What’s the Big Deal about Inerrancy- Part 2

This is a response to Shane Himes’s article: “Israel’s Journey to Know God: Progressive Revelation Part One”

This is the second article I’ve written in response to Shane. You can find his first article here, and my first response here. This response is following his second article in this series.

Again, in the desire for brotherly love and unity, and to keep myself from polemicizing a brother in Christ with whom I greatly disagree, I’ve written to Shane personally.

Hi again Shane, 

To be honest, I hesitated for a few moments before clicking on your most recent article. The thoughts running through my head sounded something like, “What if there is some argument he brings up that I’ve never heard of before and can’t answer?” This initial thought led me to ask a couple of questions: “Why do I feel the need to answer your denial of biblical inerrancy?” and “How much of this discussion deals with our presuppositions before ever even coming to the passages in the text that are a bit troublesome?”

To answer the first question, I feel the need to answer because I believe inerrancy to be foundationally important to the Christian faith, for the reasons I stated in the previous article. Secondly, despite the litany of alleged biblical contradictions, why do I still hold so stubbornly to my belief that the Bible is, in fact, a unified collection of documents and does not contradict itself? 

It seems to me that we are dealing with our presuppositions. You and I are looking at the same evidence and coming to two different conclusions. It’s not that the issue with Exodus 6:3 absolutely convinced you that the Bible was prone to contradiction. I know that because when I look at this discrepancy, I (and others like me) don’t have the “ah-ha” moment you mention.

It saddens me that you felt limited to two options when addressing this issue.

“I could declare the Christian faith a hoax due to contradictions in certain parts of the Bible, or I could nuance my understanding of biblical inspiration and my expectations of the Bible.”

Have you considered a third option? I could hold onto my trust in the reliability of the Scriptures, dig deeper, and find an explanation that reasonably reconciles this passage with the times God is known as YHWH to the patriarchs. 

Yes, I think the issue you initially brought up can be addressed reasonably and without stretching the text. The foundational issue here, however,  is whether or not, at its very core, the Scripture is accurate and trustworthy. Do we get to subjectively decide where we think God’s Word is right and where it must be wrong?

When God states that He was not known by His name to the patriarchs, how can we account for the 100+ times that He (or they) use that name in Genesis 12-50? Here’s my attempt to answer it, but like I said (and will continue writing about), the issue we are dealing with is so much deeper than just one (of hundreds) of apparent discrepancies.

We are dealing with the storyline of God’s name, which doesn’t climax until Exodus 34:5-7. The concept of God’s “name” is never biblically emphasized as the four letters that make up the tetragrammaton, but the very character and nature of God. He is consistent and faithful. He will always be who he always has been (YHWH). The reason we can trust Him is because we can have absolute surety in “who” He is. The writer of Exodus was very familiar with Genesis and wasn’t contradicting it, but pointing out that Moses’s connection with God was so much deeper than what the patriarchs might have experienced. The point wasn’t that they didn’t know the word “Yahweh” in connection with God. The point is that God’s might was revealed to Abraham, but the fullness of His character wasn’t revealed until Moses, and even then it had to be limited so that Moses wouldn’t be destroyed (Exodus 33:17-23).

Can you answer how as a young boy Samuel “ministered before Yahweh” (1 Sam. 2:18; 3:1) but he “did not yet know Yahweh” (1 Sam. 3:7)? Did he know who he was serving or not? Clearly to know in this passage means more than simple recognition of existence.

What about every other time in Exodus when yadah, the Hebrew word to know,” is applied to human engagement with Yahweh (6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:29; 10:2; 14:4, 18; 16:6, 12; 29:46)? Each of these passages indicates so much more than simple recognition of existence. Is it good exegesis to use a modern Western definition of know in Exodus 6:3, when it is clearly much more than that?

What about the fact that yadah  is applied to the intimate sexual experience between husband and wife? Did Abraham really not know Sarah before that happened?

What about Jeremiah 16:21 and Isaiah 52:6? Did the people of Israel really not know how to pronounce God’s name? I don’t think either of us would make that claim.

This isn’t stretching the text. This is exactly what you have been asking us to do, recognize the cultural, linguistic, narrative, and historical context of the Writings. We can’t apply the Hebrew word yadah to our cleanly defined 21st century Western understanding of what it means to know something, when it is clear from Scripture that it means so much more.

Moving to the bigger issue, however, where does my trust in the Scriptures come from? Is it a game of circular reasoning? I believe Jesus because I believe the Bible because I believe Jesus because I believe the Bible…and so on? I don’t think so.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

I believe in the “gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-2). 

Because He was declared to be the Son of God, I believe the things He said to be true.

I believe what Jesus taught about the Old Testament. When did He ever cast doubt on its origin? Did he teach that the Old Testament writings were just the author’s interpretation of what God wrote? Actually, He taught exactly the opposite. Jesus regularly referred to passages from the Old Testament as “the commandment of God” (Matt. 15:3) and “The word of God” (Matt. 15:6; John 10:35). In fact, Jesus, Himself, quoted the very passage that convinced you that the Old Testament must contain errors.

“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:31-32; Jesus is quoting from Ex. 3:6)

Who did Jesus credit these words to? You have attributed this passage from Exodus to a mistaken human, when Jesus attributes it to God Himself. 

I believe in Jesus’s promise to the apostles that they would be given the “Spirit of truth” who would teach and remind them of Jesus’s words (John 14:17, 26). 

I believe what Jesus said to those same apostles when he promised,

“When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15).

For those reasons, I also believe what the apostles say about the Hebrew Scriptures. When do they ever cast doubt on its origin? Do they teach that the Old Testament writings were just the author’s interpretation of what God wrote? Actually, they teach exactly the opposite.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

When Paul writes this about the Hebrew Scriptures, he emphasizes God’s intimate involvement in the Word. Where exactly is the room, according to Paul, for the Hebrew prophets to misunderstand Him and write their own interpretation of their experience with God?

2 Peter 1:19-21

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Prior to this quote, Peter emphasizes his own role as an eyewitness and how God’s revealed words are even more concrete and trustworthy than what he had previously experienced walking daily with the incarnate Lord. Should this passage read, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as best as they could understand him, while of course being limited by their unscientific, morally unrefined, ancient worldview”?

I’m just not comfortable with the presuppositions that would allow for Jesus and the apostles to be mistaken on their teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures.

I really do appreciate your attempts to show that the Bible must be seen in the cultural and historical context that its authors lived. I agree wholeheartedly, but to suggest that God was not able (or willing), in those ancient times, to communicate his words accurately is contrary to Jesus’s teachings. The term “inerrancy” might be a modern construct, but its definition has been the foundation of most Christians throughout history: the reliability that anyone with a copy of it has access to God’s own words.

As for the Akkadian texts you mention, I think they are amazing finds that really shed light on the Torah! If the global flood really did happen, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that other ancient cultures (even those who began writing their histories before the ancient descendants of Abraham) would recount these stories? Even the ancient Māori, in the land I’m currently living in, had a story of an overwhelming flood. Most ancient cultures do. That should increase our faith in the Hebrew Scriptures! 

Sidebar: Does the Bible claim that Moses was the first person to ever write anything down? Does the fact that these Akkadian texts are older mean that they are in some way better? The Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin is actually much older than Hammurabi.

It’s great that you’ve listed some of the laws from the Code of Hammurabi, written centuries prior to the Exodus. Aren’t they amazing? The similarities to the Torah are awesome! If God did give His Law to a theocratic society that had recently departed Egypt, wouldn’t we expect some of the civil laws found therein to be similar to other ancient law codes? Of course we would. But, I think you forgot to mention some of the important differences. Hammurabi’s law is completely inundated with polytheism, like all cultures of the day (except the Hebrew). The Torah continually declares the Israelites’ reasons for believing and obeying it: God’s faithfulness and rescue. Before giving any laws, God states: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) Throughout the Torah He emphasizes the mandate for obeying Him is tied to His love and his previous action (Lev. 25:38; 26:11-13, Dt. 4:7). Yahweh’s laws are tied to His real presence and righteousness among His people. Is this something that Hammurabi can claim?

As for Joshua 10:12-14, I hope you can maintain consistency and never again use the phrases “sunrise” and “sunset.” Otherwise, people might consider you ignorant and unscientific. It might be more reasonable to allow the Bible to speak the same language that ancient people spoke, and in this case, the way people still speak today, as things appear from our perspective. 

You mentioned in a Facebook post that “these articles are fun, but they aren’t going to be the best means of academic engagement.” You suggested that we read your thesis if anyone really wanted to “dive into the issue.” While I appreciate the hard work and study that goes into a thesis, I think that since you’ve introduced the topic in a nonacademic venue, its best for us to continue the conversation down here. I also enjoy spending some time in academia’s ivory tower, but if conclusions reached there can’t be effectively communicated to those without access to it, we’re doing a great disservice to the Lord’s people. 

I’m not sure if you plan to respond to my responses, but I think I’ve voiced some questions that many of us have when inerrancy gets the boot. Perhaps you didn’t intend your articles to be a large scale defense of your position of “errancy,” but when you finish your series I would really appreciate your time in helping me understand your point of view in some of the questions I’ve raised. 

Shane, I appreciate you and hope we can come to a better understanding of God’s truth together.

What’s the Big Deal About Inerrancy?

Today as I was scrolling through Aggos.com, a new social media site for members of the church of Christ (check it out!), I noticed a post by Shane Himes sharing his article “Israel’s Journey to Know God: Biblical Inspiration” (find it here). In short, I disagree with his conclusions about biblical inerrancy and want to share why.

In the past authors within churches of Christ who disagreed with each other often wrote to their opponents in journals, blogs, or brotherhood publications to encourage a written debate and sort out the issues at hand. Sometimes, their correspondence was published for the readership of those journals. Unfortunately, and more often than not, these authors resorted to the vilification of those who disagreed with them through twisting the words of an author who would respond and setting up “straw-man” arguments against those who didn’t. These things don’t make for the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). While we may disagree, I have a responsibility in my response to show “humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). In order to do this, and remind myself that I am writing to a brother, not an enemy, I’ve decided to write directly to Shane.

Hi Shane,
I know we’ve never met, but if you’re ever in the Henderson, TN, area in the next year or so, let me know and let’s grab some lunch. I’ve read your article about inerrancy and appreciate some aspects of it. I agree that adages and oversimplified viewpoints of the Scripture can cause more harm than good. The Bible is sometimes confusing and often difficult to understand. Even Biblical authors have acknowledged that. Acknowledging that fact, the question then is, “Where do we go from here?”

As I read, I noticed that you are a young guy, like myself, who obviously loves Jesus and His people. The topic of your writing, however, was troubling and in my opinion, inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. Though the Bible is difficult to understand in some places, I sincerely disagree that the best way to deal with these issues is to give up on inerrancy, deny the unity of the biblical writings, or overemphasize the human involvement in the word of the Bible to the point of neglecting the divine. This seems to be what your article is attempting to do.

For the sake of some readers of this, inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy that Shane mentions is probably taken from article XI:

We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

It is important to remember that this “statement” that Shane and I are referring to is not a denominational creed, but a definition of what many believe to be a summation of biblical principles on God’s authority and man’s involvement in the writing of the Christian Scriptures.

I think that your definition of inerrancy is a bit misleading. Article VI, that you’ve mentioned reads: “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.” Without reading more of the statement, however, it might seem that they mean that God miraculously took control of the biblical author’s writing hand and mechanically dictated each stroke of the stylus. For clarification, Article VIII reads: “We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.” The Bible is full of the original authors’ personalities: John’s Greek is easier to read than Luke’s, Paul doesn’t necessarily remember who all he baptized in Corinth, and Matthew’s gospel seems inherently “more Jewish” than Mark’s. These marks of authenticity don’t negate God’s inspiration, they actually emphasize God’s power in providing a consistent message through numerous human authors over long periods of human history.

Many have suggested that the Bible is inspired as far as it speaks to spiritual truths, but not necessarily in regard to what you phrase, “science, sociology, theology, morality, or anything else.” CSOI Article XII reads: “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.” In your upcoming articles, could you please inform us how we can trust the spiritual positions expounded in Scripture that come from a God unable (or unwilling) to correctly communicate the physical aspects of history or geography? Are the human authors involved in the process somehow limiting God’s accuracy of inspiration?

I appreciate your unique view of the growing understanding of the Hebrew people throughout the ages, but I believe you’ve created a false dichotomy between inerrancy and progressive revelation as the Israelites experienced it. In fact Article V of the CSOI states: “We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.” It is completely reasonable to assume that God’s purposes and personality were more clear to those who had more of His revelation available to them. Hebrews 1:1-2 make that evident. While those who only had access to the Torah may have been more aware of God’s judgment and less of his grace, it’s an unsubstantiated leap to assume that their writings would contradict what would later be revealed. Is it not possible that the people of Israel were emphasizing different aspects about God as more of His revelation became known through prophecy? Do the supposed discrepancies force us to leap to the conclusion that they often changed their thoughts about God, contradicting themselves previously?

Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that your viewpoint must concede that our ultimate authority as Christians is not Scripture, itself, but our subjective deliberations as to what within the Bible is correct by our own definition of proper morality, history, or science. You make some very concrete assertions about your faith, which is laudable. Let’s look at a few of them and apply your hermeneutic.

“I’m not always the follower of Jesus that I should be, but his grace is enough in the absence of my perfection. ”

Amen, brother. Me too. But if we can’t know with certainty which aspects of Scripture are truly God’s Word and which are just human reflections on God’s revelation (which are prone to error), how can you know that Paul’s description of Christ’s grace was what was intended by God?

“It is in Christ that we find the answer all of humanity, including ancient Israel, has searched for.”

I agree, but once again, I feel like my foundation of scriptural inerrancy upholds this. From your position how can you say this, without allowing for the possibility that the apostles misunderstood certain aspects of God’s revelation in Christ?

“Jesus is the perfect revelation from God and all previous revelation must bow to him.”

Amen again. But, if previous revelation and the human tendency to misrepresent God are any indication of how fallible men have represented Jesus in the books of the New Testament, how can I trust Jesus when I don’t actually know for certain who he is and what he is about? It sounds subjective at best.

If I can venture to guess what strategy you’ll take in regard to the concepts introduced in your upcoming article series, I would say that the “points of error” in the Bible (in your opinion) are actually “according to standards of truth and error that are alien to [the Bible’s] usage or purpose” (CSOI Article XIII). If you are planning to focus on “biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations,” (CSOI Article XIII) these can be explained without throwing out inerrancy in what you’ve termed as the “examining of Scripture on its own terms and in its own context.”

…We… deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

Chicago Statement of Inerrancy- Article XIX

This point is vital. Shane, if your view is correct, what are the rest of us missing out on by holding on to the doctrine of inerrancy? Acceptability in scholarly communities? Relevance in the modern world? An easy “out” when difficult questions (like the “violent depictions of God in the Torah”) arise? Is there actually something significant to our faith and knowledge of Christ that we can gain by letting go of inerrancy?

In my understanding, I don’t think those things are worth the price of cutting off the branch we are sitting on. The trustworthiness of God’s inspired word is a pillar that undergirds our faith. When we become the moral, scientific, historical, and theological authorities instead of trusting in God’s Word for all truth, our faith will eventually become a skeleton of what it once was, after we’ve picked it clean of what society deems as inappropriate or distasteful. We certainly won’t look like the church that Jesus built and our witness for Him will be limited to whatever is palatable to the majority.

Shane, as your series of articles appear, I will attempt to show that God’s Word as we have it, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, is without error in anything that it asserts. The New Testament and Old Testament are in complete agreement with one another and the difficult questions that arise in this discussion can be answered without denying the ability of God to produce an authoritative message to mankind that is free from mistakes.

Capital Punishment, War, and Loving Your Enemies

Does God’s authorization of capital punishment and war in the Old Testament imply that it is appropriate for Christians to execute justice on their enemies and even kill them if necessary?

Does the Old Testament teach that God authorizes violence?

There are many Old Testament scriptures that show that in some situations God divinely authorized violence, including the death penalty, as punishment for crimes. For example, God commanded the death penalty for murder (Ex. 21.12-14; 19; Lev. 24.17, 21), hitting one’s parents (Ex. 21.15; 17; Lev. 20.9), kidnapping (Ex. 21.16; Deut. 24.7), and sacrificing a child to the god Molech (Lev. 20.3). Numerous other examples could be given.

There are also Old Testament examples where God commanded His people to go to war. Perhaps most glaring is when God commands the complete destruction of the Canaanites.

You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanites and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you. – Deut. 20.16-17 (cf. 7.1-2)

In 1 Samuel 15, God commands Saul to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites (v. 3). When Saul disobeys God by saving some of the spoil, he is rebuked by Samuel (vs. 8-9; 19), who then responds by killing Agag, king of the Amalekites (v. 33). It certainly appears that God approved of Samuel’s obedient violence.

Other examples could be cited, but the two examples mentioned here should be sufficient to show that at times God divinely sanctioned acts of violence against evildoers. We can therefore view these Old Testament warriors as examples of faithful obedience (cf. Heb. 11.34)

Does God Always Approve of Just Violence?

Although God sometimes commanded the Israelites to do violence against wrongdoers, this does not imply that God commands all people at all times to engage in violence against their enemies. God does not change (Mal. 3.6), but sometimes His expectations change.

Early in David’s reign, David received God’s approval before going to war (2 Sam. 5.17-25). Yet late in David’s life, David took a military census without God’s approval and was punished for it (2 Sam. 24.2-4). God viewed David as unfit for building the temple as a direct result his waging of wars (1 Chron. 22.8; 28.3). Although God approved of some of David’s wars, He did not approve of all of David’s military actions.

Years later, Hosea would rebuke Israel for multiplying “lies and violence” and for making an alliance with Assyria (Hos. 12.1). Hosea rebuked Israel for trusting in their warriors (10.13), and for multiplying their national defenses (8.14).

Micah warned that God would “cut off your horses from among you, and destroy your chariots” (5.10-11). Amos too was very critical of nations who used violence against other nations (1.3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2.1), and voiced strong opposition to Israel’s trust in their military power (2.14-16; 3.9-11; 6.13-14).

Keep in mind that Israel was not looking to use military alliances and violence to be conquerors. They were simply looking to the sword for self-defense against other wicked nations. Yet they were met with God’s disapproval because they had turned from trusting in God to trusting in their military might.

What Can We Conclude from God’s Authorization of Just Violence?

  1. God is a Just God

God views human life as special, and God values justice. Although God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33.11), He did write the death penalty into His law and at times commanded warfare.

Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man
– Genesis 9.6

  1. Not All Killing Is Murder

Although the Old Testament is clear that murder is wrong (Ex. 20.13), it is also clear that not all killing is murder. Since what God does and directs others to do is always right and just (Ps. 19.7-19; 33.4-5), and since God tempts no one to do evil (Jas. 1.13), this shows that capital punishment and war are not inherently wrong.

  1. The Key Issue Has Always Been Faithful Obedience to God

Although the Old Testament does show that God gives divine authorization of violence in some circumstances, it is important to recognize that God – not Israel’s military might – would determine their victory.

The LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight against your enemies, to save you. – Deut. 20.4

When God defeated the Egyptians as they tried to cross the Red Sea, the entire battle was fought and won single-handedly by God. (Ex. 14-15). God left no room for doubt: Israel was saved by God’s strength alone, not by their own military might.

Israel faced a seemingly undefeatable enemy in Jericho. And yet, because they faithfully obeyed God’s command to march around the walls, God delivered the city of Jericho into their hands (Josh. 7). In contrast to Jericho, Ai was a much smaller village, and would seemingly be an easy victory. However, due to disobedience, Ai defeated Israel (Josh. 8). Israel’s strength in battle was not dependent on their own ability to defeat their enemies. Their strength was dependent on their faithful obedience to God.

In Judges 7, God trimmed down Gideon’s army to just three hundred, lest the people boast and say, “My own power has delivered me” (Jud. 7.2). Israel’s army was made weak so that God would be shown to be strong.

The Holy Spirit summed up the source Israel’s strength in Psalm 33:

The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
To deliver their soul from death
-Psalm 33.16-19

Even though God did instruct His people to execute the death penalty and, on occasion, to go to war, Israel’s strength was never dependent on the sword. Their strength was found in their faithful dependence on God.

Our Strength is Found in Obedience to God’s Commands

The Christian’s highest goal is faithfulness.  If God commands that Christians execute violence against their enemies, it would be wrong not to. The most important question to consider is this: What has God commanded Christians to do in response to their enemies?

What Has God Commanded Christians To Do In Response To Their Enemies?

The New Testament does not directly address how governments and nations are to view and treat their enemies. But the New Testament has much to say about how Christians are to treat and think about their enemies. As Christians, we are to…

That’s everything the New Testament teaches on the matter of how Christians are to treat wrongdoers. Note that nowhere do we find any exception clause in these teachings. Jesus never says “Love your enemies and do good to them except when common sense and your desire for justice tell you that you need to kill them”.

What About Justice?

Jesus embraced God’s justice. According to Jesus, if someone makes a little one to stumble, it would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their neck rather than to face God’s judgment (Mt. 18.6; Lk. 17.2).

In fact, the reason Jesus didn’t fight back when He was crucified is because He “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2.23). The reason Paul commanded Christians not to avenge themselves is because God has said “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12.19). The more we believe that God will execute His justice on evildoers, the more we can trust that we are free from having to take justice into our own hands.

This is not to argue that all killing is inherently wrong. This is not to argue that all policemen and soldiers are murderers. This is not to argue that governments and nations are necessarily acting wickedly when they execute justice.

God is the all-knowing, and perfectly-just Creator of life. As such, if God wants to use governments to execute His wrath against evildoers, He certainly has that right (Cf. Rom. 13.1-4).

But, as Christians, God gave us the responsibility is to love and do good to our enemies, even when the principle of justice tells us that they would deserve far worse (cf. Mt. 5.38-39; Lk. 6.27-29). And no Christian can offer any service to their government that would cause them to compromise their commitment to God (Acts 5.29).

Every disciple of Jesus must wrestle all of His teachings. I cannot see how a Christian can use violence to execute justice and at the same time faithfully follow God’s commands to love our enemies.

What About Common Sense?

Granted, these teachings don’t make any sense. In fact, at times, refusing to violently resist evil can sound downright foolish. But how much sense did it make for Moses to stretch out his staff across the Red Sea? How much sense did it make for Israel to march around the walls of Jericho? How much sense did it make for Gideon to trim his army down to just 300 men? How much sense did it make for the all-powerful God to let Himself get tortured and killed unjustly rather than using his power to defeat His enemies?

The strength of God’s people has never been found in their weapons. The strength of God’s people is found in their faithful obedience to God.

In A Democracy, Don’t Christians Have A Responsibility to Participate in Politics?

In a previous post I recounted nine things Jesus said or did that should influence the way Christians approach politics. Jesus never tried to gain power in the political system of his day. But, it has been argued that in almost every instance that the Bible references the Christian’s relationship with government, the governments were emperors or kings. Governments in that day didn’t allow for the public to participate in the same way they do today. Caesar and Pilate weren’t elected by popular vote.

We, however, live in a democracy where our government allows and encourages the public to be involved in the political process. Suddenly the governments are not “thems”, but rather the governments are “us” (or so it is argued). Does the Christians relationship to government and politics change in a democracy? Do modern Christians now have a responsibility to try to change society using political methods?

First of all it is not true that in democratic or any other kind of government that the people are themselves the rulers. They choose the rulers, among a select few individuals who have been given the opportunity to run for office. Once elected, these individuals tend to rule for their own selfish good and glory the same way other rulers in other forms of government rule.

Our Citizenship is in a Foreign County

Christians must remember that we are citizens of a foreign country. “For our citizenship is in heaven“, wrote Paul (Phil. 3.20). We are “foreigners” and “exiles” in our own country (1 Pet. 2.11). Does this basic relationship towards earthly governments change depending on the type of government we happen to be under?

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy:

“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” – 2 Timothy 2.4

Our commitment to be a soldier of the cross doesn’t change based on the form of government we are under. As a soldier, we must not be distracted from our mission.

Jesus emphasized the contrast between the pagan path of greatness and the Christian path to greatness:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” – Matthew 20.25-26

The disciples of Jesus should abstain from the pagan desire to rule over others. This key distinction doesn’t change when the form of government changes.

Even if Christians themselves were the rulers, this raises another difficult challenge: How can a Christian fulfill the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities as a Christian at the same time?

Governments are to avenge evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are forbidden from avenging themselves (Rom. 12.19). Governments carry out God’s wrath on evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to leave it to God’s wrath (Rom. 12.18). Governments do not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to feed their enemies (Rom. 12.20-21). Romans 12-13 only makes sense if it is understood that Christians are a separate entity, with separate responsibilities from the governmental authorities. If, in a democracy, Christians become one in the same with the government, Romans 12-13 must be seen to be commanding contradictory responsibilities at the same time.

Christians are to be in subjection to earthly rulers (Rom. 13.1). Every instance of “subjection” in the New Testament indicates the presence of at least two separate, and potentially opposing entities. If Christians are one and the same with government, are they then to submit to themselves? If “we” are now the government, how are we supposed to submit to ourselves? To the extent that government can desire something of us that we would not choose ourselves, they are a separate entity.

Earthly Governments Will Be Destroyed

If in a democracy, “we” are now one in the same with the government in Romans 13, are we also one in the same in 1 Corinthians 15 with the rulers and authorities and powers who will be destroyed along with the rest of Jesus’s enemies when He returns?

Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and all power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Surely we would not argue that simply because we live in a democracy that “we” are the rulers and authorities that will be destroyed in 1 Corinthians 15. How can we claim to be one in the same with the rulers in Romans 13, but not in 1 Corinthians 15?

When Paul speaks of Christians wrestling against authorities and rulers and powers (Eph. 6.12), did He envision Christians wrestling against themselves, since they are now the rulers in a democracy?

Absolutely not. The day will come when “Babylon” will be judged and destroyed. We should therefore heed the warning of Revelation 18.4:

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins are piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

If we are one in the same with government just because we live under a democracy, we should be very concerned! We should be seeking any way possible to get out! If we don’t “come out of her” we will share in the judgment she will receive.

Conclusion

Thankfully, “we” are not the government. We represent a different kingdom. The kingdom in which we enjoy citizenship will be delivered to the Father when all the other kingdoms are destroyed. We are to change the world, but we are not to use the same methods the world uses. Our power to change the world is rooted in prayer and sacrificial love. Whatever distracts us from this task should be avoided.

Living in a democracy certainly makes it easy to be politically involved if we choose to do so. But that doesn’t mean we have a responsibility to do so. If anything, it means we must be even more careful to maintain the important distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.

Not of This World? Prove it!

Jesus cited the fact that His disciples were not fighting for His self-defense as the proof that His kingdom was not of this world. When Jesus was facing trial before Pilate as a suspected Jewish revolutionary, Pilate gave Jesus a chance to explain His actions. In response, Jesus didn’t simply proclaim “My Kingdom is not of this world”; He pointed to the non-violence of His servants as proof to substantiate His claim.

Two thousand years later Jesus’s kingdom is still not of this world. But can we prove it like Jesus did? Can we still point to His disciple’s refusal to fight to bear witness to this fact?

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me? Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My Kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a King?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world to testify  to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” – John 18.33-37

What Did Jesus Mean By “Not of This World”?

A commitment to nonviolence is at the heart of Jesus’s definition of His Kingdom. Of course the differences between the Kingdom of God and earthly kingdoms go far beyond whether or not the servants of those kingdoms fight or not. There are many ways in which the Kingdom Jesus preached is “not of this world.”

  • Their source of authority is different. Earthly kingdoms are led by men, while Jesus’s kingdom has its authority in heaven.
  • Their ability to influence the behavior of their citizens are different. Earthly kingdoms seek to reform behavior by use of outward force, while Jesus’s kingdom seeks to inwardly transform hearts.
  • Their boundaries are different. Earthly kingdoms are divided by geographic or racial boundaries, while Jesus’s kingdom is universal in nature.
  • Their source of power is different. Earthly kingdoms look to the power of the cross (or other weapons used to impose the threat of death), while Jesus’s kingdom looks to the power of the cross (i.e. the willingness to submit to death).

But of upmost importance, we must not miss the one key difference that Jesus actually points to in His answer.

  • Their response to evil is different. “If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would have been fighting”

When Jesus used the phrase “of this world” He was not speaking of the geographic location of His kingdom, but rather He was referring to the world’s way of doing things. For example, Jesus said He came to testify against “the world” because its deeds are evil (Jn. 7.7). Elsewhere John would say, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2.15).

The contrast between “of this world” and “not of this world” is referring to a worldly way of doing things and a Godly way of doing things. The commitment of Jesus’s followers to nonviolence is at the heart of this difference.

Jesus Proved It. Can We?

Jesus didn’t just claim that His Kingdom was not of this world. He pointed to the observable fact that His servants were not fighting as proof.

If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.

Just a short time earlier He has rebuked Peter when Peter attempted to come to his defense (Jn. 18.10-11).Had Peter, or any of the other disciples been fighting at the time, Jesus’ claim would have been completely meaningless. Can you image Pilate’s response if such had been the case? “What do you mean your Kingdom is not of this world!? Then how do you explain the actions of your disciples!?” But as it was, Jesus’ disciples were not fighting, and Jesus’s teaching stood with the weight of observable truth.

Did Jesus Really Teach Non-Violence?

Did Jesus really teach that his disciples should totally and universally reject fighting? Or did Jesus teach that His disciples should refuse to fight in limited situations, while acknowledging the right of the sword to earthly kingdoms?

The argument goes something like this:

“When Jesus said, “If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting”, he acknowledged the right of worldly kingdoms to use violence. By implication, if He and His servants were defending an earthly kingdom, then they would be fighting. Fighting in defense of earthly kingdoms should therefore be seen as at least permissible, and possibly even necessary. As Christians, we are subjects of the kingdoms of this world (Rom. 13.1). Therefore while it is never right to fight for the sake of His non-worldly kingdom, Christians may fight to defend the kingdoms of this world.”

Some Considerations

I know of many faithful Christians who sincerely strive to rightly divide the Scriptures who have arrived at an understanding similar to this. In fact, I myself once held to this limited nonviolence view, and I did so with a most sincere faith. The considerations I wish to offer must not be read as “judgmental” towards anyone who holds that view or had acted upon that view. I wouldn’t want to have my faith unfairly judged by any of my brothers or sisters, and I assure you, that is not the intent of these considerations. Due to my belief that my Christian brothers and sisters who hold this view do so out of a love for truthfully understanding Scripture, I invite you to wrestle with some of these objections.

If you can answer these objections with satisfaction, you will continue to hold your view with even more confidence. If such is the case, I hope you will share with me your counter-objections so that I too can continue to strive for a better understanding.

If perhaps you cannot think of a good answer for these objections, for the sake of truth, I hope you will continue to ponder and meditate on these verses with a humility that will accept whatever truth is to be found therein.

  1. Jesus did not express approval for fighting for earthly kingdoms

The argument is based upon an unproved assumption: that it is right for all servants of worldly kingdoms to fight for those kingdoms. The argument acknowledges that it would be wrong to fight for the kingdom of God. In this argument, the rightness or the wrongness of fighting depends on the nature of the kingdom being defended.

However, if the text is studied carefully it is seen that Jesus was making a clear distinction between the nature of His kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, between the servants of His kingdom and the servants of the Kingdoms of the world. He simply stated, without approval or disapproval, the recognizable fact that servants of earthly kingdoms fight for those kingdoms, while His servants were not fighting for His kingdom. If it is right to fight in the defense of worldly kingdoms, that position must be proved elsewhere in Scripture. It cannot be assumed from John 18.36.

  1. The servants of Christ of whom He spoke were also subjects of an earthly kingdom

The argument holds the position that Christians are right to fight for earthly kingdoms because of their dual citizenship and dual allegiance to both the kingdom of God and to their earthly government. Therefore since they are in both kingdoms, they have responsibilities towards both kingdoms. Just as Christians stand in defense of the Kingdom of God, so they should also stand in defense of their earthly kingdom.

Yet we must remember that the non-fighting servants of Jesus also had earthly citizenship in the nation of Israel, yet they still refused to fight. They were “in the world” (Jn. 17.11), but they were not “of the world” (Jn. 17.16). The distinction between Jesus’s servants and the servants of earthly kingdoms remained despite the fact that they were subjects and servants of an earthly kingdom. If we were to draw any implications from Jesus’s words, we must say “The servants of the kingdoms of the world (with the exclusion of Jesus’s servants, who though “in the world” are not “of the world”) fight for those kingdoms.”

  1. The thing that makes Jesus’s kingdom “not of this world” is the character of the servants

We cannot say that it is wrong to fight for the kingdom of God because of its spiritual nature, but it is right to fight for earthly kingdoms because of their physical nature. When Jesus drew a distinction between His kingdom and worldly kingdoms, the distinction did not rely on the nature of the kingdoms themselves, but rather on the nature of the servants of those kingdoms.

The spiritual nature of God’s kingdom does not prevent anyone from fighting for it. Theoretically, if someone decided to use violence in defense of the principles of God’s kingdom, they could. They could easily pick up a gun and fight against someone in the name of defending  spiritual principles of justice, righteousness, feeding the hungry or limiting the spread of evil in the world. In fact, people fight for Godly ideals such as these all the time. That doesn’t make it right, but it is certainly possible to fight for the principles and ideals of the kingdom of God. The nature of the Kingdom of God and its spiritual principles does not prevent anyone from fighting for it, except to the extent that its nature has changed the nature of its servants.

Christians love their enemies (Mt. 5.43-36), leave judgment to God (Rom. 12.17-21), pursue “peace with all men” (Heb. 12.14), and follow in the nonviolent steps of Christ (1 Pet. 2.21-24). This character does not change when they are called to defend a kingdom of an earthly nature. That is because their commitment to Christ never changes. If anything, they see the threat of earthly enemies as an opportunity to make the distinction between earthly kingdoms and God’s kingdom even more profound.

Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world. Can we prove it?

Recognizing the Real Enemy in Charlottesville

The political violence and hate demonstrated in Charlottesville over the weekend was as predictable as it was tragic. One person was killed, and dozens others were injured, and hateful rhetoric continues to be spewed back and forth between the different sides. In a society where politics is seen as the answer to almost every problem, battle lines are frequently drawn, goodwill is quickly eroded, and the very worst in people is often brought to the surface.

When such battle lines are drawn it is dangerously easy to over simplify matters of good and evil. It is dangerously easy to condemn Antifa with its violent left wing rhetoric. It is dangerously easy to vilify the alt-Right, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and fascists. Everyone is expected to pick a side. It is dangerously easy to turn certain politicians into the devil, or to turn the media into a slew of demons. It is dangerously easy to typify “those like us” as basically good and “people like them” as basically evil. We tend to turn ourselves into angels and our opponents into Satanic forces of evil. It is easy to think this way and far more convenient than having to step back from the rhetoric we continually see on social media and think clearly about right and wrong.

The Real Enemy

Jesus was born into a society where thoughts of revolution and war were brewing. Political violence was becoming more and more common. Israel thought of themselves as the “good guys.” After all, they were “God’s chosen nation.” The Romans were the bad guys. People longed for a “Messiah” who would raise an army and throw off the yoke of gentile oppression once and for all and thus usher in the promised “last days” and “age to come.” Every few years a self proclaimed “Messiah” would come along, gain some support, and try to do just that – usually resulting in crucifixion and bloodshed at the hand of the Romans.

Then comes Jesus. Jesus was also ready to fight a battle, but it wasn’t the battle people were expecting Him to fight. It wasn’t even the same kind of battle. In fact, based on the Sermon on the Mount we see that fighting itself, in the normal physical sense, was precisely what Jesus was not going to do. Jesus was fighting against a different kind of enemy all together.

Jesus saw Himself as fighting a battle against Satan and his evil spiritual forces.

And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan. – Mark 1.13

What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him. – Mark 1.27

He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who he was. – Mark 1.34

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. – Mark 3.11-12

The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul”… “And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.” – Mark 3.22-27

Immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him…He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”…

And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. – Mark 5.1-20

And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. – Luke 10.18

And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day? – Luke 13.16

Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat. – Luke 22.31

The devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him… After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. – John 3.2, 27

For all the things I don’t understand about Satan, unclean spirits, and demons, one thing is certain: Jesus recognized the reality of dark spiritual forces at work in the world.

If we will take a moment and recognize the existence of Satan and his spiritual forces, and if we consider that Satan is capable of influencing “us” as well as “them”, then our focus should shift. In all four gospels, Jesus only directly addresses Satan by that name two times. The first time was during the wilderness temptations (Mt. 4.10). The other was when he was rebuking one of his closest friends for resisting God’s plan (Mk. 8.33).

When we see conflict between two parties, it is not a simple as just picking a side. If we will learn to view the world in light of this spiritual reality, the battle lines shift. It is no longer a battle between “us” and “them”. The battle is between God and Satan.

With this new reality in view, enemies can be seen as within reach of God’s blessings. And our allies, those whom we have always thought of as fighting on the “right” side, suddenly need to be examined a little closer.

The Real Battle

Jesus recognized that He came to fight a war. It wasn’t a war of independence from the Romans. It wasn’t a revolution against King Herod. He didn’t join a fight for national freedom. He didn’t go to war against oppressive and hateful political powers. He didn’t seek to overthrow corrupt local leaders.

The real battle was far deeper, far more significant, and far more important. Jesus was in battle against Satan himself. And though Satan certainly used the Romans and influenced the Jewish leaders, Jesus continually remembered that Satan was not one to be identified with any of these.

It was necessary for Him to keep his mind set on this truth, for had Jesus turned and identified the Romans or the Jews as his enemy, and opposed them rather than opposing Satan, He most certainly would have lost the real battle.

The Real Victory

If Jesus saw Satan as the real enemy, how did He suppose the battle would be won? Early in His ministry in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had pointed forwards to how this battle was to be won. The enemy would be defeated, not by a political victory over his opponents, but rather by turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and demonstrating love towards his enemies (Mt. 5.38-48). This is how the Kingdom of Heaven would be established and the victory would be won.

Of course the end result of such so-called “foolishness” is predictable. Everybody knows what happens to people who don’t fight back: the bad guys win and the good guys lose. The fact that Jesus ended up being crucified should strike us as no surprise.

And yet, it was in this “loss” to his so called “enemies” that the real victory over the real enemy was secured.

By refusing to resist evil, Jesus refused Satan. By resisting the opportunity to revile his enemies in return, Jesus resisted Satan. By withstanding any desire to threaten his enemies, Jesus withstood Satan. When Jesus overcame the cross, He overcame Satan. By his willingness to “lose”, the real victory was won. “By His wounds, you were healed.” (2 Peter 2.22-23).

What this means for Charlottesville

What does all of this mean for Charlottesville, and all the other political conflicts we see in the world? It means that it is time for us as Christians to fight. Or as Peter put it: “arm yourselves!”

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with this same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4.1-2

Or consider the way Paul summed up this warfare:

Stand firm against the schemes of the devil, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Put on the full armor of God! – Ephesians 6.11-13

We are at war. But it is eternally important that we recognize who the real enemy is. We are in a battle against Satan. To defeat Satan we must arm ourselves, but not with just any weapon of our choosing. The weapon we must take with us is the mindset of Christ. The armor we must put on is the armor of God.

If we go to war against the wrong enemy, we will of necessity have to take up the wrong weapons. If matters are oversimplified, the only path to victory over hate, is with hate; the only victory over violence, is with violence; the only victory over political power is to seize political power. If we seek to win the battle against the wrong enemy we will lose the war against Satan.

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in Spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for this very purpose – 1 Peter 3.8-9

Resurrection: The Redemption of Our Bodies

(You can go back and read a preliminary article, “After Life: Where Do Christians Go When they Die?” here.)

The Christian hope is for a bodily resurrection from the dead.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. – Philippians 3.20-21

Observe:

  • We are waiting for Jesus to come from heaven
  • When He does, He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body
  • He will do this by the authority that He possesses to subject all things to Himself.

This, right here, contains in a nutshell what the whole New Testament teaches about the subject of resurrection. The risen Jesus is both the model for the Christian’s future body and the means by which we will receive that body.

Similarly notice Colossians 3.3-4:

You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Observe:

  • Going to be with Jesus in some sort of invisible, hidden existence, is not the final hope.
  • In fact, we are already “with Christ in God” right now, in a hidden secret way.
  • What will change is that our secret and hidden existence with Christ will be revealed. It will become unhidden. It will become visible.

Perhaps the clearest passage on the bodily resurrection can be found in Romans 8.9-11:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Observe:

  • If the Spirit of God dwells in you…
  • Then the same Spirit that rose Jesus’ body from the grave…
  • Will give life to your mortal bodies.

Paul was not the only New Testament author who wrote of the resurrection.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. – 1 John 3.1-2

Once again, the resurrected body of Jesus, with all its glory and purity, will be the model for our own transformed bodies.

John records Jesus making some of the clearest statements about the resurrection:

Truly, truly, I say unto you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgement, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. – John 5.25-29

All who are in the graves will come forth! Just as Jesus’ body was not left in the grave, so also, when we receive our new bodies, will our graves be emptied. His body somehow used up the substance that was left in the grave. Our current body will not disappear, nor will those old bodies be left in the grave but rather will be transformed to be as He is.

No study of the resurrection would be complete without considering Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.

In 2 Corinthians 4.7-10, Paul compares our current bodies to jars of clay. Currently, in these bodies, we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, always “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.”

In verse 16-18, Paul reminds us that the reason we do not lose heart is because of the coming eternal glory. Paul then continues his discussion by comparing our bodies to temporary, earthly “tents”, and contrasting that with our future, permanently built “house” of a body.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. – 2 Corinthians 5.1-5

We are going to put off our earthly tent (or tabernacle). There is a new house, a new dwelling place, a new body that is waiting for us in heaven with God. We earnestly wait to be clothed with this new body from heaven. Our current, mortal bodies will be swallowed up in life.

Observe: When we receive our new bodies, we will not be clothed less than we are now. We will be clothed more than we are now. If Paul is right (and he is), right now we are only a shadow of our future selves. Our future bodies will be even more real, even more complete, and far more permanent than our current bodies.

Two Different Types of Bodies

And finally we come to 1 Corinthians 15, the most complete discussion on the resurrection found in Scripture.

Apparently there were some in Corinth who were denying that our bodies would actually be resurrected from the dead. Paul discusses just how central this is to Christianity.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15.16-20

Not only is the resurrection a reality, but the harvest of the resurrection has already begun. Christ is described as the “first fruit”. He is the model of what is to follow with the rest of us. Our graves will be empty like His. Our bodies will be raised like His. We will have bodies like his.

Paul continues to address objections to this idea by demonstrating that our future body will be different from our current body. To speak of a bodily resurrection does not imply that our future bodies will be exactly like our current bodies.

It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man’, Adam, ‘Became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. – 1 Corinthians 15.42-45.

Our current bodies are dishonorable and weak. They are described as “natural”. The Greek word here is “psyckikos”, sometimes translated “physical”. That is, a body that is animated or governed by the “psyche”, the Greek word for “breath” or “soul.” (Notice the comparison to Adam, who was a “living soul”).

Our future bodies are described as glorious, powerful, or “spiritual.” The Greek word for “spiritual” is “pneumatikos”. That is, a body that is animated or governed by the “pneuma”, the Greek word for the “Spirit”. (Notice the comparison to Jesus, the second Adam, who became a “life-giving spirit”).

Unfortunately, in the English language “physical” and “spiritual” are often used to denote “tangible” from things “non-tangible”. Therefore some have used this verse to suggest that our future existence will be less than bodily.

Notice carefully that Paul did not compare a physical body with a spiritual non-bodily existence. Paul compared two types of bodies. One type of body will be animated by man’s soul, and the other type will be animated by God’s spirit. If we are to be animated and governed by the Spirit, this necessitates that we have some sort of body that will be animated.

Will it be different from our current bodies? Absolutely. When Jesus was given a resurrected body, he could do some pretty weird things, like showing up in a room with his disciples without opening a door to come in (John 20.19-20). Yet He most certainly existed in a Spirit-governed, tangible, bodily existence; a body which could be touched and which could eat fish (John 21.12-14).

Why This is So Important

As Paul concludes his discussion of the resurrection, he does not say, “So therefore, it doesn’t really matter what you do here and now with your body, because one day we are all just going to die and go to heaven, somewhere above the bright blue, in some sort of non-bodily existence, floating on clouds and playing harps forever.”

He says:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 15.58

Belief in the bodily resurrection includes the belief that what we do right now with our bodies is important. The work we do for the Lord will not simply be left behind us in the grave. But rather because our bodies will rise again and be incorruptible, what we do right now in our bodies matters. Because of the resurrection, we have work to do, work that is not in vain. The Christian hope is not looking forward to the day when we fly away from our bodies to somewhere above the clouds, but rather our victory is found in the bodily resurrection from the dead.

O death, where is your victory;

O death, where is your sting?