All posts by Gretchen Passantino

Co-founder and director Answers In Action, one of the oldest & most respected Christian apologetics organizations in America. Teacher, speaker, mentor, communicator, author.

Everything Old Is New Again: Our Love Story

© Copyright 2005 by Pat & Gretchen Passantino Coburn

The prince & the fox

 [This is our true story as we wrote it together and then printed it in our wedding folder August 27, 2005.]

The young girl was new in her faith and only 14. It was a turbulent, confusing time ‑‑ 1967 in Southern California. Drugs, rock and roll, social unrest. The young girl met a young man. He was 20. A lonely Marine far from home, just back from Viet Nam, not knowing what his future held. She called him “Old Man;” he called her “Little Girl.” He gave her her first kiss as they sat on a warm wall in the sunshine and smelled the orange blossoms. They held hands in the back seat as her father glared at the young Marine through the rear‑view mirror.

Hippies_Dancing

When he left for Viet Nam the second time, he took her heart with him wrapped in a ribbon from her hair. He didn’t mind getting razzed by his buddies at mail call when she sent him perfumed letters covered with mushy stuff. He made it back alive, and she was a little older and he was a little tireder.

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They read The Little Prince together and she called him her little fox, and he called her his rose. He finished his USMC commitment. She was older. He was tireder. She risked her father’s anger and slipped next to the young man as he slept on the living room couch. They lay together and he whispered, “Do you want to stay a virgin?” And she whispered, “Yes.” And he held her and honored her.

Littleprince

They had tamed each other, so it hurt when he went away. But he thought she deserved someone better; she thought she didn’t deserve him. He never came back, thinking that, after all, she is so much younger. She deserves a chance at life with someone better. So he never came back.

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She tasted the world’s delights as ashes, roaming aimlessly and alone for a while, and then she grew up. She abandoned herself to God, and later her husband & children. She enjoyed everything and everyone that God gave her. She poured herself into her children, nurturing them.

But she never forgot. Not when she read aloud to her children from The Lord of the Rings he had given her. Not when she opened the jewelry box he brought back from Thailand. Not when she saw the cross with the broken chain he had once placed around her neck. And so she prayed for him, and hoped that he was happy in the Lord. Many years passed, years of happiness and sorrow, joy and pain, strength and vulnerability; years strung together with faith and loyalty to God’s Word.

LOTR Edition

He found another, married, had a fine son, found Christ, divorced, married again, another fine son. Life was, well – life. Some sweet, some bitter, but always, when he smelled orange blossoms, or saw blue hair ribbons, or especially when he was alone at night, he remembered his rose. And at those times, his heart was both comforted and destroyed, for even though he tried his best to push her out of his life, she always survived, hiding, waiting to pop up and surprise him. And at those times he said “I hope, I pray, that her life is full and happy, and she has peace.” And then he would softly put her away again.

Blue Lace Hair Ribbon

Her husband died and she lost her spouse, ministry partner and children’s father. But God was not finished with her. He strengthened her, comforted her, blessed her. Everyone said, “She’s so strong! She’s handling this so well!” And she thought, “Don’t they know that it’s God’s power in me, not myself?” And a year later she looked back on her year of loss and counted it a year of gain, despite its origin in death.

She felt a little guilty for her discontent. So she asked God’s forgiveness for her greediness. “Please,” she prayed, “just one more blessing. Please bless me with contentment in loneliness.” And she prayed every day, and waited for God to answer her. Life continued. She was nearly content.

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For him, years had passed; His sons had grown to be fine young men. He was blessed with two beautiful grandchildren. His marriage was miserable, although there were good moments; but there was no trust. So afterwards, for many years, he slept alone, thought alone, lost hope, lost himself.

Then he had a dream. Dreams are strange, but this one was also unusual. It was about his rose, and although he could not remember much of the dream, when he awoke his heart was broken. The memory of her presence was as strong as it had been all those years ago, when he had left her unattended, and alone.

So he started to search for her, and one day saw her name – a new name, but he knew it was her – and after drying some tears and quelling some fears, he wrote to her.

Dream Rose

And she saw a name in the midst of her e‑mails. The same name as her little fox. What a coincidence, that he would come to mind just now. Then she read it. It was her little fox. His message was simple and innocent, but with the power to slay her: I hope this finds you well and happy, though I know of your recent loss and am truly sorry. You seem to have found peace and contentment in your life, and that knowledge brings me the same. If you wish to reply, I would be grateful. If not, let me thank you for being a wonderful and loving person. I do think of you often, and even though it may be moot to you, I do want to ask your forgiveness for being so cruel so long ago. I have paid for it.

She wrote back very carefully. She was no longer a young, naive teenager. He was just being kind and nostalgic. He couldn’t have planned to prick her heart again. How could he? She hadn’t known there would be such power in his name, his words. She replied, Looking back now I think a Marine far from home and facing death needed a young girl to admire and worship him, and a young girl insecure in the foreign land of late 1960s Southern California needed a boyfriend who was half a world away. And when it was over, it was very realistic that a relationship of a young teenager to someone nearly 7 years older was not a good idea. And inside she longed for the truth of the secret the fox had told the Young Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

At first he only saw the first part of her message: I’m in New York. I’m very busy. I’ll write you in a couple of weeks. Well, what did he expect? That she would feel the same as he did? How foolish! Be content that she is alive, she is successful, she is happy. That is much more than he ever expected to know. But he saw, or thought he did, a little glimmer of interest, of sadness? Maybe, what if, no, don’t be crazy, how could that be?

Prince & Fox Reunite

They corresponded. Always careful to stay clear of the thorns, to avoid the teeth, to keep themselves guarded. She told no one. God could not mean anything to come from this. She had asked only for contentment in loneliness. She deserved and expected no more, if that. But he haunted her dreams. And memories clouded her days.

The phone rang. She saw his name on the caller ID. She forced him to identify himself so he wouldn’t know she had been distracted for hours, her hand inches from the silent phone. They talked until the batteries went dead. They described themselves — older, wrinkled, lumpy, and slow. Not at all like 34 years ago. Both had full lives and were devoted to their children and grandchildren. Both had to make room in their schedules.

They agreed to meet a week later.

Fox & Prince Shake

The little fox and the rose met the next evening in a restaurant parking lot.

She remembered it this way. He jumped out of his truck and hurried toward the restaurant. She was behind him. She called out. He turned and his face lit up, and she saw that young Marine – the close cropped hair, the wind‑burned face, the muscles tightened by training, the ramrod backbone, the loping gait of the warrior. And in a moment she was enveloped in his arms, and they fit together perfectly.

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He remembered that moment this way. He drove to meet her, drove past the restaurant, afraid to stop, drove back. He got out of his truck, headed in. And then he heard the voice call his name; the same voice. He turned, saw her then, his rose. The same beautiful deep eyes, the same smile, the same girl he had given his heart to so long ago.

It was 5 o’clock. They went inside & ordered. She took a deep breath. “Why did you send me that first e-mail? He took her hand in both of his & looked directly into her eyes. I loved you then. I realize now I’ve always loved you. I always will love you. I want to marry you and spend the rest of our lives together. She could barely speak over the lump in her throat. I love you with everything I am & everything I have. Of course I will marry you & spend the rest of my life with you. It was 5:05.

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They completed each other. They healed each other. They loved, laughed, cried, and prayed together. And when they were very old and very tired, they lay together before the fire and he read to her from The Little Prince: “An ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you – the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses; because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” And he gave her her last kiss. And they were content.

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A Parable of the Fig tree, Running out of Gas, and Love . . . .

© Copyright 2014 by Gretchen Passantino Coburn

Gas-on-empty
Pat & I began today with prayer, as we usually do, but specifically today asking for God’s will, in God’s time, by God’s manner, for God’s purposes: not our own. It’s difficult for me to yield to God’s way, even though I know it’s ALWAYS the best way, but when I pray, I pray whole-heartedly. I even began my first post today affirming that God’s way is always the best way.

And then I lapsed into anxiety, anger, & stubbornness.

We were on our way to our 2nd appointment when I realized I had forgotten to get gas after our 1st appointment. We barely had time. I pulled into our “usual” station & was attacked on all sides (that’s how it felt to me) by stupid drivers with no courtesy blocking all available lanes by the pumps & boxing me in (our Ford pickup) & wasting precious time we didn’t have. I used some bad words & scolded the idiots blocking my access & egress (fortunately for them the windows were up & the air conditioner was on) as I somehow worked my way through the mess & back on the street.

On the way down the block I apologized to the Lord & to Pat for my language & prayed for the Lord to center me back into His peace & His way. At the station a block away, the gas was 10 cents a gallon more & the lanes were more mixed up & un-navigable than at the first station. So I headed for the freeway, calculating in my head how many miles we had driven since the “low fuel” light had come on, & whether we could get to our appointment without running out.

Did I mention that our 2nd appointment was with Pat’s PTSD counselor, doesn’t happen nearly often enough, & is ALWAYS a huge blessing & benefit to both of us?

Pat: You know, I don’t cuss or get angry very much anymore, & it’s not because my mouth is numb. (Our 1st appointment today was for his major dental work.)

Me: Why don’t you cuss or get angry anymore? (Feeling guilty.)

Pat: I don’t like the sound of the words coming out of my mouth or the feeling coming out of my heart. I want my words & my heart to belong to God, not the world.

Me: You’re right. I’m wrong. I’m sorry. My state doesn’t solve anything, it just makes things much worse than they should be. Lord, thank you for my husband & his example. Forgive me for my failures. Give me peace & trust in your way & your time. . . .

The truck starts sputtering in the fast lane of the freeway & I know we’re running out of gas. As I maneuver to the right lane & the upcoming exit ramp, my emotions start boiling again & I start calling myself names for failing to get gas earlier & I’m especially angry because I really, really don’t want to miss this appointment. By the time I pull off the side of the exit ramp & park safely under a tree in the shade in the wide dirt past the breakdown lane, I start in with bad words & anger again. When I pause, Pat chimes in.

Pat: You did a good job sensing the truck sputtering. You pulled over & off safely. You found a safe spot to stop, & we have shade, too. Juggling all our bills you managed to keep our Auto Club membership paid. You have your phone — & it’s charged. Thank you, Lord, for my good wife.

Me: . . . .

I called our counselor & rescheduled. I called AAA. While we were waiting I started to calm down. We could use the time constructively by praying for various needs.

Me: Do you want to pray? Who should we pray for? [I mentioned several names & situations.]

Pat: No, I just want to sit here & enjoy the Lord. I can’t listen to Him when I’m talking.

Me: . . . .
Petrol station
Forty-five minutes later we’re pulling into another gas station to fill up (AAA gave us 2 gallons) & it’s EXACTLY the same situation as the previous 2 stations — crazy drivers, rude interlopers, cars every which way, no pumps accessible to the side of the truck with the gas cap. My language & emotions are even more deteriorated than before. Finally I get situated cock-eyed by a pump & get out to fill the truck. It takes a long time to pump 25+ gallons. By the time the tank is full, I’ve calmed down. I’m not spiritually centered, I’m not rejoicing in God’s alternate plan, but I’m calm.

I get back in the truck & prepare to take off through the hectic maze. I look down at the steering wheel. There’s a piece of painter’s tape in the center with my husband’s Sharpie scrawl: “I (heart) u.”
I love you 2
It’s a little hard to drive with tears in my eyes, so I’m extra cautious, patient, & slow driving the rest of the way home. My husband goes in to take a nap before our next appointment (the critical one with the foreign government influencer). I follow him down the hall to the bedroom.

Me: I want to be a fig tree. I want to stand still & accept God’s provisions of sunshine, water, & good soil. I want to be covered with God’s clothing for me. I want to just stand there & do what fig trees do, without anxiety, effort, or fear. Just bearing God’s rich, sweet, ripe fruit in His time & His plan. I want others to feast on my fruit that came, not from my own work, but from the Lord.
The Abundant Fig Tree
So I went out back & picked a couple dozen ripe figs bursting with God’s good provision, & I ate a few standing in the sun by the tree. And this time I TRULY gave up the rest of the day to the Lord. Oh, I know I’ll fall back again, but for now, I’m a fig tree, not a weak & fearful fallen human. And a fig tree is exactly what God wants me to be in this critical meeting this afternoon. May this individual see the Lord’s fruit, eat of it, & be nourished to eternal life. Amen

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The Keys of the Kingdom

© Copyright 1998, 2001 (Revised) by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

Key

Jesus said, “I will give you [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).

Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:15-20).

Locked Church Door

These passages are familiar to most Christians, and yet for all their familiarity, much of their rich significance is missed by many who do not understand the cultural and spiritual significance. Both passages are in some ways cryptic, because they assume familiarity with first century and Old Testament religious practices that most readers today don’t have.

People tend to take such enigmatic scriptural statements as those in Matthew 16 and 18 and build explanations around them that go beyond the bare bones of the text. Evangelicals point to Matthew 18 to support the idea that “church” is wherever “two or three” are gathered in Christ’s name. Mormons point to this same passage to support the idea that salvation (exaltation) is only available through the Mormon church. Roman Catholics use Matthew 18 to support the teaching that the church, represented by the priest, “mediates” between humans and God regarding the forgiveness of sin. Roman Catholics use Matthew 16 to affirm the primacy of Peter as the first universal “pope.”

Ugly Church

When a reader understands the cultural, historical, and biblical background of the two passages, it becomes clear that the interpretations above are inadequate. We can have a richer understanding of the passages once we understand the Old Testament background, the first century cultural context, the context of the texts, and the relationship of the texts to other New Testament passages.

Matthew 16:19 asserts that Jesus chose Peter as his “viceroy” to display God’s redemptive plan of the church after Jesus’ ascension, when he promised Peter and the eleven that they would be empowered to bring the good news to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the extent of the Roman Empire.

Matthew 18:15-20 asserts that when the local expression of the church, the congregation, acts under Christ’s authority, in God’s Will, by God’s standards, it can and should announce judgment and exclusion to those who reject God’s redemption, but it also should announce forgiveness and salvation to those who embrace God’s redemption.

First, Matthew 16 uses the metaphor of “keys” to indicate representative power from God. Although the word “keys” is used only in this passage, we know that Jesus also granted power to the twelve in Matthew 10:12-15, 32-33, 40-42 and John 20:21-23; to the Seventy disciples in Luke 10:10-16; and to the church in Matthew 18:18-19. The metaphor was a common one both in the Old Testament and in the cultures around Palestine during that time and the time of Christ. Isaiah 22:20-22 is a clear example. The passage reads,

In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

This is a Messianic reference incorporating a general custom in Israel and surrounding nations during the first millennium B.C. The custom was that the king, governor, prince, master, or head of household could give someone the power to act “in his name,” that is, in his place in his absence or for certain duties. This “prime minister” or “right hand man” was given a ceremonial robe, belt, and key to signify his authority under the leader. When the individual with the “key” (and other items) made a judgment over his master’s property and/or people, it communicated and represented the master’s will.

In Matthew 16, Jesus is appointing Peter as his “viceroy,” and in the Book of Acts we see Peter fulfilling that commission in Jerusalem, Judea, among the Samaritans, and among the Gentiles.

Peter receives the keys

The principle concerning the power of a royal representative is especially clear in the story of Esther. Throughout Esther we see the formal relationship between the king and Mordecai, the king and Haman, & especially between the king and his wife, Esther. This is particularly clear in Esther 4:9-11, where Esther recites the royal edict that no one may approach the king without his gesturing them forward with his scepter (a synonymous symbol to a royal key).

Matthew 16 and 18 were written before Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and before Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) by which three thousand were converted. At Pentecost the Jewish Christian “church” was established distinct from Jewish churches that did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore, we can assume that the “church” Jesus referred to was the local synagogue congregation, which usually had one or more rabbis (teachers), a minimum of 10 or 12 Jewish adult males in each prayer service (minyan), and a maximum of about 200 regular members and their families. These synagogue “churches” served their local neighborhoods (in a metropolitan setting such as Jerusalem) or local community (in smaller towns, villages, and rural areas). They were places of prayer, worship, teaching of the scriptures (the Old Testament at that time), fellowship among believing members, regulation of Jewish religious life, and as courts of arbitration in local civil disputes.

Synagogue meeting

As a matter of fact, this basic structure was carried over into the Jewish Christian congregations and Jewish/Gentile Christian congregations in the first and second century. We still see remnants of it in the order of service in liturgical traditions such as the eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Episcopalian/Anglican, and the Lutheran churches.

The issue Jesus addresses in Matthew 18 is apparently a civil or personal dispute between two members of the same synagogue “church.” As such, the synagogue church represented God’s will in much the same way Israel did to the nations. We can take this as good advice for the Christian church of today as well.

According to the law given by God through Moses, both criminal and civil disputes were settled using the principle that a party can prevail only if there are “two or three witnesses” to the offense (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Deuteronomy 19:15 declares,

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Jesus himself commended this practice, noting in John 5:31 that “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true,” not because the Son of God is a liar, but because no one should believe someone who claims he is the Son of God merely based on his claim, but instead we should believe because of multiple unequivocal “witnesses” or evidences. He continues, saying, “There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true” (v. 32), further noting additional “witnesses:” John the Baptist (v. 33), Jesus’ miracles (v. 36), the Father’s voice (v. 37), and the scriptures (v. 39).

He returns to this theme in John 8:14, paradoxically announcing that “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true” [since he has proven by other witnesses that he is the Son of God]. Immediately following, he refers to the rules of witnesses (8:16‑18).

Later in Christianity, the apostle Paul commended the Bereans for testing his teachings (Acts 17:11), and warned the Galatians not to believe false witnesses, even if the witness is an angel or Paul himself (Gal. 1:6‑10). They would have been tested not only by the content of their preaching, but by the evidence or testimony available, following the “two or more” rule.

Testimony

In Matthew 18, in the context of correcting the sinning brother, the person sinned against has an obligation to go to that person to try to resolve it privately. If he is unable, then he is to take “one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established'” (Matt. 18:16). If the brother still refuses to repent, then it is the obligation of the congregation (the “church”) to act as Christ’s representative in holding the sinning brother accountable, and then expelling him from the church if he remains unrepentant (vv. 17‑19).

Thus, Christian churches today should place great responsibility on the local congregation for ensuring that its members are treated fairly and that unrepentant sin is inexcusable. When the church (including, but not limited to, the “two or three” witnesses required) judges someone guilty or restored, it is acting as Christ instructed it to act, and as God commanded both in the Old Testament synagogue churches and in the New Testament and historical Christian churches after Christ’s coming.

Christians should be careful to distinguish that the “keys,” the power to “forgive” and “retain” sins, is a derivative or reflective power of announcing forgiveness or judgment according to God’s standards.

There are additional aspects of the “keys of the kingdom” mentioned in Matthew 16:19, Isaiah 22:22, and Rev. 1:18. (There is an analogous passage about the “key of knowledge” in Luke 11:52). The contextual passage of Isaiah 22:22 reads,

In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah.  I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah.  I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father.  All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars. In that day,” declares the Lord Almighty, “the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down.” The Lord has spoken.

The apostle John’s reference to Christ with the keys in Rev. 1:18 would have been immediately understood by his first century A.D. readers as a reference to Is. 22:22. In Revelation 1:18 the risen Christ says to the apostle John,

Do not be afraid. I am the first and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Likewise, when Jesus used the term in Matthew 16, his disciples understood that they were to act in his behalf and communicate his will through their own actions and words. This responsibility is echoed in John 20:21-23, in which the resurrected Christ commands his disciples, saying,

Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

In this sense, all Christians have the responsibility to communicate God’s will and God’s plan of salvation to those who don’t know it. We are God’s representatives, and individual congregations are represented by their pastors.

Revelation keys

The passage in Matthew 16 refers specifically to Peter, and by inference to all Christians. We see from the book of Acts that Peter, representing both Christ and the church, “used” the “keys of the kingdom” in first proclaiming the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2), then confirming that the gospel was meant also for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14‑25), and finally confirming the universal nature of the gospel, including to the Gentiles (Acts 10). This is the pattern Jesus commanded in his concluding remarks just before his ascension (recorded in Acts 1:7-8):

It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The risen Christ summarized this authority and responsibility in Matthew 28:19:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.

Of course, any misrepresentation that churches or Christians make are invalid uses of “the keys” or acting “in His Name” since they contradict the will of the Master (Jesus Christ). We are told to represent Jesus, but not that we can act with authority outside his will. We are commissioned to announce God’s forgiveness and judgment, not to determine God’s forgiveness and judgment. The Augsburg Confession (XXV 3) summarizes this principle:

It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command.”

The concept of “the keys of the kingdom” provides a depth and richness to our understanding of Jesus commissioning Christians to share the gospel and warn people of God’s judgment against unrepentant sinners. Rather than fearing human judgment, we can be confident of Christ’s perfect judgment communicated by his church.

Christ_JudgmentDay

The Testimony of Two or Three Witnesses: We Can Trust the Factuality of the New Testament

Testimony

© Copyright 2003 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

The evidence for the historical Jesus, his teachings, miracles, and resurrection from the dead, is so overwhelming that it places Christianity far above any other world religion. What distinguishes Christianity from all other religions is not its morality – Buddhism promotes moral behavior; not its longevity – Hinduism is older; but its claim that God became man and redeemed the world by his own sacrifice. This is Christianity’s strongest attribute, since it can stand the test of history and historical empiricism. We can prove what others only theorize, meditatively conjure, or feel. It is also Christianity’s greatest vulnerability, because if one could disprove Jesus and his resurrection, one would disprove Christianity itself. If Buddha never lived, the moral principles of Buddhism would survive. If Krishna was not a manifestation of God, the philosophical ideas of Hinduism would still be entertained. But if Jesus did not live, die, and rise again immortal in his physical body, then the very basis of Christianity is destroyed. Judicial and Islamic expert Sir Norman Anderson remarked, Christianity is, truly, “the witness of history” – its original followers died not for a system of rituals or a list of behaviors, but for the empirically verified and historically preserved fact of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul said, “if Christ is not raised, our faith is vain and we are of all people most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Doubting Thomas

Although this subject could be explored from a variety of perspectives, we will look at only one aspect: the standards of proof God insisted his people should follow when they tested the religious claims of anyone. In the contemporary world we have become accustomed to rampant, naive pluralism – any and all religious propositions are given equal weight and value even if they are irrational, meaningless, contradictory, or otherwise unbelievable. This is not the culture of the people of the Bible, the Jews who looked forward to the coming of God’s Messiah (in the Old Testament) and the Jews who witnessed that coming (in the New Testament). Indeed, the Bible instructs everyone to withhold judgment unless there is sufficient corroborative evidence. Over the years we have observed this biblical principle in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. We have come to call this the principle of “the testimony of two or more witnesses.”

Multiple Witnesses

In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, God tells the Jews that they are not to believe someone who claims to be a prophet unless he comes with the correct knowledge of God as God had been revealed to them through the Prophet Moses, whose claim to represent God was affirmed by the miracles he performed before them and the Egyptians. (See, for example, Exodus 4:1-9.) Deuteronomy goes on to say that someone who claims to be a prophet must be right 100% of the time he prophesies – if anything he says is going to come to pass does not come to pass, he is not to be believed (Deut. 18:18-22). If this principle were applied today, no one would believe a newspaper’s horoscope column, a psychic hotline “friend,” a fortune teller, Nostradamus, or anyone else whose track record is not 100%. The biblical prophet, then, should not be believed merely because he proclaims his prophetic gift, but only if that claim is substantiated by at least two witnesses: its correspondence to what God told Moses and its 100% track record.

In the very next chapter of Deuteronomy, a general principle is given affirming the two witness idea that is to govern all the civil and criminal courts of the Jews. We read,

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother (Deut. 19:15-19).

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The same principle is mentioned or given by example in a number of other Old Testament passages. The principle says that one should not believe something without corroborating evidence, and that one who deliberately promotes falsehood is guilty of sin.

The New Testament affirms this same principle. Jesus himself used it in Matthew 18:15-20, where he instructed the disciples on how to settle a dispute in the church. The unrepentant sinning brother must be confronted with witnesses so that the judgment against him is assured to be just: “so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v. 16). The church can have such confidence in judgment with corroborating evidence, Jesus says, that the church’s judgment is equivalent to the judgment of God himself (vv. 18-20).

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Jesus Christ claimed to come from God and to be God’s Messiah. He did not expect people to believe him merely because he made a claim. In fact, in John 5:31, Jesus makes what at first appears to be a self-deprecating statement: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” Jesus goes on in John 5 to describe that he does not testify merely about himself: his claims are verified by the prophet John the Baptist, by the miracles he did, by God the Father’s voice from heaven at his baptism, and by the whole testimony of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses. Jesus has more than met the principle of “the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

It should not surprise us, then, that in John 8 Jesus boldly claims, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid” (v. 14) because it is not alone. Jesus spends the rest of John 8 providing the verification for his testimony: God the Father, Jesus’s miracles, Jesus’s teachings, his coming crucifixion, death, and resurrection, and even the eventual resurrection of all believers.

Evidence

We find the principle of “the testimony of two or three witnesses” affirmed by Christ in his resurrection appearances as well. He did not merely appear alive in some sort of a spiritual vision or religious ecstasy on the part of his followers. He appeared in the flesh to multiple witnesses, men as well as women, believers as well as non-believers, inside a room, outside, in Jerusalem, and in the countryside of Galilee. In fact, Jesus appeared after his resurrection for a period of forty days – the traditional Jewish period between conviction and sentencing, set aside by the judges to allow ample opportunity for exculpatory evidence such as mentioned in Deuteronomy 19:16-19. When Jesus appeared to the apostles in the room he declared, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). After so many appearances and proofs, Peter could preach confidently on the day of Pentecost, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (v. 32). Paul recited for the Corinthian Christians a confession of faith that had been repeated by Christians from the time of the resurrection:

Now,brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and one which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

Even thirty some years later the apostle Peter did not waver in his conviction that Jesus’s identity was verified by corroborating evidence: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

Aesop's Fables

The apostles who followed Jesus and took his message of redemption and eternal life to the world were not to be believed without corroborating evidence, either. Jesus prophesied that they would do the same kinds of miracles he had done as a validation of their divine commission (Mark 16:17-18) and miracles accompanied their preaching from the beginning. Peter and John healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-10), Paul raised a young man from the dead (Acts 20:9-12), and many other miracles were performed by Jesus’s emissaries. Those miracles were tested by those who witnessed them. They were not magic tricks (Peter rebuked and refused a magician who thought he could “buy” the power of the Holy Spirit – Acts 8:18-22). They were not sorcery (Paul exposed a sorcerer in Acts 13:6-13 and cast a demon out of a girl who was used for divination in Acts 16:16-24).

Sorcerer

God manifested himself in Christ by his resurrection to those who were unbelievers or doubters who did not expect him to rise from the dead, over a period of forty days, in a variety of circumstances, to a variety of people, in a culture and historical period where the eyewitness testimony could be challenged. He came to a culture where accurate memory was trained into people and tested repeatedly as a normal form of preserving facts and events. He was followed by associates who performed the same kinds of miracles he had performed.

God gave us the best proof by appearing at a point in history as Jesus Christ, providing both followers and unbelievers with many infallible proofs, no only during his natural lifetime but after his resurrection. Jesus Christ provided a witness that launched a true and life-giving religion and gave us evidence for all time to believe in and trust God. The principle of “the testimony of two or three witnesses” is a principle by which a religion will stand or fall, and Christianity is the only religion that can stand. It is the only religion that gives an objective test for its own truth claims.

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There and Then, Here and Now, Where and When? A Few Keys to Understanding Prophecy

Moses© Copyright 2003 by Gretchen Passantino

Articles, essays, chapters, books – even commentaries have been written about biblical prophecy. Amidst the plethora of “stuff” about prophecy, some basic characteristics of prophecy have become unknown to most Bible readers. Consequently, most of prophetic scripture is at best a puzzle, at worst an excuse for sensational speculation that discredits not only the speculator, but, sadly and unfairly, the Bible itself. When fictions like the Left Behind series sell 50 million and the few contemporary commentaries stay in print only a few short years, it is no wonder. Here are a few foundational keys to understanding biblical prophecy.

Two basic mis-assumptions plague most people’s unsuccessful attempts to understand prophecy. First, many people think prophecy is the same thing as fortune telling or divination. They think of the ancient Greek customs such as the Oracle of Delphi when they think of prophecy. The Oracle of Delphi was a young “chosen” woman who sat above a smoking fissure in the rock at the Delphi temple, chewed bay leaves, and experienced an ecstatic state that manifested in incomprehensible speech in response to an individual’s specific inquiry of the gods. Then a priest in the temple “interpreted” the message and gave it to the inquirer. The questions and answers were always specific to the individual and the time.[1] For example, an inquirer might ask whether the gods would bless a particular business deal, or whether a particular courtship would be successful. Many people who experience a false “gift of prophecy” misunderstand prophecy in this way. Instead, the bible gives us a picture of prophecy that is rationally received and delivered, is one hundred percent accurate, and involves God’s eternal righteousness, judgment, and mercy.

Oracle of Delphi

Second, many people think prophecy is only or at least primarily about future events regarding God’s interventions in human history. This misunderstanding fuels most of the sensationalistic fiction and non-fiction(?) literature glutting the shelves of most Christian bookstores. This misunderstanding lies behind many Christians’ fears that we are living in the “terminal generation,” the “last days,” that will see worldwide, cataclysmic events in which millions – even billions – of people will suffer and die immediately preceding Christ’s Second Coming. Instead, the biblical examples give us a picture of prophecy that focuses on the eternal covenant between God and man, ratified and fulfilled in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf. While at first glance biblical prophecy may seem to cover thousands of events and principles, at its core biblical prophecy is simply concerned with God’s eternal salvation plan in his Son.

End of the World

After we lay aside these two common misunderstandings, we can look at what the Bible says about prophecy and understand much more than we once did. There are many books that we recommend on this subject, including Gary DeMar’s Last Days Madness, Milton Terry’s Biblical Apocalyptics, and William Biederwolf’s The Millennium Bible.

The biblical prophet is one who is called by God to give inspired teaching and preaching. He (or she) is primarily a forth-teller and only secondarily a fore-teller.[2] In fact, when one actually analyzes the prophetic passages and books of the Bible, it is evident that fore-telling is a minor part of the prophet’s burden from the Lord. When we understand this important distinction, much of the Bible becomes suddenly more easily understood. It makes sense, then, that Moses is called the greatest of prophets except for Jesus (Deut. 18:15; 34:10; Acts 3:22; 7:37), even though we think of him primarily as the liberator and law giver of Israel. It makes sense that Jesus linked Moses with the prophets who spoke of him, God’s Son (Luke 16:29-31; 24:27, 44). We can understand the words of Philip, who told Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).

TRANSFIGURATION

This emphasis on forth-telling is verified by analysis of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. There are five “Major Prophets,” books representing four authors (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations – also written by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel). They are called the major prophets not because they are the most important, but because they are the largest in size. There are twelve “Minor Prophets,” so named not for any lack in importance, but for their relatively smaller sizes.

When we analyze these 17 books, we find that the vast majority of the texts do not refer to the future at all. Instead, we find the same exact theme often repeated in each book: the story of redemption. This simple story includes that God created us perfect and provided us with everything we needed for perfect life in him. We rebelled against him and earned his righteous judgment and condemnation. Because of his infinite love for us, his mercy and grace, he did not leave us in our sin but provided reconciliation for us in his Son, so that by responding in faith to the power of his gospel, we can repent, be reconciled to God, and enjoy the presence and power of God in this life and for the future (John 3:16-21).

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What do we notice about this timeless story of redemption? Comparatively little of it has to do with the future: it is primarily concerned with the past (God’s creation, our fall), the present (God’s judgment delayed by his mercy through Christ), and the immediate future (will we respond in faith believing or continue in unrepentant rebellion?). The far or final future (enjoying God’s presence and power into eternity) is merely the culmination of the first three “time” elements in the story. In fact, every prophet in most of his (or her – Miriam, Deborah, for example) prophecies includes these four time referents: past, present, immediate or near future, and far or final future. This is what we would expect.

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 gives us the first test of a true prophet of God: even if what he says comes to pass, if he encourages us to worship a false God, or to worship God falsely, he is not to be believed. He is a false prophet.

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Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives us the second test of a true prophet. (This immediately follows Moses’ declaration of a coming “prophet” who would be greater than him – 15-18 – we know him as Jesus Christ cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37.) In this test we are told that if what the prophet says is going to come to pass does not, then he is a false prophet. While Miss Cleo and her band of dollars-by-the-minute psychics repeatedly fail this test, in the Old Testament, to have even one prophecy not come to pass disqualified one from being a true prophet of God. If it were the case that a substantial part of a prophet’s message was concerned with the far or final future (events hundreds, even thousands of years after the lifetime of the prophet), how could the trustworthiness of a prophet be established? For this test to have any reliability, it must have been the case that an overwhelming portion of the prophet’s messages had to have been about times his hearers could test – the past, present, and near future.

When we analyze the Old Testament prophets, that is exactly what we find. Isaiah, for example, spends most of his time talking about the past. He talks about how Israel had a covenant with God but repeatedly broke that covenant, both while united and by Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) after the monarchy divided. He talks about many other nations that practiced idolatry and ignored the Lord God Almighty. He talks about how God had already brought judgment against these other nations. All the nations failed to repent and thus deserved God’s judgment.

Isaiah
Isaiah spends the second greatest amount of material talking about the present. He points out all the areas of sinfulness, rebellion, unrighteousness, idolatry, and social injustice in Israel and Judah. He points out all of the examples of God’s patience and mercy, withholding judgment even though it would be just because of Israel and Judah’s rebellion.

Isaiah talks at length about the near future: if Israel and Judah do not repent, God will bring well deserved punishment, judgment, and condemnation on the nations for their continued rebellion. If, however, Israel and Judah repent, God will withhold his judgment and restore the kingdoms to the power and blessings of God. In fact, Isaiah says, both Israel and Judah will refuse to repent. First God will allow Israel to be destroyed as a nation and its leaders taken into captivity because of its greater sinfulness and as a final example to Judah. This all happened during the course of Isaiah’s ministry. Everything Isaiah said about these time periods (past, present, and near future) was tested by his contemporaries (using Deut. 13 and 18), and Isaiah was proved to be a reliable prophet of God.

Once Isaiah had been proven a reliable prophet of God, his listeners were willing to suspend judgment on the comparatively little he says that would occur after the end of their own generation. Isaiah spends comparably less time speaking about the far future. In that time, Judah will fall to foreign destruction just as Israel had already. This judgment of God will last seventy years. Judah will finally repent and beg God for forgiveness. God will extend his mercy and grace to Judah through the pagan king, Cyrus, who will allow the Jews to return to their land, rebuild the temple, and restore their kingdom. This happened within less than two hundred years of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry.

Finally, Isaiah spent the least amount of time speaking about the final future – the time when the entire earth, all of humanity, will be affected eternally by God’s redemption plan in his Son, the Messiah: those who believe and repent will be resurrected to eternal life; those who continue to rebel will be resurrected to judgment and condemnation. This final future time began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2) and will conclude with Christ’s Second Coming for final judgment and the reconciliation of all things (1 Cor. 15:51-58). The redeemed inherit eternal life, the unrepentant inherit eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).

The next time you stumble across prophetic portions of Scripture, don’t despair or throw up your hands in confusion. It’s not as mysterious or cryptic as contemporary sensationalists make it. Remember that the prophet always talks mostly about the past, the present, and the near future. Certainly he talks the least (and sometimes not at all) about the far future (after his own generation) or final future (the completion of the redemptive story).

[1] See Colin Brown, gen.ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Volume 3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, 75ff.
[2] Colin Brown, Dictionary Volume 3, 74-92.

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Help Gretchen Passantino and Answers In Action Save Home & Ministry Base

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We are in critical danger (July 8 sale date) of losing our home & home office & research library to foreclosure. We believe that God wants us to stay in this home/office, continuing to devote the stamina & energy he provides us to Christian ministry as I have for the past 40 years, 17 years in this home. We have exhausted all other options.
ImageWe need $20,000 within the next 2 weeks to save our home from forced foreclosure sale & reinstate mortgages & update property taxes. We need $20,000 over the year to meet our expenses until our Answers In Action has new non-profit status, my early retirement SS begins, & Pat’s hardship VA benefit kicks in. God has called us to ministry focus, me with 40 years of full-time Christian ministry in apologetics & discipleship, Pat with his trauma, combat, & critical medical crisis experience sharing the grace & sufficiency of Christ with others in crisis & trauma. Please pray about helping us to stay in our home & serve the Lord.

We are raising support through direct gifts & gifts through Go Fund Me. Go Fund Me is the easiest way to give on-line, or you can message me for other options (gretchen.passantino@answersinaction.org) or check my FaceBook page (Gretchen Passantino Coburn). Through June 30 ONLY, a generous benefactor has promised to MATCH ANY GIFT OF ANY AMOUNT DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR up to $10,000. Anything you give through June 30 will be doubled by this kind offer.
We are in this precarious position because of the devastating medical crisis my husband experienced 18 months ago, when literally in a heartbeat, he went from our major provider as a painting contractor to a survivor of sudden death cardiac arrest & accompanying anoxic brain injury, unable to work. December 18, 2012 the ER cardiologist was prepared to officially declare him dead, but God gave him new life.  At first I was told his probability of survival was 0.01%, he spent more than a week in a coma, had to learn to talk, swallow, lift his head, move, etc., & was hospitalized for nearly 6 weeks. The road to recovery has been long & difficult, but God’s blessings in the midst of it have been overwhelming. This picture is from Pat’s first anniversary of new life, when we returned to the hospital to thank those God used to heal him.
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The journey has contained many opportunities for serving God. Six months after Pat’s collapse & new life, he was proud to stand with others at the hospital, Hoag Memorial Presbyterian in Newport Beach, & testify for life when they announced they were no longer going to perform elective abortions.
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The Lord called me back to active apologetics ministry, & has brought me many opportunities to share & defend the gospel, including this class at our local St. James Anglican Church. This is my 40th year in full-time Christian ministry as a teacher, apologist, writer, & speaker.
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“Apologetics in the Book of Acts,” a summer in-depth Sunday evening class begins in our home/ministry base on July 6. With the wealth of apologetics explicit & implicit in the Book of Acts, students will be inspired to defend the faith on a daily basis. Our home is not just a home. It is our ministry base, given us by the Lord in 1997, before my first husband, Bob, died. It contains my specialized 8,000 volume research library & has been the location for countless Bible studies, graduate classes, prayer & church services, fellowship & meal sharing.
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Since Pat’s collapse & new life, God has very specifically called & equipped him to support veterans, especially combat veterans, with God’s grace & gospel. Pat is a 2 time combat Vietnam Marine veteran. This latest medical crisis opened up the consequences of his previous trauma stress & gave him the opportunity not only to grow & heal through the stress, but to be used by God to help other survivors of trauma.
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Pat & I call our home “Our Little Hobbit Hole.” It is a sanctuary of the Garden, a reminder & promise of God’s coming renewed kingdom. It not only shelters us from the ravages of the world, but is a refuge for countless others who find the peace, forgiveness, & assurance of the gospel here.
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Our Hobbit Door Pat built for a Middle Earth party a couple of years ago.
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The raised herb garden Pat built for me to spare my permanently injured back. The mural he painted is from The Lay of Luthien, a Middle Earth song about the love between an immortal elf maiden (Luthien) & a mortal man (Beren). She gave up her immortality for him, & he sacrificed his life for her. A metaphor of God’s Great Redemption Story in Christ.
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We call this our “Sam’s Kitchen Garden,” after Middle Earth’s Samwise Gamgee, the gardener of Hobbiton. His love of growing things & his hopeful tender care of the gardens symbolizes God’s creative intention for us humans, created in His image.
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Our fig tree bursts with 100s of sweet, ripe figs every August. It is a continual reminder that God prunes us, nourishes us, & empowers us to bring forth much fruit for the kingdom!
So you see, this is not just a roof over our heads, it is the geographical heart of our family & ministry. Please prayerfully consider praying for us, encouraging us, &/or gifting us either through Go Fund Me or directly (gretchen.passantino@answersinaction.org). And remember, through June 30 only an anonymous & generous benefactor has promised to match every gift of any size, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000. Anything you give will be doubled!
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Not My Will, But Yours Be Done — Another View

© Copyright 2014 by Jimmy Akin

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Recently, Gretchen Passantino Coburn posted an interesting piece on whether Jesus was trying to avoid the Cross when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Not My Will, But Yours Be Done). The piece very correctly points out that Jesus knew it was his Father’s will for him to die on the Cross and that he lived his life in complete submission to the Father’s will (thus also setting an example for us). As a result, there was never any conflict between his will and the Father’s, properly speaking.

What are we to make, then, of his prayer, “Not my will but yours be done”? The article makes a striking proposal:

[W]e argue below that it was not death on the cross that Christ was longing to avoid, but death in the Garden before the cross; and that Christ’s will was not different than the Father’s will, but in harmony with the Father’s will. We argue below that Christ, in danger of expiring in the Garden, cried out to the Father for the necessary power either to remain alive through his Garden experience, or, if he expired in the Garden, to be revived by the Father so that he would be alive for his coming crucifixion.

I have a different understanding of this passage, and Gretchen has very graciously invited me to do a follow-up piece for purposes of discussion.

The First Question

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The first question we need to address is whether Jesus was about to expire in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the article,

Jesus was in danger of dying in the Garden. Luke says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Matthew and Mark affirm, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:37-38, cf. Mark 14:33-34). [Theologian J. Oliver] Buswell notes that profuse perspiration is a medical sign of life-threatening shock, when the body is so traumatized that it cannot control basic life sustaining functions and instead “shuts down” preparatory to death.

What should we make of this argument?

“I Could Die”

The statement that he is sorrowful “to the point of death” is generally understood as hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point). This is a common mode of expression in the Bible and one that Jesus uses in the Gospels. We even have similar sayings in English where the possibility of death is raised without it being meant literally (e.g., “I’m so embarrassed I could die”).

The possibility (probability) of hyperbole is so significant in this case that Jesus’ statement about being sorrowful “to the point of death” can’t be relied upon as proof he was literally about to die in the garden.

The argument for the claim thus depends critically on Jesus’ sweat becoming like blood and this being an indication of imminent death.

Is the Text Original?

The statement that his sweat became like blood is found only in Luke 22:44. It is not in Matthew, Mark, or John. However, there are significant reasons to question whether this material was originally in the text of Luke. Most modern Bibles will carry a footnote on verses 43 and 44, like this one from the New American Bible:

These verses, though very ancient, were probably not part of the original text of Luke. They are absent from the oldest papyrus manuscripts of Luke and from manuscripts of wide geographical distribution.

It is risky to make a dramatic interpretive claim (Jesus was about to die in the garden barring divine intervention) concerning an event found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) when the key detail is found only in one Gospel and there is strong reason to think it was not in the original.

Is Bloody Sweat a Sign of Imminent Death?

If we assume that the statement was in the original, there is still a problem, because Buswell appears to have been mistaken about the nature of this phenomenon. While rare, bloody sweat is a known medical condition. Referred to as hematidrosis (Greek, “blood-sweat”), it is caused when the capillaries rupture into the sweat glands. Hematidrosis frequently is the result of anxiety, and it has been successfully treated with beta-blockers such as propranolol, which are used (among other things) to treat anxiety:  however, it does not appear that hematidrosis is “a medical sign of life-threatening shock, when the body is so traumatized that it cannot control basic life sustaining functions and instead ‘shuts down’ preparatory to death.” The condition is not on that order of magnitude. While often produced by anxiety, the condition is a dermatological one that involves the capillaries leaking into the sweat glands, not a sign of overall systemic shutdown.

I did a quick review of online medical literature and turned up many cases where hematidrosis was not a sign of impending death. (See, for example, here, where patients are noted to have had repeated instances of hematidrosis.)

Buswell, writing in the early 1960s, may have had less access to medical information about hematidrosis. In fact, the condition is rare enough that it had not been studied as much then as it has been now. As a result, it could be understandable for Buswell to draw inaccurate conclusions.

A Clearer Indication? An Explanation?

Jesus Suffering

It also strikes me that, if the Evangelists meant us to understand that Jesus was about to die on the spot, in contravention of God’s plan for him to die on the Cross, they would have signaled this to the readers in a clearer way.

They also likely would have provided some explanation for why this last-minute crisis was occurring. For example, was it a final attempt by Satan to foil God’s plan? If so, how do we explain the Gospels’ insistence that it was Satan who prompted Judas to betray Jesus? Furthermore, Jesus himself describes his arrest (not the agony in the garden) as “the hour of darkness” (Luke 22:53), suggesting that Satan was behind it.

But if it wasn’t the devil that tried to bring about Jesus’ death in the garden, what did? It wasn’t the Father’s plan for him to die there, and so it wouldn’t have been the Father. That would leave us with either an accident that seems to threaten God’s Providence or Jesus simply having a panic attack so severe that it threatened his life. Personally, I’d be inclined to resist either of those suggestions.

An Alternative Theory

As an alternative theory of the event, I propose that Jesus knew in advance that he would die on the Cross and that he was resolute toward this goal. However, it is emotionally one thing when death is remote and another when it is staring one in the face.

Thus Christ was able to deal serenely with the prospect of Lazarus’s death—and even remark on how it would bring glory to God—when he was still in Galilee (John 11:1-4), but he nevertheless wept when he was standing at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:35-36).

This response is rooted in the death aversion that is part of human nature. Being in proximity to death causes averse feelings in humans (fear, sorrow, revulsion), and that’s a good thing. It is part of God’s plan, and it leads us to try to preserve life.

By virtue of his human nature, Jesus had death aversion also, and—as with the rest of us—it manifested with particular intensity when the hour of his death drew close: nevertheless, he was resolute to go through with the climax of his mission.

“Not My Will But Yours Be Done”

Jesus Obeys Father

Jesus’ statement “Not my will but yours be done” does not indicate an actual opposition of wills. Indeed, it indicates the opposite—that he is completely submissive to the Father’s will.

The paradoxical nature of this statement is to be understood along the lines of similar paradoxical statements that Jesus makes—e.g., “He who saves his life will lose it,” “The first will be last.” These statements rely on ambiguity of language for their solution (i.e., they rely on the fact that terms like “saving” and “losing” and “first” and “last” can be taken in different senses).

In this case, the term that is subject to ambiguity is “will.” This can indicate a determination, decision, or choice—or it can indicate a wish, preference, desire, or similar emotional rather than volitional state. One can even recognize that one’s wish is not going to be fulfilled, but still give voice to it as a way of expressing one’s feelings.

That ambiguity seems to be in play here. By making his statement, Jesus is expressing his fundamental submission to the Father’s will while giving voice to the fact that he is experiencing death aversion. His statement could be paraphrased, less paradoxically, as “Not what I might wish, but may what you determine be done.”

Emotions vs. Resolve

This does not imply that Jesus’ will is not united to the Father’s. Indeed, he indicates that it is united to the Father’s. Rather, it implies that Jesus is feeling something different than what he wills. What he wills is to do what the Father has determined, but he is experiencing the feelings of death aversion that are normal for human beings in the presence of their own imminent demise. His giving voice to those feelings allows him to achieve an emotional release—just as when he wept or when he cried out in anguish—but his will is still in submission to the Father’s.

This incident thus highlights the dynamics of Jesus’ experience as a man. We also find ourselves in situations, particularly when we are suffering or preparing to die, where we need to say what we’re feeling as part of dealing with our emotions—even though we are resolved in our wills to a particular course of action.

By way of conclusion, I’d like to thank Gretchen and Bob Passantino for defending the fact that Jesus was always resolved to do the Father’s will, and I’d like to thank Gretchen for her gracious invitation to do this post.

Not My Will, but Yours Be Done: Did Jesus Want to Avoid the Cross?

by Bob and Gretchen Passantino, © Copyright 2003

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The night Jesus was arrested, before his trial and crucifixion, he prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, having asked three of his disciples to wait nearby, praying for him. Luke tells us, “He withdrew about a stone’s throw and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done'” (Luke 22:41-42). Matthew records Jesus as making his request of the Father twice: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken away from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:39) and “He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done'” (Matt. 26:42). Mark records his prayer in a positive way, “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Did Jesus Shrink from His Commitment to Die for Our Sins?

Many people understand this to mean that Jesus, without sinning, was in some way reluctant to endure the cross but was willing to set aside his own desires and instead follow God’s will in this matter. This interpretation takes “cup” to mean “death on the cross” and “not my will, but yours” to mean that Christ desired not to go to the cross.

Sometimes this passage is used to illustrate how Christ was tempted in his suffering, as Hebrews 2:18 says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted,” and as Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

It is commonly said that understanding Christ’s “weakness” in the Garden enables us to be confident that Christ identifies with us in our own “weakness” and is therefore compassionate and forgiving. Although we agree with the passages in Hebrews and agree that Christ is sympathetic, compassionate, forgiving, and sinless, we do not agree that this commonly held view is the actual meaning of Christ’s statements to the Father in the Garden. (1)

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Christ’s Prayer Was Answered Affirmatively by the Father in the Garden

Instead, we argue below that it was not death on the cross that Christ was longing to avoid, but death in the Garden before the cross; and that Christ’s will was not different than the Father’s will, but in harmony with the Fathers’ will. We argue below that Christ, in danger of expiring in the Garden, cried out to the Father for the necessary power either to remain alive through his Garden experience, or, if he expired in the Garden, to be revived by the Father so that he would be alive for his coming crucifixion. (2) Incarnationally (Col. 2:9), he had the intrinsic power to sustain himself or revive himself, but, as in all things, Christ lived by the Father’s power and not his own.

We would explain the Garden prayer in this way: Father, I cannot fulfill my destiny at the cross if I am not revived here in the Garden. As I have my entire life, I ask this to be accomplished by your power, not my own. And, in fact, God did answer Christ’s prayer, sustained him in the Garden by means of angels, and preserved him alive to face his crucifixion to save us from our sins.

Because this view is not well known, it might sound at first unreasonable and unscriptural. Let us examine it carefully and scripturally (3) and you will see the strength of this interpretation contextually, theologically, and biblically. (4)

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Christ Repeatedly Acknowledged and Affirmed God’s Plan for His Crucifixion

The idea that Christ would, at the last moment, waver in his commitment to the cross seems contrary to what we know about Christ’s steadfast commitment throughout his ministry to die on the cross for our sins. He clearly taught the principle of his atonement when he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15). Jesus echoes this thought again, saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Matthew notes Christ’s commitment to his coming death, burial, and resurrection and contrasts it to Peter’s desire that Christ not die:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Never, Lord!” he said, “This shall not happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt. 16:21-23). (Mark’s account – 8:31-33 – adds that Jesus “spoke plainly about this.”)

It does not seem reasonable that Jesus would rebuke Peter for the very sentiment he himself supposedly expresses in his Garden prayer.

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Jesus Was Confidently Committed to Dying for the Sins of the World

Not only did Jesus repeatedly acknowledge that his death would come to pass, he also repeatedly stated his confident commitment to dying on behalf of sinners. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees just before his last trip to Jerusalem, challenging them, “Go tell that fox [Herod], ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Luke 13:32-33).

After Jesus’s resurrection he rebuked two of his disciples for failing to understand the necessity of his death, burial and resurrection, saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Even though Christ said this after his resurrection, there is no reason to believe that he came to this conviction after his struggle in the Garden. In fact, he clearly says that even the disciples should have always known the inevitability of the cross because of the prophets. If he held the disciples accountable for what the prophets said, how much more would he, the very One of whom they prophesied, (5) be held accountable?

In fact, the crucifixion of Christ is the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The gospel without the cross is no gospel at all (1 Cor. 2:2). Jesus concluded his commission of the disciples with this confident focus: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

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A Second Look at the Garden Prayer

With this background of overwhelming scriptural evidence that Christ recognized and was committed to the necessity of his crucifixion to save us from our sins, let’s look at the Garden scene again. We will observe four important principles. First, there is indication that Jesus was in danger of dying in the Garden. Second, there is no evidence from the passages that Jesus (our “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” high priest – Heb. 7:26) ever wavered in his commitment to the cross – amply attested to by the passages we have already reviewed. Third, there is ample biblical evidence that Jesus’s will was not contrary to the Father’s will, but submitted to the Father’s will. Fourth, it is apparent that his prayer was answered affirmatively and he was strengthened in order to be able to leave the Garden and go to the cross.

Imminent Death

Jesus was in danger of dying in the Garden. Luke says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Matthew and Mark affirm, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:37-38, cf. Mark 14:33-34).

Buswell notes that profuse perspiration is a medical sign of life-threatening shock, when the body is so traumatized that it cannot control basic life sustaining functions and instead “shuts down” preparatory to death. (6)

From outside the gospels we get a plain declaration of Christ’s experience in the Garden: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth,he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Heb. 5:7).

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Jesus Never Wavered but Always Followed His Father

There is no evidence in the Garden passages that Jesus wavered in his commitment to the cross (the very words that are used to adduce that are the ones we are contending mean something else altogether).

There is abundant evidence (as we saw above) from Jesus’s statements throughout his ministry that he knew of the inevitability of the cross and that he wholeheartedly committed himself to the cross.

Jesus’s Will Was In Accord With But Submitted To His Father’s Will

In addition, there is strong scriptural evidence that Jesus’s entire life was a life of exemplary dependence on the authority, will, power, and agency of the Father (i.e., “the one he has sent”- John 6:29). (7) The gospel of John speaks more explicitly and repeatedly to this theme than any other gospel. Jesus explained clearly:

I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it (John 5:19-21).

Jesus continues, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (30). It is important to note here that what pleases the Father is not contrary to what pleases Christ, but that Christ’s humble motivation for his judgment is not his own pleasure but the corresponding pleasure of the Father. Jesus continues his message, saying, “For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me” (36).

John identifies Jesus’s will as submitted to the corresponding will of the Father when he quotes Jesus: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (7:16-17). Look at the next verse: Jesus makes it explicit that to defer to God’s will is to be humble to, not to be contrary to, God’s will: “He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who speaks for the honor of the one who sent h im is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him” (18).

(This interpretation of “not my will, but yours” also fits similar statements by Jesus in John 5:30 and 6:38. It is not a disharmony between the wills of the Father and Son that is in focus, but the priority of the Father’s will over the Son’s. In other words, Jesus is in exact agreement with the Father, but the submission of Jesus’s words and works to the authority of the Father is the model he lived for all of us. In theology we speak of the fact that we are saved by Christ’s active obedience and passive obedience and by not only what he did, but under what authority he did what he did.)

Father Son Icon

John quotes Jesus referring to his like-mindedness with the Father concerning his coming crucifixion: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (8:28-29).

Although the picture is clearest in John, Jesus’s submission to the Father in all things is the undercurrent of his entire ministry even as described by the other gospel writers. His duty was not merely to die for us, but also to live for us – in the exemplary relationship to his Father that we are to follow as the adopted children of God. The whole tenor of his ministry is that of the dutiful Son coming in the name (power, authority) of his Father. Repeatedly he urged his followers to lives of humility and self-sacrifice – in imitation of Jesus and his relationship to his Father. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest” (Luke 9:48).

“All things have been committed to me by my Father,” we learn from Jesus as recorded in Matthew 11:27 (cf. Luke 10:22). Jesus reminds his disciples, “to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father” (Matt. 20:23). Jesus relates his role as a servant to the Father directly to his commandments for his disciples, saying, “But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me” (Luke22:27b-29).

It is overwhelmingly clear that Jesus was submitted to the Father in will, purpose, action, and speech. His will was not contrary to the Father’s will, but in submission to the Father’s authority (will).

Jesus’s Prayer Was Answered: He Survived the Garden to Go to the Cross

We have seen that in the Garden Jesus was in imminent danger of death; that he prayed for the Father to rescue him; that he was fully cognizant of and committed to the cross; and that his will was not contrary to the Father but in submission to him. The only piece of our Garden puzzle left to insert is evidence that his prayer was answered affirmatively.

Earlier we cited Hebrews 5:7 as evidence that Christ prayed to be delivered from death in the Garden. The conclusion to that verse is clear: “and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7). The common biblical idiom is that when one’s prayer is “heard” it is answered in the affirmative. (8)

This corresponds perfectly with the gospel account, “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43). Matthew and Mark note that immediately after his recovery: “Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt. 26:45, cf. Mark 14:41).

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Conclusion

Our examination has shown that Christ did not have a last-minute crisis of faith and fear of his coming crucifixion. He did not overcome his own, contrary will, in order to obey his Father’s will. He did not fear in the same way his disciple Peter had before, when Jesus rebuked him for trying to keep him from the cross.

In the most extreme conditions a human could suffer, conditions critical enough to kill anyone without immediate intervention, he proved once again that his life was a life of perfect submission to his Father. He depended on his Father for everything he taught, everything he did, and even for sustaining his life so that he could fulfill the mission determined by “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23), his death on the cross for our sins.

We can rejoice in the one who lived for us and died for us, who looked forward to his crucifixion with unwavering purpose and commitment, who said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. . . . Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:23-24, 27).

Appendix One:

Christ Repeatedly Acknowledged and Affirmed God’s Plan for His Crucifixion

Other Citations

Jesus embraces cross

Jesus repeatedly affirms the prophetic necessity of his coming death. In Matthew 17:22-23 Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life” (cf. Mark 10:31). Jesus also says, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matt. 20:18-19 cf. Luke 18:31-33).

When Jesus is explaining about the coming kingdom of God, he instructs his disciples to imitate his self-sacrificing humility, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 cf. Mark 10:45; Luke 9:22, 44). Jesus confidently announced immediately before his arrest, “As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matt. 26:2 cf. Mark 10:33-34). During this same time period John records Jesus’s words, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the world, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:30-32). John immediately explains Jesus’s statement: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (v. 33). When Jesus announced that he would be betrayed he added, “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed” (Luke 22:22). He assured his disciples, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors;’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37).

Appendix Two:

Jesus Was Confidently Committed to Dying for the Sins of the World

Other Citations

Agnus Dei

Even after Jesus had been arrested, when Peter tried to defend him by cutting off the ear of one of the guards, Jesus pointed out that he could have remained free by the Father’s intervention, but that he did not pray to the Father to intervene because “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? . . . But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt. 26:54, 56). John quotes Jesus at the same time saying, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

Appendix Three

Jesus’s Will Was In Accord With But Submitted To His Father’s Will

Other Citations

Father Sends Son

John also records Jesus’s description of himself as the “bread” from heaven – “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). He also says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (37-38). Again, Jesus will is not contrary to the will of the Father, but Christ is motivated by his humility to the Father’s will, in harmony with (but not motivated by) his own will. This is the same humility that Christ urges on his followers, completing his message on the bread of heaven by urging, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (57).

John records Jesus’s words in the midst of the temple courts to the doubting leaders of his day: “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me” (7:28-29).

John understood that Jesus meant his hearers to understand that he will was in complete harmony with the Father’s will as he quotes, “. . . I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the one who sent me – the Father” (8:16b-17). It is clear from this that Jesus means his hearers to understand that his testimony is identical to that of the Father, continuing, “You do not know me or my father . . . . If you knew me, you would know my father also” (19b).

Other quotes from Jesus in John include, “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (8:38); “I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me” (42b); “I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself” (49-50); “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me” (54); “we must do the work of him who sent me” (9:4); “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (10:29-30); “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may learn and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:37-38); “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me” (12:44-45); “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me: The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10-11); “the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (14:31); “just as I have obeyed my Father’s command and remain in his love” (15:10); “everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you” (15:15).

In Jesus’s great prayer at the end of his ministry (John 17:1-26) we find the following affirmations of Christ’s submission to the Father: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you grated him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. . . . Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work your gave me to do. . . . I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. . . . Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me. . . . They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. . . . All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. . . . just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. . . . They know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”


Footnotes

1. A related argument about Christ’s “humanity” is made from Christ’s words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). We discuss this in our article Did the Father Leave the Son on the Cross?

2. We seen an interesting type of this in the story of Abraham offering his son, Isaac in Genesis 22. Abraham, even when God told him to prepare to sacrifice his son, continued to have complete confidence in God’s promise that he would have descendants (and one Descendant in particular) through Isaac who would bless the world. He did not know how God would accomplish this, whether by preserving Isaac (as actually happened – 22:11-14), or, if necessary, by rasing Isaac from the dead (as Hebrews 11:19 notes), but that he knew God would intervene is clear from his comment to his servants, “we will come back to you” (Gen. 22:5).

3. We have attempted to include every significant passage related to this issue. We have chosen the most important citations for our main argument, and have listed the other related passages in appendices at the end of this article.

4. We are indebted to theologian James Oliver Buswell, Jr. for first bringing this interpretation to our attention many years ago [A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962 (vol. 1), 1963 (vol. 2) (bound together), II:62-65]. This article is our own argument, supplemented, re-arranged, adapted, and modified from Buswell’s approach.

5. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

6. Buswell, II:62.

7. Paul describes this in his letter to the Philippians, where he urges the Christians to exercise the same humility toward each other as Christ did toward the Father: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (2:5-7a).

8. (Buswell, II:63.) The following two verses in Hebrews are somewhat difficult to exegete. The passage reads, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). If our application of verse 7 to the Garden is appropriate, we could argue the application of this passage to mean, although he was already the perfect Son of God, his patient reliance on the Father’s power to preserve him in the Garden (his obedience), displayed that relationship to all who then demonstrate the same kind of patient reliance on the Son to bring us eternal salvation.

Revelation, Inspiration, & Illumination: The Process that Gave Us the Word of God, the Bible

                       A Summary of Concepts[1]

                              © Copyright 2003 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

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 Revelation:From God to man (man hears what God wants written)

Inspiration:          From man to paper (man writes that which God wants written)

Illumination:       From paper to heart (man receives that which God has written)

 Revelation:

We know that God spoke to man, but how did He speak? Hebrews 1:1 says that He spoke to the fathers and prophets in many portions and many ways:

  1. through angels (Gen. 18; Gen. 19; Dan. 9:21-27; Luke 2:8-14; etc.)
  2. through a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11, 12; Ps. 32:8)
  3. through nature (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-4; Rom. 10:18; Acts 14:15)
  4. through a loud voice (Gen. 3:9-19; Ex. 3:14)
  5. through dreams (Gen. 28:12; Matt. 1:20; Matt. 2:12)

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Inspiration:

What is involved in transferring the voice of God into the vocabulary of man? There are five different areas to be considered: (1) various theories of inspiration; (2) scripture texts on inspiration; (3) implications of inspiration; (4) importance of inspiration; (5) completion of inspiration.

The term inspiration is found only once in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Greek word is theopneustos and literally means “God-breathed.”

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 Theories of Inspiration

The natural theory–the Bible writers were inspired only in the sense that a poet or writer is inspired naturally. In other words, that spark of divine inspiration that supposedly is in all men simply burned a little brighter in the hearts of the Bible writers.

However, 2 Peter 1:20 says, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The mechanical theory–God coldly and woodenly dictated the Bible to his writers as an office manager would dictate an impersonal letter to his secretary.

The Bible is the story of divine love, and God is anything but mechanical or cold concerning inspiration. The Holy Spirit never transgressed beyond the limits of the writer’s vocabulary. We can see this because the highly educated Paul used a larger, more complicated vocabulary than the fisherman, Peter. The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as His organs….[T]he sacred writers impressed their peculiarities on their several productions as plainly as though they were the subjects of no extraordinary influence.[2]

The content theory–Only the main thoughts of the Bible are inspired. This is the position of the liberal theologian who would cheerfully accept those portions of the Bible which deal with love and brotherhood, but quickly reject the passages dealing with sin, righteousness, and future judgment. But this is contrary to 2 Timothy 3:16 (quoted above). Charles F. Baker writes,

A certain bishop is purported to have said that he believed the Bible to have been inspired in spots. When asked for his authority for such a statement, he quoted Hebrews 1:1, stating that this meant that God spoke at various times in varying degrees. Thus, some spots were fully inspired, others were only partially inspired, and still others were not inspired at all. The bishop was embarrassed when a layman asked: “How do you know that Hebrews 1:1, the one scripture upon which you base your argument, is one of those fully inspired spots?

The spiritual rule only theory–The Bible may be regarded as our infallible rule of faith and practice in all matters of religious, ethical, and spiritual value, but not in other matters, such as some of the historical and scientific statements found in the Word of God.

Jesus said, however, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”(John 3:12).

The verbal-plenary theory–All (plenary) the very words (verbal) of the Bible are inspired by God. Matthew 4:4 says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” First Corinthians 2:13 says, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Jesus says in John 17:8, “For I have given them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” Jesus says in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”

 Scripture Texts on Inspiration

2 Peter 1:20, 21; Hebrews 1:1; John 10:35; Matthew 5:18; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 3:2; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 15:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 4:15; and the verses already referred to above.

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Note: Some people say that when Paul was speaking on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7, he differentiated between what was scripture and what was his own opinion. What is actually the case is that Paul was directly quoting Jesus in the first part, but was “merely” prompted by the Holy Spirit in the second part.

 Implications of Inspiration

As one carefully considers the subject of inspiration, he is led to the following conclusions:

1. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not each that all the parts of the Bible are equally important, but only that they are equally inspired.

2. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not guarantee the inspiration of any modern or ancient translations of the Bible, but refers only to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (the autographs).

3. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not allow for any false teaching, but it does on occasion record the lie of someone (for example, Genesis 3:6). Therefore, we have an accurate record of the devil’s words. As one reads the Bible, he must carefully distinguish between what God records and what He sanctions. Thus, while lying, murder, adultery, and polygamy are found in the Word of God, they are never approved by the Word of God.

4. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not permit any historical, scientific, or prophetical error whatsoever. While it is admitted that the Bible is not a textbook on science, it is nevertheless held that every scientific statement in the scriptures is absolutely true.

5. Verbal-plenary inspiration did not prohibit personal research. The New Testament writer Luke begins his gospel with the following account:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me, as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out….(Luke 1:1-3 NASB).

6. Verbal-plenary inspiration did not deny the use of extra-biblical sources (see Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12; Jude 1:14, 15).

7. Verbal-plenary inspiration did not overwhelm the personality of the human author. The Bible writers experienced no coma-like trance as do some mediums today during a seance, but, on the contrary, they always retained their physical, mental, and emotional powers. See Isaiah 6:1-11, Daniel 12)

8. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not exclude the usage of pictorial, symbolic, hyperbolic, or summary language. This is to say the Holy Spirit does not demand that we accept every word in the Bible in a wooden and legalistic way. For example, a case could not be made that God has feathers like a bird in Ps. 91:4. Here the thought is simply that the persecuted believer can flee to his heavenly Farther for protection and warmth.

9. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean uniformity in all details given in describing the same event. See Matt. 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and John 19:19, about the superscription on the cross.

10. Verbal-plenary inspiration assures us that God included all the necessary things He wanted us to know and excluded everything else. 2 Tim. 3:15-17.

Importance of Inspiration

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Of the three tools involved in the making of our Bible, the tool of inspiration is the most important. This is true because:

1. One may have inspiration without revelation. For example, rather than supernaturally telling Luke what to write in his gospel, the Holy Spirit led him to carefully check out all of the records.

2. One may have inspiration without illumination. Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:11) that the Old Testament prophets did not always understand everything they wrote about.

 Completion of Inspiration

Is inspiration still going on today? Yes, inspiration is still going on today, but with the close of the apostolic age, God led the church fathers to canonize what we know today as the Old and New Testaments. We have all of the information we will ever need regarding God, our relationship to him, and our salvation straight from God to us.

If someone claims to have a revelation from God, we must check to be sure that it is in harmony with God’s word that has already been revealed.

 Illumination:

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We have already stated that without inspiration, no scripture would have ever been written. We may now claim that without illumination, no sinner would have ever been saved. Illumination, then, is that method used by the Holy Spirit to shed divine light upon all seeking men as they look into the Word of God. We need illumination because:

1. We are naturally blind because of sin. (1 Cor. 2:14, Matt. 16:16-17)

2. We are satanically blind. (2 Cor. 4:3-4)

3. We are carnally blind. (Heb. 5:12-14, 1 Cor. 3, 2 Peter 1)

There are two main results of personal illumination: that people are saved and then that the saved people are matured.

 Implications of Illumination

1. The Holy Spirit looks for a certain amount of sincerity before He illuminates any human heart. We are quick to point out that sincerity is not enough to save anyone, and so it is. However, it should be also noted that it is equally impossible for an insincere person to be saved. This first implication is brought out in John 4:24.

Furthermore, it should be stated that no Christian should ever look on illumination as automatic. This is to say, God has never promised to reveal precious and profound Biblical truths to any believer who will not search the Scriptures for himself. See John 20:31, Acts 17:11, 2 Tim 2:15, 1 Peter 2:2.

2. The Holy Spirit often seeks out the aid of a believer in performing his task of illuminating the hearts of others. See Acts 8:30, 31, 35, Acts 17:2, Acts 18:26, Acts 18:28.

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For Further Reading

 Bloesch, Donald G. Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

 Bruce, F. F. The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming J. Revell Company, 1984 ed.

 Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

 Carson, D. A. And John D. Woodbridge, eds. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986.

 Demarest, Bruce A. General Revelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982.

 Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.

 Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible (Revised and Expanded). Chicago: Moody Press, 1986.

 George, Timothy, et. al., eds. The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

 Trembath, Kern Robert. Evangelical Theories of Biblical Inspiration: A Review and Proposal. London: Oxford University Press, 1997.

 Turretin, Francis. The Doctrine of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981.

      [1] This essay is a summary of the information contained in Norm. F. Geisler and William E. Nix’s General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986 ed.). It is meant to outline the arguments brought forth in that book and was used originally as a handout in a class taught by the Passantinos using Geisler and Nix’s book as the textbook. Another approach to the issue is in Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology Volume One: Introduction and Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2002).

     [2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1.

Recommended Commentaries on Ezekiel: The Short List

© Copyright 2014 by Gretchen Passantino Coburn

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Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapter 1-24 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1998.

If I could only have one commentary (2 volumes) on Ezekiel, Block’s 2 volumes would be my choice. Rich combination of historical, literary, theological, & doctrinal information & insights. Non-dispensational. Good focus on Ezekiel as preparatory for the coming Messiah, the Savior not only of Israel, but of the whole world. Don’t be intimidated by the huge page count. This is a resource you will use for reference & select reading, not to start at the beginning & spend the rest of your life slogging through (although I & a few other nuts do).

Hummel, Horace D. Ezekiel 1-20 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing Company, 2005.

Hummel, Horace D. Ezekiel 21-48 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing Company, 2007

Being Lutheran in my theology, I probably agree more with Hummel’s 2 volumes than I do any other commentary on Ezekiel. However, Hummel, being Lutheran, also tends to remain silent on some of our most vexing & obscure passages, preferring to heed the old Chinese proverb, “Better to keep your mouth shut & be thought a fool than to open it & remove all doubt.” But also, being Lutheran, Hummel does a superb job of delineating the law (which kills you) & the gospel (which raises you to new life), & of seeing Christ & his redeeming act at the center of every passage.

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Longman, Tremper, David E. Garland, eds., Michael Brown, Paul W. Ferris, and Ralph Alexander, contributors. Jeremiah – Ezekiel (Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2010.

This is an excellent non-denominational, non-dispensational approach to Ezekiel. Especially good on history & literature. Not quite deep enough to satisfy me like Block or Hummel.

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McGee, J. Vernon. Ezekiel (Through the Bible). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.

This is the only dispensational book in my short list. Yes, he was a dispensationalist through & through, but his pastor’s heart & his calling to proclaim the gospel are at the core of everything, & if you ignore his relation of ancient to modern, you will be richly blessed, my friend. And it’s short enough & simple enough to be a very satisfying appetizer.

Stevenson, Kenneth and Michael Glerup, eds. Ezekiel, Daniel (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Academic Press, 2008.

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I had to include this in my short list because of its unique resources. Do you want to know how the ancient church & church fathers understood (or didn’t understand) Ezekiel? Here are all the references from the ancient church writers & preachers on Ezekiel. Lots of different views, lots of ancient historical & theological perspectives, not a lot of consensus or criticism, but that lets you judge for yourself.

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