Quoting the Non-Quotes of Scripture

CNN ran on article titled “Actually, that’s not in the Bible” on their Belief Blog on June 5.  The blog talks about how the Bible is “the most revered book in America” but is also the most misquoted.

The blog is on target–except when the writer quotes Kevin Dunn (Tufts University) and Sidnie White Crawford, one of my former professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Regarding the popular thought that “Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life,” Dunn says, “Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent…Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years.”

The problem Dunn has is that he is not reading Scripture through a lens of redemption. He reads it merely as literature (in fact, his most recent academic paper delivered was titled “Reading the Bible as Literature,” in 2004).

Who else could the serpent have been? God spoke to the serpent and said in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The Church has traditionally called this the protoevangelium–Latin for “first gospel.” God is the one who first preaches the gospel through a prophetic proclamation. Christ (notice how God says, “he” and “his”) is the offspring of the woman (Gal. 4:4), and he has been ordained by God the Father to be bruised and crushed to physical death (Isa. 53:4-5). However, this death will liberate the souls of sinful men (which began with Adam and Eve, Rom. 5). Christ stamps his defeat of Satan with his resurrection from the dead. Thus Christ delivers a fatal spiritual blow as he conquers sin, death, and hell (Col. 2:151 John 3:8Heb. 2:14).

Regarding the age-old phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” the writer seeks Crawford’s opinion. He writes:

It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

The problem Crawford has is that she fails, like all secular biblical scholars, to see that the Bible is not a book that aims at moral reform, but a book that speaks of a perfect Hero who came to save bad people who don’t have the ability to reform.

This Franklin-invented phrase does not contradict “the biblical definition of goodness,” as Crawford confidently says.  It contradicts the biblical theme of grace: that Jesus came to save his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10), people who were not worthy of salvation (1 Tim. 1:15-16), and could not do anything on their own to have spiritual life (Eph. 2:1-9).  God helps only those who come to Jesus, by grace, forsaking any merit of their own to say, “I am completely unable to help myself.”

I commend the CNN post to you, but read it with a discerning mind. Remember, the Bible is God’s story and it cannot be emphasized enough that each mini-story is either a gentle whisper or a booming shout that speaks of Jesus Christ.

Life Theology

A Few More Verses on Hell

These verses (from the Gospel of Matthew alone) show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus preached an eternal, conscious, fiery torment awaits those who do not receive and believe in Jesus as the only way to God.

Throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:42)

Throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:50)

Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt. 22:13)

[The master] will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:51)

And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt. 25:30)

The words “outer darkness,” “fiery furnace,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are all descriptions Jesus uses to tell us what hell is like.

You can deny that Jesus is Lord and believe hell does not exist. But you cannot deny that Jesus and the Bible are silent about hell. That option is not on the table.



America, Christians, Glenn Beck, and the Gospel

Russell Moore writes about Christianity and American politics on his blog.  The problem isn’t the politicians or entertainers (like Glenn Beck, who inspired this post) or their banter.  The problem is Christian churches in the United States and how they respond.  Here’s a taste of Moore’s article:

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

…Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

This is, of course, not new. Our Lord Jesus faced this test when Satan took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth, and their glory. Satan did not mind surrendering his authority to Jesus. He didn’t mind a universe without pornography or Islam or abortion or nuclear weaponry. Satan did not mind Judeo-Christian values. He wasn’t worried about “revival” or “getting back to God.” What he opposes was the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of the world.

Read the whole thing.

(HT: Bryan Lilly)


God is a Strong Tower

When I was younger and heard or read, “God is a strong tower,” my mind immediately went to an image like the one above.  What you are looking at is your run-of-the-mill state park viewing tower.  It’s actually not very strong.  It’s not very powerful.  It can’t actually protect you.  And it’s not very threatening, unless you fall on the steps and get cut by those nasty steel holes.

Psalm 61:3 says, “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”  When Scripture says that God is a “strong tower” it means that he is more like a fort during wartime with 6-foot thick cement walls and razor wire on top, a treacherous moat surrounding, snipers ready at lookout points, and mines leading up to the gate.

I’m not trying to be severely violent, but I need to visualize what David mans when he says God is a strong tower against his enemy. We live in the midst of a war — not against Al Qaeda or the Taliban or North Korea.  Those are real enemies in the real world, but ultimately we battle against sin, the world, and the devil.  And when any one or all three seem to be bearing down on our souls, we have a refuge, a Strong Tower, who is actually able to defend, protect, and provide.


Some of My Thoughts About Hell

In the previous post, I posted on a sermon from my church.  As I’m blogging through my church’s sermons, I should make a note that I don’t necessarily agree with everything that the speaker says.  In this week’s sermon, there were a few things that I took issue with.  I have no doubt that preacher was sincere and loving in his intentions and I am in no way questioning his study or integrity.  He said nothing heretical by any means, and of course, you can only say so much in a 35-minute sermon.  I hope to be gracious to him, but I do want to share my thoughts on some things I disagreed with.

  • In the sermon, the pastor made the point that “hell is ultimately the separation of people from the presence of God (Point 1.3).  The passage he quoted was 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10.  This is true, but not all the way true.  I think that more explanation is needed because the word “presence” communicates an awful lot. I disagree with the flat statement that hell is the “separation of people from God’s presence” for this simple reason: God is omnipresent, he cannot not be somewhere. That includes hell.  Instead of just saying that hell is “separation of people from the presence of the Lord,” we should widen our view.  More than that, hell is the “separation of people from the majestic, glorious presence of the Lord.” Hell is, in fact, “an eternity of suffering the destructive, wrathful, fiery presence of the Lord, experiencing the presence of the darkness of his judgment.” Satan is not the one tormenting people in hell since he himself is being tormented (Rev. 20:10).  So hell is not ultimately about being separated from God, but more about experiencing God’s wrath because of unrepentance. When Christ died on the cross he took on the concentrated wrath of God, which we were deserving of, so that we might not have to experience that wrath in hell. (Check out Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 2:5, 8; 5:9; Col. 3:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9; Rev. 19:15.) For more on this, see R.C. Sproul’s comments on the subject.
  • The pastor also quotes C.S. Lewis saying, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”  I don’t think that Lewis is a reliable source when it comes to hell.  He’s not so orthodox there.  Piper has said it a lot better than I can, but in short, I don’t think anyone chooses hell.  Just because you don’t choose God doesn’t mean you, by default, choose hell.  When I think of someone “choosing” something, I think of something they want.  Certainly no person would ever want the hell that Jesus describes.  They might chose their own hell or something that is preferable to the “borningness of heaven” (though heaven won’t be boring), but they aren’t choosing the literal hell of the Bible that unregenerate people go to after death.  Piper put it this way: “What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want — certainly not what they ‘most want.’ Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.”
  • Finally, as he closed, the pastor said that John 3:16 (i.e. the “so loved” part of the verse) communicates how much God loves the world.  This is not the correct translation of “so loved.”  God does love the world more than you or I ever could, but that is not what Jesus is telling Nicodemus in John 3.  What Jesus is telling Nicodemus is this: “God loved the world this way.”   What way?  “Namely, that God sent his Son Jesus Christ that whoever believes in him will not experience the death of hell.”  Jesus coming to earth is a tangible, real illustration of what kind of love God has for the world he created.

So there are some thoughts.  Please feel free to interact with them and offer your thoughts as well.