RUTH AND NAOMI: FIVE EXEGETICAL VIEWS OF RUTH

File:Ruth Naomi Obed.jpgThe book of Ruth is recognized by both Jewish and Christians alike as inspired, and canonical. In the Jewish community, it is read on the feast of Pentecost, and it is highly regarded by those who convert into Judaism. In the Christian tradition, it is grouped together with the historical books. In the Jewish tradition, it is grouped as part of the kethuvim or writings. Within the kethuvim, The Book of Ruth is part of Hamesh megillot (the five scrolls) alongside Song of Songs, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther.
The book of Ruth is one of the only two books of scripture named after a woman,[1]and the only one named after a gentile woman. Tradition and conservative scholars agree that the book was most likely written by the prophet and Judge Samuel. It was written to introduce the family of the famous King David who was the great-grandson of Ruth. The story takes place during the time when Israel did not have a king; the time of judges. It tells an amazing story of loyalty, and of God’s providential guidance of events for those who accept His precepts. Ruth, a Moabite widow, chooses to stay with her mother-in-law and accepts a life of destitute by her side. However, the Lord’s providence, and the wisdom of Naomi guide her to her kinsman redeemer Boaz who becomes her savior out of dearth and ruin.
To Christian it has become a treasured text often preached as an analogy of Christ relationship to the church. As Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman redeemer, so is Christ our kinsmen redeemer. Other Christians find a connection between Proverbs 31:10-31 with Ruth. The Book of Proverbs has a detailed description of an excellent wife, and amazingly Ruth the Moabite is the only one woman in the whole of scripture given this title. To Christian it is no small feat that a Gentile, and not a Jew was worthy of this title, and thus part of Christ’s genealogy. When it comes to sermons, it seems that often the focus is placed in the relationship between Boaz and Ruth, or on Ruth’s character of loyalty and faith. However, few have endeavor to develop an exegesis based on the relationship between Ruth and Naomi as expressed in Ruth 1:6-18. In this paper, one will briefly develop four distinct interpretations to this relationship; three from a western perspective and two from the majority word; more specifically Africa, and Latin America. The goal is to highlight how different communities contextualize their theology and to the distinction between Western exegesis and Majority world’s exegesis.
Conservative Western Exegesis
Western Evangelical View
The western evangelical community sees in this story a beautiful picture of loyalty portrayed by Ruth. Beginning from an understanding of cultures from the Ancient Near East they recognize that nations were divided by language and theology. Ruth’s statement to Naomi that the God of Naomi shall also become her God flows naturally from the previous statement that Naomi’s people shall become her people. In her context, it is more likely understood that to adopt the identity of Naomi’s people it is inseparable from adopting Naomi’s God. It is well known that the Moabites were considered the people Chemosh. However, Chemosh was not the only God that they worshiped, just the chief God. The Moabites were a henotheistic culture.[2]
The key verse, according to the western view, in this dialogue is verse seventeen where Ruth declares that even in death she will not be separated from Naomi. In her framework, this is Ruth’s way of making a commitment to be responsible for Naomi’s burial including whatever ritual may be necessary for the burial. The dialogue is a picture of loyalty and the merciful heart of Ruth. Everything that Ruth is willing to do draws out of the strong relationship with her mother-in-law, not from being convinced of a monotheistic faith in YHWH.[3]Furthermore, Mark S. Smith makes a case that the rhetoric in Ruth 1:16-17 is akin to a covenant made between two nations such as the one in 1 Kings 22:4 and 2 Kings 3:7. He adds that, with the death of Naomi’s son, the relationship between them has been severed. The covenant was meant to restore that relationship with the hope of overcoming struggles together.
The evangelical view applied this knowledge as an example of the ideal relationship between mother and daughter-in-law. The central character of Ruth becomes a hero of faith and an example of compassion for more modern audience. God honors Ruth’s radical love for her mother-in-law; who providentially guides Ruth through Naomi, and restores what they had lost.[4]
Messianic View
Messianic Jews have taken a different take when it comes to this relationship. While agreeing with the evangelical view, they go a step further in their assessment. Ruth, to Messianic Jews is not only a picture of the faithful church, but an example of how gentile Christians should relate to the Jewish people. They based their view on Ruth 1:16, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (NIV). [5] Messianic exegetes take each element from Ruth’s response as a sign of her heart.[6]
Messianic churches highlight that in the Hebrew text Ruth uses the personal name of God YHWH, and not the generic term elohim. They conclude that this was a conversion to Judaism and that she not only expressed her Love for the God of Israel, but she also loves the people hence why she stated “your people shall be my people.” Moreover, she expresses her love for the land of Israel evidence by her statement “Where you stay, I will stay.” This threefold love is what messianic Jews call the heart of Ruth, and every follower of Yeshuah Hamashiach, as they prefer to call Jesus the Christ, must have the same heart. Indeed, they agree with evangelicals that Ruth id a representation of the church, and as such the church must love God, the Jews, and the Land of Israel as Ruth herself illustrated.
Liberal Western Exegesis
The Liberal western exegesis has become a curiosity among many, and a serious interpretation among some denominations. In The Children are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships, Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley make the case that the relationship described in this verse is of a homosexual nature. His book sold millions of copy and today many saint are being persuade to what they perceived to be a more-tolerant Christianity.
Miner and Connoley begin their exegesis with a question “ Can two people of the same sex live in committed, loving relationship with the blessing of God?” The authors’ first premise begins with some historical analysis about life of a woman in the Ancient Near East. Women in Israel had to rely on her father or her husband for sustenance, and therefore, Naomi’s status as a widow was an assurance of poverty. They recognize that the command to take care of the widows and orphans stems from the fact that these were the most vulnerable members of society.[7]The second premise is drawn from Ruth’s words in verse 17 “Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lorddo so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Proponents of this view hold that this level of commitment can only be characterize as “Love.” Ruth willingness to die alongside Naomi is the same level of commitment found in marriage. In fact, some add that the author already hinted at this fact in verse 14 “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”[8]The Hebrew word daveqah (דָּ֥בְקָה) translated as cling, cleave, stick to, and hold-fast in the English text, is the same root word used in Genesis 2:24  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”[9] A verse understood as part of the marriage covenant to which the author is making an allusion.[10]It is quite obvious they may add that Naomi and Ruth were Lovers, and Ruth’s marriage to Boaz was a matter of convenience since the text never mentions that Ruth loved Boaz; furthermore, the book closes with emphasis on Naomi and her grandchild Obed; leaving Boaz completely out of the picture.
Majority World Exegesis
African view.
African theologians, when approaching Ruth 1:14-17, look for cultural similarities between Ruth context and their own. In fact, they have developed a theological approach, which has been termed as the Bosadi (Womanhood) perspective. Madipoane Masenya, a theologian with a Northern Sotho worldview, has written several compelling works based on the book of Ruth. She notes that the Ruth’s decision to stay with her mother-in-law is not shocking to a woman from Northern Sotho. In her culture, the death of a husband does not sever the relationship between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. In addition, Ruth’s decision to take of Naomi by gleaning from the fields later in the text would be the natural course of events for a Northern Sotho daughter-in-law. In South Africa, the daughter-in-law becomes part of her husband’s family, and as a daughter-in-law, she is expected to take care of her husband’s parents in their old age. However, Masenya admits that the largest distinction between her culture and the narrative of Ruth and Naomi lies in their deep and caring relationship. Indeed, Northern Sotho daughters-in-law tend to be subservient to their mothers-in-law. Masenya believes that those who read the narrative of Ruth can view her as having no choice in doing what her mother-in-law commands, or they can see a daughter–in-law who chooses to do what’s best for her mother-in-law. She strongly suggests that the relationship between Ruth and Naomi is essential in changing the cultural hostility in the Northern Sotho mothers and daughters-in-law.[11]
Masenya recognizes in a different article that, within a patriarchal driven culture, these women were capable of getting themselves out of poverty and emptiness. She sees this narrative as a tutorial for women in patriarchal societies to trust God, and to work in their context to get themselves out of their predicament. In fact, Masenya suggests that, at times, sacrifices ought to be made in order to gain better status. Her conclusion is drawn from what she believed was a sexual advance by Ruth upon Boaz. She reasons that feet were a euphemism for male genitalia, and when Ruth decided to uncover Boaz’s feet that she was risking what little status she had to gain greater status. She encourages African women, that even within the milieu of a patriarchal culture, women are capable of affecting change in their own families. She reminds her readers of the expression, “Mmago ngwana o swara thipa ka bogaleng translated as, ‘the mother of the child holds the sharp part of the knife…the proverb means that when crisis strikes a particular family, it is usually the woman in the family who will act as an agent to save the situation.’”[12]
Latin American
Much like their African brothers and sisters Latin American theologians approach the text looking for those elements that speak to their cultural and social dilemmas. Latin American theologians suggest that the book of Ruth is a political call to solidarity among humanity. In their analysis of the historical context, they believe that the text was written in the time of Ezra-Nehemiah and that the book of Ruth along side the book of Jonah was written to protest the social reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. They see a parallel between the return from Babylon and Naomi’s return to Bethlehem. In fact, they make a case that the main goals of the text are threefold. First, it aims to favor miscegenation as the norm to shape the social group. Second, it places women as an example of public virtue, which is social justice. Third, the book of Ruth demonstrates the transforming power of solidarity and compassion.[13]
In light of this when Latin American theologians approach Ruth 1:14-17 they see this dialogue as the moment in which the solidarity between Ruth and Naomi is forged. They become revolutionaries against the social norm and seek mutual help to improve one another’s future. In fact, Ruth becomes a revolutionary heroine as Agustin Fabra so candidly expresses that it is not easy to accompany one who is left alone and helpless, one who has nothing to offer because he/she needs everything. Therefore, Ruth’s act of deciding to stay with Naomi contains many more aspects than merely love with tender affection, for she is also willing to share her fate with all the consequences this may have. It is a decision not only emotional, but also ethical and of great moral courage.[14]Furthermore, Latin American theologians recognize the level of difficulty implied in the oath made by Ruth. Ruth had to look for a solution that would be beneficial for both her mother-in-law and herself. She could not marry someone who was not related to Naomi, for doing so would leave Naomi alone once again. In the context, she understood that no man would take in the mother of a former spouse.
Conclusion
The western-evangelical view is perhaps the most popular and widely accepted interpretation of this interchange. The careful research into the cultural and historical background is quite commendable; however, one is left with the feeling that there is more to this text than a mechanical often far off understanding. However, most western evangelicals fail to ask the reason behind Ruth and Orpah’s hesitation to leave Naomi. Indeed, Ruth’s willingness to cast her lot with Naomi cannot be left un-scrutinized. One proposes that Naomi’s character and her strong relationship with Ruth and Orpah, prior to her sons’ death, is a big factor in her daughters-in-law’s response. Perhaps the Biblical writer is making not only a case for a faithful character like Ruth, but also for a caring mother-in-law like Naomi.
The Messianic view is strong for the same reasons the evangelical view is strong. The Christology gleaned from the text is compelling and in ones opinion valid. However, the weakness in this view is found in the attempt to transform the political ideology of Zionism into a biblical doctrine. It is admirable that an attempt is made to contextualize the storyline to the current struggle of the Jewish people. The Jewish people today feel the constant throng of radical Islamist and suffer daily at the hands of suicide bombers or rockets across their border. Moreover, they are surrounded by their enemies who want nothing more than to drive them into to the, and consider them occupiers of a land that does not belong to them. When a minister of the Gospel tells them that faithful Christians should love them, their land, and by extension their rights to this lands, is sweet to their palates.
Nonetheless, as much sympathy one has for the struggle of Israel, the truth is that Ruth does not make any reference to the land of Israel, or whether one should love or hate this land. To one’s surprise, since messianic Jews tend to have a fairly good grasp of the Hebrew language, the fault lies on a misunderstanding of the Hebrew text. The line “Where you stay, I will stay” as rendered by the New International Version may be misunderstood. The Hebrew word translated as “Stay” in this verse is ’alin (אָלִין) is a Qal imperfect first common singular, and it is better translated as Lodge or Stay overnight.[15]The word is used in the story of the Levite and his concubine located in Judges 19:21, “And the old man said, ‘Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.’”[16]Simple cross-reference with a concordance should alert the student of God’s word to the fallacy in this view. Ruth was simply stating that she was not going to leave Noemi’s side. It could very well be true that Ruth loved the land of Israel, but this verse does not serve as evidence for it.
When it comes to the Western-liberal view, the best way to understand the argument is to outline it into the premises proposed by this exegesis. In essence Miner and Connoley state that:
Premise one: If Ruth had a radical love for Naomi
Premise two: and the passage uses language of a marriage covenant
Conclusion: then Ruth and Naomi were homosexual lovers.
As persuasive as it may seem, there are several fallacies in this line of argument.  First, this argument is a non-sequitur; the conclusion does not follow its premise. As it is true of most non-sequitur it is missing a third premise which should rewrite the line of argument as:
Premise one: If Ruth had a radical love for Naomi
Premise two: and the passage uses language of a marriage covenant
Premise three: and if radical love is indicative of sexual intercourse.
Conclusion: then Ruth and Naomi were homosexual lovers.
Only by having this premise will the conclusion follow, but the line of argument enters into a new problem. Two of its premises are false, and thus the conclusion is false. Premise one is true; Ruth demonstrated a radical love for Naomi by putting her life in danger of starvation, and perhaps even assault when she could have chosen to be confortable in her father’s house. However, premise two is false. The assumption is made that the word daveqah can only be a reference to marriage, and the book itself invalidates this assumption. The word three more times in the text, “Boaz asks Ruth to “stay” with his servant girls while gleaning during the harvest (2:8). Ruth tells Naomi that Boaz asked her to “stay”with his workers until the harvest was finished (2:21), and Ruth followed Boaz’s advice and “stayed close” to the other women until the harvesting was finished (2:23).”[17] Peter Ould states that the verses in the second chapter of Ruth “are clearly not invitations for Ruth to form covenant unions with either the workers or the other women.”[18]
The last premise (the added premise) is also false. The omission of this premise stems from the homosexual community attempts to define homosexuality as an emotional attachment between two people of the same gender, which they define as love. Unfortunately for them, a Homosexual is defined as, “relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex,”[19]and in addition one proposes that sexual attraction/lust ought not to be confused with love. One can love his or her own child in a radical manner to the point of death, yet this does not imply sexual attraction to one’s children; the mere though is deviant. Therefore, the premise is necessary in this line of argument, and the text gives no evidence for this premise.
The African worldview, as expressed by Masenya, in regards to this text is commendable in that it contextualizes the text. Counter to the western evangelical point of view, the dialogue becomes more dynamic and engaging with the audience. While westerners see the text as just an example of faith and loyalty, Africans find this book as a source of healing for a social ill. The narrative helps the process of bringing reconciliation within interpersonal relationships, more specifically mothers and daughters in law. However, one must disagree with Masenya’s interpretations in regards to Ruth’s uncovering of Boaz’s feet. An understanding of the Jewish culture and Jewish literature ought to weaken this perspective. It seems counterproductive that the Biblical writer will spend so much time demonstrating the level of integrity of Ruth, and then have her commit an act counter to her own character. Furthermore, whether this book was meant to elevate the family of King David, or as some propose, to counter the Ezra-Nehemiah forced-divorce ruling, this act would not argue against the attempted goal.
Finally, the Latin American view is admirable in that it seeks to deal with contemporary issues of Poverty, immigration, Nationalism, and enculturation. There are definitely elements in the book of Ruth that elevate social concern for those who are considered the untouchables of society. However, to advance this view as the main thrust of the text is misleading, and simply an attempt to turn the text into a  revolutionary script. Furthermore, One would propose that the narrative was written prior to the Babylonian conquest during the reign of David or Solomon. Evidence to the contrary is weak and based on flawed documentary hypothesis.

All of these exegetical works have weaknesses, and strengths. Taken them together helps inform one another’s work creating a more holistic exegetical work. The tools of Western Christianity, and the perception of the majority world can create an effective method of biblical interpretation. Further dialog among both camps will only benefit, and strengthen the missionary work among those who are yet to have an effective Gospel witness in their midst.


[1] The other book is Esther, neither the Protestant nor the Jewish tradition consider The Book of Judith canonical; thus it is not included as an option in this assessment.
[2] Daniel Isaac Block, Vol. 6, Judges, Ruth, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), Loc. cit.
[3]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Loc. cit.
[4] Mark S. Smith, “‘Your People Shall Be my People’: Family and Covenant in Ruth 1:16-17,” The Catholic Biblical Quaterly 69 (2007): 256-258.
[5] Emphasis added;
[6] Eric D. Lakatos, “FAQ Tikvat Yisrael: What is the “heart of Ruth?”.” Tikvat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue of Cleveland Ohio. http://tikvatcleveland.org/faq.html#ruth (accessed April 21, 2012).
[7]Jeff Miner, and John Tyler Connoley, The children are free: reexamining the biblical evidence on same-sex relationships(Indianapolis, Ind.: Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, 2002), 29.
[8] Emphasis added. All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Versionunless otherwise noted.
[9] Emphasis added.
[10] B. A. Robinson, “Same-Sex Relationships In The Bible: Conservative And Liberal Viewpoints,” Religious Tolerance .org, N.p., 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. .
[11] Madipoane J. Masenya (ngwan’a Mphahlele). “Struggling with Poverty/ Emptiness: Rereading The Naomi-Ruth Story in African-South Africa.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 120 (2004): 46-59.
[12] Madipoane J. Masenya, “NGWETSI (BRIDE) The Naomi-Ruth Story from an African-South African Woman’s Perspective,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 14, no. 2 (1998): 51.
[13] Carmen B. Ubieta, “Ruth y Noemi,” Canal Comunidad iVoox. MP3 audio file. http://www.ivoo x.com/ruth-noemi-carmen-bernabe-ubieta-audios-mp3_rf_574218_1.html.
[14] Personal Translation from: Agustine Fara, “Ruth, La Humilde Heroina,” Monografias.com. http://www.monografias.com/trabajos88/ruth-humilde-heroina/ruth-humilde-heroina.shtml (accessed April 21, 2012).
[15] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. electronic ed. (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), Loc cit.
[16]Emphasis added
[17] Ronald G. Falconberry, “Does the Hebrew Word Dabaq Imply that Ruth and Naomi Were Gay? | Suite101.com.” Ronald G Falconberry Writing Profile | Suite101.com. N.p., 22 Jan. 2001. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. .
[18] Peter Ould, “Ruth and Naomi – An exegesis | An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy.” An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy, N.p., 17 Mar. 2009. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. .
[19] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
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Self-actualize Christian.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION
THROUGH THE LENS OF FAITH

Introduction 

 “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization,” with these words humanist psychologist Abraham H. Maslow launched the concept of self-actualization. Dr. Maslow posed in his article to the Psychological Review journal that a human has a hierarchy of prepotency in which the lower level prepotent needs overtake the consciousness of an individual until it is met, and the next prepotent need monopolizes his/her consciousness. Maslow organized this needs as physiological, safety, love, ‘esteem, and self-actualization. The physiological need, is a reference to a person’s basic needs for food and water. The safety need is a person necessity to feel free from threat to his or her life in the form of wild animals, criminal acts, and tyranny. The love need, is in reference to a person’s need to feel affection and a sense of belonging. The ‘esteem need, as Maslow describes it is, “need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others.” Finally, the focus of this paper, the need for self-actualization, which Maslow describes as, “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

The term self-actualization 

While Maslow may have started a third wave in humanist psychology, the term Self-actualization was not his original idea. The German-Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist who was a pioneer in modern neuropsychology, Kurt Goldstein, coined the term self-actualization. Admittedly Dr. Goldstein had a more general definition as posed in his book The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man:

 This tendency to actualize its nature, to actualize “itself,” is the basic drive, the only drive by which the life of the organism is determined …Normal behavior corresponds to a continual change of tension of such a kind that over and again that state of tension is reached that enables and impels the organism to actualize itself in further activities, according to its nature. Thus, experiences with patients teach us that we have to assume only one drive, the drive of self-actualization, and that the goal of the drive is not a discharge of tension 

 The point of disagreement between Maslow and Goldstein is the timing of the self-actualization. Maslow proposes that self-actualization occurs only upon all the previous prepotencies being met, thus sometime in the future. Conversely Goldstein believes that the potential to use all the capacities in self-actualization is available and present at the moment the organism requires it; thus no future development of this is implied.

Who is self-actualized? 

 For Goldstein self-actualization was a driving force, a motive, but for Maslow the highest level to be achieved in psychological development. Nonetheless, they both had relatively similar ideas in describing a self-actualized person. Maslow stated that self-actualized people have “an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality, and in general to judge the people correctly and efficiently.” One can summarized that the self-actualize person possesses unique characteristics such as, a realistic orientation to life; acceptance of self, others, and nature; spontaneity; problem-centeredness instead of self-centeredness; and an air of detachment. Furthermore, Self-actualizers need periodic privacy, show autonomy and independence, have a fresh appreciation of people and things. It is not overwhelmingly surprising that another developmental psychologist Jane Loevinger in describing her final stage of ego development, the integrated stage (a key element of this stage is being self-actualized) states that only a small portion of individuals are self-actualize. In fact, Maslow himself concludes, “Though in principle self-actualization is easy, in practice it rarely happens (by my criteria, certainly in less than 1% of the adult population). Maslow came to label this insight as psychopathology of normality.

Self-actualization and Self-denial 

 “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Formally defined as “The willingness to deny oneself possessions or status, in order to grow in holiness and commitment to God. This practice is commended and illustrated by Jesus Christ himself, and underlies Christian fellowship within the church.” This Teaching of scripture is well attested by scripture. In essence, a life of service is the prescribed life for the believer, a life of self-denial, not of self-elevation. As imitators of Christ, Philippians 2:5-11 becomes the most clear verse on this theology, for he denied himself all the divine accolades to become human and serve; going as far as dying upon the cross. Christ is the model of a Christian life, characterized by self-denial, self-sacrifice, and service. Christ has called us to take up our own cross, and lead a sacrificial life. Furthermore he ensures us that, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

 At this juncture most would assume that the biblical theology of self-denial runs counter to the psychological concept of self-actualization, and thus it is irreconcilable to the Christian faith. Nonetheless, careful examination demonstrates a surprisingly high level of compatibility between self-actualization, and biblical teachings. First and foremost one must to the fact that Maslow made a point of caution in regards to self-actualization. He clarifies that, “the unrestrained expression of any whim, the direct seeking for “kicks” and for non-social and purely private pleasures…is often mislabeled self-actualization.” In his own words self-actualization is not to be equated to selfish ambitions.

There must also be a clarification in regards to the biblical theology of self-denial, for a distinction must be made between self–denial and self-rejecting. Self-rejecting adults suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and codependency. Jesus was not self-rejecting, but he chose to practice self-denial to seek and accomplish the will of the father. Christ knew who he was, and believers must also know who they are in Christ. We have value, and worth before Him, and we have been endowed with gifts and talents that must develop as we walk with Him. In fact, Biblical self-denial is the cultivation of these gifts and talents to be effective tools for the kingdom contribute to God’s work, and more importantly to become more like Christ. A person with low self-esteem and who feels worthless cannot be an effective servant of Christ. One learns to have self-denial by submitting to the will of the father, recognizing their value in the kingdom, and acting upon the gifts He bestows on him/her.

Furthermore Self-denial must be expressed in total submission to the will of God. Believers who seek to become fully effective servants, and who seek to be self-actualized will do well in seeking first the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence in tongue. Empowerment for the work of the kingdom makes a believer a more effective servant, and taps into his full potential according to the gifts given to him/her. Correctly Maslow said, “What a man can be, he must be” One would modify this to say: what a man has been called to be; he must be empowered to actually be. Musicians must make music, but only spirit filled musician can create an atmosphere of worship.

Conclusion 

Thus self-actualization fits well with self-denial, for in the process of becoming more like Christ, one becomes self-actualized. With profound insight Bremer and Hill state, “Some individuals point out similarities between the psychological concept of self-actualization and the theological doctrine of sanctification. Sanctification generally suggests the transformation of the person toward being more Christlike, becoming more the human God intends. If God is the author of the actualizing tendency, it may well be that sanctification and self-actualization are essentially the same experience expressed in different terms. It is hard to disagree with this assessment, for the best example one can fathom of a truly self-actualized person is Christ. In essence to be like Christ is to be self-actualized, and to become self-actualized one must live a Spirit filled life of Self-denial; that is service. Abraham H. Maslow may have merely discovered a truth that scripture has taught for over two thousand years.

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How Should Christians Approach the Levitical Laws? [A quick note]

Introduction
Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:17 [ESV][1]), but the author of Hebrews stated in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:13). Statements such as these found in the New Testament can send mixed signals to the readers, but an in-depth study of the biblical text reveals that what may seems as contradictory its simply a lack of understanding.
This lack of understanding has placed many into two extreme views towards the Mosaic laws. Some have gone the way of the Judaizers, and have called for full adherence to the levitical laws; such as the Ebionites, and some modern independent messianic churches. Others have fully rejected anything that is found in the Mosaic Law, rendering the Pentateuch useless for the teaching of biblical principles and effectively turning these books into uninspired text; such as Marcion. Still others whimsically pick and choose which laws to follow and which ones to reject. These extremes are unnecessary, harmful to the church, and its effectiveness. The body of believers is best served by seriously engaging the text, and exegete the biblical teaching on the law. One proposes that the Mosaic laws are beneficial to the body of believers, if properly understood, as the early church was able to discerned. In essence the New Testament believers identified universal principals found in the Pentateuch apart from those laws, which were culturally bound.
Continuity and Discontinuity
Paul described the role of the Old Testament law as a tutor that guided, protected, and preserved the nation of Israel to fulfill their purpose as the nation through which the Messiah would come[2]. In Paul’s understanding once the Messiah had come there was no longer a need for this tutor, and the law of Christ fulfills the intent of the Mosaic laws[3]. One can surmise from Paul’s writing that he understood that there were some universal principals, which established continuity among the old and new covenant. This continuity is mainly based on the desire of God to have a relationship with a people. This desire began to express itself from the moment that He chose Abraham and by faith, through grace established a covenant relationship with him. Embedded in that covenant relationship is God’s plan of providing a redemptive path by which the nations can have a relationship with Him [4]. Additionally this relationship, as all relationships comes with it’s own set of responsibilities and expectations.
Continuity
The most evident expectation that comes across both covenants is the requirement for holiness and reverent fear of the Lord. Holiness in the Old Testament is a description of God as the omnipotent, transcendent, wondrous being, perfect in morality and flawless in ethics. Holiness is the totality of God’s attributes, the same quality that separates humanity from him. Also, by Old Testament standards things and people are holy by their association to a holy God. The scriptures make a clear distinction between the holy and the common, and the common is subdivides as the clean and the unclean. A clean person, being the norm, can either become polluted by sinful behaviors or association to unclean things, or it can be purified and become holy through a blood sacrifice; often a lamb. Anyone associated to a holy God must live a lifestyle of holiness; separate unto God in complete submission and fidelity.
The distinction between clean and unclean at first glance seems to do more with healthy practices than with moral, ethical principles. Nonetheless the book of Leviticus is more concerned with spiritual health than physical health [5]about clean spiritual lesson being taught although nothing unclean can become holy, they could become clean. Sickness and death are contrary to the character of a living God, for they came as a result of the fall of Adam and eve. Therefore, anything that led to these ends was to be separate to God. They were an object lesson to the character of God; the God of Life.
The New Testament continues theses universal principles of holiness as a gift of God through the perfect blood sacrifice. All who call on the name of Jesus, and accept his sacrifice purified themselves, and are separate unto God; a separation from the common that brings them into a close relationship with a Holy God. As a result He expects them to continue living a life of holiness. Thus Peter himself rightly proclaims the levitical theme “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”[6] The principle of holiness is an example of continuity between Old and New Testament.
Discontinuity
Conversely, there are elements of discontinuity from the Old to the New Testament. Many of the Mosaic Laws are in the context of Israel as a theocratic nation. There had to be provisions to allow Israel to thrive as a nation in the Ancient Near East, such as capital punishment, and holy war. These laws are no longer in effect since the new covenant is with believers who are not a nation. Furthermore there seems to be an understanding in the Old Testament that Israel’s mission was to be the landing strip for the coming Messiah, and many of the laws served as object lessons, analogies, and symbols to prepare Israel and the world for the Messiah and His teachings. Examples of some of these laws are the sacrificial system, the Sabbath, and the priesthood. All of these laws are fulfilled in Christ who became our once and for all time sacrifice, our eternally interceding High Priest and our present and future rest. As the writer of Hebrews ever so eloquently states
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. (Heb 7:11-14 emphasis added)
The biblical student would do well in knowing how to recognize the biblical principles in the Pentateuch, and the laws that are not applicable to believers under the new covenant.
How to sift through the law?
As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Paul was more likely making a reference to the Old Testament to the inclusion of the Pentateuch. Leaders of the church must endeavor to understand the universal principals found in the Pentateuch. The levitical law carries much relevance to the church, for they inform the believers of God’s character, and how to approach Him.
In order to decide whether a particular law presents a universal truth or a temporary cultural law, there are four questions that must be asked. First, one must ask if a particular law was a direct expression of a principal regarding God, the way He made humanity, or how to relate to Him. If the passage falls under these categories then they are universal truth; the Ten Commandments are a good example. Second, was the law a concrete application of a universal truth designed to prepare Israel and the world for the coming Messiah? If the passage falls under this category the church recognizes that the Messiah has come and that the intended object lesson of these laws have been fulfilled; Sabbath, circumcision, priesthood, and sacrifices are some of the laws that fall under this category. Third, was the law a necessity in order to allow Israel to function as a nation? If the law falls under this category it has to be understood that the people of God is no longer a nation in a physical land, and do not need to function as one; thus rendering this law obsolete. Good examples of these categories of laws are capital punishment laws, and holy war. Finally, one must ask was the law an example of God accommodating and applying the principal of good relationships, and Godly living in their cultural context. These laws were designed only to accommodate humans and not to serve as object lessons pointing toward Christ. Examples of these laws are style of clothing laws, mourning behaviors, business transaction, and expression of worship; all of these were closely connected to Ancient Near Eastern culture[7].
 


[1] All scripture references are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.
[2] cf. Gal 3:24
[3] cf. Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21
[4] cf. Gen 22:18; Acts 3:25, Gal 3:16
[5] Roger Cotton. “Biblical Holiness.” Old Testament theology Handbook (Springfield, MO: AGTS. 2011), 80A.
[6] cf. Lev 11:44
[7] Roger Cotton. “Prescribing Old Testament Law: A Proposal.” Old Testament theology Handbook (Springfield, MO: AGTS. 2011), 115-116.

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IS GOD GUILTY OF GENOCIDE?: A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO THE NEW ATHEIST.

Introduction
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniac, sadomasochist, and capriciously malevolent bully.[1] This colorful description voiced by Richard Dawkins echoes the view of many modern day atheist, and skeptics. They have concluded through a desultory reading of the scriptures that the Old Testament describes a God that has many of the moral flaws found in His creation. The list of charges against God is quite extensive: mass genocide, jealous egocentric deity, racism, xenophobia, infanticide and irrelevance of God to morality. One proposes that all of these charges can be answered, and the God of the Old Testament be reconciled with the Christian perspective of a loving and just God.
39 and he [Joshua]captured it with its king and all its towns. And they struck them with the edge of the sword and devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. Just as he had done to Hebron and to Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king.
40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.(Josh 10:39-40 [ESV] Emphasis added)[2]
Holy war or YHWH’s war is an undeniable element of the narrative of the Old Testament, and as such it is befitting that believers of a good God have a response for the skeptics. In order to accomplish this task, one must first point out that this seemingly mass genocide did not occur in a vacuum. An understanding of the larger metanarrative of the Old Testament will reveal that these acts of Israel were not genocidal in nature. Neither was it an act of ethnic cleansing motivated by racial hatred. It was an exacting of just punishment upon wicked and disobedient nations.
Canaan Crossed The Line
The first question that must be answered pertains to whether the Canaanites deserve this punishment. According to scripture, God waited 430 years before punishing the Canaanites[3]. It seems that from God’s perspective they had not crossed the point of no return, and thus chose to withhold his punishment. Although he promised this land to Abraham, the Canaanites were not wicked enough to morally justify the sort of punishment as received by Sodom and Gomorrah. Nonetheless, by the time the Israelites reached the promise land the Canaanites had become a stench in God’ nostril due to their immorality.
The scriptures forbids the Israelites from engaging in adulterous relationships, from offering their children as sacrifice to false gods, from engaging in homosexuality, incest, and bestiality. Furthermore, it warns that these were the practices committed by the Canaanites before them, and like them they could be expelled from the land. These acts were an offense to God, and demonstrate that they were not innocent. What’s more, all of these obscene acts practiced by Canaanites were closely connected to the Canaanite idolatrous beliefs. Their god El had incestuous relationship with all of his sisters; Astarte, Athirat (also called Asherah or Elat), and Baaltis. El was brutal enough to slay his own son Lutpan (the kindly one). His son Baal engaged in incestuous relationship with his sister Athna, and with his father’s consort/sister Athirat. In fact, these three goddesses Astarte, Athirat, and Anath were considered sacred prostitutes, whose role were to have yearly sexual relations with Baal to bring about a fertile crop. The goddesses were mainly concerned with sex and war. To the Canaanite the best expression of their faith was the use of temple prostitutes.[4] The nations of the land simply reflected in their life the ethics of their idols. Canaanite religion was not just a set of abstract theology practice in privacy, but a worldview with deep and profound effects upon their society. It is no wonder YHWH wanted to ensure they would not influence the children of Israel.[5]
Was Canaan Accountable?
At this junction most new atheists ask the follow up question on whether it was proper to judge people who have not been taught God’s laws. After all for the past 430 years since Abraham, they have passed this practices from father to child. Are they to be judged on what they do not know or understand? First, one must point out that the Canaanites were being judged not on the basis of their idolatry, but based on the moral depravity. Most of the prophetic utterances against Israel were based upon a breach of their covenant with YHWH, but this is never the case with the gentile nations. The gentiles are judged based on their moral practices. Doing what they know to be wrong, at times even by their own moral standards (cf. Mic 1-2).
The Christian worldview maintains that God has revealed enough in nature to understand what is morally right (cf. Rom 1:19-20). Even atheists, who argue for a morality without God, come to the conclusion that there is an innate moral code in all humanity. Kai Nielsen a known atheist put it this way:
“It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil. … I firmly believe this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.[6]
Kai Nielsen considers this intuitive morality to be the bedrock of any form of morality, theist or atheist. C.S. Lewis in his Abolition of Man makes a strong case that all humanity follows a natural law. The appendix of his book is filled with numerous quotes from various cultures, and regions of the world, which are in agreement in what he calls the Tao or the way.[7] They agree in moral points such as honoring parents, being faithful in marriage, not murdering, lying or stealing[8]. In essence morality is not as elusive for those who have not received a special revelation from God. The Canaanites had incurred God’s wrath upon themselves, just as Israel itself would in later years leading to their removal from the land.
 Who Decides?
Who decides when a nation is ripped for judgment, and who decides who is to be the arbiter of mass genocide? These are the questions often asked once the fact that the Canaanites were wicked is established. The questions are well founded; after all we condemn Nazi Germans for their ethnic cleansing of millions of Jews, and the Hutus for their part in the genocide of thousands of Tutsi, but we do not condemn Israel for the mass killing of men, women, and children in Canaan. The questions have two assumptions that must be dealt with first before answering: Who decides?
Racially motivated Ethnic cleansing
The first assumption lies in the view that the war against Canaanites constitutes racially motivated ethnic cleansing. In fact atheists have charged God as being a racist and a xenophobe, but one contends that this is far from accurate. God’s command to destroy Canaan, as developed earlier, was motivated by their moral decadence not their ethnicity. In fact, his chosen nation Israel would face similar consequences for practicing the same behaviors. Contrary to the claims of new atheist, God made provisions in the Mosaic Law for the benefit of the foreigners. God explicitly points out that as the Israelites were once estrangers in a foreign land they were to treat the foreigners with dignity (cf. Lev 19:34; Deut 10:18-19). God even requires that any civil law established by the Israelites must apply equally to the children of Israel and to the non-Israelites living among them (cf. Lev 24:22; Num 35:15). Moreover, God makes room for the foreigner to participate in religious feasts such as Passover.
It must be also brought to light the fact that the people of Israel constituted a mixed multitude as described in Exodus 12:38. Moses himself was married to a Cushite/Ethiopian woman. From the beginning of the Pentateuch we see the scriptures holding foreigners in high regard. The Abram narrative is filled with encounters with foreign characters that are more virtuous than Abraham himself such as Melchizedek, an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh (Gen 12), and Abimelech of Gerar. The Abrahamic covenant itself states that through Abraham’s seed “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” hardly a xenophobic promise. Israel’s negative attitude towards gentiles does not stem from racial prejudice, but a theological threat to the worship of the one true God. In Israel a foreigner that accepts YHWH as their God, was readily accepted by all (cf. Rahab, Ruth, Uriah).
Indiscriminate Genocide of men women and children
The second assumption is that the biblical narrative is describing genocide akin to those committed by Nazis and Hutus. There are two elements under this assumption that need to be discussed which will help us understand the nature of these battles; ancient near east exaggeration rhetoric, and the term hΩeœrem. After an analysis of each of these elements the picture that arises from the ashes of Israel’s military conquest are less bloodied than proposed by some.
Ancient Near East Exaggeration Rhetoric
The language often quoted by new atheists as proof text of the genocidal nature of Gods “Holy war” can be placed in the category of ancient near east exaggeration rhetoric. It was not unusual for them to describe the utter destruction of nations which in fact were not completely destroyed.  Note Joshua’s wording in regards to his conquers of the south of Canaan, “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (Jos 10:40). Yet as we later find in the same book, not all of the Canaanites were destroyed (cf. Josh 13:13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13, 18). Moreover, the book of judges which continues from where the book of Joshua ends, confirms that not all of the Canaanites were destroyed (cf. Jud 1:21, 27–28, 2:3), and that some remained with Israel as a thorn in their side.
Joshua was not being dishonest about his achievement; he simply was a warrior of his day. He used the daring, and boasting hyperbole of his days. There is plenty of evidence of other ancient near east cultures using the same manner of language. Egypt’s Tuthmosis III boasted, “The numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) not existent.” In fact Mitanni’s forces lived on to later centuries. The Moabite king Mesha (840/830 BC) boasted, “Israel has utterly perished for always.” The kingdom of Israel continued for another century until the Assyrian destroyed it in 722 BC.  Rameses II also boasted in 1230 BC “Israel is wasted, his seed is not” yet Israel continued for another 500 years. Joshua was not alone in his use of exaggerated accomplishments[9].
Devoted to destruction
Another area useful to grasp the nature of these battles is the proper understanding of the Hebrew word hΩeœrem (M®rEj). This word (often translated ban, devote to destruction, and dedicated)[10] is the core of much of the misunderstanding. While at first glance the word seems to imply complete annihilation of all who are dedicated, or devoted to destruction closer evaluation reveals otherwise. To make this point one will use an early passage in Deuteronomy 7:2 which reads and when the Lord your God gives them [the Canaanites] over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction [hΩ∞reœm MérSjA]. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.” At first glance it does seem like a call to genocide, but as we continue to the following verses we read:
 3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. (Deut 7:3-4)
It seems odd to have commands regarding marriage to a people whom in earlier passages have been declared a “ban”, or dedicated for destruction. The answer to our dilemma is found in the continuing verse “But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.” (Deut 7: 5). It is evident that the passages emphasis is the destruction of Canaanite religion (cf. 12:2-3); it was more important to destroy Canaanite religion than the people themselves. Ar Dr. J. Gary Millard points out the main concern of this destruction (hΩeœrem) was the establishment of Israel’s religion in a land purged of idolatry. The hΩeœrem language in Deuteromnomy 7 assumes that despite the command to bring punishment to Canaan, it did not entailed total annihilation; hence the warnings in regards marriage. The root issue was not the people of Canaan, but their religion. Israel had to ensure that they were not contaminated by these idolatrous practices, or they themselves would also face the risk of being devoted to destruction. [11] Scholars like Richard Hess and Paul Copan, have made a case that hΩeœrem in the context of battle should be understood as applying to combatant, and not to the civilian population. Paul Copan states that the stock phrase “man and women”, and “men, women, and children” appear to be formulaic idiom for describing the inhabitants of the city; without predisposing the reader to assume, age or gender.[12]
Furthermore, it is well know that most inhabitants of Canaan did not live within the city walls, they lived in the regions surrounding the city, and most would be driven out at the sight of battle (cf. Jer 4:29). Those who likely remained in the city were the political leaders, and troops. To conquer Canaan, Joshua did not needed to kill every civilian in sight, but simply destroyed his or her religion, and government. In the midst of all this fighting, mercy was extended to all who desired it in repentance; as was the case with Rahab.
Who Decides?
In light of these arguments, and having clarified some of the assumptions the question remains, who? decides when a nation has gone too far. Who is the arbitrator of the nations? The simplest answer to this question is “God”, for only God can judge a nation and declare that it has gone too far. This only brings to light the importance of the prophetic leadership within the nation of Israel. Special revelation is the only means by which God communicates his judgment on the nations. When the Israelites attempted to go into battle against the Philistines without receiving a revelation from God, they were defeated and overpowered by their enemy (1Sam 4, cf. Num 14:41-45, Josh 7). Special revelation was given to Moses regarding the Canaanites, and Israel operated under this divine guidance. Had the Israelites attacked Canaan without special revelation, they would have not been justified for their actions, and in all likelihood, be defeated. God’s call to war is not for the non-prophet organizations. Furthermore, it must call attention that this form of God’s calling was not meant as a universal principle for all times, and all cultures. It was a special calling for Israel in their context.
As Dr Paul Copan keenly summarizes:
The crux of the issue is this: if God exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? The new atheists seem to think that if God existed, he should have a status no higher than any human being. Thus, he has no right to take life as he determines. Yet we should press home the monumental difference between God and ordinary human beings. If God is the author of life, he is not obligated to give us seventy or eight years of life.[13]
This is the essential distinction between a Christian and the new atheist, and the reason why some of the explanations presented may not be cogent to an atheist. While the Christian strongly affirm the existence of God as creator, sustainer, judge, and ruler of His creation, the new atheist refuse to admit His existence, and thus they are not accountable to Him in any way. The charges placed on God of genocide, xenophobia, and racism are unfounded if the biblical evidence is properly understood. Nonetheless, the new atheist requires more than mere apologetics, but a paradigm shift from naturalism, to the supernatural. Only then can they recognize the loving and just God of Christianity.


[1] Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.
[2] All scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.
[3] Genesis 15:16
[4] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 411-12.
[5] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), 160.
[6] Kai Nielsen, Ethics Without God, rev. ed. (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1990), 10,11. qtd. in Copan, Paul. “Who are you to impose your morality on others.” Enrichment Journal Summer 2010: 115-116
[7] C. S. Lewis borrows the term from Chinese Confucianism, the word Tao or Dao is a metaphysical concept meaning the way or the path.
[8] Appendix in C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillian Co., 1950), 51-61.
[9] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), 171-172.
[10] Willem A. VanGemeren ed. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5 vols (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 276-277.
[11] J. Gary Millard. Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 157.
[12] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), 175.
[13] Paul Copan “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster: The New Atheist and Old Testament Ethics.” Philosophia Christi 10:1( 2008), 13.

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THE GOD-MAN: A SURVEY OF THE HISTORICAL VIEWS ON THE TWO NATURES OF CHRIST (Revised)

Introduction

This research into the historical views of the two natures of Christ is not an exhaustive treatise. It is a summary of all the major positions up to the council of Chalcedon in AD 451. The rationale behind choosing the council of Chalcedon as the final debate regarding the two natures is that after this point the agenda for the debate changed. Many modern Christological debates are philosophical views based on reason and logic, not on biblical revelation. Moreover, they are dealing with historicity, or the Sitz im Leben of the gospel documents more than they do with an exposition of the biblical propositions. Other views are simply a recycling of ancient heresies.

Every so-called objective analysis, study, or opinion has its own set of presuppositions and assumptions. Even those who claim objectivity begin with the assumption that objectivity is possible. With this in mind, the following discussion will begin with the following assumptions. The scriptures are the result of being fully inspired by God as he leads the writers without affecting his style, or any human factor of expression.[1] The scriptures are infallible in their teachings of truth, and useful for faith and practice; thus they are the basis and plumb line for a discussion on the nature and person of Christ

Biblical Foundation

Before beginning to enumerate the major views on Christ’s two natures, it is best to establish a biblical foundation to the belief that Christ was both God and man. There are a myriad of scripture verses with hints and direct statements to the deity and humanity of Jesus, but I will limit this section to the strongest biblical evidence, which is found in the first chapter of John. Unfortunately this passage has come under attack by various groups, and due to its importance towards the affirmation of Christ’s deity and humanity, one must rescue the text from the mouth of heretical views. In reference to Jesus the apostle John began his gospel with,

1aἘν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος,

1bκαὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν,

1cκαὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.”(John 1:1 [NA-27] )[2]

A literal translation can be rendered as: In beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and God was the Word[3]. Out of these three clauses it is the third clause that has been the subject of great debate. The strongest opposition to translating 1c as I have done comes from the Jehovah’s Witness sect. Their own translation of the clause is “the Word is a God.” The debate can be narrowed down to the proper translation of an anarthrous predicate nominative, which can be translated as definite, indefinite, or qualitative. It is ones contention that it must be taken qualitative for three reasons. Grammatically the large majority of the predicate nominative preceding the verbs is qualitative. Theologically, to take the noun as indefinite allows for the existence of other gods, and runs counter to the biblical affirmation of one God.[4] To take the noun definite and translate it as “and the God is the Word” runs the risk of equating the θεὸςof 1c with the θεόν of the previous clause 1b, which is a referent to the Father, and thus falls into sabellianism, which is a denial of the trinity. Contextually, if the noun is taken as indefinite it would be the only instance in the gospel of John where this construction is taken as indefinite.[5]

As has been hinted, in verse fourteen of the same chapter, John identifies the Word as Jesus, and continues to proclaim that the Word became a human being dwelling among humans. In a clear proclamation of the humanity of Christ he states that,

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”

In light of this text, and many more like this, it has become well known that from the beginning Christians not only preached Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, but also proclaimed his full deity and humanity. Therefore, there was an understanding of Jesus having a special status as God and man, but how did this phenomenon took place became a matter of much debate.

Ebionism and Docetism: The Two Extremes

In the early years of Christianity, two groups rose up with an explanation on the person of Christ, both of which were rejected; namely the Ebionites and Docetism. The Ebionites derived their name from the Hebrew word ’ebyown (!Ayb.a,) meaning poor or needy.[6] They were a Jewish sect in the first two centuries that accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but no more than a man who possessed great wisdom and knowledge.According to the historian Eusebius,

there were actually two classes of Ebionites. Both groups insisted on the observance of the Mosaic Law. The first group held to a natural birth of Jesus who was characterized by an unusual moral character. The other group accepted the virgin but rejected the idea of Jesus’ presexisting as the Son of God.[7]

This view was rejected because it contradicted bilbical passages such as John 1:1, but it also ran against early oral tradition; such as being recorded in Col 1:15-19,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

This passage is commonly believed to be Paul’s inclusion of an early hymn[8] where Christ’s divinity is firmly established. Taking into account that Colossians is considered an earlier document than the gospels, we have evidence that the early church had concluded that Christ was fully God, and to say otherwise was a compromise to the concept of Jesus as the Savior.

The other extreme, which was also rejected by the early church, were those who adhered to Docetism. Their name comes from the greek word dokeō(δοκέω) meaning to think or seem.[9] Docetism, which appeared during the second and third centuries, is more of a doctrine than a group of people; therefore, it is related to a group of philosophical and religious ideas lumped together under the much broader umbrella of Gnosticism. Docetism could be the first large attack upon the humanity of Christ. This doctrine was based on two basic platonic principles “matter is evil, and the divine can experience neither change nor suffering.”[10] Thus they conclude that Christ only appeared to be in the flesh, but never was truly incarnate. The two champions of this teaching were Marcion and Cerinthus, although each took a different perspective on it.

While Cerinthus’ view on Docetism would propose that there is a,

sharp distinction between Christ and Jesus. Jesus was an ordinary man, born of Mary in the usual way, possessing a fleshly body and crucified at the cross of Calvary. Christ by contrast, was a heavenly being who came upon Jesus only at his baptism and left him before he was crucified.[11] 157.

Therefore, in his view Christ did not receive anything from Mary, was not connected with matter, and did not experience any suffering. On the other hand, Marcion would allow for Christ’s suffering, but he said that the humanity of Christ was only an image without substance. His flesh appeared to be human like a phantom. Both views ran counter to scripture evidence, and from a soteriological point of view, they were dangerous doctrines. Therefore, the church was correct in affirming Jesus coming in the flesh in agreement with John 1:14. In addition, after His resurrection He had a fleshly body, for when the disciples thought of him as a Ghost, He said, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38-39). Either Docetism is wrong, or Jesus was deceiving His disciples; the latter of these is unthinkable

Arianism

The debate regarding the person of Christ was soon interrupted with a closely related issue regarding the trinity Arianism. The teachings of Arius (250-336 A.D.) had to be dealt with first before the church could resume its definition of the person of Christ. As Athanasius would put it, “how shall He not err in respect to His incarnate presence, who is simply ignorant of the Son’s genuine and true generation from the father?”[12]

Since the Ebionites where mainly a Jewish sect with little impact on the larger Gentile church, Arianism is recognize as the first major attack on the full deity of Christ. One says full deity, because Arianism was not an all out denial of Jesus’ Deity; he simply made him a lesser god. Arius would teach that Christ was the first created being who in turn created the rest of creation. In Arius’ mind, Christ was directly created by the father, and therefore more excellent than the rest of creation, which was indirectly (that is through Christ) created by the father. To put it in his own words, “even if he is called God, he is not God truly, but by participation in grace…. [He] is called God in name only.”[13] In other words, Christ was God only in respect to the creation, but in respect to the father, he was but a created being. Hence, it was not a full denial of his divinity just a corrupted view of Christ’s deity.

Arianism was the cause of much debate, for if Jesus was a created being then one would be worshiping creation rather than the Creator. Furthermore, if He was a lesser god, then one would be worshiping multiple gods, and this smacks of polytheism. The debate was the reason for the Council of Nicea in AD 325, which Arius himself could not attend since he was not a bishop. The debate was mostly a debate over soteriology. Arius’ Christ was more closely related to the rest of creation, than to God. He stated that Christ was not unchangeable as the Father, and that Christ is the pioneer and perfecter of the sonship which man must follow.[14] Athanasius saw this as nothing short of a, “saved savior” and responded:

Can anything be plainer and more express than this? He [Christ] was not from a lower state promoted; but rather, existing s God, He took the form of a servant, and in taking it, was not promoted but humbled Himself. Where then is there any reward of virtue, or what advancement and promotiong in humiliation? For if, being God, He became man, and descending from on high He is still said to be exalted, where is He exalted, being God?[15]

At the council, under the leadership of Athanasius of Alexandria, it was decided that Arianism was a heresy and the Nicean Creed was drafted.[16] It is apparent by the inclusion of the statements that Christ was, “begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousios] with the Father[…] and for our salvation descended and became incarnate, becoming human, suffered, and rose again”[17] the creed was a direct rejection of Arianism, and indirectly a rejection of Docetism.

Apollinarianism

As soon as the debate over Arianism come to a close in Nicea, all attention turned to the person and nature of Christ. More specifically, the Eastern Church’s debate over the person and nature of Christ.

The Eastern Church was divided into two schools of thought: the school of Alexandria, which emphasized the deity of Christ (Word-flesh Christology), and the school of Antioch, which emphasized the humanity of Christ (Word-man Christology). It should be noted that neither group rejected Jesus’ humanity or even his deity, since these were already established at the Council of Nicea, they simply differed on how this union of humanity and deity took place. The West was not involved in this debate, for they “simply revived Tertullian’s old formula—that in Christ there were two natures united in one person—and was content to affirm this.”[18]

The debate began during the Council of Nicea where one of the supporters of the Nicene position (as opposed to Arianism) named Apollinaris of Laodicea, tried to help their cause by explaining how the eternal logos could be incarnate in a human form. Apollinaris would teach that, “God [….] replaced the ‘hegenomic principle,’ the intellect or directing center in Jesus’ humanity. Jesus [….] was ‘not a human being but like a human being’ because ‘in his highest part,’ the intellect, he was not ‘consubstantial with humanity.’”[19] Basically he was teaching that Jesus did not have a human mind, but a divine one. Apollinaris believed and, “spoke of the divine and the human were fused in Christ forming…. ‘one and the same nature.’”[20] Gregory of Nazianzus, recognizing that this teaching would render Jesus as not fully human, would respond to Apollinaris by saying, “that which he has not assumed he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.”[21] Christ had to be fully human, otherwise he was unable to atone for us, and fully God, or He could not have the authority to save us. At the Council of Constantinople in AD 381, Apollinaris’ teachings where condemned. Furthermore, the Nicean Creed was revised “ the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which additionally addressed the issue of the deity of the Holy Spirit [….] in the same creed is the sentence, ‘[He] was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human.’”[22]

Nestorianism

Meanwhile, in the School of Antioch, the patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, would also challenge the mainstream view on the nature of Christ. Nestorius taught that, “ ‘Mary should not be called ‘mother of God,’ but only ‘mother of Christ.’….In the Savior, there are not only two natures, divine and human; there are also ‘two person.’”[23] In his view, there are things we can say about the human Jesus that we cannot say about Jesus as God, such as being angry, hungry, crying, etc. Nestorius’ solution to the dilemma was to isolate Jesus humanity from his deity; thus describing a multiple personality Jesus.

Cyril of Alexandria responded to Nestorius by saying that the union in Christ has to go beyond just moral, “there must be a ‘sharing of predicates’. Without such sharing, one cannot really say God came to us in Jesus, nor that his suffering have any particular significance beyond the tragedy of the suffering of a good man.”[24]In the year 431, the Council held at Ephesus, properly sided with Cyril. Nestorius was deposed, who in turn created his own church.

Eutychianism

A period of an uneasy truce seemed to have arrived, but it lasted less than twenty years when both sides went at it again, this time over the doctrines of a monk named Eutyches. An adherent to the Alexandrian school, unlike Apollinaris before him, he did not deny the humanity of Christ, and unlike Nestorius, he believed that Christ had two natures. He would teach that, Our Lord was of two natures before the union of humanity and divinity in the incarnation, but after the union one nature[25]. Eutyches’ view was rejected by the bishop of Constantinople, Flavian, at a local synod. This prompted Dioscorus, bishop of Alexandria, to call for a council in Ephesus seeking to validate Eutyches’ teaching, and even asked for the support of the Bishop of Rome, Leo I. Unfortunately for Dioscorus, the council was termed the, “robbers council” and the bishop of Rome sided with the bishop of Constantinople in condeming both Dioscorus and Eutyches.

The final resolution to the schism between Antioch and Alexandria came in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. After much discussion among both sides of the debate, the following creed was drafted,

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhood and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [so-essential] with the Father according to the Godhood, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhood, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, in confusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.[26]

It became obvious to the church that the only way to define the relation of our Lord’s humanity and deity was through negation. The Chalcedonian council set boundaries to which all could abide without being heretical. Although the debate over Jesus’ person and nature did not automatically end with the Chalcedonian Creed, it diminished it to a state of non-issue. The Chalcedonian creed has stood the test of time; many Protestants accept and affirm.

 

The union of the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ remains a mystery. One has to recognize that this is special revelation. Nonetheless, the biblical witness has left us with certain parameters concerning our Lord’s person and nature; parameters that one feels are very well recognized and affirmed in the Chalcedonian Creed, the product of the debate among many sincere and faithful believers.
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Appendix 1: Creeds of the Church

Nicean Creed AD 325

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, from the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousios] with the Father, through whom all things were made, both in heaven and on earth, who for us humans and for our salvation descended and became incarnate, becoming human, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead

And in the Holy Spirit

But those who say that there was when He was not, and that before being begotten He was not, or that He came from that which is not, or that the Son of God is of a different substance [hypostasis] or essence [ousia], or that He is created, or mutable, these the catholic church anathematizes.[1]


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. I, II vols. (New York: Harper Collins, 1984), 165.


[1] This view is known as verbal plenary

[2] Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland and Matthew Black et al., The Greek New Testament, 27th Edition (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993) loc. cit.

[3] My own translation

[4] cf. Isa 45:21

[5] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 267-269.

[6] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Electronic Edition (Boston: Brill, 1999), loc. cit.

[7] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Chritology: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 2003), 64.

[8]James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996), 84.

[9] Walter Bauer, William Arndt and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), loc. cit.

[10] Donald Macleod, Contours of Christian Theology: The Person of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 157.

[11] Ibid., 157.

[12] Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh (Grand Rapids: Baker books, 1991), 48.

[13] Erickson, 52.

[14] Robert C. Gregg and Dennis E. Groth, “The Centrality of Soteriology in Early Arianism ,” Anglican Theological Review 59, no. 3 (July 1977): 268, 273.

[15] Gregg and Groth, 273.

[16] See Appendix 1 for full text of the Nicean creed

[17] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. I, II vols. (New York: Harper Collins, 1984), 165.

[18] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 252.

[19] David F. Wells, The Person of Christ: A Biblical and Historical analysis of the Incarnation. (Westchester: Crossway, 1984), 105.

[20] Wells, 105.

[21] Macleod, 160.

[22] John Hannah, Our Legacy: History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 117.

[23] Justo L. Gonzalez, A Concise History of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 117-118.

[24] Gonzalez, A Concise History of Christian Doctrine, 117-118.

[25] Kärkkäinen, 75.

[26] Kärkkäinen, 77-78.

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The Church and His Mission in a Pluralistic Context

Those who are called to the chaplaincy ministry are men and women called to be the church in a pluralistic setting. As with any unconventional form of ministry, the chaplaincy ministry finds itself surrounded by myths and theories of unfounded basis. Some stem simply from the imagination of those who do not understand this special call of God. Others are perpetuated by the indiscretions from former chaplains who joined the corp without a full understanding of their ministry calling. It stands to reason that, as a chaplain candidate one must express a full understanding of what it means to be the church in a pluralistic setting.

What is the Church?

The church is the community of all followers of Christ, redeemed by His blood, throughout all times. Ephesians 5:25 implies that the church, for whom Christ gave His life, in essence includes all believers past, present, and future. This in turn indicates that there is a visible and an invisible aspect of the church. The invisible aspect of the church is that which is seen from God’s perspective (cf. 2 Tim 2:19 [ESV])[1]. The visible aspect of the church is that which is from our perspective, and since only God knows man’s heart, we view the church is all those who profess faith in Christ. According to John Calvin “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”[2] This is an appropriate definition of the true church and still applies today.

 

The Church Within the Pluralistic Demand of the Chaplaincy

An analogy of the church often used by Paul is the body (cf. 1 Cor 12). He states that as the body has many parts, each with its own function, so does the church have many members with various gifts and callings. The military chaplain is called to be the shepherd of the community of believers serving in the armed forces, and a spiritual counselor to whomever will call on him. As Paul himself has said in his letter to the Ephesians “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12[NASB]).To this aim, the building of the body of Christ, chaplains enter the service. So, that the community of believers may not go without pastors and teachers.

Denominational Traditions and Uniqueness in Pluralistic Setting

The army chaplains have a saying, “cooperation without compromise.” This slogan in three simple words has summarized what it is to maintain one’s denominational distinctiveness in a pluralistic setting. During their time in service, Christian military chaplains may be required to pray in settings where various faiths are represented. In my opinion this is not the time to make a case for Christ, but instead it is an opportunity to humble oneself “and as you wish that others would do to you, do so them.” Remembering that there will be times when the shoe will be on the other foot, and how would one feel if one had to pray in Allah’s name. To act otherwise is arrogant and counterproductive. We do not win the lost, shoving Christianity down their throat, but by exemplifying biblical principles in their midst. I support the perspective we find in Leviticus 19:18 where the nation of Israel was called to love their fellow Israelites as themselves, and in verse 34 this same principle is extended to the stranger in their midst; those considered at the time outside of God’s covenant. Moreover, Jesus ratifies this principle when he references these verses in his own words (cf. Matt 22:39).

With that being said, one can still maintain one’s denominational traditions and distinctiveness. This is mainly accomplished by never compromising one’s spiritual walk with Christ. A chaplain is a believer and a leader in uniform or out of uniform. Furthermore, if I want to have a prayer meeting, or a service geared toward the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition, I must be upfront and sincere in my intentions. These events must be advertised as a Pentecostal and charismatic event, so that no one will feel blindsided, and if they come they do so with full understanding of what’s taking place.

The Mission of the Church

As far as theologians have been able to surmise from biblical evidence, the church has a fourfold purpose.The first and foremost purpose of the church is to be a venue for the evangelization of all people groups in fulfillment of the great commission (Matthew 28:19,20 cf. Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15,16). Second, to be the conduit of corporate worship to the glory of God.Third, to participate in the building of a body of believers conformed into the image of Christ (Eph 4:11-16), and fourth, to be the vessel through which God demonstrates his love and care for the world (Jam 1:27, cf. Psalm 112:9, Gal 6:10).

The fourfold purpose of the church is not only the responsibility, and principle of the believers in civilian clothes, but also of those believers in uniform. The chaplain is the facilitator through which the believers in uniform can partake in the fourfold purpose of the church. It is the chaplain who leads the believers in uniform in corporate worship, and through discipleship and accountability helps them to become more conformed to the image of Christ. When families are separated due to deployment, the chaplain leads the body of believers in demonstrating God’s love for family members left behind. In essence, deployments become the opportunity for the church to demonstrate the principle of Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

As the leader of the community of believers, the chaplain leads them into lifestyle evangelism. There are many men and women in uniform who are unchurched, and the best route to evangelize them is not through proselytizing, but a demonstration of Christ through a believer’s life (Matt 5:13-16). The unchurched need to see genuine Christianity if believers in the military want to spark their interest. A common phrase often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi summarizes it quite well, “Share the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words”

Justification for Chaplains in Secular Institutions

The answer to the question, why should there be chaplains in the military, is two fold. The first is drawn from scripture, and the second from a secular perspective. Beginning with a biblical answer to this question, one only has to point out the life of Jesus. He spent a great amount of time in a secular context, outside of the synagogue, and among the people. This was such a big part of his ministry that he was called a friend of sinners. When he was accosted for dining with tax collectors and prostitutes he simply replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Additionally, one must not forget that even in this secular context there are believers in the military in need of discipleship and community.

The secular component to this answer is derived from recognition that chaplains are officers sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States of America, the same document which guarantees the free exercise of religion. A freedom that in essence would be denied to the members of the military if a chaplain is not provided. The chaplain, by his very presence, is a sign that America is a nation of laws guided by the U.S. Constitution.


[1] All biblical references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] Quoted from Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983, reprint of 1931 edition), pp. 11-12.

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The Witness at Your Doorsteps: A Critical Analysis of Doctrines of the “Jehovah’s Witness” Cult

Sam is a Christian, his father was a Christian, and so was his father before him. Moreover, Sam was just elected as deacon of his church. Imagine that—thirty years ago he was a kid in the nursery, but today he is entrusted with the church finances. Sam is not known for being a power seeker, for most know him as a gentle, humble, and caring man of God. He is also known for his hard work; in fact, he has his own real estate business which he built from the ground up. He truly loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, and strength.

On this Saturday morning, Sam is meditating on the Lord, but soon enough he is interrupted by the doorbell. He opens the door and behold! Two well dressed men are standing before him. Oh, no! Jehovah’s Witnesses! What is there to do? He forgot to use the peep hole! The thought of shutting the door crossed his mind, but the outback of a fish on his door and the wooden cross made in Israel around his neck identify him as a believer. There is only one thing left to do—give them five minutes and then excuse yourself to do some errands. What Sam does not realize is, five minutes is a long time.

“Hello!” said the older man. “My name is…” and that is all Sam could remember, for after this point a rapid fire of Bible verses followed in sequence, interrupted only by the occasional “yes or no” question. Even before Sam could make an objection, it seemed the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) was already answering his question. Conversely, Sam does not have a response to the JWs objections, leaving him helpless. At this point he is not sure what he believes.

Many believers have found themselves in similar scenarios. When comparing an average JW to an average Christian, they seem to have the lead on scripture knowledge; in fact, one suspects that, the main reason most believers refuse to open the door to a JW is that they are unable to refute them. Many sincere believers, like Sam, are sincere in their faith and they truly love the lord with all their heart, soul, and strength, but they fail to love him with all their minds. The scripture tells us, “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV 1 Peter 3.15-16 emphasis added). The Church has failed to train believers in this capacity. So great is the problem of believers who do not know their own faith that many have said, “What’s the big deal? They read the same Bible we do! After all, Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, right?” Wrong; not only does one disagree with this statement, but one challenges, on the basis of their views on the Godhead (that Jesus is “a god” and the Holy Spirit “a force”), their view on salvation (by works), and their view on hell (as not a place of torment rather just the grave) that, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a dangerously heretical cult misrepresenting themselves as Bible-believing Christians.

Before believers decide to embrace the JWs in fellowship, let us first make sure that we are worshiping the same God and that they truly adhere to biblical doctrine. The Watchtower Bible and Track Society (WBTS) headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, is the official voice and leadership of the JWs. They published a summary of their views on a small book entitled Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life where it reads, “Therefore, those who accept the Bible as God’s Word do not worship a trinity consisting of three persons or gods in one. In fact, the word ‘Trinity’ does not even appear in the Bible,” (31). The WBTS has misrepresented the doctrine of the trinity as a belief in “gods.” There is not one mainstream denomination that holds this view. Christians do not equate three persons with three gods, for this is contrary to scripture. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6.4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Keeping this in mind, the Bible has more to say about this one-God. The book of 1 Peter 1:2 says, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). Here the father, that is Jehovah, is called God, in ones opinion not even the JWs would deny the fact that Jehovah is the one-God, yet there is more about this one-God. The Word of God also says, “And Thomas answered and said to Him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’” (emphasis added), but wait, here Thomas calls Jesus God. Furthermore, in Acts 5:3-4 it says,

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (emphasis added)

Here Peter refers to the Holy Spirit as God. Now, we also know that Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit are not three names for the same person, for

when Jesus was baptized immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending and coming to rest on him; and behold, like a dovea voice from heaven said,This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. (Matthew 3:16-17)

Be reassured: the Bible is not contradicting itself when it said there is only one God yet three distinct persons are called God. There is a better way to explain this paradox. Mainstream Christians have no difficulty in recognizing that God is three co-equal and co-existing persons in one being, for in the same manner God lives outside of time—since he is not bound by time—and God is not bound by the flesh, thus capable of being three and one at the same time. The JWs would explain these passages by saying that Jesus was not God (to them he was a god) and that the Holy Spirit is simply an active force of God, somewhat like electricity or microwave heat.

The JW belief that Jesus was not God is full of many biblical difficulties. When faced with the fact that Thomas called Jesus “My God,” the JWs have two explanations for the text. First, they say that Thomas simply said the equivalent to “Oh, my God!” when surprised by Jesus. The problem with this explanation is that Thomas, being a Jew, would not have used God’s name that lightly, nor refer to a man as God. So much was the respect of Jews for God’s name that they would not pronounce it during their reading of the scrolls; due to this tradition, today we are not sure how to properly pronounce the Old Testament name of God—the Tetragrammaton YHWH. The second explanation is that Thomas looked at Jesus and said “my Lord” and then looked towards heaven and said “and my God”. This simply is an attempt to make the scriptures fit into their doctrines, for the context of the test does not even imply such an occurrence; Thomas simply meant what he said.

Aside from misinterpreting verses, JW will go to great length to prove their doctrines, including making modifications to the Word of God. Most English Bibles translate the Greek text of John 1:1 as, “in the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (emphasis added). The Watchtower’s translation known as The New World Translation states, “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” (emphasis added). This of course, brings greater difficulty even within their translation. When they said Jesus was “a god,” it begs the question “What kind of god is He?” Most JWs will say a lesser god, that is, not the almighty God. If one was to open their own Bible (NWT) to Isaiah, one will find verses such as Isaiah 43.10 which says, “Before me [Jehovah] there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none” again in verse 46.9 it says, “I am the Divine One and there is no other God, nor anyone like me.” Furthermore, the NWT states that all will bow before Jesus (Phil 2.10); if he is “a god”, then JWs would be bowing before another god. This would contradict Exodus 34.14 where they are commanded not to prostrate before other gods. In the same chapter of Philippians (chapter two) verse eleven, it says that every tongue will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but if Jesus is another god besides Jehovah, then JWs are violating the command not to mention the name of other gods in Exodus 23.13. The truth is, the Watchtower change the Bible to fit their theology, and in the process caused their own translation to contradict how many gods are there and the manner in which to worship these gods. Fortunately for believers, these verses do not contradict in the original Greek text because Jesus is not “a God” but “the God”; more accurately, he is the second member of the Godhead of three persons. JWs are not allowed to pray to Jesus, those who do so are excommunicated from the church, and ostracized from their family.

Having dealt with Jesus deity as a member of the Godhead, it is fitting to discuss the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The Watchtower affirms, “God’s Holy Spirit is not a person. It is Jehovah’s active force” (Knowledge 31). But this is incorrect and not in agreement with scriptures. It is interesting that the watchtower—while making a case for the existence and personhood of Satan in opposition to those who believe Satan to be just an abstract symbol of evil—wrote on their Awake magazine, “Can an intelligent ‘force’ carry on a conversation with a person? Also, the Bible calls Satan a manslayer, a liar, a father (in a spiritual sense) and a ruler. Only an intelligent person could fit all those descriptions” (qtd. in Magnani 230). Using the same logic they have used, the Holy Spirit is a person. In Acts 13.2 the Holy Spirit converses with a person; He speaks and asks to set Barnabas and Paul aside for His purposes. Just as Satan’s personhood is proven by the fact he is called a liar and a manslayer, the Spirit is called teacher and comforter (John 16.7,13) thus proving He is a person. Additionally, the Holy Spirit is always referred to in the third person masculine pronoun—he, him or his—in the Bible. According to Herbert Kern in his Book Jehovah’s Witnesses , “in John 16 the The New World Translation refers to the Holy spirit (translated ‘helper’ or ‘spirit of the truth’) 10 times as a person (‘he,’ ‘his,’ or ‘him’)” (30). If one closely reads the scriptures one will find that the Holy Spirit possesses traits only a person can have. The Holy Spirit loves (ESV Romans 15.30), He intercedes (Romans 8.27), He can be grieved (Ephesians 4.30), and knows the future (Acts 21.11). The Spirit has knowledge, will and emotions, and a force cannot possess any of these qualities. It is safe to conclude that the person of the Holy Spirit is God, Jesus is God, and Jehovah is God, and not three gods but one God.

Aside from their views on the godhead, JWs also have a different view of salvation than what is taught in the Bible. Many verses in the New Testament are quite clear on how salvation is obtained. Salvation by grace is the overarching theme of most of Paul’s letters. In Ephesians he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2.8-9), and to the Romans he wrote, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”(10.9). While the Watchtower gives lip service to salvation by grace, their published materials say otherwise. In their Watchtower magazine dated February 15, 1983, they outline four requirements for salvation—“taking in knowledge of the Bible,” “Obey God’s law,” “Associate with God’s channel,” and “loyally advocating his kingdom rule to others” (qtd. in Magnani 242). To study the Bible means to learn from the materials which the Watchtower has published. “Obeying God’s law” is not a reference to the Levitical law, but to the rules set by the Watchtower, such as prohibiting blood transfusion and saluting flags. “To Associate with God’s channel” is to belong to the Watchtower organization as a Jehovah’s Witness, and finally loyally advocating Christ’s kingdom means going from door to door witnessing.

Their view of salvation stems from the fact that they do not believe Jesus to be God, for according to the Watchtower website, “Christ was first of God’s creations” therefore he was merely a created creature. A creature (lamb, bull) cannot cleanse your sins; if that was the case then the Levitical laws would have been enough. Once the JWs changed the nature of Christ, they were left with a creature as a means of salvation rather than God, thereby giving them no hope but to rely on salvation by works. Often a JW will quote James 2.14-26 as pointing to need of works for salvation. However, this is a lack of understanding of the text, for what James is trying to impart is not salvation by works but rather that faith is made complete by works. In other words, works is the natural result of faith not the cause of our faith (or salvation). Sadly this has left many of their adherents with a lack of assurance of their salvation. Many have asked themselves, how much work is needed to enter paradise, for as the Watchtower put’s it “Our salvation is not the most important reason for Jesus’ life and death on earth” (Knowledge 69).

Beyond their corrupted view of the Godhead and their tainted outlook on salvation, JWs hold to a doctrine on hell that, perhaps, is the most damaging. Simply put, they believe hell as place of judgment does not exist. The Watchtower arrives at this doctrine through the belief that the soul ceases to exist at death. Watchtower publication states, “Where do the dead go? To Sheol (Hebrew she’ohl’), the common grave of mankind. Our dead loved ones are not conscious of anything. They are not suffering, and they cannot affect us in any way” (Knowledge 83). To prove their view, they quote verses like Ecclesiastes 9.5 and Ezekiel 18.4, but once again they are guilty of bad exegesis.

Ecclesiastes 9.5 states, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward.” In context this verse is referring to the fact of life that at death no one can enjoy the pleasures of life (its reward); it is a reference to earthly rewards not rewards after death. In addition, the verse makes no reference to the soul ceasing to exist. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:12, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (emphasis added), is Jesus lying? Most Christians—a title claimed by JW—would shudder at the thought of a lying Christ.

Their second proof text Ezekiel 18.4 states, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (emphasis added). The Hebrew word used in this text is nephesh (vp,n</neºpeš) which can be translated as “soul, person, life, and being”. A better translation would be the one rendered by the Jewish Publication Society: “Consider, all lives are Mine; the life of the parent and the life of the child are both Mine. The person who sins, only he shall die” (JPS TNK emphasis added). Simply put, the verse is referring to a soul as an indication of a person not as the spiritual element of a human being.

As it was said before, a JW comes to the conclusion that hell does not exist as a place of torment because they do not believe the soul is separate from the body. Although Paul does make a distinction between body and soul when he said, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5.8). Whenever Jesus referred to hell or the lake of fire, He spoke of it as a real place where there is suffering (cf. Matthew 8.12; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51). When the Watchtower defines hell as the common-grave, they are basically saying that all of us will go to hell (grave), and that’s okay.

In conclusion, JW concept of God is not in accordance with biblical revelation, and therefore, is not the God of the Bible, the God Christians worship. In good conscience, one cannot refer to a JW as a Christian, for a Christian is one who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ, as revealed in scriptures. Christ taught hell was a real place of torment and punishment while JW simply the grave. A group that does not agree with Christ cannot be called His followers. Moreover, their teaching on hell is a dangerous deception, and has caused many to have a false sense of security. If there is no ultimate punishment for sin, or consciousness after death then who cares whether one accepts Christ or not.

Dedication, motivation, modestly well dressed, and being emphatic regarding scripture memorization are some of the characteristics of JWs we ought to emulate. Believers must step up to the challenge outline in 1 Peter 3.15-16 under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pastors and church leaders must equip the believers to be able to give an answer to those who would attempt to teach a different gospel. Let it be that when JW come to the doorsteps of a Christian, he or she becomes a witness to Jesus. Christians have a hope of salvation by grace that the JWs do not possess. One hopes that those who truly follow the teaching of Jesus Christ allow the radiance of the gospel shine on the darkness of heretic teachings.

According to David Reed a former Jehovah’s Witness elder and author of How to Rescue Your Loved One from the Watchtower, to a Jehovah’s Witness , “a church is a demon- infested building surmounted by a pagan symbol [the cross]…filled with immoral people who worship a three headed false god [trinity] and salute an idol made of cloth [the national flag]” (135). Keeping this in mind, some would say “what’s the big deal?” one is compelled to answer, souls are the big deal.

Works Cited

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News, 2001.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses Who are they? What do they believe?” Watchtower.org. 2006. Watchtower Bible and Track Society. 15March 2008

The Jewish Study Bible: JPS TANAKH. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004

Kern, Herbert. Jehovah’s Witnesses. St. Louis: Concordia Pub, 1995.

Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. Brooklyn: Watchtower, 1995.

The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Brooklyn: Watchtower, 1984.

Magnani, Duane and Arthur Barrett. The Watchtower Files. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985.

Reed, David. How to Rescue Your Loved One from the Watchtower. Grand Rapids: Baker Pub Group, 1989.


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Filed under Christ, Christianity, Christology, heresy, Holy Spirit, Jehovah's witness, soul sleep, Theology, watchtower