The Greek word paradeisos (Strongs #3857) only occurs in the following three passages of the New Testament. It is an ancient Persian word meaning “enclosure, garden, or park”.
When Jesus was being crucified one of the criminals alongside Him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” Then Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:42-43).
When Paul described a vision he had 14 years ago, he said “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
Jesus concludes His message to the church at Ephesus with, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).
As Paul says he was “caught up to the third heaven” and “caught up to paradise”, “paradise” is synonymous with “the third heaven”. This is the heaven which is God’s abode (see link). The other ways of using the Greek word for “heaven” in Scripture are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe of stars and galaxies. So Paul had a personal audience with the Lord.
The repentant thief was promised that when he died from crucifixion, his soul and spirit would go to God’s dwelling place. However, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, some Jews thought that in this context “paradise” was the part of Hades which was the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection (Lk. 16:23).
The passage in Revelation says that true believers will enjoy eternal life in heaven, just like Adam and Eve enjoyed being in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. Note that it is called “the paradise of God” because God is there.
So the word “paradise” is used in the Bible to describe where God lives. This place is commonly called “heaven”.
Written, January 2015
Also see: The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?
On Mother’s Day we honor our mothers. It’s been said that the most powerful force in a child’s life is their mother’s influence. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this topic.
In Biblical times, infants and young children spent most of the time under their mother’s care (Gen. 32:11). Samuel remained with Hannah until he was weaned, when he would be at least three years of age (1 Sam. 1:22-24). Nursing mothers gently care for their children (1 Th. 2:7). The Bible says that after weaning, a child is content to be “with its mother” because it has learnt to trust its mother (Ps. 131:2NIV).
As Israelite children were commanded to respect and obey their parents, they were also influenced by their father (Ex. 20:2; Lev. 19:3; Dt. 21:18-21). As they usually lived in extended households, children in Biblical times were also influenced by their relatives. When they were old enough to be married, they would be influenced by their spouse. A spouse’s family would also be influential if a person moved to live with that family.
Solomon advised parents, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). The first word can also be translated as “train” and “teach”. It is probably associated with discipline, as the Hebrew word translated “children” is also mentioned in Proverbs 22: 15 and 23:13.
This is a proverb that is generally true, but not a promise or guarantee. It is the best course to a desired outcome. Children are more likely to be godly if they are trained in such a way. But other factors can come in like the influence of others.
Another proverb says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Prov. 14:1). It contrasts two types of woman. The first is focused on her family, whereas the second tears down her family. The first is godly, while the second is ungodly.
When Paul gives instructions to Christian households he addresses wives, husbands, children and fathers, but not mothers (Eph. 5:22 – 6:4; Col. 3:18-21). The fathers are told “do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” and “do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Obviously the mothers didn’t require any command about bringing up their children. Maybe because they went through a 9-month pregnancy and breastfed their children, they developed a strong bond with their children.
However, Paul says that older women should urge younger ones to love their children (Tit. 2:3-4). He also says that one of the good deeds of a wife was bringing up children (1 Tim. 5:9-10).
Paul told a godly woman, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth” (2 Jn. 1:4). Note the word he used was “some”, not “all”. This shows godly faith in two generations. For example, Hannah was a godly mother whose child Samuel grew up to be godly (1 Sam. 1:24-28). Also, three proverbs that King Lemuel was taught by his mother are recorded in the Bible (Prov. 31:1-9). As a prayer meeting was held in her home, presumably both John Mark and his mother were godly (Acts 12:12).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Ti. 1:5). This shows godly faith in three generations. A godly grandmother was followed by a godly mother who was followed by a godly son. He also wrote, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15). This implies that these women probably taught the Scriptures to Timothy when he was an infant.
So godly mothers can have a positive influence on their children.
But sometimes a mother’s influence is not the best. One of the reasons for the spread of wickedness before the flood in Noah’s day seems to be the strong influence that mothers have on their children (Gen 6:1-5). The Israelites were commanded not to intermarry with the Canaanites because they will turn their children to follow idols (Dt. 7:3-4). King Ahaziah and King Joram were ungodly like their parents (1 Ki. 22:52, 2 Ki. 3:2). However, as in the previous category, a child can differ from their parents. For example, King Asa was godly unlike his grandmother (2 Chron. 15:16).
So, ungodly mothers can have a negative influence on their children.
Lessons for us
This shows that mothers can have a significant influence on their children.
If you are a mother, do you have a positive or a negative impact on your children? Do you discipline them fairly? Are you building them up or tearing them down? Are you “walking in the truth”? Do you have a sincere Christian faith?
If you are a father, do you support your wife?
Do you honor and respect your mother?
Written, May 2014
Elevated status for Christian slaves
Some people use the mention of slavery in the Bible to criticise God and the Bible. Let’s look at what the New Testament (NT) says about slavery. The Greek word “doulos” (Strongs #1401) is usually translated as “slave” or “servant”. Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire, but it was not racist, as many races were involved. The slaves were usually prisoners of war or poor people. Slavery rescued captives from death and the poor from starvation at a time when there was no government welfare or charities. In the NT, slaves are told to obey their masters and a runaway slave is told to return to their master; so it appears to condone slavery.
You may think: what’s this topic got to do with us? Slavery is not prevalent today. We will see that the slavery described in the NT was like employment. As we look at what the NT says about slaves and their masters, we can apply these principles to us as an employee working for a client, team leader, supervisor or employer, or if we lead other workers.
Philemon and Onesimus
Philemon was a slave owner in Colossae which is now in Turkey (Philemon 8-21). As the church met in his home, he may have been an elder in the local church. One of his slaves, Onesimus had apparently stolen from him and run away. But Onesimus had met Paul in Rome and become a Christian and was now willing to return to his master and be reconciled. He was willing to resume his obligation to his master. Paul wrote this letter to ask Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, no longer as a slave but as a fellow Christian (v.16). What can we learn from this short letter?
First, Paul does not issue an order to Philemon, although he was confident of his obedience (v.21). Instead he presents reasons for forgiving and accepting his runaway slave and then makes an appeal on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus had become a believer in Rome – like Philemon he was now Paul’s spiritual son and that changed everything. He had a change of character, from an escaped thief to a Christian who helped Paul. From being “useless” to being “useful” (v.11). This is a word-play because the name Onesimus means “useful”. Paul even suggests that the reason Onesimus ran away was so that he could be converted and then return as a fellow Christian. Then Paul makes his appeal, “welcome him as you would welcome me” (v.17). He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back into his household so that they could be reconciled. Although Paul did not order Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery he seems to infer it by saying he knows Philemon “will do even more than I ask” (v.21). This was the legal way to liberation from slavery; whereas escaping was illegal.
Equal before God
According to the Bible, whether someone was a slave or a master it made no difference in their standing before God. Both were sinners bound for hell and both could be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22-23). All sinners are guilty before God and so are condemned to judgement. The Bible says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13NIV). Everyone includes both slaves and masters and whatever category you can think of. So salvation is equally available to all. It’s not like one’s social standing on earth; no one has any special privileges in this respect.
What about after they become a Christian by trusting in Christ for paying the penalty for their sin? The Bible says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). A Christian slave has the same position before God and the same inheritance as a Christian master. Social standing makes no difference in terms of salvation and its blessings. In this way, social distinctions disappear in God’s spiritual family; they are irrelevant. Such differences are replaced by equality and unity. All Christians have equal standing before God (1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11). Our unity in the family of believers transcends all other distinctions, including the social distinction, between slaves and masters. So slaves and masters and workers and team leaders have equal standing before God.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon he said that a Christian slave such as Onesimus was a “dear brother” who should be accepted as though he was the apostle Paul (Phile. 16-17)! What a change of status for a runaway slave! He now shared a common faith with his master. The principle here is “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). Because God had accepted Onesimus into His spiritual kingdom and Onesimus was serving God, then Philemon should accept him as a fellow believer. So Christianity elevated slaves to be equal with others in the family of God. By the way, this verse comes after Paul deals with matters of secondary importance in Romans 14 and Paul taught that whether a person was a master or a slave was less important than whether they were a Christian or not.
So our relationships with other believers should cut across the social barriers in our society. If God has accepted someone into His kingdom, we should accept them as fellow believers regardless of their social status. As a church we should accept any believer that seeks to follow God, regardless of their place in society. So a local church can be comprised of people with not only a diversity of nationality and culture, but also a diversity of position in society.
Also Christian slaves and their masters will be rewarded equally by God. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:7-8). So when they are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for the good things done for the Lord when they served others, there is no discrimination between slave and master, they are treated the same. There is no favoritism with God.
Christian slaves and workers
Let’s look at what the Bible says to slaves such as Onesimus and apply this to our working life. When a slave became a Christian they were to be content with their situation and not rebel and demand their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21-24). Instead they were to live the Christian life in their situation. But if they had an opportunity to be freed, they should take advantage of it.
“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves” (1 Ti. 6:1-2). Slaves must respect their masters because otherwise they may dishonor Christ’s name and Christianity.
“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Ti. 2:9-10). Christian slaves were to be loyal and trustworthy because their behavior could either help or hinder the gospel message.
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pt. 2:18). Christian slaves are told to respect and obey even hash masters. By enduring suffering, they were following Christ’s example. He suffered unjustly for the wrongs of others. As a worker are we willing to submit to a harsh client or boss? This is difficult in our day when we readily claim our rights, but forbearance is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:5-8). Slaves were to obey and serve their masters as it they were Christ. Do we give our client or boss good value? Do we work cheerfully and willingly? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we do, then we will be rewarded for this when we get to heaven. Once again how we work affects our testimony for Christ.
There are similar instructions in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). As Christians, all our work should be for the Lord. Even the most menial tasks are included in “whatever you do”. Do we serve and work as though we have two bosses: one on earth and one in heaven?
So slaves were to be content with their situation and respect their master submitting to their leadership and obeying them. What about us? Are we content with our work situation? Do we respect our team leader, submitting to their leadership and obeying them? Are we loyal and trustworthy?
Christian masters and team leaders
Let’s look at what the Bible says to slave owners such as Philemon and apply this to team leaders.
“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). They were to pay a proper wage and not exploit their workers because God was watching. Christian masters and team leaders should treat their workers with justice and fairness. The worker deserves their wages and it is the team leader’s responsibility to ensure they receive what is due to them. The worker may also deserve recognition and acknowledgement for a job done well.
“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Eph 6:9). They are not to be a bully who uses abusive or threatening language because they have a Master in heaven to whom they are accountable. Just because you may have more status on earth doesn’t mean you get preference in heaven.
As masters had positional power over slaves, so team leaders have positional power over their team. In the previous passages we saw that such power should not be abused. To put it in perspective, team leaders must report to higher powers. If not on earth, then certainly in heaven. Christian masters and team leaders are reminded of their Master in heaven.
If you are a team leader, are you devoted to the welfare of your workers (1 Ti. 6:2)? Do you treat them fairly or do you exploit them? Are you a bully? How we lead and manage others affects our testimony for Christ.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (v.18). Paul was willing to pay for whatever Onesimus owed to Philemon. He said “I will pay it back” (v.19). It seems as though Onesimus had stolen things from Philemon before he escaped and went to Rome. Now he was ready to make restitution so they could be reconciled, but Paul was going to make the repayment. Even though Onesimus was guilty of theft and was obliged to make the repayment, Paul said no, I’ll do it. Paul substituted for Onesimus. Because Paul stepped in, Onesimus could be reconciled with Philemon.
In this case, Paul is like Jesus Christ and we are like Onesimus because Jesus substituted for us. We are all guilty of going our own way and rebelling against God, which is called sin. The Bible says that because we have sinned we are eternally separated from God. But Jesus took the initiative and paid the death penalty for us so we can be reconciled with God. Because Jesus stepped into our world, we can be reconciled with God. Have you taken up His offer like Onesimus did with Paul?
So does the NT condone slavery? No, it mentions slavery because slavery was prevalent when it was written. The Bible records practices in society at the time, such as slavery, which it does not necessarily approve. For example, slaves were mentioned in some of Christ’s parables because they were common at that time. However, the NT does say that kidnapping slaves is as sinful as murder because it is stealing (1 Ti. 1:9-10).
The NT regulates slavery so that the slave of a Christian master was treated as well as an employee. There was to be no abuse or exploitation but justice and fairness. When the teachings of the New Testament are followed, the evils of slavery are removed. That’s why some translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave”.
It’s all a matter of priority. According to the NT, the top priority is to live for Christ, which is more important than improving one’s social status. The main purpose of the Bible is to show the way of salvation, not to reform society. Jesus didn’t come to reform society. He came to reform people. When people repent they have a change in attitudes and behaviour. Changes that come from the inside are more effective than those that are imposed externally such as political and social reforms. Likewise the primary task for Christians today is not to change political and social structures, but to further the gospel by offering forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Anyway, we won’t have a perfect society until Jesus comes again to rule in His millennial kingdom.
Lessons for us
How we work affects our testimony for Christ. In our work life is there: respect, submission, obedience, contentment, loyalty, honesty and wholeheartedness? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we lead others at work is there justice and fairness or are we a bully? Do we realise we are accountable to God? Let’s honor God at work.
Finally, do social distinctions hinder our relationships with other Christians or affect the unity of the church? Do we have favorites? Do we ignore others? Let’s honor God at church.
Written, April 2013
Perseverance or backsliding?
The Bible records many of the words spoken and written by people in ancient times. In this article we look at what we can learn from some of the words spoken by six godly men near the end of their lives. The men are: Joseph, Moses and Joshua from the Old Testament and Jesus, Stephen and Paul from the New Testament.
Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob. As Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, Joseph was one of the original children of Israel! Jacob’s descendants were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt and rose to second in command under Pharaoh king of Egypt. God used him to save his family and the Egyptians from a 7-year drought – in this sense he was their savior. During this time his father’s household also moved to Egypt.
Final words. At the age of 110 years, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Gen. 50:24-25NIV). As he knew that God had promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites and trusted that God would take them from Egypt to Canaan, he made them promise to take his mummy (embalmed body) with them so it could be buried in Canaan.
Lesson for us. Joseph’s faith is an example for us to follow, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones” (Heb. 11:22). “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 1:1). So up to the end of his life Joseph trusted that God’s promises would be fulfilled. He didn’t backslide from when he trusted God in his youth.
Moses was an Israelite born in Egypt in the third generation after Joseph. God used him to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – in this sense He was their savior. In the exodus about 2 million Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea and travelled towards Canaan. He took Joseph’s mummy with him (Ex. 13:19).
Final words. Before his death at the age of 120 years Moses transferred leadership of the Israelites to Joshua and told him, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged “(Dt. 31:7-8). He encouraged Joshua to continue leading the people by reminding him of God’s continual presence. Then he taught them a new song and gave a farewell message in which he assured them of God’s protection and support, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27).
Lesson for us. Christians should appreciate God’s continual presence, protection and support via the indwelling Holy Spirit. We should be encouraged by this, whatever our role may be. This also helps us to be contented and avoid the love of money or possessions (Heb. 13:5). Also, are we training the next generation in God’s ways like Moses trained Joshua?
As one of the faithful spies, Joshua didn’t die in the desert like the rest of the Israelites who rebelled against God. After the death of Moses he led the Israelites into Canaan.
Final words. In a farewell message before he died at the age of 110 years Joshua said, “Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14-15). He urged them to worship God instead of idols. At this time they buried Joseph’s mummy in Canaan in accordance with his request (Josh. 24:32). The Israelites followed the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, but turned to idolatry soon afterwards (Josh. 24:31; Judges 2:7, 10-13).
Lesson for us. Godly people like Joshua can have a great influence on others. They are faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like the others who died before reaching Canaan and so didn’t enjoy their inheritance on earth.
According to Luke’s genealogy, Jesus Christ was in the 52rd generation after Joseph (Lk. 3:23-37). Jesus was unique as He was not only a person like us, but He was also the Son of God who made the universe (Lk. 1:35)! Because He was divine, Jesus lived a perfect life and did no wrong. But He was executed and then came back to life and later returned to heaven. When Jesus died He took all the punishment that we deserve so that we can go to heaven if we trust in Him. In this sense He is a Savior for all humanity.
Final words. At the age of about 33 years, after the three hours of darkness when He was suffering crucifixion, Jesus said “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This meant that he had finished what He came to do, which was to suffer and die on our behalf. The way had been provided for sinners like us to be saved from eternal punishment and go to heaven instead. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus told His followers, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). They would tell others living across the known world about Jesus.
Lesson for us. First, we need to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, because we can’t do anything else to deserve heaven. Second, once we follow Jesus we need to share the good news about Him to others.
Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve in the first church at Jerusalem. He was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Because Stephen preached powerfully about Jesus, the Jews made false accusations about him. In a long speech he listed the failures of the Jewish people, which made the Jews so furious that they stoned him to death.
Final words. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59-60). Jesus made similar statements before He died (Lk. 23:34, 46).
Lesson for us. The more we focus on Jesus and what he has done for us, the more we become like Him.
Paul was a young Jewish leader who persecuted Christians and was associated with the stoning of Stephen. But God changed his life in a spectacular way and he became a follower of Jesus who spread across the Roman Empire the good news of Jesus had done.
Final words. In his last letter Paul wrote, “… The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He continued to trust God even though life had been difficult and the end of his service was near. He had obeyed the doctrines of the Christian faith and passed them on to others such as Timothy. Like the winner of a Greek athletic race was awarded a wreath (1 Cor. 9:25), his faithful service would be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Lesson for us. Godly people like Paul remain faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like Demas who “loved this world” and deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).
Until our final day, let’s imitate these godly men by having:
- The faith of Joseph that God keeps His promises
- The assurance of Moses that God is always with us as His Holy Spirit, who provides security and contentment.
- The godly influence of Joshua who didn’t backslide
- The message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ
- The Christ-like life of Stephen
- The perseverance of Paul who didn’t backslide
Because of the examples of these final words, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 13:1-3). If we pay careful attention to these examples “we do not drift away” from an active faith in Christ (Heb. 2:1).
Written, December 2012
Made to be inhabited
A letter in a newspaper stated that Genesis chapter 1-11 is pre-history and is probably best described as a ”saga”, which is a story. They said it was a different genre to the rest of Genesis, which I assume was considered to be real history which had been verified by archaeology. Well, what does the evidence show us?
The history of the universe from the beginning of time according to those who reject the Bible and the God of the Bible is often told as follows:
- About 15 billion years ago – there was a “big bang” and stars like the sun formed from the exploding gases
- Then about 4.6 billion years ago – planets like earth formed around the stars
- 3.5 billion years ago – the first life appeared in deep water when molecules combined to form single-celled organisms
- 1 billion years ago – multi-cellar organisms evolved
- 600 million years ago – invertebrate animals and fish evolved
- 475 million years ago – land plants evolved
- 360 million years ago – amphibians and then the first land animals evolved
- 250 million years ago – reptiles ruled
- 200 million years ago – birds and mammals ruled
- 90 million years ago – flowering plants evolved
- 200 thousand years ago – the first humans evolved
Bill Gates is funding a project to present this information online for high school students. Let’s look at what the Bible says about such “big history”.
According to Jesus
When Jesus was discussing divorce and marriage He went back to Genesis and quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife …” (Mk. 10:6-7NIV). These verses refer to the first people Adam and Eve. Here He links the “beginning of creation” with the beginning of the human race.
When Jesus was condemning the Pharisees, he quoted the range of martyrs in the Old Testament, “the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Lk. 11:50-51). Abel was in the first family (Genesis 4) and Zechariah was mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24, the last book in the Jewish Old Testament. Here He links the “beginning of the world” with the first family.
Clearly Jesus believed that early Genesis was real history, not just a story.
We can also learn something about the beginning of everything from Jesus. It is instructive to consider how Jesus demonstrated God’s power. He did many miracles; more than is recorded in the Bible (Jn. 20:30). For example:
- A storm was calmed straight away (Mk. 4:39)
- 5,000 men plus women and children were fed from five loaves and two fish (Mk. 6:30-44)
- People were healed immediately: the blind could see (Mt. 20:34); the crippled could walk (Lk. 13:13) and the dead stood up (Mk. 5:42; Jn. 11:43-44).
So Jesus could change the physical world instantly. He didn’t need time to do it in gradual steps. Likewise, God can create physical things instantly. He doesn’t need time to do it in gradual steps from the simple to the complex.
According to Paul
When looking at why people who have not heard the gospel still face God’s judgment, Paul wrote “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:21). God’s attributes have been evident to people “since the creation of the world”, not just since people have been on the earth. The implication is that people have been here since the creation of the world. This is consistent with what Jesus said about Adam, Eve and Abel.
Paul also believed in Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). For example, He contrasted Adam and Jesus in three passages of the New Testament:
- “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:44-45). From Adam we have physical life in a natural body, but from Jesus we can have eternal life now and a redeemed body at the resurrection.
- “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin … through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-21). So death entered the world because of Adam’s sin, but eternal life is possible through Jesus.
- “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). From Adam we have physical death, but from Jesus people can be resurrected from the dead.
So Paul viewed both Adam and Jesus as true historical characters, not as mythical figures. He saw the creation and fall into sin of early Genesis as historical events that had a significant impact on our world, not as “pre-history” stories.
According to historical records
If there has been a crime or a car accident, the police determine what happened from the evidence and by interviewing witnesses. The Biblical writers witnessed what they wrote about, except for situations such as creation when God was the witness.
History is the study of past events. We don’t use operational science because it’s only reliable for present events – we can’t do experiments on the past or the future unless we make assumptions (then the finding relies on the assumptions made). Documentary evidence is the best form of historical record. Let’s look at what the historical records in the Bible meant for its original readers, the Children of Israel.
When God gave them the ten commandments, He said “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). This was a model for their working week. In this context, the heavens are the stars and galaxies. God took 6 days to create the universe, but could have taken 6 hours, 6 minutes or 6 seconds. After all, God is outside the time of our finite world. He is infinite and all powerful.
God didn’t use a long process to create everything. He commanded and it was done immediately (Ps. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3). I am not aware of any Scriptures which indicate long ages of time were involved in creation.
This is also supported by the resurrection which is described as “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). So our resurrection bodies will be created instantly. This is consistent with the original creation taking a short period of time and Christ’s miracles happening instantly. God doesn’t need lots of time to create something new.
The creation was finished on day 6, which was when Adam and Eve were created. So we know that people have been on earth since then.
A mature universe
On the day they were created, Adam named the animals and Adam and Eve were married (Gen. 2:19-20, 24). They were created as mature adults. The universe and the earth that God created were mature. Its complex interacting systems functioned properly from the beginning. The animals and plants lived in mature and functioning ecosystems. So the creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex.
This means that at that time the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. Scientists calculate the age of the universe by assuming that all the stars and galaxies have expanded to their positions after a big explosion. It is an assumption that is also based on using the red- shift of light and the Hubble law to calculate the expansion rates and the distances of galaxies. However, the Bible says that God placed them in their positions on day 4 of creation by stretching them out (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 104:2). So the difference between their apparent age of 15 billion years and the Biblical age of thousands of years represents the miracle that God did on day 4.
When did this happen? Is Genesis 1-11 pre-history? It is followed by Genesis 12-25 which is about Abraham. Do we know much about before this time? Yes we do. In Genesis 5 and 11 we have detailed genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-26). These are not just lists of ancestors and descendants. Their ages at the birth of their child in the family tree and their death are also given. Some Biblical genealogies have gaps because their purpose is to show their main ancestors (Ezra 7:1-5; Mt. 1:1-16). But these ones are worded in such a way as to exclude omissions and gaps. They are the most comprehensive genealogies in the Bible. Because they cover 19 generations, we know more about these people than our own ancestors!
Besides this, there are two other genealogies that cover this period in the Bible (1 Chron. 1:1-27; Lk. 3:33-38). There are three genealogies in the Bible covering the period back to Adam that some allege is pre-history! So it’s real history. It seems as though in recent times some people call it pre-history to explain the inconsistency with the recent extra-biblical account.
When you add up that dates given in Scripture you find that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago. That’s a long time, thousands of years, but it’s not millions of years. When compared to the extra-biblical timeline, the historical timeline:
- Is documented historically instead of being calculated
- Is shorter (about 6,000 years compared to about 15 billion years)
- Has people appearing near the beginning (people have been here for 99.9998% of the time); instead of near the end (people have been here for 1.3% of the time). People have been here most of the time. After all, God made the world to be inhabited, “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited … I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:18-19).
The extra-biblical account is inconsistent with recorded history. As it relies on assumptions of people who were not there when it happened, clearly these assumptions are wrong. What are these incorrect assumptions?
- They rule out a God of miracles. This means they have to rely on current physical processes and forces to explain the past.
- Consequently, they believe that the present is the key to the past, but according to the Bible the past is the key to the present – after all history goes forwards, not backwards!
- They believe that given enough time everything can create itself and organisms always evolve or build up gradually over time from simple to complex. Therefore the biological world has become more complex with time.
- They believe simple organisms are primitive and developed earlier than more complex organisms.
Does it matter if the extra-biblical explanation of the past history of the world is wrong? Yes, because it destroys the gospel message. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). That’s what happens if the first three chapters of Genesis are not historical, but a story that isn’t necessarily true. This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.
This explanation moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to making it be a part of our world (which Christians call God’s creation). In this case disease, decay and death have always been a part of our world. They are the normal situation; and not viewed as being abnormal. It takes away the lack of disease and death before the fall. It puts death before sin, not after it. It puts evil before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.
Lessons for us
As believers, our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by God, not by the views of those who reject God. This means that our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by the Bible, not by the extra-biblical theories which rule out the possibility of divine intervention in the natural world, such as miracles. The Bible says that God has intervened in our big history and He will intervene again. We ignore that at our peril.
Sin, death and salvation are important aspects of the Bible and Christianity. Let’s be aware of the implications of ideas such as extra-biblical big history which are inconsistent with the Biblical record.
Finally, the Bible is not a science book; but it is a history book. It is the best record of ancient history we have today; a supreme example of ancient history; and a big history book. It contains documentary evidence by eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. So we can trust the Bible on big history.
Written, June 2012
A self-supporting missionary
Paul was a Jew who lived in the Roman Empire. His Hebrew name was Saul and his Greek name was Paul. He would have learnt his trade of tent-making as a youth as it was the Jewish custom to provide manual training for their sons (Acts 18:3). As the son of a Pharisee, at the age of 13-15 he was sent to Jerusalem to study the Jewish religion under Gamaliel, an eminent teacher of Jewish law (Acts 22:3; 26:4-5). Until his miraculous conversion, Paul was a fanatical Pharisee who persecuted Christians (Gal. 1:13-14). After all, according to Deuteronomy “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Dt. 21:23NIV). He would have thought: “How could the Messiah be one who died a criminal’s death and was cursed by God?”
Called and commended
Paul was called and commended to be a pioneer missionary to Gentiles in lands around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 9:15; Gal 1:15; 2:9). Before his first missionary journey, the Holy Spirit told the church in Antioch, “‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3). During his second missionary journey, Paul was told in a vision; “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).
His message was “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” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Jesus came from Heaven to save us, died for our sins in our place, was raised from death and was seen by many after His resurrection. He now sits at the right hand of God who has given Him all power and authority, including the right to act as judge of all humanity. By trusting in Christ’s work we can be rescued from the coming judgment.
Let’s investigate what enabled Paul to undertake his life’s mission.
Second missionary journey
On his second missionary journey with Silas, Luke and Timothy, Paul was supported by the hospitality of believers. At Philippi, they stayed with Lydia and after a spectacular night in jail the jailer gave them a meal (Acts 16:15, 34). They stayed with Jason at Thessalonica (Acts 7:7), while at Corinth they stayed with Aquila and Priscilla for 1.5 years (Acts 18:2-3, 11). The Bible says, “because he was a tent-maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”. So, he worked at his trade of tent-making to pay his living expenses. By the way, his main training was to be a Jewish rabbi and tent-making was a manual skill he would have learnt when he was younger.
While in Corinth Paul wrote two letters to the church in Thessalonica. As Christ’s apostles, they were entitled to financial support from the Thessalonians, but they worked day and night to provide for their own needs (1 Th. 2:6; 9). They didn’t want to be a burden to the believers who were poor and persecuted. As he didn’t want to be unduly dependant on others, Paul earned his own living while he was preaching there.
Paul explains this further when he addresses those who had stopped working for a living because they expected the Lord’s return: “you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Th. 3:7-10).
Paul worked night and day at his trade of tent-making, in order to pay people for the food that he was eating.
Third missionary journey
Paul and his companions continued to be supported by the hospitality of believers on his third missionary journey. At Caesarea, they stayed with Philip the evangelist, while they stayed with Mnason at Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-10, 15-16). At Corinth, they may have stayed with Stephanas as his household “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (1 Cor. 16:15). He also told those in Rome to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).
On this trip, Paul spent three years at Ephesus (Acts 20:31). He may have stayed with Aquila and Priscilla who had moved there from Corinth (Acts 18:18-19; 1 Cor. 16:19). While he was there he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth and when he got to Macedonia, he wrote a second letter.
Paul said that the apostles supported themselves by working hard with their own hands and he urged the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:12, 16). Although he had the right as an apostle to financial support (1 Cor. 9:4-14), he didn’t use this right in Corinth (he says this three times v12, 15, 18). Instead he worked so as not to give his critics any ground for accusing him of preaching for money (1 Cor. 9:14-18). He offered the gospel free of charge so the message would not be hindered. This was an example of self-denial or self-sacrifice for the good of others. He noted that Barnabas also worked to support himself (1 Cor. 9:6). This suggests that Paul and Barnabas supported themselves on the first missionary journey as it was the only one they made together.
This message was repeated twice in his second letter:
- When Paul was with the Corinthians he didn’t receive any financial assistance from them (2 Cor. 11:7-9). But he did receive support from other churches, including those in Macedonia. He boasted that he preached the gospel free of charge and was not a burden to anyone.
- Also, He didn’t receive financial support because he didn’t want to be a burden on them and because he wanted them and not their possessions (2 Cor. 12:13-18). When Paul sent Titus to Corinth, Titus lived like Paul in working in an occupation so he would not have to be supported by the Corinthians.
Paul wasn’t like the false teachers who peddled the word of God for profit and tried to turn the ministry into a profitable profession (2 Cor.2:17; 11:20). In Micah’s time there were leaders who judged for a bribe, priests who taught for a price and prophets who told fortunes for money (Mi. 3:11).
Paul also wrote, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Cor. 6:3). He knew that some people look for an excuse not to listen to the message of salvation. So he was scrupulous and lived beyond reproach. He was characterised by “hard work”, which would have included manual labour such as tent-making.
When farewelling the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-35). So he also did tent-making in Ephesus. He didn’t seek material reward. Instead he worked hard making tents to provide for his needs and the needs of those who served with him. He believed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was a great example to the spiritually immature who were tempted to be lazy or greedy.
Prisoner in Rome
The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus with gifts to take care of Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (Phil. 2:25). Twice they had sent him financial support when he was a missionary in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:14-19). They supported gospel workers. Paul said their gift was like an offering and sacrifice that pleased God. It was like the Old Testament fellowship (or peace) offering that was an expression of thankfulness (Lev. 7:11-15). God is pleased when we use our material resources to do good and share with those in need (Heb. 13:16). It’s the sacrifice of our possessions.
Paul found that God meets our needs (Phil. 4:19) and he said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11-12) .
Were there any tent-makers before Paul?
You might ask, what about earlier examples in the Bible? Well in the Old Testament times the Jewish priests and Levities were supported by the tithes and offerings and sacrifices of the other people. The High Priest was the spiritual head of the nation, while the priests and Levities served in the temple. They mediated between God and the people. They inherited these roles which were restricted to the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. The priests wore special clothes. As the priests and Levites had no other occupations, it seems that they were not tent-makers. But God put an end to the Jewish priests and Levities when the temple was destroyed in AD70. If there is no temple, there is no Jewish priesthood and this has been the case for the past 1,942 years.
However, Nehemiah was a tent-maker as he was self-supporting and unlike other governors of Judah, he didn’t place a burden on the Jews who returned from captivity (Neh. 5:14-18).
In the New Testament, the Old Testament system was replaced by one where each believer is a priest with direct access to God through Jesus Christ as the High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 5:1-6; 1 Pt. 2:5). Jesus is our mediator today. There is no special building like the temple and no special priests. However, there is provision for financial support as required for apostles (1 Cor. 9:4-14), elders (1 Ti. 5:17-18), teachers (Gal. 6:6) and missionaries (Phil. 4:4-19). But each of these can be tent-makers like Paul.
What about the time of Christ? We know that the original disciples left their occupations to follow Jesus: To the fishermen he said, “‘Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him” (Mt. 4:19-20). However, after the resurrection they went fishing again and Jesus helped them catch 153 fish (Jn. 21:1-13).
When Jesus sent His followers out on mission trips,He told them not to take money, but rely on hospitality for their support (Mt. 10:1-15; Lk. 10:1-7). Their needs were met on a day by day basis. But these instructions were changed at the Last Supper (Lk. 22:35-37). Now He tells them to take money and provisions and be prepared to protect themselves. This was probably because He was about to be crucified and ascend back to heaven and would no longer be with them physically. It is consistent with tent-making by working in order to get the money and so being able to support themselves.
Lessons for us
Paul was an example for us to follow.
Calling. Paul was called to specific missionary work. All believers are all called to share their faith where God has placed them. In this sense they are all called to be missionaries. What else has God called you to do? Like Paul, a true servant of Christ will continue to preach the good news of salvation whether they receive money for it or have to work to finance themselves. Financial reward should not be a motive for serving the Lord.
Paul’s service was supported in three ways: hospitality, giving and employment.
Hospitality. Paul and his companions often stayed in people’s homes. Such hospitality is important because the host’s names are given in Scripture. How do we use our homes? Do we use our resources to support the spread of the gospel? Are we hospitable or selfish? In the Bible, hospitality is associated with the expression of love and spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Also, when we open our homes to one another we are inviting the Lord into our homes (Mt. 25:34-40). Having people over for a meal is a great way to get to know each other better and encourage each other.
Giving. From time to time different churches provided funds to support Paul’s missionary work. Do we live economically in order to be able to give more money to support the gospel? Do we support gospel workers? After all, all we have belongs to the Lord. Are we generous or stingy?
Employment. When necessary, Paul worked as a tentmaker. He didn’t give up his trade when he was evangelising. He practiced self-support. He evangelised fellow workers like Aquila and Priscilla. He was not isolated from the ordinary working world but identified with the common people who had to work for a living. Employment enables non-Christians to see Christians in action. It also provides access to a range of people and our diligence at work and our lifestyle can influence colleagues to follow Jesus Christ. It also opens up opportunities to reach seemingly inaccessible people in new ways with the gospel. Today tent-makers have access to countries where traditional missionaries are denied. Are we using our work to further the gospel? Are we encouraging people to be tent-makers who work to support themselves while they spread the gospel?
Written June 2012
Divine revelation trumps human ideas
Some people think that religions such as Christianity are comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science. Their reasoning goes like this. Until a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen? Well, obviously, God did it. If a person didn’t know how something worked or why something happened, they could say, “God did it.” This is known as the “god of the gaps”. But as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where such a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, these gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor. The same argument has been applied to Christianity.
In this article we address this topic by looking at the origin of Christianity. In order to be objective, I will define “Christianity” according to what is written in the Bible, not what is written or practised elsewhere. So we are not looking at Christian practices or traditions.
Was it Paul?
Paul was a pioneer missionary in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. He spread Christianity to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys and there are at least 13 of these in the New Testament, including Romans, which is the most comprehensive description of the Christian faith. His core message was called the gospel:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ….
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17NIV).
Here we see that the God of the Bible is the source of this message, which was promised in the Old Testament. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there has been a promise that one day people can be released from the consequences of their sin. It is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Savior for sinners. The gospel is God’s power for salvation: the God that raised Jesus from the dead promises to also raise those who trust in the Savior. Also, it is for everyone who believes; Gentiles as well as Jews. There are no national barriers to this salvation. It is obtained by faith alone; by accepting that Jesus took the punishment for our sins when He was crucified. He took our penalty and we receive His righteousness and eternal life.
Paul also said: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). He emphasises the source of the gospel message: it’s “not of human origin”; he “did not receive it from any man”; he wasn’t taught it; it came “by revelation from Jesus Christ”. Therefore, Christianity was not an invention or a discovery, but it was a direct revelation from God. In fact he mentions the whole godhead as the source of the message, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:12).
Furthermore, Paul was a servant of Jesus who was sent to preach the gospel and he followed the example of Christ (Acts 26:16-18; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 11:1). So although Paul preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead he taught that the gospel was God’s idea.
Was it Peter?
Peter was a pioneer preacher to the Jews and on the day of Pentecost he preached the first gospel message after Christ ascended back to heaven. At Pentecost he quoted from the Old Testament and showed how Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. Peter witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to repent to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Did Peter invent his message? When he spoke he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). As the Jewish religious leaders saw his courage and realized that he was an unschooled, ordinary fishermen, they were astonished and noted that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). So Peter was given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit and he had been taught by Jesus. Although Peter preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead the sources of His words were the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the other apostles.
Was it the Old Testament prophets?
Both Paul and Peter referred to the Old Testament prophets when they preached the gospel. As it was foreshowed, the gospel was not a completely new idea. For example, the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, called Immanuel, meaning God with us, and would die 483 years after the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:25-26; Mic. 5:2). Also, the righteous lived by their faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).
There are also illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament. The bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness was used to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have eternal life (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). The Jewish sacrifices for forgiveness of sin foreshadowed that Jesus was our sacrifice and High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:23-28). These illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament are clearer in hindsight than they would have been for someone living at the time. However, we know that when Jesus was born Simeon and Anna were both prompted by the Holy Spirit to be waiting for the Jewish Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38).
Peter wrote about Old Testament prophecies, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own (mind) interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21). Their message was divinely inspired, originating from God, not from humanity. This is consistent with Paul who wrote that: “all Scripture was God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). The writers of the Bible were given their words by the Holy Spirit. They present spiritual truths in spiritual words. Although the Old Testament prophets promised a Messiah, they didn’t know the details of the gospel message. They didn’t invent it, but their information came from the Holy Spirit, who is God.
Was it Jesus Christ?
We have already seen that Paul said that he received the gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Also, it is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3). So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. In fact, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.
In one sense, Christ is the source of Christianity. But what did He say?
- He was sent into the world by God the Father (Jn. 17:3, 18, 23, 25).
- “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34).
- “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” (Jn 5:30). He always obeyed the Father.
- “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).
So everything He said and did was done in obedience to God the Father. Therefore, God the Father is the source of the gospel message. It was His idea.
Was Jesus Christ merely a man? This is an important question. The answer is no, because He claimed to be divine and this is supported by the evidence. First, His miracles, which included calming storms and consistently healing people instantly. He also gave His apostles the power to do miracles. Human beings don’t have these powers. Second, He resurrected from death and ascended into heaven. Human beings can’t do that. He appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). That’s a lot of witnesses. This is consistent with His claim to be equal with God. So, Christ was the divine God in a human body. He was unique.
Christianity is a revelation
We have seen that the gospel was God’s idea, which was revealed progressively to people over time from the brief promises of the Old Testament prophets, to the preaching of Peter to the Jews and then the preaching of Paul to the Gentiles. Because the gospel message seems foolish to people, it couldn’t have been man-made (1 Cor. 1:18). Instead, God achieves His purposes in ways that seem foolish. It was a divine invention, not a human invention or discovery. That is why Christianity is unique. All other faiths and religions are products of the human mind. The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is emphasised throughout Scripture.
The Children of Israel were told to destroy all the people in Canaan because they were idol worshippers (Deut. 18:9-12; 20:16-18). This was God’s judgment of their sinful ways and to stop the Israelites worshipping their gods (Gen. 15:16). If the Jews worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28). Unfortunately because the Jews were unfaithful and didn’t destroy all the idol worshippers, they followed idols instead of the true God, and the consequence was that they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.
While the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, “They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands” (2 Chron. 32:19). When the Jews were told that the Lord was the only true God, they were also told that idols are worthless and “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save” (Isa. 44:6, 9; 45:20).
Idols like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor are worthless because they are man-made and they are dead. They are the product of human minds and human technology and have no power to save people from their troubles. What a contrast to the God of the Israelites who was the living Creator: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26).
The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is also emphasised in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). It we do this, we should have no time for idolatry.
Unfortunately, most reject God’s revelation in creation and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:23, 25). This sums it up. Are we worshiping and trusting a creation or the Creator of all? The creation can be something God has made or a human creation or idea. They are both dead and have no power to save people from their sins. On the other hand, John refers to the Creator as “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3). At Lystra, Paul said, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). He is the living God.
Here we see there are two types of messages or faiths and two destinies. First Christianity, with a divine founder, the true God, the Creator and Redeemer, whose message is the gospel, God’s plan of salvation, which leads to eternal life with God. On the other hand, all other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are products of the human mind, whose message is a different gospel, which only has value in this life and leads to eternal suffering without God.
Of course, the Jewish faith as given in the Old Testament was also God’s idea, but it was superseded when the New Testament was given in the first century AD.
Lessons for us
So are religions such as Christianity comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science? This is not true for Christianity because the gospel is God’s idea, not a myth invented by people such as Paul or Peter or the Old Testament prophets. The “god of the gaps” is wrong because science has not replaced God, it has merely discovered more about God’s creation. Also, it doesn’t address our fundamental problem of sin and guilt before a holy God. Furthermore we should see God working everywhere, and not restrict Him to the areas we don’t understand.
We have seen that the Christian gospel is unique; it came from God and God is the main character. It is a revelation, not an invention or a myth. All other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are false; they are idols.
We need to be wary of modern idols of the human mind and human technology, which can occupy much of our time. They don’t help our deepest need and should be challenged like the prophets challenged pagan idolatry in the Old Testament. Above all, Paul says “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). So, let’s not get involved in the false ideas and religions that are merely the product of the human mind. Instead, let’s worship our living Creator God.
Written, June 2011