a column from the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 6: Numbers 1-5, 1994.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
This column is based on questions and answers excerpted from the "Bible Answer Man," CRI's live call-in radio broadcast. In this issue of the Newsletter, Ken Samples addresses the question, "If the Bible is so clear, why are there so many denominations?"
When the Protestant Reformers spoke of the "perspicuity" of Scripture, they meant that the Bible was clear and understandable when it came to its central message.
Contrary to the medieval Roman Catholic idea that the Bible was a difficult and obscure book, the founders of Protestantism asserted that any literate person could comprehend the gospel through the pages of Scripture. The Reformers were not saying that all of Scripture was equally clear, nor that scholarly study was not necessary. But they were asserting the essential clarity of the Word of God. In addition, this doctrine of perspicuity undercut the Catholic idea that only the magisterium (teaching office of the church) could rightly interpret Scripture.
Responsible interpretation of the Bible by private individuals was thus encouraged by the Reformers. However, they insisted that sound hermeneutics (interpretive principles) were essential in order to avoid a destructive subjectivism.
But again, if the Bible is so clear, why are there so many denominations? The great Reformed theologian J. I. Packer has asserted a forceful threefold answer.
- - First, the real and substantial division within the Christian ranks is not caused by those who accept the Protestant principle of sola scriptura, which recognizes Scripture alone as the supreme authority (perspicuity being an underlying principle), but by those, Catholic or Protestant, who do not.
- - Second, the splitting into denominations has frequently been caused by sin rather than biblical interpretation in and of itself.
- - And third, the issues which divide Protestants are secondary issues and can actually be reduced to six areas. These important but secondary issues are: (1) God's sovereignty and man's freedom, (2) the Lord's Supper, (3) ecclesiology (church order), (4) church/state issues, (5) baptism, and (6) eschatology (the study of last things). One explanation for the differences on secondary issues is that different groups use slightly different hermeneutical approaches. As well, no one has all the spiritual and scholarly gifts and abilities to rightly interpret every detail of Scripture. It should also be pointed out that Catholicism, regardless of the teaching magisterium, has as much diversity as Protestantism.
The message of salvation is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. And God speaks to us directly in the Scriptures, which is our only infallible authority. For more information on the clarity of the Bible, see J. I. Packer, "'Sola Scriptura' in History and Today," in God's Inerrant Word (Bethany), edited by John Warwick Montgomery, and R. C. Sproul's Knowing Scripture (InterVarsity Press).
Volume 6: Number 2
This column is based on questions and answers excerpted from the "Bible Answer Man," CRI's live call-in radio broadcast. In this issue of the Newsletter, Ron Rhodes addresses the question, "How do you respond to a Jehovah's Witness who claims that the 'great multitude' of Revelation 7:9 will spend eternity not in heaven (with the so-called 'anointed class') but on an earthly paradise?"
Revelation 7:9 says: "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands."
Notice that this verse refers to this group as "standing before the throne and before the Lamb." Jehovah's Witnesses try to argue that "before the throne" simply means that the great multitude is on earth but "in sight of the throne." But this is not at all what is being communicated here. The picture is of a great multitude that is physically present before God's throne in heaven, just as the angels are before God's throne (v. 11).
The Greek word used in this verse for "before" (enopion) is used a number of times in Revelation for being in the physical presence of God's throne. For example, the word is used in Revelation 5:8 where we are told that "the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." The word is used in Revelation 7:11 where we read: "And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God." The word is also used in Revelation 14:3 where we read of the 144,000: "And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders."
The word is used in the exact same sense in Revelation 7:9, which says that the great multitude is "before the throne" of God. According to the authoritative Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, this Greek word is used in Revelation 7:9 not in the sense of "in sight of" but in the sense: "of place, before someone or something." In other words, it is used in the sense of being in the physical presence of God's throne.
Notice what is said about this great multitude in Revelation 7:15: "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple." Where is God's "temple" located? Point out to the Jehovah's Witness that Revelation 11:19 refers to "the temple of God which is in heaven." Revelation 14:17 likewise says: "And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven."
Obviously, if the great multitude serves God day and night in His temple (Rev. 7:15), and if the temple is in heaven (Rev. 11:19; 14:17), then the great multitude is in heaven and not on earth as the Watchtower Society tries to argue. The great multitude is "before the throne," "before the Lamb," and they serve God day and night "in His temple" which is "in heaven." What could be clearer? To say that the great multitude is on earth is to completely ignore the context of Revelation 7 and 14.
There is one further argument you can add to the above. A good cross-reference for Revelation 7:9 is Revelation 19:1-2: "After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God'" (italics added). Ask the Jehovah's Witness how he or she interprets the phrase, "great multitude in heaven."
Volume 6: Number 3
This column is based on questions and answers excerpted from the "Bible Answer Man", CRI's live call-in radio broadcast. In this issue of the "Newsletter," Ken Samples addresses the question, "Does Proverbs 8:22 refer to wisdom personified, or is this a reference to Jesus Christ?"
The New International Version renders Proverbs 8:22, "The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old." The New American Standard Bible renders this verse, "The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old."
The exact interpretation of Proverbs 8 (especially v. 22) has been widely disputed by biblical scholars over the years. Unorthodox groups, both past and present, have interpreted this verse as a reference to Christ and say the verse points to Christ's inferiority and subordination to the Father. Orthodox or evangelical scholars, on the other hand, have responded to this by interpreting the passage in several different ways. We will briefly examine each of these views.
1. Subordination in Proverbs 8? The question as to whether this passage is speaking of the preincarnate Christ goes all the way back to the Arian controversy of the fourth century. The heretical church theologian Arius (A.D. 250-336) taught that Christ was a created being, and was therefore inferior and subordinate to the Father. One of the verses Arius appealed to in support of his view was Proverbs 8:22. One reason for this is that the Hebrew word qanah has, in several translations, been rendered created -- "the Lord created me in the beginning of his way."
A modern counterpart to Arianism is the Jehovah's Witnesses, who cite Proverbs 8:22 to support their teaching that Jesus is a godlike creature. According to the Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus is the first and greatest creation of Jehovah-God.
Bible scholar Bruce M. Metzger points out the weakness of the Watchtower view by demonstrating that the verb qanah does not mean "to create" but carries the idea of "begot." Besides, Metzger notes, it is extremely poor methodology to base one's doctrine on a disputed Old Testament text while ignoring the clear, indisputable New Testament teaching that Jesus is uncreated. Metzger says: "The proper methodology, of course, is to begin with the New Testament, and then to search in the Old Testament for foregleams, types, and prophecies which found their fulfillment in him." ("The Jehovah's Witnesses and Jesus Christ," Theology Today, April 1953, 80)
2. Personification of the Divine Attribute of Wisdom. Many scholars convincingly argue that Proverbs 8 is not speaking of Christ at all, but is merely personifying the attribute of wisdom. One of the strongest reasons for accepting this position is that the larger context of the Book of Proverbs is the discussion of wisdom, with personification of wisdom clearly evident in the first nine chapters (see Derek Kidner, Proverbs [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964], 78-79).
3. A Prophetic Reference to Christ. A third interpretation sees the specific context in Proverbs 8 as a discussion of wisdom. However, the description of wisdom is said to be prophetically true of the preexistent Christ (see John 1:1, 3; 17:5; Col. 2:3; 1 Cor. 1:24). Robert Bowman observes that it is unlikely that Proverbs 8:22-31 should be understood "as a description of Christ, though some things said of wisdom there may be fulfilled in a deeper sense in Christ, just as 2 Samuel 7:14 was actually speaking about Solomon, though in a prophetic sense it had a greater fulfillment in Christ (Heb. 1:5b)." (Why You Should Believe in the Trinity [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989], 61)
Which interpretation is best? Since wisdom and understanding are clearly personified in the first nine chapters of Proverbs (see especially Proverbs 8:1-3), and since wisdom is referred to with feminine pronouns (Prov. 9:1), I do not believe this passage refers to Christ at all, but hold rather to the second view listed above.
Volume 6: Number 4
This column is based on questions we are frequently asked at CRI. In this issue of the "Newsletter," Elliot Miller addresses the question: "Can the Devil work miracles?"
According to the American Heritage Dictionary (3d ed.), a miracle is "an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God." To answer the above question, therefore, we must ask two further questions: Is the Devil a supernatural being? Is he capable of dynamically affecting events in our physical world?
Certainly Satan has a created nature with definite limitations, and so in his own realm of existence he is as much a natural being as human beings are in their earthly contexts. As the American Heritage Dictionary indicates, however, an entity can be supernatural without being infinite and uncreated, as long as it is not a part of this creation -- that is, nature or the universe.
It would appear from Scripture that heaven (the abode of angels) and angels themselves are creations distinct from, though capable of interacting with, our natural world (Heb. 9:11). When they do interact with our world, such interactions cannot be explained by any natural laws and so must be considered supernatural. If they interact in such a way that they overrule natural laws in a dramatic fashion, this must be considered a miracle.
Does the prince of fallen angels ever interact in such a dynamic way with the earth? There are many indications in Scripture that he does. For example, in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 we read that the Antichrist's coming is "in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders." This would seem to be a very explicit affirmation of satanic power operative in human affairs.
Now, the last-mentioned manifestation, "false wonders," is sometimes interpreted to be nothing more than ingenious prestidigitation (sleight-of-hand). Such an interpretation, however, is hard to square with the appearance of the word power in this verse. That word strongly suggests that the falseness (Greek: pseudous = lying) of these wonders lies in their deceptive effect (leading men to believe a lie), not in their being phony wonders. As Thayer states in his lexicon, these are "lying wonders exhibited for the treacherous purpose of deceiving men."
The teaching concerning the Antichrist, both here and throughout the New Testament, consistently portrays a man who is genuinely empowered to work supernatural signs and wonders in order to lead astray, "if possible, even the very elect." In Revelation 13 he recovers from a deadly wound (satanic healing?). His protege, the false prophet, calls fire out of the heavens. These signs are a manifestation of the fact that the dragon in verse 3 gives the Antichrist "his power and his throne and great authority."
In verse 14 it says of the false prophet: "He deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast." What was given to him, the ability to do world-class prestidigitation? No! According to His sovereign will God allows the Devil to bring his influence to bear upon the natural order of things in a powerful way. That's why when we read in verse 15, "And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed," the natural interpretation would seem to be that some diabolical miracle -- not some technological wonder -- is taking place in order to deceive the entire world.
This does not mean that Satan has power comparable to God's; one is finite and the other infinite. Satan can only go as far as God -- in His redemptive and just purposes -- will allow him (Job 1:6-2:10). Therefore, while we are instructed to be on guard against Satan's advances (1 Pet. 5:8), we are never told to fear him, for "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Volume 6: Number 5
This column is based on questions we are frequently asked at CRI. In this issue of the Newsletter, Ron Rhodes addresses the question: "What does Philippians 2:6-11 mean when it speaks of Christ making Himself 'nothing'? Did Jesus surrender His deity in the Incarnation?"
In Philippians 2:6-7, Paul, speaking of the Incarnation, says that Christ, "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."
Paul's affirmation of Christ "being in very nature God" is extremely significant. The word being is a present tense participle and carries the idea of continued existence as God. Here the thought is that Christ always has been in the form of God with the implication that He still is.
This being so, in what way did Christ "make himself nothing" when He became incarnate? I believe there are three primary issues involved: the veiling of Christ's preincarnate glory, a voluntary nonuse of some of His divine attributes on some occasions, and the condescension involved in taking on the likeness of a human being.
The Veiling of Christ's Preincarnate Glory. Scripture indicates it was necessary for Jesus to veil His preincarnate glory in order to dwell among mortal men (cf. John 17:5). Jesus did not surrender His glory, however. Recall that on the Mount of Transfiguration (prior to His crucifixion), Jesus allowed His intrinsic glory to shine forth for a brief time, illuminating the whole mountainside (Matt. 17).
Had Christ not veiled His preincarnate glory while on earth, humankind would not have been able to behold Him. It would have been the same as when the apostle John, over fifty years after Christ's resurrection, beheld Christ in His glory and said: "I fell at His feet as though dead" (Rev. 1:17).
Christ's Voluntary Nonuse of Some Divine Attributes on Some Occasions. It would seem that Christ submitted to a voluntary nonuse of some of His divine attributes on some occasions in order for Him to accomplish His redemptive objectives. Of course, Christ could never have actually surrendered any of His attributes, for then He would have ceased to be God.
Though Christ sometimes chose not to use His divine attributes, at other times He did use them. For example, on different occasions during His three-year ministry, Jesus exercised the divine attributes of omniscience (John 11:11), omnipresence (John 1:48), and omnipotence (John 11:43-44). Hence, whatever limitations Christ may have suffered when He "made himself nothing" (Phil. 2:7), He did not subtract a single divine attribute or in any sense make Himself less than God.
Why did Jesus choose on occasion not to use some of His divine attributes? It would seem that Christ did this in keeping with His purpose of living among human beings and their limitations. He does not seem to have ever used His divine attributes on His own behalf, though certainly His attributes were gloriously displayed in the many miracles He performed for others.
To be more specific, the scriptural testimony indicates that Christ never used His omniscience (for example) to make His own life as a human being easier. He suffered all the inconveniences of first-century life even though in His omniscience He had full knowledge of every human device ever conceived for human comfort. Nor did Christ use His omnipotence to make His life as a human easier. Though Jesus as God could have, in His omnipotence, just willed Himself from Bethany to Jerusalem and He would have been instantly there, He instead traveled by foot like every other human and experienced fatigue in the process.
In a capsule, then, Christ restricted the benefits of His divine attributes as they pertained to His walk on earth and voluntarily chose not to use His powers to lift Himself above human limitations.
Christ's Condescension. Most important, Christ's making Himself "nothing" had to do with the condescension involved in becoming a man. That this is meant by Paul is clear in his affirmation that in the Incarnation Christ was "taking the very nature of a servant," "being made in human likeness," and "being found in appearance as a man" (Phil. 2:7-8). The Incarnation thus involved a gaining of human attributes and not a giving up of divine attributes.
As J. I. Packer put it, "He was no less God then [in the Incarnation] than before; but He had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of His deity, but God plus all that He had made His own by taking manhood to Himself."
1. Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1979), 50.
End of document, CRN0061A.TXT (original CRI file name), "Bible Answer Man: Questions and Answers" release A, July 15, 1994 R. Poll, CRI
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