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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to examine biblical anthropology; that is, the study of man.

But, before we get started, we have a special free offer as an Easter gift for our listeners. For the rest of the month of April, 2019, if you send an email to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and request a copy of our Easter book, we will send you a free copy of Rediscovering the True Meaning of Easter, by the Rev. P.G. Mathew. We are confident that you will find that book very edifying. Be sure to include your full mailing address in your email.

And now, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin the study of anthropology?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin our study of man by asking a very basic question, “Where did man come from?” It might surprise people if they haven’t thought about this question, but there are only two possible answers. The first logical possibility is that man is the result of natural processes. This is, of course, the answer an atheist would have to give.

Marc Roby: It is certainly the answer that most of the elite in our culture would give.

Dr. Spencer: And I’m also quite confident that it is the answer you would get from almost every single professor of biology or anthropology on every college campus in this country. It is the answer with which all of the school children in public schools are being indoctrinated as well. But let’s think about that answer for a moment. It requires a number of things to have happened, several of which are so unlikely that the answer is, in my opinion, not reasonable.

Marc Roby: What things are you referring to?

Dr. Spencer: Let me give a short list of those things that would have to have happened, and then we will briefly discuss just a few of them.

First, a natural explanation for the existence of human beings obviously requires that the universe itself exist. Then it requires that the right conditions to make life possible exist somewhere in that universe. And then it requires that non-living chemicals come together and form a living organism; in fact, you need many living organisms and they must be reproducing and competing with one another for survival. Then you need some mechanism for these organisms to change from generation to generation and these changes must be inheritable. If all of these things happen, then the theory of natural selection says that the organisms that are best adapted to the environment will reproduce and survive in greater numbers.

Marc Roby: That’s a reasonable brief outline of what is taught in our schools.

Dr. Spencer: But it’s also a very cursory outline of the process of course, and I’m sure you could find fault with the way I’ve expressed it, but I think it will be adequate for our present purposes as soon as I add one more element. As living beings continue to evolve, they would have to reach a point where they become self-conscious and able to think abstractly about the world they live and to ask the question, “How did I get here?”

Marc Roby: Yes, good point since we are asking that question.

Dr. Spencer: Now I don’t want to take the time to investigate this whole chain of events today, for example, a great deal has been written about the fact that our universe is a very special one. There are many, many characteristics of this universe that have to be exactly the way they are or intelligent life would not be possible. I’m going to leave that up to others to discuss. But we’ve looked at a couple of the other steps before, so let me quickly summarize some of our previous comments and conclusions. Any of listeners who are interested can go to our archive and listen to Session 1 for the details.

In that session I gave four reasons why I think it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist. The first is that you need a Creator to explain the origin of our universe. It is fairly clear from what we now know that this universe is not eternal. It had a beginning, and it will have an end. You can postulate the existence of a multiverse and believe that there are an infinite number of universes out there, but there is no way to confirm or deny such a postulate and I don’t think it really solves the problem anyway.

Marc Roby: Well, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: It doesn’t solve the problem because it seems unlikely based on the characteristics of our universe that such a multiverse would itself be eternal, and therefore you would then have to ask how that multiverse came into existence. If our universe is part of a multiverse you would expect it to share some physical characteristics of that multiverse, so for example, you would expect the physical laws that we observe in our universe to bear some similarity to the physical laws in operation in the multiverse. But the second law of thermodynamics, which is a fundamental law in our universe, is incompatible with eternal existence.

Marc Roby: Can you explain that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, a detailed explanation would take more time than I want to spend on this, but a very simple crude explanation is that the universe will eventually run out of useable energy, kind of like a wind-up clock or toy running down.

Marc Roby: Yes, or like me after a few hours with my grandchildren.

Dr. Spencer: Sort of, although I hope you don’t reach the point of heat death. In any event, if this universe is not eternal, then you need to explain its origin, and I think that requires God.

My second reason for thinking it intellectually untenable to be an atheist is that it is essentially impossible for life to be created by purely natural processes. We discussed this in Session 1. And in that session I noted that biologists estimate that the simplest living cell would require around 250 functional proteins, which are made by sequences of amino acids. I showed that the probability of generating 250 functional proteins by the random combinations of amino acids is less than 1 chance in 1041,000, which is inconceivably small; that’s a one followed by 41,000 zeros. It is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 4,842 times in a row buying just one ticket each time.

Marc Roby: I remember that session, and it hurts my head to even remember trying to grasp numbers that large.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s fundamentally impossible to get a good grasp of a number as large as 1041,000, or of a probability as small as 1 chance in 1041,000. The probability is so insanely small that having trillions more universes, with trillions more planets and making them all trillions of times older than our universe doesn’t change the probability significantly. Interested listeners can go back to Session 1 and, if they are really interested, there is even a pdf file that shows you how to get those numbers.

But let’s move on to my third reason it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist, which is that even if I give you a bunch of single-celled living organisms to get started, the amount of information required to produce a human being is so huge that you have the same kind of probabilistic problem all over again.

Marc Roby: And given the numbers you showed, believing in an old earth doesn’t really help.

Dr. Spencer: No, it really makes no difference to the probabilities whether the earth is 10,000 years old or 4.5 billion years old. 4.5 billion years sounds outrageously long to us, but is literally insignificant in comparison with what would be required to make the probabilities of even a single cell look reasonable, let alone a human being.

Finally, my fourth reason for thinking it is intellectually untenable to be atheist is the impossibility of explaining volitional creatures like us in a universe guided by purely natural laws. All physical laws are either purely deterministic, which are laws that govern, for example, the movements of billiard balls, or they are random. But no combination of randomness with deterministic laws can explain volition.

Marc Roby: Alright, you’ve summarized the conclusions that we came to in Session 1. It seems very unlikely, I would have to say impossible, that there is a valid naturalistic explanation for the existence of human beings.

Dr. Spencer: But before we move on, I would also like to note that if the atheistic worldview were correct, one necessary consequence would be that human life would have no inherent value or purpose. That is why, for example, Albert Camus’ famously proclaimed that “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide”[1],  it’s also why Bertrand Russell claimed that “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built”[2], or it’s the same reason Shakespeare wrote his famous line, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”[3]. Such statements are part and parcel of life in this unbelieving world. There are many different ways that men have expressed the hopelessness of life apart from God, but such hopelessness inevitably comes when unbelievers honestly confront questions of ultimate importance. Questions like, “What is the purpose of life?” or “What happens when I die?”

Marc Roby: Of course, the fact that life is hopeless apart from God says nothing about the existence of God. It is logically possibly that our lives are, in fact, completely meaningless.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that is a logical possibility. But I also think it goes against what every human being instinctively knows to be true. And I don’t think we can entirely dismiss that instinctive knowledge, it is given to us by God. Nevertheless, I don’t offer that point by way of proof at all, only to make clear what the choices before us are.

Marc Roby: Alright. And the only other possibility, of course, is that we are created, right?

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. There is no other logical possibility. And if one of our listeners thinks there is another logical possibility, I’d love to hear it. So please send me an email at info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: And, if we are created, then the obvious question, is by whom?

Dr. Spencer: That is the obvious question. And many religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, don’t really have a single believable creation account. But Jews, Muslims and Christians all at least claim to believe in the account given in Genesis.

We read in Genesis 1:26-28, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”[4]

Marc Roby: That account is fascinating, and it is important to note that it presupposes the existence of the true and living God who reveals himself in the Bible and it tells us that he made human beings in his image.

Dr. Spencer: It also contains a hint of the Trinity since God uses plural pronouns. He says “Let us make man in our image”.

Marc Roby: And he gives to man what is often called the creation mandate, to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s very important. In the Christian view of creation, man has a purpose.

But we must take note of the fact that the mandate was given to Adam and Eve prior to the fall, so it assumed a relationship that ceased to be true when sin entered this world. Namely, it assumed that Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God and, as his creatures, everything they did was done in obedience to him and for his glory. In addition, we can reasonably assume that God told them far more than is recorded for us in the book of Genesis.

Marc Roby: And we are blessed because God has revealed the purpose of life to us in the Bible. We have noted a number of times that God’s overall purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. And with regard to mankind, the clearest verse is probably 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Dr. Spencer: And we aren’t left wondering how we are to glorify God either. In John 17:4 Jesus is praying to the Father and says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Therefore, we glorify God in the same way; by doing the work he has given us to do.

Marc Roby: And Ephesians 2:10 tells us that he has prepared specific work for each one of us. It says that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: And we must note further that it says we are created in Christ Jesus. If a man has not repented of his sins and surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord, he is in open rebellion against his Creator and he cannot glorify him through obedience. But, if he never repents, his eternal punishment in hell will be for the praise of God’s justice. So, in the end, everyone will glorify God.

Marc Roby: Yes, we are told in Philippians 2 that everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In Verses 6 through 11 in that chapter we read the following about 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.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a marvelous passage. And we can summarize all that we’ve covered so far by saying that the purpose of life for men and women is, first, to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to glorify God by living an obedient life.

Marc Roby: And if we do that, we are promised that we will live with him for all eternity.

Dr. Spencer: Which is a completely incomprehensible blessing. But returning to our topic of anthropology, we have presented the case that there are only two options; either we are the result of mindless natural processes, or we were created by God. If we are the result of mindless natural processes, then it necessarily follows that our lives have no real eternal significance and no purpose. And, I can’t help but add, that if that were true, our minds would simply be a faculty that evolved and made us better able to survive. There would be no good reason for believing that our minds are well adapted to discerning the truth about this world except insofar as it helps us survive.

Marc Roby: But, on the other hand, as creatures made by eternal God, our minds were created by him for the purpose of understanding truth, having fellowship with him, and worshiping him.

Dr. Spencer: And our lives are significant and have a purpose. As we begin to study biblical anthropology, we must remember this critical fact; we are creatures. God made us and he has the authority to tell us what to believe, what to do, what not to do and so on. He is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.

Marc Roby: We’ve talked about the importance of the Creator/creature distinction a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: And we’ve mentioned so often because it is so important. It is very easy for us to slip into the mode of practicing “religion” only for our benefit. That leads to anthropocentric worship, meaning worship that is focused on man. The “gospel” becomes nothing but a program for self-improvement and social change.

But real religion, worship that God accepts, is focused on him. The Bible begins by saying “In the beginning God …”, not “In the beginning man …”. That is why we covered theology proper before getting to anthropology. We must know God in order to know ourselves correctly.

Marc Roby: I like what Calvin wrote. The very first line of his book, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, says, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great opening line. Any attempt to understand man without reference to God is doomed to failure. And we see the terrible results of such failure all around us in our prisons, in poverty, violence, injustice, wars and so on.

Satan does not want people to carefully consider biblical anthropology. He wants us to be fully absorbed in the mundane details of day-to-day living. What is often called the tyranny of the immediate. But Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”[6] And, even though he was a pagan philosopher, he was right about that.

Marc Roby: I think that’s a great place to end for today. I look forward to continuing with biblical anthropology next time. And I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

[1] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, translated by Justin O’Brien. Copyright 1955 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., the first line

[2] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship”, in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Simon and Schuster, 1961, pg 67

[3] From Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the opening line of Act III, Scene I

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

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

[6] Plato, Apology, in The Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 7 – Plato, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pg.210

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s spirituality, which is the first of his communicable attributes we are considering. Dr. Spencer, you ended last time by saying that God has revealed a number of things about the nature of spirit to us. What has he revealed?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s first look at the words used. I mentioned last time that both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as spirit in our Bibles also mean breath or wind. Let’s stick with looking at the Greek word for spirit, which is πνεῦμα (pneuma). This is a very interesting word and has a long history of usage in classical Greek prior to the time of the New Testament.[1]

Since breath is associated with living beings it should not be surprising that the word for breath would be closely associated with the idea of life. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Friedrich notes that “it is natural that via the sense ‘breath of life’ πνεῦμα itself should take on the direct sense of ‘life’ or ‘living creature’.[2]

Marc Roby: That does make sense. Certainly, the expression “breath of life” is a familiar one even today.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely is a familiar way to speak of the vital force that animates physical bodies. Also, since wind is capable of doing significant work, it also should not be surprising that the word for wind would be associated with a forcible influence of one being on another. In his section dealing with the use of the word in ancient Greek myths and religion, Friedrich writes that “The ‘breath’ of wind or of breathing is a form of being and mode of presentation in which especially higher divine powers of the most varied kinds, which man cannot control, impart something of the vital essence and power which they are to man or nature, whether it be for good or evil.” [3]

When he speaks of “higher divine powers of the most varied kinds” we must remember that he is writing about the usage in Greek myths and religion. But this makes it clear how the word was used and how it would have been understood even prior to the writing of the New Testament.

Marc Roby: In other words, one spiritual being can influence another, just as the wind can influence objects.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is the idea. And that influence can be for good or evil as he says, which is a point we will come back to later. Another interesting point that Friedrich brings out is that wind does not have a beginning.[4]

Marc Roby: That is an interesting observation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. It isn’t something you normally think about, but where does a wind begin? There is no answer to that question. Of course, we all understand that if we are going to be scientific about it a wind is just the movement of air in the atmosphere, which is a continuous entity surrounding our earth, but if you think about it more poetically, the wind has no beginning or end, it simply exists. It can be stronger or weaker and it can change direction, but it has no beginning or end.

Marc Roby: I like the poetic view better. Does Friedrich say anything else that will be helpful to our discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, there are three more things I would like to mention. First, he points out that because of the use of πνεῦμα as the breath or principle of life, it is often synonymous with the Greek word for soul, which is ψυχή (psuchā).

Marc Roby: That shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone. The words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in English as well.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And they are often used interchangeably in the Hebrew Old Testament too. But going into that would get us very much off topic, so for the time being let’s stick with the Greek word for spirit.

Marc Roby: Alright. What is the second thing you wanted to mention?

Dr. Spencer: Friedrich notes that because the wind is seen as having no beginning, “The concept of the generative and life-creating cosmogonic power of wind is thus widespread in primitive mythology.” Cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe, so when he refers to the “life-creating cosmogonic power” of the wind I take it to mean the origin of life in our universe.

Marc Roby: That is again interesting, and certainly fits with God, who created all things, being the only life-giving spirit. In Genesis 2:7 we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [5] What is the third thing you want to tell us about?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that even though there is a long history to the use of the Greek word, the New Testament use is still very different. Friedrich notes that “The constitutive factor of πνεῦμα in the Greek world is always its subtle and powerful corporeality. Because of its material character it is never spiritual in the strict sense, as in the NT. It is never wholly outside the realm of sense.”[6] This is a clear difference between the use of the term in the Bible and its prior use prior to that outside of the Bible. In the Bible, the word spirit is never used of a physical being.

Marc Roby: I guess it is hardly surprising that the New Testament usage would introduce a unique element. After all, the New Testament is not telling us about some mythological character in a story, it is telling us about the true and living God, the Creator of the universe. What else do you want to say about the word spirit?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of things about the word that are fairly obvious, but it will be worthwhile to list some of them. I think the first thing anyone thinks of when you see the word spirit is that it is something that is invisible. In other words, it is not made of ordinary matter.

Marc Roby: I would think that is one of the primary things that Jesus is teaching us in John 4:24 when he says that “God is spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. And it is worth noting that this is again primarily, although not entirely, a negative description of God. He is not visible.

Marc Roby: In that sense this is like the incommunicable attributes we discussed, which we noted are often described negatively.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right.

Marc Roby: What else can we say about a spirit?

Dr. Spencer: Another thing that comes readily to mind is that a spirit does not have a body. This goes along of course with being invisible, if by “body” we mean a body made out of matter as we are. But it is an important thing to say. Remember that when we discussed God’s omnipresence we noted that God is everywhere in the totality of his being. That is not possible if he has spatial dimensions at all, even if they are in different dimensions than the three spatial dimensions we experience.

At the same time, we must recognize that the Bible clearly indicates that at least some spirits can make themselves visible to us as having bodies. For example, in John 20:11-12 we read about Mary Magdalene going to visit Jesus’ tomb on Sunday after his crucifixion and we are told that “Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.”

Marc Roby: An even more dramatic interaction is described in Genesis 32, where we read about Jacob wrestling with God in the flesh. We are first told that Jacob was wrestling with a man and the man touched his hip and somehow disabled him. Then, in Genesis 32:28, we read that “the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a better example. Not only could Jacob see this man, he could wrestle with him. Now, there is debate about whether Jacob wrestled with an angel or a theophany, which is a manifestation of God himself. Hosea 12:4-5 tell us about this wrestling match; and we read there, “He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there—the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!” For our present purposes it doesn’t matter whether this was an angel or God himself. The point is that some spirits can manifest themselves in physically tangible ways.

Marc Roby: That is one of the most amazing events described in all of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And the name Israel means one who struggles with God.

Marc Roby: Alright. We have established that spirits are invisible and do not have bodies, although some of them can in some way at least manifest themselves as visible, physical beings. What else do we know about them?

Dr. Spencer: We know that that they are self-conscious, moral and volitional beings. This is obvious from the fact that Scripture consistently portrays God and angels as being personal beings who make real decisions and that angels are morally accountable for their decisions. It is also something we can deduce based on our own nature.

Marc Roby: Can you explain that last statement?

Dr. Spencer: Sure, I have two different arguments to present to support this position. First, I noted last time that it is impossible to explain volitional creatures like us if the material universe is all that exists. Atoms in motion according to the laws of physics cannot explain any creature that makes real decisions. And I noted that the Bible calls this non-physical part of us our spirit.

So, the spirit is the part of us that makes us self-conscious, volitional beings and it is our decisions that can be judged as morally good or bad. Our bodies simply carry out the decisions we make. I don’t think you can blame your feet and legs for carrying you into sin. Our physical brains are obviously involved as well and even though we know a great deal about the electrochemical functioning of the brain, we know next to nothing about how thoughts and memories work and we know absolutely nothing about how the spirit works with our physical brains.

Marc Roby: But we can say that our spirit must, somehow, be able to influence our physical bodies.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Although my spirit is what makes real decisions, my physical brain must send certain signals down the nerves of my body in order for my body to do anything, even just to continue breathing or to keep my heart pumping. Now it is certainly possible that thinks like my heart pumping and breathing, in other words functions of what is called my autonomic nervous system, may not need to involve my spirit; they could very well be entirely physical. But if I do something voluntary, like lifting my arm, that decision is made by my spirit but my arm only raises when the proper signals are sent to the muscles involved, which requires my physical brain to also be involved. At this time we have no idea how the spirit might interact with our physical brains, but we don’t need to worry about that. All we need to notice for now is that spirits are obviously able to interact in some way with our physical universe.

Marc Roby: I agree that it is obvious there must be interaction. You said you had two arguments to support the contention that we can deduce the fact that spirits are self-conscious, moral, volitional beings from our human nature; what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second is that our spirits can exist independently of our bodies, but the opposite statement is not true. The Bible is clear about this. First, you have the statement in Hebrews 12:23 about “the spirits of righteous men made perfect” being in heaven. When we die, our spirits go to either heaven or hell and await the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is when there will be a resurrection of our bodies as well. But during that time, we exist as pure spirit.

Marc Roby: And in Luke 23:43 we read that Jesus Christ told the thief who repented on the cross that “today you will be with me in paradise.” That had to have been in his spirit since he body was still hanging on the cross and we know that our bodies will not be resurrected until Christ returns.

Dr. Spencer: That definitely is further evidence of the clear teaching of the Bible that our spirits, or souls, will exist independent of the body after we die. Theologians call this the intermediate state. Further biblical support is provided by what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8. He wrote that he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” So, it is clear that he expected to come into the Lord’s presence immediately after dying, which again had to be in his spirit. There are many other examples we could give from Scripture, for example the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16. In Verse 22 we read that when Lazarus died, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” Notice that not only is Lazarus portrayed as going to heaven immediately, which had to be in his spirit, but we are also told that Abraham was there even though Abraham had been dead for nearly 2,000 years at that time. We also have the evidence of the mount of transfiguration, which we read about in Luke 9:28-36. In that instance, Peter, James and John were witnesses not only of Christ’s glory, but also of his talking with Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah were obviously not there in their physical bodies, those had been dead for over 1,000 years. And yet they were talking with Jesus.

Marc Roby: I also think about Paul’s comment about his experience of heaven, in 2 Corinthians 12:2 he says, “Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another interesting example. Paul leaves open the possibility that it was only his spirit that was shown heaven. It may have been a true out-of-body experience.

Marc Roby: I think that is enough evidence to make the case that our spirits can exist without our bodies and that they are still conscious persons and able to interact with others.

Dr. Spencer: The biblical view is clear that our spirit is the seat of who we are. The body is merely a physical house for the spirit.

Marc Roby: But we don’t want to go the way of the ancient Greeks then and conclude that the body is evil and the spirit is good.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely not. That is a heresy which is, in fact, completely the opposite of the truth. We are told in Genesis 1:31 that when God finished creating this universe, including man, he “saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” We can conclude that our physical bodies were very good in their original state. We are sinners as a result of the fall of Adam and it isn’t our physical bodies that are the seat of our sin, it is our spirit, or soul. The spirit is the seat of who we are, our personality and thinking. Therefore, it is our spirit that is the cause of sin, not our body. Remember that a minute ago I read Hebrews 12:23 about “the spirits of righteous men made perfect” being in heaven. Think about that; if our spirits need to be “made perfect”, it is obvious that they have something wrong with them now. Of course, our physical bodies have much that is wrong with them too, but this is the result of sin, not the cause of sin.

Marc Roby: Let me summarize what we have learned so far. Spirits are self-conscious, intelligent, moral, volitional, personal beings. There are beings that are pure spirit, including God and angels, but man has a dual nature, he has both a physical body and a spirit. Our spirit is the essential element. It is the seat of our personality and decision-making ability and can exist without the body.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary.

Marc Roby: And I think that is about all the time we have for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email any questions or comments they might have to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you and may answer your question or present your comment in a future session.

[1] Gerhard Friedrich (Trans. By G. Bromley), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, Eerdmans, 1964-1976, pp 354-359

[2] Ibid, pg. 336 (parenthetical reference omitted)

[3] Ibid, pg. 343

[4] Ibid, pg. 340

[5] 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.™.

[6] Friedrich, op. cit., pg. 357

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s incommunicable attributes. Dr. Spencer, we ran out of time in our last session while discussing God’s attribute of omnipresence. What else do you want to say about that attribute?

Dr. Spencer: We noted last time that God can be present to bless or to punish, but we should also mention that he is present to sustain. In fact, this particular function is specifically ascribed to Jesus Christ. Most famously in Hebrews 1:3, where we read that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” [1] This passage in Hebrews 1 also provides tremendous evidence for the deity of Christ as we have noted before.

Marc Roby: It certainly does. It would be illogical in the extreme to think that Jesus Christ could be a part of creation and yet simultaneously be the one who sustains, or upholds, all of creation.

Dr. Spencer: It would indeed be a serious logical problem. But getting back to discussing God’s omnipresence, we also read about Christ being the one who is present to sustain in Colossians 1:17. It says there that Christ, “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Marc Roby: Alright, we have established that God is present everywhere in creation to sustain it, and that he may be present either to bless or to punish. What else do you want to say?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that when the Bible speaks of God’s presence, it is almost always talking about his presence to bless. Therefore, when you read in the Bible that God will be present in some situation, you should assume it means to bless unless there is a compelling reason to conclude otherwise. For example, in the verses we cited last time that say God will never leave us nor forsake us, the clear intent is that he will be present to bless us. Also, in John 14:23 Jesus tells us, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This is, again, clearly speaking about God being present to bless.

The opposite is also true, when the Bible speaks about God being absent, it really means that he is not present to bless, but rather to judge. That is why, as you noted last time, Hell is sometimes described as being a place where God is absent.

Marc Roby: But, as you pointed out, in the case of hell, God is not absent at all, rather he is present to pour out his wrath.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the terrifying truth. But the Bible itself speaks about God being distant as a way of expressing the idea that he is not present to bless. For example, look at Isaiah 59:2, which is a well-known verse, it says that “your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

Marc Roby: It is, of course, not possible for God to not hear us. He not only knows what we say, he knows it before we say it as we are told in Psalm 139. He knows our every thought. But to say that he has hidden his face and will not hear sounds like someone getting angry and turning his back to you.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is exactly the picture that is being presented. The Bible often uses anthropomorphic language to explain God’s actions to us. When it tells us that he will not hear us, it means that he will not respond favorably to our requests. And we see the same kind of language in Proverbs 15:29 where we read that “The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” This does not mean that God is literally far away from any part of his creation, but it is figurative language to refer to God not being present to hear and bless.

Marc Roby: And it immediately makes you think of the opposite promise that’s given to believers. Perhaps most famously in Romans 8:35-39, where the apostle Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” And then he goes on to say that he is “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a glorious promise that all true Christians should rejoice in and keep in mind to strengthen us to do God’s will.

And with that I think we are done discussing God’s omnipresence and, even more, we are done examining God’s incommunicable attributes. Although, before we move on, I’d like to read the answer to Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism because it is an excellent summary statement about the nature of God. In fact, I highly recommend memorizing this answer. Question 4 asks, “What is God?” And the answer is, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” You can spend a long time meditating on that statement.

Marc Roby: I agree, it is a wonderful statement.

Dr. Spencer: And it begins by saying that God is a spirit, which is the first communicable attribute I want to discuss. But before we start that, we should also notice that the catechism answer next says that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. These refer to the incommunicable attributes we have been discussing. The fact that God is infinite is tied to his omnipresence and his eternity; remember that God’s eternity can be called his infinity with respect to time and his omnipresence can be called his infinity with respect to space. Then also remember that the fact he is unchangeable, or immutable, implies his eternity. These attributes all work together and we must guard against thinking of them separately.

Marc Roby: We mentioned what theologians call God’s simplicity in Session 49, which means that God’s attributes are not separable in any way.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good thing for us to constantly keep in mind as we go through God’s attributes. They all work together. We break them out and examine them individually to help ourselves try and grasp the totality of God’s being to whatever extent we are able, but God is not made up of different parts as we are.

Marc Roby: And, once again, we find ourselves not able to comprehend fully even that which God has chosen to reveal to us about himself! I assume that we are now ready to move on to look at God’s communicable attributes?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. And I want to begin by reminding our listeners that while these categories are not absolute or perfect, the basic idea is that God’s communicable attributes are ones which we share to some degree. Therefore, they will also naturally lead into a discussion of biblical anthropology; in other words, what the Bible teaches us about ourselves.

Marc Roby: I look forward to that. And you said you want to begin by examining God’s spirituality first?

Dr. Spencer: I do want to begin with that. We are continuing to follow the order used in Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[2]

Marc Roby: And we just noted a moment ago that God’s spirituality is the first thing said about him in the answer to Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It begins by asserting that God is a spirit. And this attribute is considered communicable because we also have spirits, although our spirits are confined in space in some way, which is not true of God. And our spirits did not exist prior to God’s creating this universe, so there is a clear difference between God’s spirit and our spirits.

Marc Roby: That is certainly a huge difference.

Dr. Spencer: It is an extremely important difference. As always, we must remember that God is the Creator and we are creatures. Nevertheless, getting back to our having a spirit, it is clear that there is more to a human being than just this physical body. In fact, way back in Session 1, where I gave my top four reasons why I think it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist, the fourth reason I gave was that it is impossible to explain volitional creatures like you and me and all of our listeners if you consider the material universe to be all that exists. Atoms in motion according to the laws of physics cannot explain any creature that makes real decisions. Therefore, something beyond our physical body is needed to explain us, and the Bible calls that something else our spirit.

Marc Roby: But the clear contrast is that God does not have a physical body as we do, he is pure spirit.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he is. Jesus told his disciples, in John 4:24, that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” That first statement, that “God is spirit” is very important. Louis Berkhof notes that it is the closest thing in the Bible to a definition of God.[3] And the Greek construction is interesting as well. The Greek language has no indefinite article, so the difference between saying “God is a spirit” and “God is spirit” is indicated in a different way than it is in English. I think it will be worthwhile to take a moment to discuss the grammar, and hopefully some of our listeners will find it interesting, but if not, at least the conclusion will be useful and the discussion will be short.

Marc Roby: We don’t want to trigger any terrible memories of high-school English class.

Dr. Spencer: I can’t imagine why anyone should have terrible memories of English class!

Marc Roby: Nor can I, but not everyone is as enamored with language as we are.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But if those who aren’t interested will put up with this for just a minute, we will arrive at a useful, interesting and important result. First, let’s examine the English. Consider the sentence “God is spirit”. The subject of this sentence is God, the word “is” is the 3rd-person, singular, present tense form of the verb “be”, and the word “spirit” is the predicate, meaning it is the part of the sentence that tells us something about the subject. A sentence like this, where we equate the subject with the predicate, is called an equative sentence. For example, if I say that “Knowledge is power”, that is also an equative sentence.

Now, in English, the difference between saying “God is spirit” and “God is a spirit” is in the predicate. When we include the indefinite article in the predicate and say “God is a spirit”, the sentence means that there is a class of objects called spirits and God belongs to that class, he is one of them. When the article is not present and we say “God is spirit”, it means that God is spirit in a deeper sense, it isn’t just that he is one of a class of objects, it is his essential nature.

Marc Roby: And how is that distinction indicated in the Greek?

Dr. Spencer:  It is indicated by the structure of the sentence. In the case of the first clause in John 4:24 there isn’t any explicit verb, it is implied. If we were to stupidly render the Greek word-for-word into English, the clause says “spirit the God”, which clearly makes no sense in English. In the Greek however, the verb “be” is implied and the article in front of God tells us that God is the subject of the sentence. The question then becomes whether it should be rendered “God is a spirit” or “God is spirit”.

I should state right up front that there is no theological problem with saying that “God is a spirit”. In fact, that is how the King James Version translates that clause and the American Standard Version follows. That is not however, the best translation. There has been a great deal learned about New Testament Greek in the past 100 years and current scholarship would say that the right way to translate that clause is “God is spirit.” Daniel Wallace, in his book Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics, says that the Greek noun for spirit in this clause “is qualitative – stressing the nature or essence of God”.[4] And he gives a detailed explanation of why the best translation is “God is spirit” in case some of our listeners are interested in looking at that.

Marc Roby: This is similar to the question of how to translate the last clause in John 1:1, which we talked about translating in Sessions 51 and 52. But that verse, which says “the Word was God”, does explicitly include the verb.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, the two verses have a similar construction in the Greek. Leon Morris agrees with the meaning we are giving to John 4:24, he writes that “Jesus is not saying, ‘God is one spirit among many’. Rather His meaning is, ‘God’s essential nature is spirit’. The indefinite article is no more required than it is in the similar statements, ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5), and ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8).”[5] Berkhof also agrees with this analysis of the Greek and says that “This is at least a statement purporting to tell us in a single word what God is. The Lord does not merely say that God is a spirit, but that He is spirit.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is a somewhat subtle, but significant difference. I also remember that in Session 55 you quoted from the 19th-century theologian William Shedd, who commented on the meaning of John 4:24.

Dr. Spencer: You have a good memory! I did quote from Shedd. He wrote that the “omission of the article, implies that God is spirit in the highest sense. He is not a spirit, but spirit itself, absolutely.”[7]

Marc Roby: But the Bible doesn’t define for us precisely what is meant by spirit, does it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t define for us precisely what the nature of our physical universe is either, and we still haven’t figured it out ourselves, so I doubt we could understand God’s explanation.

Marc Roby: Which may be why he doesn’t give us one.

Dr. Spencer: That is a definite possibility. But returning to the idea of what is meant by the word spirit, it is helpful to note that both the Hebrew and Greek words that are rendered in our English Bibles as “spirit” also mean wind or breath. But we don’t want to conclude that spirit is referring to some power, we must remember that it is God’s essence. The whole issue is complicated by the fact that the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, which you might think could imply that the other two persons are not spirit, although that would be wrong. God is spirit, not just one person in the Trinity, but God in his essence. Although it is also true that the eternal Son became incarnate and exists in union with the man Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And with regard to knowing exactly what spirit actually is, as you noted about our physical universe, we probably couldn’t understand God’s explanation if he gave us one.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is a very safe bet. Especially given the fact that spirit, whatever it is, is not something that is restricted to existing in the same spatial dimensions in which we exist. Which implies that there is no way we can make any measurements or do any kind of direct experiments to study the nature of spirit.

Marc Roby: Although that doesn’t mean that we can’t know anything about it.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t mean that at all. That would be a completely erroneous conclusion. God has revealed a number of things about the nature of spirit to us.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to getting into that next time, but we are out of time for today. I’d like to 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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

[3]Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938 (This can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996), pg. 65

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics, Zondervan, 1996, pg. 270

[5] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, part of the The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F.F. Bruce Gen. Ed., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971, pg. 271

[6] Berkhof, op. cit., pg. 65

[7] William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888, pg. 151

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