s an interesting point. And we clearly see God’s sovereign control over all of human history. He knew before he ever created the world that man would fall, and he had the solution in mind from all eternity. But he revealed it to his people a little bit a time.

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem points out that the virgin birth of Christ is theologically significant for three reasons. First, it establishes that salvation comes from the Lord. Grudem wrote that “The virgin birth of Christ is an unmistakable reminder that salvation can never come through human effort, but must be the work of God himself.”[4]

Marc Roby: That also makes me think of the passage from Isaiah 45 that we looked at last week where God declares that he alone is God and he alone is the Savior. In Isaiah 45:21 we read, “Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true. Jesus Christ is God, Jehovah, the only Savior. And the second reason the virgin birth is theologically significant is that it made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in the person Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think that statement needs an explanation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Grudem discusses other possible ways we could imagine God becoming incarnate and points out, without in any way meaning to limit God, that this way had the advantage of Jesus having a human mother, which makes his humanity evident to us, but having been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, which makes his deity evident.

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes sense. You said Grudem gave three reasons the virgin birth is theologically significant, so what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the third reason is that it makes possible Jesus’ true humanity and yet his being sinless.

Marc Roby: That again requires some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. We discussed the doctrine of original sin back in Session 106. It states that because Adam was the God-appointed representative of the human race, when he sinned, we all fell with him. His sin resulted in his having a sinful nature, which is at enmity with God, and that nature is passed on from parents to children on through the generations. We inherit a sinful nature from Adam through our parents. That is the doctrine of original sin.

But because Jesus Christ was not conceived in the normal way, Grudem writes that “this helps us to understand why the legal guilt and moral corruption that belongs to all other human beings did not belong to Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t understand fully how the sinful nature is passed on, so we also don’t understand fully how Christ was kept from inheriting a sinful nature from his mother.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t know the details. And Grudem again in no way intends to limit God’s freedom. He is simply pointing out that by doing it this way God made it easier for us to understand. He provides some biblical support for this position also by examining the response Mary received when she asked the angel how it could be that she would conceive a child as a virgin. In Luke 1:35 we read that “the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” Now, I have quoted the English Standard Version here rather than our usual New International Version because it agrees with what Grudem argues is the correct translation of the Greek. Specifically, it says “therefore the child to be born will be called holy”, which implies a causal connection between the fact that the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the fact that the child is to be holy, that is, without sin.

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. And I look forward to looking into the humanity of Christ further next time, but this is good place to finish for today. So 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] 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] E.g., see Docetism in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 151; or John M. Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pp 89-90

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

[4] Ibid, pg. 530

[5] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of Scripture. We introduced the acrostic SNAC, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity. We have discussed the sufficiency, necessity and clarity of Scripture in previous sessions, so today we move on to examine the authority of Scripture. Dr. Spencer, where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: As always, let’s begin with Bible itself. It clearly claims to be the authoritative Word of God. So, I like what Wayne Grudem says in his definition of the authority of Scripture. He says that “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”[1] Now we must be clear that he doesn’t mean that God personally spoke every word in the Bible, but only that he inspired the writers in such a way that what they wrote is completely true. When we read the Bible, we find many things said by many different people, and even by some things spoken by angels and Satan. And the Bible was written by a number of different people, who used their own words. The classic biblical statement about the nature of Scripture is found in 2 Timothy 3:16, where we are told that “All Scripture is God-breathed” [2], and in 2 Peter 1:21 we read that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Therefore, although we are not given a detailed account of how God accomplished this, we know that everything that has been written was in some way guided by him so that Paul could truthfully say it is God-breathed, and Grudem is right to say that to disbelieve or disobey the Bible, is to disbelieve or disobey God.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there are many places in the Old Testament where something is prefaced by the statement “God said”; so, at least some of Scripture is made up of words that God himself spoke.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. We discussed the Bible’s claim to authority in Session 4, and in that session I noted that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that the Old Testament uses sayings such as “God said” or “The Lord says” over 3,800 times.[3] Also, in the New Testament we have many quotations of things said by Jesus Christ, who is himself God. But, it is important to note that even those things that are clearly not said by God, have his authority. Everything we read in the Bible is authoritative, we shouldn’t make the mistake that many make of saying that it is only authoritative when it speaks about matters pertaining to salvation.

We must also be careful to point out however, that not everything you read in the Bible is good or true, because we have wicked statements of Satan and others recorded there as well. But, even when we are being told about a lie that Satan or some person spoke, the content of what they said is being truthfully relayed to us.

Marc Roby: Since you brought up Session 4, perhaps it would be good to remind our listeners that the old podcasts and their transcripts can all be found on the website, whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That is a good reminder. And I don’t want to go back and cover all that we said in that session, but we adduced a number of Scriptures to support the fact that the Bible itself, both the Old and New Testaments, presents itself, from beginning to end, as the very words of God.

Marc Roby: And the theological term used for that idea is the plenary inspiration of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The word plenary simply means complete, or including every member. So, the plenary inspiration of Scripture means that every single word is inspired by God.

Marc Roby: But, we should be clear that when you say every word is inspired by God, you don’t mean the Bible was simply dictated by God.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Although some parts of it were. For example, the letters written to the seven churches in Asia, as recorded in Revelation 2 and 3, all begin with Christ telling John to write what he says. So, these letters apparently were dictated. And, in a number of places in the Old Testament prophets God tells a prophet to go and tell someone that the Lord says something as you noted a couple of minutes ago. So, presumably, those passages were also essentially dictated. But, the vast majority of the Bible is written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Marc Roby: And you can tell that by their different styles and vocabularies.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you can. And yet, the Holy Spirit “carried them” along as we saw earlier in such a way that what they wrote is exactly what God wanted them to write. And that is the main point. Since God is the Sovereign Lord of creation and history, and since he knows absolutely everything perfectly and exhaustively, and since he cannot lie or make a mistake, the Scriptures themselves must be infallible.

Marc Roby: Which also means, of course, that they are inerrant.

Dr. Spencer: It’s good that you mentioned that since inerrant is a term you often hear. And yes, given that they are infallible, which means that it is impossible for them to be wrong, it also true that they are without error. I usually prefer the stronger word infallible since it is at least logically possible for man to write things that are without error, but given that God is the author of the Bible, it is not possible for it to have any errors in it.

Marc Roby: Now, you’re of course speaking about the autographs, or in other words, the original manuscripts when you say that.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. But as we discussed in Session 7, given the science of textual criticism and the huge number of manuscripts we have available, we have a nearly certain copy of the original autographs. In addition, what small doubts remain do not affect any significant doctrine of Christianity in any way. So, while there may be small errors here and there in our copies, and there can certainly be errors in our translations as well, we have great confidence that what we have is a reliable record of the very words inspired by God. And, therefore, with minor and non-critical exceptions due to copyist errors, or translation errors, or printing errors, the Bibles that we have are infallible. And that is why the Bible has intrinsic authority, meaning that its authority is an essential trait because of its very nature.

Marc Roby: In other words, it isn’t authoritative because someone has declared it to be so.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Whether I think the Bible has authority or not makes no difference. It does have authority. Whether I think it is infallible or not doesn’t matter, it is infallible. The two ideas are inextricably woven together with the inherent infallibility and authority of God himself.

Marc Roby: Which is why we have said a number of times that the Bible must be a Christian’s ultimate authority.

Dr. Spencer: Mm-hmm. In the middle of Christ’s High Priestly prayer in John 17, he prays to the Father for his followers and says, in Verse 17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” This is a very interesting statement and the English translation properly reflects what it says in the Greek. It does not say, “Your word is true”, it says “Your word is truth”, which is very different. As Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology,[4] had Jesus said “Your word is true”, it could be taken to mean that the Word of God has been compared with some external standard for truth and found to be in compliance with it. But, to say “Your word is truth” is a different statement. It implies that the Word of God itself, is the ultimate standard for what is true.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Jesus calls himself the truth in one of his famous “I Am” statements. In John 14:6 we read that he said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that in Luke 24:44, during one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, he told his disciples that “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.”[5] In other words, he was saying that everything written about him in the entirety of the Old Testament must take place. In Session 4 we noted that in John 10:35, Jesus said that “the Scripture cannot be broken”, which is an even broader statement than he made in Luke 24. So, all of Scripture is the truth. All of it is infallible. It cannot be broken. Whatever it declares will happen will, in fact, happen. We just need to be sure that we are understanding it correctly.

Marc Roby: And that requires that we be born again. We’ve noted before that it says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that point deserves repetition. I think James Boice makes an interesting point in this regard in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith. He points out that the fact that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible and the one who enables us to properly understand the Bible gives us a great balance to help us avoid errors in interpretation. He wrote that “The combination of an objective, written revelation and its subjective interpretation to the individual by God’s Spirit is the key to the Christian doctrine of the knowledge of God. This combination keeps us from two errors. The first is the error of overspiritualizing revelation.”[6] He then explains what he means by this first error of “overspiritualizing revelation”. It occurs when someone says that God has spoken directly to them by his Spirit, but fails to check and see whether what they think the Holy Spirit is speaking is in agreement with the Bible, which is the written word of the Holy Spirit. We don’t deny that the Holy Spirit speaks to people in various ways and at various times, but he will never contradict what is stated in the written Word of God. The second error that we avoid by needing both the written word and the illumination of the Holy Spirit is what Boice calls “overintellectualizing God’s truth”, by which he essentially means people who study the Bible without ever being transformed by it. When you come across a Bible scholar who knows a great deal about God’s word, but fails to understand it properly, you know that he has not been born again.

Marc Roby: As Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the first fruit of regeneration is repentance and faith. But, without regeneration, you can study the Bible in the original languages for your entire life and you will never properly understand it.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, we have established, partly back in Session 4 and partly today, that the entire Bible is the authoritative, infallible Word of God. And that the authority and infallibility of the Bible go hand in hand. We have also noted that to disbelieve or disobey what the Bible says is to disbelieve or disobey God himself. And we have noted that a person must be born again to understand the Bible correctly and produce the fruit of repentance and faith. What else do you want to say about the authority of the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I want to move on to discuss the delegated authority that God gives to people through his word.

Marc Roby: Very well. We discussed authority in Session 5 and noted there that it is something most modern people don’t like. So, what else do you want to say about it?

Dr. Spencer: Well, our modern egalitarian mindset is, in one limited sense, perfectly biblical. The Bible indicates that all human beings are made in the image of God and are precious in his sight. There is no inherent superiority in terms of worth of men over women, or of one race of people over another, or even of one individual person over another.

Marc Roby: Now, there are, of course, many undeniable differences in ability between different people, not all men and women are created equal in that regard.

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly true. And I have never met a person who denies that obvious fact. I dare say that no one would want to pay money to come watch me play basketball, or come hear me play guitar. When we spend our money on something like watching a sporting event or going to a concert or a play, we want to watch the best. And not very many people deny that there is a need for someone to have the authority to make decisions at a company, for example, either. And yet, for some reason people get very offended at the idea of authority in a family, or in the church.

Marc Roby: That is an interesting phenomenon. And yet, the Bible pretty clearly establishes authority in three different spheres; the family, the church and the state.

Dr. Spencer: Right, and the church and the state are, in a sense, an outgrowth of the family. In his book The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame refers to all of these as “spheres of society” and points out while discussing the Fifth Commandment, which is to honor your father and mother, that “The family is the fundamental sphere from which all others are derived. This is true historically, developmentally, and logically.”[7] He then goes on to describe that, historically, Adam was the prophet, priest and king in his family. And, developmentally, parents of young children are “their authoritative source of teaching, discipline, employment, and religious leadership.” And, finally, he writes that, “logically speaking, rule in all spheres is similar to that of the family.”

Marc Roby: That is an interesting point, and I look forward to discussing these different spheres of authority, but we are out of time for today. I’d like to close by reminding our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 73

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

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, pg. 50

[4] Grudem, op. cit., pg 83

[5] Lloyd-Jones, op. cit., pg. 46

[6] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 56

[7] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pp 584-585

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