But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [meekness], self-control. Against such there is no law. [Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added]i
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness [meekness], with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,… [Ephesians 4:1-2]
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;… [Colossians 3:12]
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. [1 Timothy 3:2-6]
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness [meekness]. [1 Timothy 6:11]
And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but [must] be gentle [meek] to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,… [2 Timothy 2:24-25]
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle [meek], showing all humility to all men. [Titus 3:1-2]
Recently I was involved briefly in a discussion on Facebook, in which I stated that sports which glorify violence and which involve the deliberate infliction of pain and injury upon one’s opponent do not glorify God—this was in specific reference to MMA [Mixed Martial Arts, for those not familiar with the term]/UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship – the biggest promoter of MMA fighting in the United States]. I basically compared MMA fighting to gladiator fighting in the Roman Empire.
Some youngster, who claimed expert knowledge of MMA fighting [but apparently utterly lacking in knowledge of the Bible, logic, or history] stated that my comparison was simplistic and ridiculous–and, by inference, stated that he believed I was stupid.
In his remarks, this young man displayed at least four logical fallacies which invalidated his remarks and rendered them as utter nonsense.
The first logical fallacy was the fallacy of ad hominem. For those not versed in formal debate or rules of logic, the ad hominem fallacy is to attack one’s opponent personally when one has no factual basis for dismissing their points. This young man committed the ad hominem fallacy when he dismissed me and my remarks as being “simplistic” and “ridiculous” without offering a shred of factual evidence to refute the comments.
In my remarks, I had described MMA fighting as basically having the goal of one combatant pummeling his [or her] opponent into senselessness. The young man who wished to gainsay my comments again offered no solid evidence to refute my claims. Instead, he resorted to a second logical fallacy—false equivocation—claiming that such competitive sports as baseball, basketball, football, and hockey are equally violent and that I was being hypocritical in not addressing the violence in those sports. Another form of false equivocation in his “argument” is the inherent presumption which equates the risk of injury with violence.
This gainsayer claimed as “proof” of the inherent violence in these other sports, the fact that he had lost a tooth while playing a basketball game. This presents the third and fourth logical fallacies—appealing to inappropriate authority and sweeping generalization. An anecdote of personal injury presented without context as to the circumstances under which the injury occurred cannot be cited as expertise in evaluating the level of violence in one particular sport—and to make that the basis for claiming all sports as “violent” is simply a claim which has no epistemological warrant in terms of logic.
Before we examine the Biblical proscriptions which render any form of violence for the purpose of entertainment as unsuitable for the one who claims to serve Christ [either as a participant or as a spectator], let’s look at the history and facts surrounding the “sport” called MMA fighting. We shall then compare those with other sports which my opponent claims to be equally violent. In other words, I hope to disarm false logic with facts.
Contemporary MMA competitions originated as a means of incorporating different elements of martial arts in a situation resembling a street fight.ii Because combatants are not trained in a formal style, such as tae kwan do, kung fu, hap ki do, or sanshou, they are not ranked according to levels of mastery. The only evaluation of “mastery” is one’s win-loss record.
MMA matches are scored by a panel of three judges. Wins are determined in one of three ways: a knock out, a submission [surrender by one's opponent], or a judges’ decision. This is similar to how matches are decided in boxing [the submission being the MMA equivalent of a TKO].
Although rules for the “sport” differ depending on which organization is promoting the fights, until very recently [since 2007], unified rules for this “sport” allowed for a combatant to kick or stomp a downed opponent in the head to accomplish a knockout–thereby leaving little doubt as to intent to inflict permanent injury upon an opponent.iii While current rules allow for stomping on a downed opponent, kicking a downed opponent is now considered a foul. Such egregious disregard for the well-being of another human being in the name of “entertainment” can hardly be considered “no more violent than any other sport.”
The names used for various fighting strategies within MMA also display its intentional, willful, prideful glorification of violence: sprawl-and-brawl, grinding, and ground-and-pound.
So, the charge that my description that MMA has as its foundational philosophy the goal of pounding one’s opponent into senselessness was “simplistic” and “ridiculous” is without foundation when one carefully examines the fact instead of resorting to a knee-jerk attempt to justify one’s sinful pursuits. After all, what does this person think a “knock-out” is? It means one’s opponent has been rendered unconscious by repeated blows to the head.
What are the effects of MMA on its participants? On average, approximately 26 percent of those participating in MMA combat receive lingering [having effects which last after the fight is over] injuries: lacerations, abrasions, contusions, concussions, broken bones. It has been determined that injury rates in MMA are similar to the injury rates in boxing, and full contact karate.iv
Long term medical studies of participants in MMA show those having at least six years of MMA experience show significant reduction in the size of the hippocampus and thalamus. Those with at least twelve years of experience showed not only significant reduction in the size of the hippocampus and thalamus, but also showed significant memory loss and and diminished alertness.v The memory loss and diminished alertness are directly attributable to the reduction in size of the hippocampus and thalamus—the same phenomenon observed in Alzheimer’s patients.
While statistics have not been kept concerning fatalities due to MMA emerging comparatively recently as a form of entertainment, there have been seven documented fatalities since 2005. Because the injury rates for MMA participants are consistent with those of other sports involving the intentional infliction of head trauma such as boxing and contact karate, it would not be unreasonable to project similar fatality rates. Professional boxing has documented over 900 fatalities in the period between 1890-2007.vi
How do these figures compare to the other sports mentioned? During its entire history, there has only been one on-field fatality in major league baseball which can be attributed to a play-related injury.vii Probably the best comparison would be to American Football, as this is the only sport which actually requires body contact with force as part of the game. When evaluated across all levels of organized play [youth, high school, collegiate, and professional], we find the following: High school students suffered 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 exposures [an exposure is defined as a game or practice]. College students suffered 6.3 concussions for every 10,000 exposures. When we look at catastrophic [defined as career ending or disabling], the incident rate is less than 1 in 100,000 players at the high school and collegiate levels. As far as fatalities are concerned, the average number of deaths per year is about 12. Of these twelve deaths, only 4 deaths per year have been found to be directly attributable to playing football. The other eight were due to causes such as heat illness, cardiac arrest, asthma, sickle cell disease, or pulmonary embolism. In other words, the remaining 2/3 of those deaths could have occurred during any type of strenuous exertion because of an underlying health condition and cannot be blamed solely on playing football.viii
The basic point is this: there is a crucial distinction between injuries incurred in MMA fighting, which are intentional, deliberate, and an integral feature of the “sport” and those which occur in other sports which are accidental and outside of the usual course of events in those sports. In other words, people who participate in MMA do so expecting to hurt or be hurt. Spectators view such events with the full expectation and even anticipation that someone will be hurt.
Outside of Oakland Raider fans, I know of know one who views baseball, basketball, American football, or hockey games with the expectation and anticipation that someone will be injured or worse. The rules of those games are constructed to enhance the safety of the players and sanctions are imposed for violations of those rules. And intentional, flagrant disregard for those rules result in stiff penalties for those in violation. In other words, acts of violence which occur in the contexts of other sports are against the norms for those sports. In MMA fighting, if the violence did not exist in the sport, the sport itself would not exist.
With this factual basis laid, again I charge that those who are disposed to viewing MMA [or other forms of fighting] as entertainment are no better than the Roman citizens who went to the Colosseum to watch the gladiators kill each other. The difference is one of degree, not of kind.
What are the theological issues involved in participating in or viewing MMA? As noted in the Scriptures cited, attributes of the Holy Spirit which are to be manifested in all believers are kindness and gentleness [meekness]. “Kindness” in the Greek is χрηστότης [pronounced “chrās-TŎ-tās” with the “ch” being given a hard sound]. It refers to benevolence and looking out for the well-being of others.ix Can one say one is honestly looking out for the well-being of others when one is engaged in a “sport” or is paying to view a “sport” which glorifies and encourages inflicting pain and injury on another human?
Scripture also mandates that believers in Christ display “gentleness” or “meekness.” The words rendered as such are επιεικής [pronounced “hĕp-ē-ī-KĀS” and found in 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 3:2], ηπιος [pronounced “HĀ-pē-ŏs” and found in 2 Timothy 2:24], and πραΰτης [pronounced “pră-Ü-tās” and found in Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2]. The words embrace the concepts of congeniality, amiability, benevolence, leniency, and mercy. The concepts carry to the extent that one exhibiting such traits would advance the interests of others even to the extent of putting one’s own safety and well-being at risk.
Given the meanings of the words as used in Scripture, how then, can one legitimately claim that participating in, endorsing, and even subsidizing [via PPV and ticket purchases] MMA combat exhibits the requirements of God that His people must display kindness and gentleness to all?
While we cannot say that those who participate in, endorse, and/or subsidize MMA combat are not believers in Christ, because we do not know their hearts, we can question and even point out the fact that such affections and actions are contrary to the will of God and give cause to question the credibility of their witness since what is in their hearts will be made known by their actions and professions.
For further consideration, let’s look at this instruction from Scripture: For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:3-5, emphasis added]
How do we bring every thought into captivity to Christ? Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble [honorable, respectable], whatever things are just [right], whatever things are pure [innocent, blameless], whatever things are lovely , [acceptable], whatever things are of good report [having a good reputation], if there is any virtue [having nothing but good qualities]—meditate on these things. [Philippians 4:8]
This gives us a checklist to evaluate any activity to determine whether or not it can be enjoyed with a clear conscience before God. Unless our activities promote ALL of these qualities in exactly the same way those terms are used in Scripture, we cannot claim that they are acceptable to God.
And in this situation, we cannot claim that such activities are morally neutral. It doesn’t matter how much a participant in MMA or boxing or professional wrestling may claim to be a Christian and that God is honored as long as he [or she] follows the rules of the sport and is being honest, the activity dishonors God because there is nothing commendable, good, respectable, right, or innocent in activities which involve the intentional infliction of pain on other human beings for the purpose of entertainment and amusement. The greater hypocrisy lies with those who, while claiming to profess Christ as their Lord, pay their money into such amusements.
To claim to be a follower of Christ while participating in, or subsidizing violence against human beings for the sake of amusement, carries about as much moral value as claiming to be a follower of Christ while enjoying pornography.
iUnless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
ixAll research in Greek references the following: Stephen Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), Ceslas Spicq (Translation by James D. Ernest), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), and Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2008). See also articles on “kindness” and “meekness” in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.
“…for I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
“I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
“When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
“Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”
And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it unto Me.” [Matthew 25:35-40]*
In this new series, I plan to look at scriptures which are taken out of context, misquoted, and otherwise distorted in their presentation with the result that they are twisted and distorted in their interpretation and application. What makes this even more reprehensible is that some of the worst offenders are people who otherwise seem to be quite accurate and responsible in their presentation of Scripture.
I will not be talking about such cultic twisting of Scriptures such as the utterly false presentation of John 1:1 by the Watchtower Society [aka Jehovah's Witnesses] or their New World [mis]translation of the Bible, or the even more fantastic inventions added to the Bible by the Independence, Missouri, branch of the Mormon church called the RLDS [or Community of Christ, as it prefers to be known now], via their so-called “Inspired” ["Invented" would be a more accurate adjective] Version of the Bible.
No, what I will be looking at will be passages which are misquoted, misinterpreted, and misapplied by Christians who consider themselves to be conservative, Bible-believing, evangelicals.
The first passage for this series is the above-cited passage in Matthew, with emphasis on verse 40, and its analogous antithesis, Matthew 25:45.
Whether cited by Mother Theresa, Samaritan’s Purse, Prison Fellowship, World Vision, Compassion International, Teen Challenge, JPUSA, or a lot of well-meaning pastors with poor exegetical skills, the common [mis]interpretation and [mis]application of the passage is taken as a command that all believers are required to expend massive outlays of resources on the unredeemed to relieve any and all financial distress. Some further add that it is un-Christian to qualify or impose any conditions for such aid—that because God freely bestows His grace on all, we should be equally free in dispensing our finances without qualification, condition, or examination as to the “worthiness” of the recipient.
The fact of the matter is that when one examines not merely this passage, but other passages which speak to the issue of what is the relationship of the believer and charitable giving, one finds a vastly different view than what is promoted by most charitable organizations and ministers.
I am sure what I say will strike some as being rebellious, heretical, or callous, but I ask you to hear me out, search the Scriptures, and examine the Scriptures in light of what the text ACTUALLY says and not merely take it for granted that simply because some publicly noted Christian celebrity, televangelist, or minister espouses some view or another that it must be right. And it does not matter if 10,000 ministers gainsay what I write, the standard for formulating our doctrine and practice is God’s Word as it actually reads, not what 10,000 ministers claim it reads.
POINT 1: Jesus never imposed a general obligation on His followers to aid all poor people everywhere.
In the passage cited above, the Scripture twisters interpret and apply the phrase “the least of these” to mean whoever is in those conditions: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, sick, and imprisoned. But is that really what Christ said?
When one looks at the phrase as it is found in Matthew 24:40, the clause is qualified with the phrase “My brothers.” The qualifier does not appear in Matthew 24:45, but that is not a cause for concern. The lack of the qualifier is viewed by most commentators as an elision, an omission which is understood from the previous usage in the same context. Therefore we have to understand the phrase in accordance with the qualifier and any interpretation which ignores the qualifier is twisting the Scripture.
Those who do attempt to deal with the qualifier while still twisting the Scripture make the attempt in one of two ways. The first method is to change the usage of “my brethren” from a qualifier to a vocative. This argument is not merely poor exegesis—it is dishonest and manipulative. The Greek construction of the phrase is in the genitive case in every manuscript, while a vocative is always, ALWAYS, in the nominative case. A more accurate [and clarifying] rendering of the phrase “the least of these my brothers” would be “one of the least of these brothers of Mine.” [HCSB]*
The second method is to fall back on a heresy called universalism, in which the qualifier is basically ignored or reinterpreted according to liberation theology, in which the phrase is interpreted as being a reference to all who are in physical poverty. [This interpretation is offered in the pseudo-evangelical commentary The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, pp. 998-999.]
Whichever method is used, the result is the same—an interpretation and application which is based in eisegesis—reading a meaning into the text according to the biases and prejudices of the reader—instead of allowing the text to speak for itself according to the rules of grammar for the original. And the worst “translation” when it comes to abusing and twisting this passage [as it does with the entire Bible] is The Message.
Allowing the text to speak for itself, we must ask ourselves, what did Jesus mean when He qualified the phrase “the least of these” with “my brothers”? Some commentators, writing from the theological perspective of dispensationalism believe this judgment occurs at the onset of the millennium, immediately following the Second Coming. In this judgment, all who are alive are judged immediately and are either granted eternal life, or consigned to eternal punishment. According to such interpretations, the sheep and the goats refer to Gentiles—since they described in v. 32 as being from “the nations,”–a term which is never used in Scripture except in reference to those who are not physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“My brothers,” according to these commentators, then refers to Jewish people who became believers during the seven-year tribulation. “The sheep” are those Gentiles who also became believers during the tribulation and did what they could to help their Jewish brothers in the faith. “The goats” are the non-believing Gentiles who tried to play both ends against the middle. They did not accept the mark of the beast or worship the anti-Christ, but they were never followers of Christ either. This is the interpretation offered in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (II:81), the Believer’s Study Bible (p. 1382)]. Such interpretations take into account the overall context of the passage [the events immediately following Christ's return] and therefore do not see this as an absolute, general command for believers to devote themselves to the alleviation of all poverty.
While I believe there is a more general application than that indicated by some of the dispensational commentators, I do not believe there is a universal application which directs Christian efforts towards the alleviation of all poverty. In Matthew 26:8-10, Jesus had to rebuke the apostles for thinking there was some general obligation to alleviate all poverty. This is further reinforced by Acts 5:4. Even though this appears in the context of judgment being meted out on Ananias, the point is clear and simple—Ananias had no obligation to rid himself of wealth in order to give to the poor. His sin was in lying about the amount being given. Had he sold the property and told Peter, “I wish to give a portion for the care of the poor,” there would have been no problem. The sin was in keeping back a portion, while publicly claiming to be giving all.
POINT 2: Jesus’ use of the term “My brothers” is highly restrictive, and does not apply to humanity in a universal sense.
Those who believe otherwise, need to be able to provide proof from Scripture. To understand Jesus’ use of the term in this context, we need to ask if there are any other instances in which He used the term. The answer is yes—but only once. And there His use of the term is restrictive, not universal. That incident is recorded in Matthew 12:46-50 and Jesus states succinctly that only those who do the will of God are qualified to be called His brothers. In one of the parallel passages, Luke 8:21, He said His brothers are those who hear the word of God and do [obey] it. This is highly restrictive in that those who have never acknowledged the Lordship of Christ cannot be considered as having heard the word of God and obeying it. Hebrews 2:11 further clarifies this distinction—that His brethren are those whom He has sanctified—no one else. So there is no universal obligation to aid the poor which can be justified according to this passage of Scripture.
So when we are helping others, we are only obligated to aid those in need who are: (1) who have professed belief in Christ, and (2) whose lives demonstrate it by their actions. [For example, see 1 Timothy 5:3-16.]
POINT 3: Therefore, it is only to those whom are considered Jesus’ brothers that we have any obligation to provide aid according to this Scripture—not to those who by their attitudes and actions have displayed nothing but rebelliousness and contempt for the things of God.
But, I hear someone say, what about Jesus’ command to the young man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor? [Matthew 19:16-22] The point might be valid—except for the fact that this is an instruction given to one person at a particular point in time for a particular purpose. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the young man went away with no intention of obeying Christ. There is nothing in the passage which indicates that this was a universal command—any more than Jesus’ command to Peter in Matthew 14:29 is a general command for all believers to walk across bodies of water without the use of conveyances such as bridges or ferries [or, in some cases, tunnels].
As I alluded to earlier, if Acts 5:4 indicates that what we have acquired through the fruits of our labors is ours to retain or dispose of as we deem appropriate, then we cannot make Matthew 19:16-22 a general obligation for all believers, either by direct command, necessary inference, or approved precedence, because it was instruction given to one individual, only one time, and in a particular set of circumstances.
Scripture is full of references which point to the believers’ obligation to engage in labor, industry, thrift, and commerce to secure their economic well-being. One example is 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, in which the apostle Paul states that he provided for his own needs through his own labor and that this was an example for the Thessalonian believers to follow. He concluded by noting that the Thessalonians were not to keep company with any so-called believer who rejected his teaching.
POINT 4: If there is any obligation to assist those outside of the faith, that obligation is situational, based on extreme emergency, limited in duration, and entered into voluntarily by the donor.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:30-37], the Samaritan’s aid for the man beaten by robbers was situational, based on extreme emergency, limited in duration, and entered into voluntarily. He did not undertake to support the man for the rest of his life, his aid was limited to the victim’s recovery, and the only compulsion he had was his own conscience. Moreover, had the victim been rendered permanently unable to work, he would have been required to locate to one of the Levitical cities for subsistence from the tithes and offerings brought to the Levites, he would not have been the responsibility of the Samaritan.
This is unlike the assistance programs operated by our government, which are open-ended and make no requirements of the recipients apart from some generalized, extremely lax job search requirements. At one point, thirty years ago, work requirements were proposed by the federal government, but the courts quickly overturned these requirements stating that welfare is a right [which is why welfare programs are called “entitlements”] not a gift, or a privilege. “Workfare” was deemed to be a form of involuntary servitude, instead of people earning their subsistence.
James Madison, who is credited with authoring our Constitution once noted: “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” In other words, the author of our Constitution stated that there is no power vested in the Congress [where spending bills originate – not in any other branch of government] which gives authorizes them to take money from working citizens to give to people who either cannot or will not work. This is the original intent of the founding fathers. Madison rightly understood that works of charity, or benevolence were the domain of the churches and those who wished to do so voluntarily.
POINT 5: Poor planning on someone’s part, does not make it an emergency on my part.
While such a view may seem callous and trite, it basically follows common sense and represents the Biblical view which encourages labor, ingenuity, and thrift. When someone chooses to do poorly in school and drops out, or chooses not to extend his or her education beyond high school, thereby becoming unemployable for anything other than minimum wage jobs, or someone chooses to expend his or her income in a prodigal or wasteful manner [such as tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, or some other such nonsense]–it does not become my responsibility [or the church's] to bail them out should they not have sufficient funds to cover their needs until their next paycheck or to support them in a “better” economic lifestyle.
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scriptures designated as HCSB come from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers.
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-17]*
In the first two installments of this series, we looked at the Messianic prophecies and their fulfillment as proof that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.
As we continue this series we will now look at the Scriptural teachings that because Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, He is more than a mere man—He is the very incarnation of God.
Before delving into this definitional doctrine,ŧ we must precede the study with looking into another definitional doctrine—the Trinity.
B. B. Warfield, cited in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains the doctrine in this manner:
When we have said these three things, then—that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct [not separate] person—we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness.
It is important to note that the “one-ness” of the Godhead, and the “three-ness” of the Persons do not exist in the same respect. The terms “one” and “three” are not simultaneously affirming and denying the same thing at the same time. When we say God is One, we are referring to His essence or substance. When we say God is Three, we refer to the plurality of Persons, who are of the same essence. The One-ness of God is expressed in His unity of character, purpose, and will. The Three-ness of God is manifest in relational and functional aspects.
The clearest statement of the One-ness of God is found in what is called the “Shema” [pronounced “sh'-MĂH”, not “SHĒ-măh”]: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! [Deuteronomy 6:4]. [In Hebrew, this reads: Sh'mah Y'Is-ro-ayl, 'Ah-do-nai 'Eh-lo-hay-nu, 'Ah-do-nai 'eh-khad!]Throughout the Old Testament, it is repeated that there is no God but One [Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 7:22; 22:32; 1 Kings 8:23, 60; 2 Kings 19:19; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 18, 21-22; 46:9; Jeremiah 10:6; Joel 2:27]. This affirmation is carried over in the New Testament [Mark 12:32; John 17:3; Romans 3:29-30; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19].
So we have no problem with asserting that there is only one God. The problem comes when we assert that although there is only one God, that He is manifested in a plurality of three persons. First off, it must be noted that nothing in the Old Testament prohibits or eliminates such a declaration from consideration.
Why can we say this? This is the first point we must recognize—that there is a difference in meaning between being and personhood.
To support this idea, one must first look at the Hebrew word ‘eh-KHAD, [translated as “one”] found in the Shema. The word designates what Hebrew specialists call “composite unity.” The same word is found in Genesis 2:24 to describe the relationship between husband and wife when they are said to be l’bah-shar ekh-ad, which most translations render as “one flesh.” The same word is found in Numbers 13:23, when the 12 spies returned to the Israelites after spending forty days in the promised land. When they returned they brought with them ‘ah-nah-viim ‘ekh-ad which was so large that it required two men to carry it on a pole. While the phrase is usually rendered as and understood to be one [NKJV] or a single cluster of grapes [NASB, ESV, HCSB], the phrase itself is literally “one grapes,” the singular number in conjunction with the plural noun signifying composite unity. The same construction of singular number in conjunction with a plural noun is found in the Shema, when it says ‘Ah-do-nai ‘eh-khad is ‘Eh-lo-hey-nu. This is a predicate construction in which the plural noun ‘Ey-lo-hey-nu is linked to a singular number/subject.
Which leads to the second point suggesting a plurality of persons within the Godhead. The word translated as “God” from the Hebrew in most instances in the OT is ‘Eh-lo-hiim, the plural form of ‘Eh-loh.
The third clue indicative of plurality of persons within the Godhead is found in four notable passages within the Old Testament: Genesis 1:26; 3:22-24; 11:6-7; Isaiah 6:8. In those passages, God speaks in the first person plural. Some commentators attempt to explain God’s use of the first person plural as a form of the majestic or editorial plural. Even suggesting the majestic plural originated in the Old Testament. The only problem with this is that there is no record in the Old Testament where any of the Hebrew kings ever referred to himself in this manner.
On the John Ankerberg Show in 1985, a debate occurred which featured E. Calvin Beisner and the late Walter Martin debating Nathaniel Urshan and Robert Sabin from the United Pentecostal Church on the nature of the Trinity. Urshan and Sabin represent a cult which denies the Trinity and argued that the instances of God using the first person plural in the Old Testament were examples of the majestic plural. Martin debunked this, showing that this understanding and usage of the first person plural did not occur until the middle ages to bolster the claims of the so-called “Divine Right of Kings” in which many European kings claimed to be speaking for God and thereby invoked the right to speak of themselves in the plural.
An additional Old Testament evidence suggestive of a plurality of Persons within the Godhead is the theophanies during which God [believed to be the second Person of the Trinity] appeared. Examples of Theophanies are:
The Angel of the Lord: Genesis 16:7-14; Genesis 22:11-18; Exodus 14:19 [ Cf. Exodus 16:10; 24:16-17; 33:9-10; 40:34-38; Numbers 12:5; 16:42; Deuteronomy 1:33; 31:15]; Numbers 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-4; Judges 6:11-23; Judges 13:3-22.] Four characteristics show that these events were visible manifestations of God: (a) when the Angel of the Lord spoke, He spoke as God. (b) The Angel of the Lord is viewed as being identical to the Shekinah [the pillar of smoke and fire which led the Israelites through the wilderness and which abided over the Tabernacle in the wilderness]. (c) The Angel of the Lord accepted worship and sacrifice [Compare to Revelation 19:9-10; 22:8-9]. (d) In Judges 13:18, when asked His Name, the Angel of the Lord stated that it was “Wonderful,” the same Hebrew word used in the Messianic passage in Isaiah 9:6-7 which identifies the Messiah as being the Incarnation of God.
The One who wrestled with Jacob: Genesis 32:24-32. When Jacob asked for the Name of his opponent, the response he received was the same response as was given to Manoah in Judges 13:18.
The Captain of the host of the Lord: Joshua 5:13-15. The One who appeared to Joshua claims the same reverence as was demanded of Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3:5-6]. The passage shows that Joshua did indeed bow in worship. If this was merely an angelic being and not a visible manifestation of God, he would not have accepted worship. [Compare with Revelation 19:9-10; 22:8-9.]
Why are these theophanies believed to be appearances of Christ prior to His incarnation? There are three reasons: (a) No man has seen the Father at any time—Exodus 33:20; Job 9:11; 23:8; John 1:18; 5:37; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 1 John 4:12. (b) The Son is the express image of the Father—John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3. (c) This Person was seen face-to-face—Genesis 32:30; Joshua 5:13-15; Judges 6:11-23; 13:3-23.
For this reason, we believe that while there is only one God, there is a plurality of Persons evident within God. We shall explore this further in the next post, when we look briefly at the Person identified as the Holy Spirit.
* Unless noted otherwise, all Bible references are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
ŧ A “definitional doctrine” is a doctrine which is essential to one’s identity as a Christian. Denying or equivocating about such doctrines should be taken as indicative of one not being a Christian.
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-17]*
In this series, I am attempting to explain the related doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Triune persons of the Godhead. In the first part, I began an examination of the prophecies which were fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus. And we left off with a brief examination of the prophetic genealogy of Jesus.
In this installment, we will continue with an examination of the Messianic prophecies. And if anyone reading this has not done so already, I recommend highlighting them in your Bibles with handwritten notes cross-referencing the Old Testament passages with their fulfillment in the New. I also recommend using a color for highlighting which is not used for any other purpose.
Another subject within the Messianic prophecies and their fulfillment concerns the timing of the Messiah’s coming. There are two Old Testament prophecies which are key here. The first prophecy is found in Genesis 49:10: The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples. The Holman Christian Standard Bible has, I believe, a more accurate rendering of the text, rendering the Hebrew word “Shiloh” as “He whose right it is,” fixing the scepter and rule in a Person and not a place. Moreover, the NKJV errs here by rendering the word “people” as a singular. The Hebrew and other translations such as the NASB, HCSB, and ESV render this as a plural, signifying a rule over not just one ethnic group or nation, but a rule over all nations.
This means the Messiah had to have revealed Himself to the Jewish people before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD—since the scepter departed from Judah at that time.
Another prophecy concerning the timing of the Messiah’s appearance is found in Daniel 9:24-26: Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off [be put to death], but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The word rendered as “weeks” in this passage is literally rendered as “sevens.” According to the commentators, this refers to cycles of years, so literally this means this prophesied period involves four hundred-ninety years, broken up into three sections: forty-nine years, four hundred-thirty-four years, and seven years in duration. We know the beginning of the cycle begins with a command to rebuild the Temple—a decree issued by Artaxerxes on March 5, 444 BC, according to Nehemiah 2:1-8. It took 49 years before this was completed. The end of this forty-nine years also coincides with the completion of the Old Testament canon.
Now it must be remembered that when we are speaking of years, we are not speaking of solar years. The frame of reference is the Hebrew calendar, in which all months are based on a 30-day lunar cycle and having 12 months in a year—thus in the Hebrew reckoning, all years have 360 days.
The next part of the cycle is the four hundred-thirty-four “silent years.” This time period ended on March 30, 33 AD, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, announcing by the signs which preceded His entry that He was the long-awaited Messiah.
But what of the final cycle of seven years? Daniel 9:26 prophesied the death of the Messiah at the end of the sixty-ninth week of years. The text does not say that this would occur during the seventieth week of years, therefore the text itself suggests an interruption between the sixty-ninth week of years, and the seventieth week of years. But this is a discussion for another time.
According to Psalm 2:1-2, the coming of the Messiah would be met with resistance and hostility from the unbelieving and unrepentant. We see a triple fulfillment of this prophecy: during the early childhood of Jesus [Matthew 2:16], at His death and resurrection [Acts 4:27-28], and at His second coming in glory to establish His literal reign on earth [Revelation 20:7-9].
The rage of a pretender to the throne of Israel at Jesus’ birth is not surprising. What is surprising and inhuman is the viciousness of his rejection. According to Matthew 2:16-18, the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem is the fulfillment of yet another prophecy, found in Jeremiah 31:15.
The text further informs us that some time had elapsed since the events surrounding the birth recounted in Luke 2. The Greek, being more technical than English, has three different words designating a young child. The first word, brephos, indicates either a child in the womb or a newborn infant. It is the word used in Luke 2:12. The second word, nepios, indicates one who, while older than a newborn, has not yet reached the age of having the capacity for speech—generally associated with being weaned [used in Matthew 21:16]. The word used three times is Matthew 2:8-11 is paidion, which indicates one who has just been weaned and is ready to begin education.
Since weaning usually occurred around the age of two, and was a cause for celebration in the family [Genesis 21:8], and also given the instructions in Herod’s decree to his soldiers, it is generally believed that the events recounted in Matthew 2 took place about two years after the events in Luke 2. Thus, what for most Jewish families would have been a time for celebration and rejoicing, was turned to a time of weeping and sorrow.
It was also foretold that although the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2], He would first make Himself known in the region of Galilee [Isaiah 9:1-2]. This shows the shortsightedness of the priests and rulers on the Sanhedrin. While they acknowledged the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem [John 7:42], they either ignored or failed to account for the prophecy that His ministry would begin in Galilee.
Further, it is stated that the Messiah would be valued at 30 pieces of silver [Zechariah 11:12-13]. Presumably this was temple money and not Roman money, so the silver would have been 30 shekels. It was the price paid to a slave owner as compensation for a slave who had been gored by an oxen, in other words, the Sanhedrin viewed Jesus Christ as being as worthless as a dead slave.
Zechariah 12:10 provides a prophetic bridge between the first advent of Christ and His second advent. As his followers witnessed the Roman soldier thrusting a spear into His side, John 19:34-37, reminds us of the passage. And yet, when He returns to establish His kingdom, the eyes of every human who survived the Great Tribulation will behold Him, and they will weep. For those who became believers during that time, their tears will be mingled with joy. But for those who have rejected Him, those tears will be the bitter tears of regret and remorse, for then they will face judgment, they will have no more opportunities for repentance.
Zechariah 13:7 points that the Messiah would be deserted by His closest associates. At the moment of His arrest in the garden, every one of them fled [Matthew 26:21, 26]. But, with the exception of Judas, not one of them was lost, all were restored after His resurrection—even Simon Peter who had denied him.
The final prophecy we shall look at is found in Malachi 4:2: The sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. While the authorities missed the evidence. The common people did not. The word translated “wings” in this passage is kanash. The same word is translated as “corners” in Number 15:37-41, in which the Israelites were commanded to tie tassels to the corners of their outer garments as visible reminders of their covenant relationship with God. The garments are called tallit, and are worn by all adult Jewish males. The tassels are called tzitziyot [singular tzitzit]. The woman with the issue of blood in Matthew 9:20-21, and others [Matthew 14:36] recognized that it was not that His tzitziyot and tallit were different, but that the One who was wearing them was the prophesied “Sun of Righteousness.”
This article and part one are merely summaries of the prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ at His first coming. Peter Stoner in a book called Science Speaks, looks at the following prophecies:
The Messiah’s place of birth [Micah 5:2],
The Messiah being preceded by a messenger [Isaiah 40:3],
The Messiah’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem [Zechariah 9:9],
The Messiah’s betrayal by a close companion [Psalm 41:9],
The Messiah being valued as worthless [Zechariah 11:12],
The betrayal price being thrown to the potter [Zechariah 11:13],
The Messiah being rejected by His own people [Isaiah 53:3], and
The Messiah being mistreated by His own people [Psalm 22:16; see also Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 50:6; 52:14]
Stoner calculated that the probability of one man being able to fulfill these prophecies by mere chance and circumstance was 1 in 1017 [1 in 100 quadrillion]. In order to illustrate the impossibility of this being mere chance, Stoner says this is the number of silver dollars required to cover the entire state of Texas to a depth of two feet, marking one of those silver dollars, stirring the mass thoroughly, and then telling a blindfolded person to to travel as far as he wishes and pick up one single silver dollar. That is the probability that the dollar chosen will be the marked one.
To look at it another way. Having met all these criteria, the probability is 100 quadrillion to one that Jesus of Nazareth is the prophesied Messiah.
With these odds, it is no wonder that the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal proposed what has become known as Pascal’s wager: “Which is better [safer]–for one to believe in Christ and live for Him, only to find at the end of his life that he was wrong in doing so, or to deny Christ, only to find at the end of his life that he was wrong in doing so?”
Or, as the Puritan minister Philip Henry once observed: “He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.”
* Unless noted otherwise, all Bible references are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]*
In critiquing Tozer a few weeks ago, I encountered one very hostile response from someone who, hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, accused me of all manner of vile misdeeds for “daring” to suggest that Tozer could have his theology wrong. He made numerous statements gainsaying everything I said, but never offered a shred of documentary evidence to refute the charges made. He challenged the definition of “pantheism” I used in the article – ignoring the fact that the definition used came from two highly respected scholars in the field of theology and apologetics – H. Wayne House and Norman L. Geisler. He claimed my attributions to Tozer were wrong even though I cited entire paragraphs verbatim to demonstrate I was not taking isolated phrases out of context – and I provided page numbers so any person wishing to do so could look up the text being cited for himself.†
These were the high points of this “critique.” [Although “rant” might be a more accurate description.] Because then it broke down into a rambling, incoherent, string of alleged quotes supposedly made by Tozer in other contexts which had no relation to the subject addressed in my blog. No citations to any works of Tozer were provided, so it was impossible to check for the accuracy or the context of the alleged citations.
The critic was audacious, if nothing else, signing his name as “YeshuaMeshiach,” which came across to me as a pretentious [and incorrect] claim to be speaking on behalf of the Lord Himself. I see this as pretentious because no one speaks for God except when citing the words inspired by the Holy Spirit in Scripture. He can be free to gainsay my assessment all he wishes. But his claiming to speak for God apart from Scripture is blasphemous. But gainsaying does not alter facts or the implications and inferences which can be induced from those facts. And nowhere in his rant did “YeshuaMeshiach” offer a scintilla of evidence which substantiated his gainsaying.
However, in the interest of “fairness,” I have decided to look further into what Tozer believed and taught.
It must be noted that Tozer was not a systematizer or deep thinker when it came to matters of theology. He was a preacher with minimal literacy who had little under-standing of biblical languages, who preached in a denomination which had no standards for ordination apart from some vague, subjective “calling” which was in keeping with the roots of that denomination in classical pentecostalism. Basically, in Tozer’s theological background – if a congregation agreed to accept a person as its pastor – that was considered proof enough of one’s calling.
Moreover, Tozer was not a writer in the terms used by academics. He did not research his topics and then write his works based on the conclusions of careful hours and months of research. Tozer’s works represent transcriptions of messages delivered from a pulpit. In those messages Tozer’s method is evident – he started with a predetermined conclusion, then selectively cited evidence [and, as we shall see, in one case he created the evidence out of his fertile imagination] which supported his pre-determined conclusion while rejecting or dismissing all evidence to the contrary without evaluating whether or not his conclusions might be inadequate and ill-informed at best.
Consider this quote found in the preface to The Pursuit of God: “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.” [p. 5] Tozer, in this statement, presumes to know more about the design and purpose of Scripture than can be stated propositionally, or even derived from necessary inference from the pages of Scripture itself.
Look again at what the apostle, writing under the prompting and superintendency of the Holy Spirit wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. There is no hint in the writings of the Apostle that the raison d’etre for Scripture is to bring us to some sort of mystical altered state of consciousness regarding God. Paul writes that the purpose of Scripture is to produce four effects: correctness of doctrine, avoidance of unsound doctrine [“reproof”], avoidance of unsound action [“correction”], correctness of action [“training in righteousness”]. Even these are not an end result. The end result is that we be “adequate,” or in the Greek: artios, which indicates a state of maturity.
The basic problem here is that Tozer has confused the effect of obedience and godly living with the purpose of Scripture. And this confusion is perpetuated by those who are embracing the teachings of Tozer’s disciples via the Renovare program and other forms of contemplative spirituality being advocated by nominally Christian teachers such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Beth Moore, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, et al. We shall come back to this to explore it further. Moreover, their error is compounded by the all too easy trap of promoting a short-cut to holiness – a short-cut which is founded in ecstatic, mystically-induced altered states of consciousness unknown to the first century church, instead of simply growing in a day-by-day walk of obedience with the end that we should be conformed to the character of God.
Like those in Renovare and other forms of contemplative spirituality, Tozer can only make his points by adding to Scripture. On page 11 of The Pursuit of God, Tozer writes: “As he watched him grow from babyhood to young manhood the heart of the old man was knit closer and closer with the life of his son, till at last the relationship bordered upon the perilous. It was then that God stepped in to save both father and son from the consequences of an uncleansed love.”‡ This is in regard to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac—or more accurately, what Tozer imagined that relationship to have been in his own mind.
While Abraham did have his faults, which are recorded in Scripture, there is not even so much as a hint in the Bible that he ever elevated Isaac to the status of an idol. But Tozer implies that he knows the true story and is now giving it to us. For on page 12 he again informs us: “To the wondering patriarch He now says in effect, ‘It’s all right, Abraham. I never intended that you should actually slay the lad. I only wanted to remove him from the temple of your heart that I might reign unchallenged there. I wanted to correct the perversion that existed in your love. Now you may have the boy, sound and well. Take him and go back to your tent.’ ”
Again he hints that Abraham has engaged in idolatry, a charge nowhere found in Scripture—but Tozer in his infallible reckoning knows better than God and Moses what happened on Mount Moriah. Nowhere is it found in Scripture why God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. Tozer is attributing to God words which God did not utter according to Scripture. Scripture condemns all who presume to speak for God concerning matters about which God is silent. [Deuteronomy 18:20; Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:1-23] Such adding to the word of God is beyond presumptuous—it is utterly, totally blasphemous.
Moreover, there is implicit within Tozer’s discussion of Abraham, a view of God which is consistent with what is now called “process theology.” This theological view maintains that God lacks omniscience and can only respond to contingencies based on human action, Tozer is suggesting that God did not really know Abraham’s heart, so He tested Abraham by commanding Abraham to murder his son.
Thus, heresy is the heart of Tozer’s theological system. He is not presenting Christian doctrine. He is promoting the ancient heresy of gnosticism. Again quoting from The Pursuit of God, page 12, we read: “There is the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. The books on systematic theology overlook this, but the wise will understand.” (emphasis added)
As I indicated in my previous blog, Tozer, in keeping with Wesleyan perfectionism and Keswickian theology, believed there were two different levels of Christianity, there were the “theological Christians” whom he believed to be little better than Christians in name only, and there were “The Wise” who experience the deep mysteries of God. “The Wise” are deemed by Tozer to be superior to the theological Christians, not on the basis of any Scriptural standards, but on the basis of their “supernatural experiences,” which are derived from following occult rituals found nowhere in the pages of Scripture, but which are found in the writings of mystics [practitioners of witchcraft] such as Julian of Norwich and Brother Lawrence.
This gnosticism crops up again on pages 22-23, when Tozer wrote: “Our uncorrected thinking… tends to draw a contrast between the spiritual and the real; but actually no such contrast exists. The antithesis lies elsewhere: between the real and the imaginary, between the spiritual and the material, between the temporal and the eternal; but between the spiritual and the real, never. The spiritual is real.” In this dichotomy which Tozer sets up, he equates what is spiritual with what is real. The unwritten antithesis here is that what is material or physical is therefore imaginary or illusory. This principle is found in ancient gnosticism and is more recently expressed by such cults as Christian Science and Unity.
On page 24, he denies that he is a pantheist [the point of my critic], but in so doing, he redefines pantheism in a way which is simply not an accurate representation of pantheism. In other words, Tozer creates a straw-man, a misrepresentation of pantheism, so that he can say he is not a pantheist since he does not believe in his straw man. The problem is that pantheism, as defined by scholars more learned and wiser than Tozer [scholars such as H. Wayne House, Norman Geisler, and Ravi Zacharias], is a belief system more encompassing than what Tozer describes, and Tozer’s beliefs about God line up with those definitions of pantheism exactly.
In a sermon delivered on February 5, 1961, dealing with the “Omnipresence of God,” Tozer specifically agrees with the Hindu teaching of pantheism [beginning about the 3:40 mark in the sermon]. He further adds the problem with Hindu pantheism is not that it is wrong, but that it is based on incomplete revelation. This sermon can be found on the web at: http://www.cmalliance.org/resources/tozer-audio-sermons/. Further examples of his proof-texting and twisting of Scripture is found in his citations of 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 16:8; Acts 17:26-28. Tozer cites this passages, attributing nuances which were never stated or even implied in the Hebrew and Greek originals. Tozer is a pantheist and his protests to the contrary have all the disingenuousness of a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar protesting his innocence.
I have been told by one of Tozer’s groupies that I am simply misunderstanding Tozer because “language isn’t adequate to express what Tozer was trying to express.” I beg to differ. Words and grammar have established meanings. And if men such as H. Wayne House, Norman Geisler, Ravi Zacharias, and the late Walter Martin were able to clearly and coherently express themselves in distinguishing the omnipresence of God from Hindu pantheism, while Tozer and his groupies are unable [or unwilling] to make or recognize that distinction, this is either due to a lack of discernment or falsification about what pantheism really is. Given the experiences I have had with reading Tozer and from his groupies, I’m inclined to believe it is falsification rather than a mere semantic difference. Why? I’m guessing it’s merely ego–nobody wants to admit to being wrong.
This is the crux of the matter where Tozer and all other contemplative spiritualists are concerned. God has given us His Word. That Word is wholly sufficient to guide us in all matters regarding what we should believe, what we should not believe, how we should live, and how we should not live. Nowhere within that Word are we commanded or even encouraged to seek out mystical experiences. Nowhere in the pages of the New Testament do we find the mystical experiences which Tozer promotes even mentioned as an approved precedent for the children of God as an ongoing experience. We only find two references to such experiences in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 12:1-7; and Revelation. Those experiences were unique to the apostolic age and will never again be repeated until the Tribulation, when the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 is completely fulfilled.
* Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
† Throughout this and other postings, I will continue to use the third person singular masculine in the generic sense. I will not accommodate my use of what is considered good grammar for the sake of political correctness. If the generic masculine was good enough for God to establish as a basic rule of language when He created language, it should be good enough for us.
‡ All page number references to The Pursuit of God are to an online edition which can be located at: http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/Tozer_Pursuit_of_God.pdf
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. [Psalm 1:1-2]*
Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. [Psalm 119:11]
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. [John 17]
These [the Jewish people living in Berea] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [being told to them by Paul and Silas] were so. [Acts 17:11]
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. [Hebrews 4:12]
For many years I have had people recommend the works of A.W. Tozer. Those recommendations came without reservation and qualification. For many years Tozer simply wasn’t on my radar.
It was a few weeks ago, when the congregation my wife and I attended announced that it was beginning a Wednesday night study on The Attributes of God, Vol. 1, [hereafter designated as TAG] that I had my first introduction to Tozer. What I encountered in the first few chapters of that book went beyond thought-provoking. Tozer’s theology proper [theology of God Himself] is at best, poorly stated or nuanced, showing little regard for the implications and applications derived from such statements. At the worst, his statements are thoroughly unbiblical and heretical in the extreme. They have more in common with the monistic pantheism of Hinduism than with Judeo-Christian theism. Let me repeat—his views, if not merely indicative of poor wording, are heretical. In addition, the views held by Tozer concerning the nature of God in relation to His creation, have heretical implications extending to bibliology [theology of the nature of Scripture], anthropology [theology of the nature of man], soteriology [theology of salvation], and eschatology [theology of final things].
The irony here is that Tozer once lamented that the biggest lack of the church in the last half of the twentieth century [and the situation has deteriorated since then] has been its lack of discernment in recognizing and rejecting false teaching. The problem is that in delivering this indictment, Tozer himself is either a hypocrite, or a fool. If he realized that what he taught was not only without foundation in Scripture, but contrary to Scripture, then he was a fraud and a hypocrite. If he did not realize that what he promoted in his writings and sermons was unbiblical and false, then he was a fool and he falls under his own indictment for lacking the discernment to recognize that the source of many of his teachings was not the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture – but unholy spirits speaking through the writings of medieval mystics and visionaries.
Let’s examine the evidence. In TAG, Tozer extensively cites the writings of a medieval mystic and visionary, Julian of Norwich, a woman who chose to use a man’s name. Julian was an anchoress – a person who, claiming religious reasons, lived a life of extreme ascetism and isolation from others – believing any social contact would contaminate her before God. Tozer’s writings uncritically glorify and venerate Julian’s example as a “higher Christian life” and experience – to be emulated by others.
Julian prior to becoming an anchoress, experienced an illness during which she experienced sixteen visions, these visions formed her theology and where those visions were contrary to Scripture – she placed the greater authority in her visions. As we examine the evidence against Tozer, we shall see how deeply her writings influenced his false teachings.
Another medieval mystic whom Tozer held in high regard and cites as being equally authoritative with Julian is an obscure monk named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence had a series of meditations which after his death were collected and published as The Practice of the Presence of God.
Julian of Noirwich, Brother Lawrence, and Meister Eckhardt [another mystic cited favorably by Tozer], did not base their practices upon the teaching of scriptures. Their writings were the result of hallucinations produced during trance states [altered states of consciousness], during which their bodies became inhabited by what Scripture calls “familiar spirits.” In the case of Julian of Norwich, the trance state was the result of a high fever. In the case of Brother Lawrence, he focused on the repetitiveness of his menial tasks until he entered an altered state of consciousness – the same result as is achieved in hatha yoga by focusing one’s attention on breathing. Eckhardt believed the presence of God was achieved through focusing on an external object [such as the flame of a candle] until one’s mind was emptied of all human thought and could then experience the divine. In each of those cases, it must be noted that those who seek to contact familiar spirits [and the means by which those contacts are established] are expressly forbidden in Scripture [Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Isaiah 8:19-20]. God considered this sin to be so egregious, so evil that in the Mosaic law, He commanded that all who entertained such practices were to be executed immediately.
It must be noted that in formulating his theology, Tozer was not relying on Scripture alone, but on the visions and meditations of mystics steeped in a medieval blend of Roman Catholic superstition and witchcraft. In other words, Tozer did not look to Scripture alone for his teaching. Instead, he looked for authority in mystical, occult experiences. So the question is, why is Tozer giving an unqualified endorsement to the writings of those who were practicing a form of witchcraft instead of relying solely on the Word of God alone? In doing so, he denied the doctrine that the Bible is sufficient for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for training in rightousness. He denied that Scripture is sufficient to make us complete in Christ and adequately equip us for every good work.
What does Tozer state concerning the nature of God? He makes the following statements concerning the nature of God:
“God contains space.” [TAG, p. 5]
“Then there is God. God has the attribute of immanence and immensity. God is immanent, which means you don’t have to go distances to find God. He is in everything. He is right here.
“God is above all things, beneath all things, outside of all things and inside of all things. God is above, but He’s not pushed up. He’s beneath, but not pressed down. He’s outside, but He’s not excluded. He’s inside, but He’s not confined. God is above all things presiding, beneath all things sustaining, outside of all things embracing, and inside of all things filling. That is the immanence of God.” [TAG, p. 22, emphasis added]
“Remember that God is outside of all things and inside of all things and around all things.” [TAG, p. 23, emphasis added]
“God is omnipresent, which means God is everywhere. God is also immanent, which means that God penetrates everything. This is standard Christian doctrine, believed even in the earliest days of Judaism. God is omnipresent and immanent, penetrating everything even while He contains all things.” [TAG, pp. 137-138, emphasis added]
In the study guide which appears appended to the end of the book, and which is a commentary on Tozer, David E. Fessenden writes:
“The attribute of immanence (which is addressed in more detail in chapter 8) is that God is everywhere and in everything, penetrating and permeating all the universe. This is a different attribute than God’s omnipresence….” (Study Guide, p. 19, emphasis added)
“And yet, Tozer adds, God is so immense that the universe cannot contain Him. Though He is in everything, He is not confined to or contained by His creation. Instead, He contains it. As an exercise to see how this view of God stands up against Scripture, meditate on Isaiah 40. Note how certain verses relate to what Tozer has said so far about God’s immensity. It is interesting to compare verse 15 to Lady Julian’s vision of the hazelnut.” (Study Guide, p. 20, emphasis added)
Let’s evaluate and explore the implications in those statements.
I have been told that I am wrong in attributing a pantheistic or panentheistic view to Tozer’s statements. Tozer has been dead for almost fifty years, so I cannot ask him for clarification – I can only go by the words he wrote in the context in which he used them and compare them with what others say.
H. Wayne House has defined pantheism as: “1: The belief that God and the universe are one and the same thing. 2: The belief that God is somehow diffused throughout the universe as its animating principle.” [Charts of World Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, p, 320, emphasis added] House defines panentheism as: “The view that God is related to the world in a way similar to the way in which the human mind is related to the human body; thus the world is part of God, but God is more than the world, and they are dependent on each other.” [ibid.]
Norman Geisler has stated: “According to pantheism, God ‘is all in all.’ God pervades all things, contains all things, subsumes [is over] all things, and is found within all things. Nothing exists apart from God, and all things are in some way identified with God.” [The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012, p. 425.]
The definition provided by Geisler is especially crucial since it is almost verbatim how Tozer defines God’s immanence. This points to a fundamental flaw in Tozer’s definition. No other theologian would accept his definition of the word immanence. While they would accept that immanence refers to God’s nearness to His creation, orthodox theologians draw a distinction between the Creator and His creation. Tozer’s use of the term, on the other hand, arrogantly presumes superior knowledge and defies orthodoxy, blurring the distinction between the Creator and His creation.
Tozer’s creative, non-standard definition of the term “immanence” stands all of theology on its head. Consider the following implications:
#1: If God is in everything [and by extension, every person], then there is no distinction between good and evil, there is no distinction between believer and unbeliever, children of God and children of disobedience/wrath, for all actions would then find their origination with God since He is in everything/everyone.
#2: There is no such thing as sin—because if God is in everything/everyone, then He cannot act against Himself. For example, there cannot be such a sin as idolatry, because those considered to be worshiping idols are actually worshiping a manifestation of God. Nor can one person sin against another simply because each being filled with and permeated by God simply cannot act against God.
#3: If God is in everything, and there is no such thing as sin, then there is no need for redemption.
#4: If God is in everything, there is no such thing as sin, and no need for redemption, then the Bible is not true for it teaches the creation is distinct from the Creator, not a part of the Creator, that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and require redemption.
#5: If God is in everything/everyone, there is no real eternal judgment, for He would have to render judgment against a part of Himself.
I am sure there are other implications which I have not explored, but these should suffice to show that Tozer’s teaching concerning immanence is, at best, sub-Christian, if not slashing away at the heart of fundamental Christian teaching.
Tozer further went on to demonstrate his heterodoxy in other ways. Tozer did not believe in the doctrine of man’s total depravity – that his nature is corrupt, and because of that corruption, he is, by nature, opposed and hostile to God. Tozer states than: “…we learn impurity from our cradles.” [TAG, p. 158, emphasis added] In other words, Tozer did not believe we sin because that is our nature and disposition from the moment we are conceived in the womb. Instead, according to him, we sin because that is what we learn from the moment we are born. Again, Tozer’s understanding is not what is taught in Scripture according to Psalm 51:5.
As if his unusual [if not heterodox] understanding and expression of theology is not bad enough, to read Tozer is an exercise in logical inconsistency and incoherency. For example, Tozer makes the following inconsistent statements:
“In the previous chapter I dealt with the fact of remoteness – that distance is unlikeness – and I pointed out that hell is for those unlike God.” [TAG, p. 138]
“Heaven is a place of complete comparability, and sin introduces incompatibility between God and the sinner. There cannot be any comparability or communion between the two because sin introduces that quality which throws humans and God out of accord with each other.” [TAG, p. 140]
These statements contradict what Tozer had written earlier about God being “in everything [and, by extension, in every person].” If God is in everything/everyone, filling and permeating their very being [again according to Tozer], then it is manifestly impossible for humans to sin, because that would involve God being in opposition to himself. Therefore there cannot be any incompatibility between God and man because there is no sin. And if there is no sin, there is no judgment.
But Tozer had anticipated criticism of his work. He considered those who are not on his level of spirituality to be lesser Christians, using pejorative terms such as: “elementary Christianity,” [TAG, p. 16] “nominal Christianity,” [TAG, p. 16] “theological Christians.” [TAG, p. 143]. Although his nomenclature is different, and he does not acknowledge his sources, much of Tozer’s theology is grounded in the heresies of perfectionism and the so-called “Higher Life” movement promoted by such writers as Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, Charles Ryrie, and Zane Hodges. This is not surprising considering Tozer’s affiliation with [and ordination in] the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a movement which affirms sanctification/perfectionism as a second work of grace subsequent to conversion/justification.1
In this unbiblical [and therefore heretical] view of the work of Christ, one can be justified simply on the confession of Jesus Christ as Savior, without ever demonstrating repentance, or acknowledging the full Deity of Jesus Christ as Lord.
The logical inconsistency then is that one must work to achieve a deeper/higher life, but one is unable to accomplish this work unless one has experienced a second, crisis-oriented, second work of grace. In Tozer’s views, which become a prototype to the “contemplative prayer” movement now infiltrating the church, one must learn to experience altered states of consciousness to fully experience God.2
This is what happens when one accords those who practiced witchcraft equal or greater authority than Scripture, as Tozer has clearly done – instead of relying on the sufficiency of Scripture alone to guide us in all matters of belief and practice. One is left with a doctrinal house of cards, ready to collapse. One is left to drift into the heresies of unversalism and Pelagianism, not a deeper understanding and devotion to the God who created us.
*Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 For a critique of Keswick/Higher Life theology, I recommend the following article:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name:
who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [John 1:12-13, emphasis added]§
“I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”
They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the work of Abraham.
“But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.
“You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.
“Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [nature], for he is a liar and the father of it. [John 8:38-44, emphasis added]
He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. [John 8:47, emphasis added]
Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him [Elymas the sorcerer]
and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” [Acts 13:9-10, emphasis added]
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. [Romans 8:14, emphasis added]
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. [Romans 8:16, Compare Romans 8:9.]
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,
among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. [Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis added]
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [Ephesians 5:6, emphasis added]
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,
in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. [Colossians 3:5-7, emphasis added]
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:26]
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. [1 John 3:10]
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. [1 John 5:2]
I had a recent encounter on Facebook in which one had written that anyone who “speaks poorly” of another person is in trouble with God for “messing with His kids.” I had responded that I had a problem with the statement and did not agree with the inference that all members of the human race are children of God. In truth, I found several problems with the statement, but wanted to address the main issue first. The person who initiated the thread responded that everyone is a child of God by virtue of creation. The tenor of the response was suggestive that I was being presumptuous in challenging the assertion and had no authority to support me. I stated that the assumption that everyone is a child of God by virtue of being created by God is not a Biblical position and cited John 1:12-13; John 8:37-48; Acts 13:10; and 1 John 3:10 as evidence of my position and added that if Jesus, Paul, and John were stating that unredeemed humanity cannot be considered children of God judicially or relationally, then any statement which contradicts what is propositionally taught in Scripture is contrary to the revealed will of God.
If we look carefully at the Scriptures cited above [and others], they show that:
1: Only those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ can be considered children of God [John 1:12; Galatians 3:26].
2: Only those who are led by the Holy Spirit can rightfully acknowledge Jesus as Lord [Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3].
3: Those who are not led by the Holy Spirit do not belong to God [Romans 8:9]
4: Those who do not belong to God are defined as “children of wrath” [by nature], “children of disobedience” [by their disposition judicially], and “children of the devil” [relationally – because they act according to the nature of their spiritual father].
The very foundation of what was being expressed by this person on Facebook was not Scripture, but rests on the concept of universalism, mingled with a large dose of “name-it/claim-it” heresy.
The soteriology of both of these heresies relies on the idea that all humanity possesses a spark of deity, therefore they will not suffer eternal punishment because God will not allow any part of deity to suffer in eternal separation from Him. The “Name-It/Claim-It” crowd pushes the envelope of heresy further that to speak evil of any whom God has named as divine is to blaspheme God Himself.
If such is the case, then Jesus, Paul, and John would be guilty of blasphemy as defined by those holding to the name-it/claim-it nonsense. However, since Jesus was sinless [John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22; 1 John 3:3, 5], and Paul [2 Peter 3:15-16] and John [Matthew 18:18] wrote Scripture [2 Timothy 3:15-17], then we cannot accuse them of blasphemy.
This brings up the second major problem with the Facebook poster’s initial statement: what is meant by the phrase “speak poorly?” I have encountered this same or similar phrases from other followers of the “name-it/claim-it” teaching and no one has yet to objectively define what he or she means according to Scripture. When pressed, the phrase is another way of saying “speaking negatively” or “being critical.”
Now keep in mind, the name-it/claim-it cultists are not stating their opposition to anything which is objectively and propositionally defined as sin in Scripture, because when pressed for evidence from Scripture to support their claims, they cannot point to any passage which when correctly understood in light of the grammar and context, which would support their claims. No, when they are pressed for clarification of what they mean, what they mean are people who “speak poorly” of another, or “speak negatively,” or are “being critical,” are people who make them feel uncomfortable or uneasy – usually because the person being accused of being “negative” or “critical” is exposing unbiblical behaviors, beliefs, or experiences to the light of Scriptural truth and showing those beliefs and behaviors to be false.
Now, it must be kept in mind, that I am not referring to such sins of the tongue as slandering anyone – because that is condemned in Scripture, regardless of whether or not the victim of the slander is a child or God or a child of the devil. And we must not speak “evil” of anyone [Titus 3:1-2]. It must be noted however, that slander is to present someone in a false light–it is a general terms meaning to speak falsely of someone. Speaking evil is a more precise term–meaning specifically to falsely accuse one of criminal behavior. However, it is not speaking evil when we refute errant beliefs with the plain teaching of Scripture. Nor is it slander. We are not making a false accusation of criminal behavior, nor are we presenting their heretical teachings in a false light. If the teaching of Scripture makes a person “feel” uncomfortable or uneasy, that person needs to examine him or her self to determine what is making them uncomfortable. I would daresay the fault lies with the person who is uncomfortable, not the one proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.
The name-it/claim-it cultists cannot refute Scripture without exposing their own disregard for the Word of God, so the only recourse left is to malign the character or motives of those who disagree with them.
Therefore, anytime someone makes an assertion of moral absolutes that it is a sin to “speak negatively” of another, we not only have a right, but a duty to challenge them according to Scripture. [1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1] They need to clarify what they mean by the use of the vague and highly subjective pejorative. Any statement which cannot be supported from Scripture by either express command [or prohibition], approved precedent, or necessary inference cannot be accepted as binding on any believer. Those who seek to limit and prevent correction within the household of faith are encouraging sinful attitudes and false doctrine within the camp rather than promoting growth and true maturity.
Moreover, it is incumbent upon those who pastor congregations to adequately teach sound doctrine to the members [1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9]. The problem is that so many have fallen for the artificial distinction being made by Presbyterians between so-called “teaching” elders and “ruling” elders. Scripture knows no such distinction. If a man is called to be an elder, he is called to pastor the congregation, and, as a pastor, he must be able to open up the Word of God for that congregation. The elder/pastor has an obligation to keep the congregation from error.
§ Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.