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