The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

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Pluralism = The New Paganism

In many ways, Western Christians are living in a culture that is increasingly like the first culture that the first Christians lived in: a pagan culture. Christianity was born and spread within the Roman Empire, a place of many gods and many ways of worshiping, where most* religions were seen as equally valid. Today, we call this pluralism.

(*I say “most” because Christianity went through periods of persecution by the Roman government for its first 300 years until it was officially legalized by Emperor Constantine. Christians – like the Jews – wouldn’t worship any Roman gods or the emperor, who was considered a god. Christians were even called “atheists” by Romans because they believed in only one God, and an invisible one at that. Appropriately, Christians’ convictions have made them unpopular again in many parts of the West today.)  

As our culture becomes more post-modern—as well as post-Christian—in mindset, religious pluralism has grown into the popular spirituality of our day. Both established, traditional religions and unambiguous atheism are being rejected by many and an undefined spirituality—a fuzzy spiritual agnosticism—has been embraced, which lives by the axiom, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” For all practical purposes, these pluralists live as atheists within secular society but still embrace some self-defined form of spirituality, which has little – if any – impact on their lives. Basically, it’s OK to believe spiritual things as long as you don’t take them too seriously.

Sadly, this pluralistic mindset has even made its way into Christian circles, and not just in liberal mainline denominations but also in Bible-believing, evangelical churches.

As our world grows “smaller,” more people today have been introduced to worldviews and religions foreign to their own by neighbors, coworkers, and friends (and the Internet and modern media) than perhaps at any other time in history. This is a positive thing in many ways, but those raised to believe that salvation comes only through Christ Jesus may begin to question whether their neighbors —perhaps loving parents and spouses and contributors to the community — will be eternally separated from God because they’re not followers of Christ. Christians have always understood the Bible to teach that the only way to have salvation from sin is through belief in the work and person of Jesus Christ. This is often called exclusivism.

Furthermore, biblical illiteracy has led to unfamiliarity with what the Bible teaches. Not only has Western culture grown more secular and fewer people grow up in churches, but even those in Christian families and churches spend little time closely reading and studying Scripture. 

Because of these reasons, new understandings of God’s salvation have developed that are much different than the traditional Christian understanding of Scripture. Some of these new understandings simply disregard Scripture. Others claim they’re actually more loyal to Scripture than the traditional stance. Because of these reasons, we need an accurate understanding of what the whole of the Bible teaches about salvation.

The Alternatives

Alternatives to exclusivism include pluralism and inclusivism. Where pluralism validates that all (or most) religions lead to God, inclusivism is more nuanced. Inclusivism believes that Jesus Christ is the only savior, but one does not have to believe in him to be saved. In short, Jesus Christ was absolutely essential in saving humanity from damnation, but one doesn’t have to believe in Christ specifically to benefit from that salvation. In inclusivism, one may be saved through another religion or through general revelation even if they never heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

General revelation is the idea that one can know certain things about God through their innate senses (since we are all made in the image of God) and/or through nature (since God created all things). The Bible confirms general revelation, but also that one cannot be saved from sin by general revelation alone.

For salvation, one needs special revelation. Special revelation includes all the unique, supernatural works of God throughout history, which are recorded in the Bible, including God the Son becoming human as Jesus of Nazareth (and his death and resurrection), the work of the Holy Spirit, and even the Bible itself – as the Bible is the written, “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) revelation of God.

The Bible confirms all humans know of God through general revelation, yet do not seek him out. Instead they invent their own religions and worship their own idols. These may be literal idols or the “idols” of secular society (such as money, sex, self-centered independence). In essence, all know there’s a true God, yet they want to remain god of their own lives, so they exchange the truth for a lie.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:18-23) 

In the book Faith Comes By Hearing, Christopher Morgan explains that there is a spectrum of diversity within this new paganism [1]. For example, some versions of universalism teaches that the whole world (even Satan! [2]) will ultimately be saved through Christ.

QUICK REVIEW:

Pluralism – All (or many) religions lead to God and salvation.

Exclusivism – The traditional Christian view that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ’s free gift of salvation; thus, biblical Christianity is the only true path to God. 

Inclusivism – Jesus Christ’s life and work achieved salvation, but one does not have to know of or believe in Christ to be saved. One can be saved by faithfully following another religion or general revelation.

Universalism – One way or another, everyone (or almost everyone) will ultimately be saved through the work of Jesus Christ.

General Revelation – One can know certain things about God through nature and/or their innate senses.

Special Revelation – The unique supernatural works of God throughout history, including miracles, Christ himself, and the Bible.

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The Incomprehensibility of Pluralism Within a Biblical Worldview

As one moves from exclusivism towards views like pluralism and universalism, one moves away from traditional Christianity, and the more one moves away from traditional Christianity, the more the divine authority and reliability of the Bible is questioned or even completely abandoned.

Abandoning the Bible is the only option open to the pluralist as Scripture is so clearly exclusivistic. Verses like John 14:6, Acts 4:10–12, and 1 John 5:11–12 (see below) so clearly teach that salvation comes through Christ alone that pluralists and universalists must have a low view of Scripture in order to continue to hold their views, as does John Hick, who represents the pluralist view in the book Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World.[3]

The pluralist must deny that the Bible is the preserved Word of God since Jesus’ first followers were certainly exclusivists:

Peter said,

“…let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this [formerly crippled] man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

John wrote,

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

And Jesus himself was absolutely clear that he was not a pluralist or universalist:

 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Even if we didn’t have these extremely clear verses from the New Testament, the exclusivist nature of the Bible is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments. There are constant warnings against following false religions and gods and regular statements about salvation coming only through the one true God. Plainly contrary to the universalist idea that all (even Satan) will eventually be saved through Christ, Revelation 19 and 20 clearly shows the horrible fate of those hostile to God, including Satan.

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Further, some other obvious issues are raised concerning pluralism:

    1. Religious Contradictions

All religions can’t be correct simply because they have contradictory teachings. And where there are contradictions, someone has to be wrong. The only way a pluralist can affirm all religions are correct is to discard key aspects of those religions – just like how they have to discard key parts of the Bible. Furthermore, anyone who claims all religions are basically the same has little understanding of what different religions teach.

The pluralist may try to get around this by saying that all (or many) religions have some truth within them. This isn’t a problem for the Christian; a Christian can confirm that there is some truth in other religions, yet none but biblical Christianity are wholly true or lead to salvation.

Also, pluralists still have a problem: How do they know what is religious truth or error? By what standard do they judge?

    2. Only Jesus Could Win Us Salvation

The Bible teaches that God is perfectly good and holy, all people have sinned, and all people are alienated from God by that sin. Only Jesus, who is uniquely fully human and fully God, could repair this chasm-sized rift between God and man. No amount of “good works” or rituals can bridge that chasm. Only Jesus could live a sinless life, and only Jesus could die an unjust death. Only someone fully human could represent humankind, and only someone fully God could cover the sins of all humankind. Christians are exclusivists because only Jesus – the only person to ever be complete man and completely God – could achieve for us salvation, plain and simple.

     3. Jesus Died For Nothing

Jesus died a horribly brutal death on a Roman cross for the sake of all those who would believe in him to be saved from their sins. Jesus did this willingly, yet also prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). God the Son went willingly to the cross, but he also was well aware of the high price he would pay to complete the task he became flesh to accomplish. In Gethsemane, he essentially asks God the Father if there’s any other way to accomplish this, then spare him from the cross. But there was no other way, so he goes willingly.

Here’s the thing: If salvation could be won by any other way, then Jesus didn’t have to die. If there were any other way – even one – for God to accomplish salvation from sin, Jesus died for nothing. In other words, if there were a Plan B for saving the world from sin other than Jesus dying on the cross, Jesus wouldn’t have died on the cross. He would’ve said, “See Plan B.” And if Jesus’ death on the cross were Plan B, he would’ve said, “Plan A works just fine.”

We also have this issue: if there were any other way for God the Father to reconnect with his created people and overlook their sins and God the Father still put Jesus to death on the cross, then Jesus’ death was needless brutality. In other words, if God the Father knew forgiveness of sins could be achieved through humans simply following some rules or completing some rituals or being “nice” or doing X, Y, and Z, why would God the Son need to become a man and die? If pluralism and universalism are true, then God the Father and God the Son both made extremely illogical decisions to allow an act of absolute brutality for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Dismissing the validity of pluralism and universalism is easy from a biblical standpoint, so what about the more nuanced view: inclusivism?

NEXT: Is knowledge of Christ required for salvation? The Nuanced View: Inclusivism.

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WORKS CITED

[1] Faith Comes By Hearing, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, see Chapter 2.

[2] Faith Comes By Hearing, KindleLoc 334.

[3] Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Stanley N. Gundry, Kindle, Loc 3601.

Check out Who Jesus Ain’t and other books by GFTM here.

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The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil

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***SPOILER ALERT: This article speaks of The Walking Dead primarily in general, but an event in Season 2 and the first episode of Season 5 are discussed.***

 

AMC’s zombie apocalypse TV show The Walking Dead, based on a comic book series of the same name, is not one of my all-time favorite shows, yet I find myself unable to stop watching.

I read the massive Compendium One collection of issues #1-48 of the comics before I knew the TV series was being planned, and I found much of the story-telling flat and didn’t feel compelled to continue reading the series. Though I do believe The Walking Dead makes a much better TV show than comic, the show has suffered spells plagued with lack of tension where you’re left wondering, How can a show about a zombie apocalypse grow stale?

All that being said, there’s something irresistible about a story continuing as a TV series long after the point where most zombie movies would’ve ended. Further, I’ve always found the post-apocalyptic genre fascinating since watching as a kid the post-nuclear holocaust movies of the 80’s, including films like The Road Warrior and Terminator. Throw in zombies on top of that, and how can I not watch?

Where I would not classify The Walking Dead in the same category as ground-breaking TV as far as story-telling, character development, or acting goes as The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, the creative forces behind The Walking Dead have created one of the most engrossing shows on television at this time, and they should be commemorated for putting together some truly gut-wrenching episodes. I mean, who can possibly forget in Season 2 when Carol’s lost daughter, Sophia, comes ambling out of Hershel’s barn with other zombies?

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COMMON THEMES

Whether it be William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies, the more recent Denzel Washington post-apocalyptic movie Book of Eli, or the zombie world of The Walking Dead, we find similar themes in all of these stories where civilization breaks down. Evil is left unfettered. Anarchy reigns. Survival of the fittest is the only law. And we see the “good man” (and woman) swimming against the crashing waves of this new, harsh world, trying to maintain goodness – a sense of compassion, a sense of right, a sense of justice, even a sense of humanness – yet often being sucked down by the riptide and barely keeping his head above the waters.

This theme is seen throughout the four completed seasons of The Walking Dead as well as a theme so prevalent in the first episode of the 5th Season (titled “No Sanctuary”) that it’s nearly smashed into your face.

Season 4 ends with Rick Grimes and his grimy crew locked in a storage container in Terminus. In “No Sanctuary,” we see the true colors of the people at Terminus as they line bound men up on their knees, knock them senseless with a bat, cut their throats, and let them bleed out into a tub in a literal human slaughterhouse. As in movies like Book of Eli and The Road, cannibalism is often symbolic of the ultimate breakdown of humanity.

But the theme of “the good” fighting tooth-and-nail to not spiral down to “the evil” in this episode is mostly felt in the contrast between Rick Grimes’ clan and the Terminus clan through the opening and closing flashbacks of the episode. It’s revealed that Terminus had, in fact, been a true sanctuary for people at one time and the people there had been good, compassionate people. But then, another group attacked them. The people of Terminus were locked in the same storage containers they now trapped people in, and they were raped and brutalized. Somehow, they escaped, killed their captors, and decided they would never be victims again. Their new outlook is summed up in one telling line from the show:

“You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.”  

Interestingly, in most post-apocalyptic stories, even in a world where zombies surround the characters, the real danger is humankind. The true threat isn’t simply a harsh environment. In the genre, the search for food or shelter eventually falls into the background. Humans adapt; they learn to survive, even when living among the mindless undead. But then the true threat becomes other humans. We see this clearly in the zombie film 28 Days Later as well as The Walking Dead. Once civilization collapses, evil can reign unrestrained. All of these sorts of stories speak of the darkness that comes out of the human heart.

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HOW GOD RESTRAINS EVIL

As stories like The Walking Dead make clear, there are two things that restrain evil: government and the moral law. And though I assume secular shows like The Walking Dead are not consciously advancing biblical truths, these truths are, in fact, ordained by God.

 

Government

D.A. Carson in his book How Long, O Lord? states, “As a whole, the Scripture recognizes that civil authority restrains evil.” As he points out, the Book of Judges makes this resolutely clear. Anyone familiar with the pattern throughout Judges knows that the book is a continuous cycle that progressively spirals downwards into more and more chaos. The continuous refrain said throughout Judges also closes the book:

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

As Carson points out, “unless there is a responsible authority to curtail evil, individuals become more and more brazen in their greed, pillage, and violence.” It’s interesting how with a little tweaking, all of the above statements could be speaking about the world of The Walking Dead.

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Earlier in the Bible, when we read the Old Testament laws given by God to the ancient Israelite nation, they may seem needlessly severe, even harsh, but one has to recognize it was a much harsher time. Much of the progress towards a more civil, humane society in the West is due to 2,000 years of Christianity. Though the Old Testament law seems harsh to us today, it must be understood in the context of the ancient Near Middle East. God’s law was set in place to minimize bloodshed by giving due process, for instance, before executing someone for a crime. Other examples are the “cities of refuge” established by God as safe havens to prevent unnecessary blood feuds between families and tribes.

As God’s progressive revelation through history continues on to the followers of Jesus, the most explicit biblical teaching about God ordaining government to restrain evil is found in Romans 13:1-5:

 

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

 

It must be noted that this by no means leads to the conclusion that all governments are good and just or even that a perfect government exists. The Bible is quite clear that all people are imperfect sinners, and, thus, all governments are likewise imperfect. D.A. Carson states, “Thus, while the Bible insists that both ideally and in practice the state retrains wickedness, it fully recognizes that the state may perpetrate it. That means that the state sometimes protects us from suffering, and sometimes causes it.”

Though there is much more that can be said about how Christians should respond to unjust governments, for our purposes here concerning The Walking Dead, we need not go further. Christians worship a God of order, not disorder, and without government – without structure in place to protect, police, and practice justice – evil spreads like a zombie-making plague.

 NEXT: Part 2: “The Walking Dead & Moral Law,” “Why aren’t things worse?” & “We’re All Walking Dead”

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The Final Bible Secret Re-revealed! Are There Any Bible Secrets?

*Did God hide secrets in the Bible itself? Did the 1st Christians hide the truth? Is Christianity one big conspiracy? Was Jesus a Buddhist?*

 

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So, are there secrets in the Bible? And did the church cover up secrets about the Bible?

To conclude the God From the Machine series Bible Secrets Re-revealed (which has been looking at claims made on the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed) let’s explore these questions.

In this series, we’ve refuted these claims:

Further, many of the other articles posted on God From the Machine in the past year have refuted claims made elsewhere, including the claim that Christianity came from paganism.

What has become overwhelmingly clear is:

(1) Many of these claims that attack Christianity and deny the traditional understanding of Christianity are based on unadulterated speculation.

and

(2) The “very public” nature of biblical Christianity makes secrets within the faith highly unlikely.

 

Unadulterated Speculation

We live in the time of nonstop television programming where literally hundreds of channels are competing for your attention. As a result, even channels that appear to be educational are drenched in sensationalism.

As we have seen with the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed, serious history has been substituted with conspiracy theories, sloppy half-information, and grand conclusions based on shoddy evidence – if any evidence at all.

We also live in the age of the internet, where every nutty conspiracy theory is kept alive by continuous circulation by those who don’t know any better or those who accept as truth anything they come across that reinforces their chosen worldview.

The great thing about hackneyed conspiracy theories is that they survive because of lack of evidence, not because of convincing evidence — which is backwards from how much of the rest of the world functions.

It’s like finding two red puzzle pieces (that may not even belong to the same puzzle) at the bottom of a drawer and jumping to the conclusion that the completed puzzle must be a Lamborghini.

“How do you know it’s a Lamborghini?” someone might ask you. “Did you find the box with the other pieces?”

“No,” you answer, “but I know there are puzzles of Lamborghinis out there.”

“But how do you know those pieces are a Lamborghini? Where’s the box with the other pieces?”

“Someone purposely hid the box, so I can’t prove it.”

“Can you prove someone purposely hid the box?”

“No, they covered that up too!”

Do you see the problem with this sort of thinking?  

Hey, maybe you’re even right. Maybe it is a Lamborghini. But don’t expect anyone to take you seriously until you find that box.

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As we have seen in this series, little evidence (if any) support the more outrageous claims of the unbelieving scholars on the History Channel, and what evidence there is doesn’t justify the claims they’re making. Much more obvious (and less scandalous – and thus, less TV-worthy) explanations account for the evidence.

Sadly, this mindset permeates everywhere.

For example, I once had a history teacher tell me Christianity comes from paganism. I asked, Where are the primary documents of the supposed myths that are similar to Christianity? What I was asking for was hard evidence. What evidence did she offer? A Youtube video! (And a lame one at that!) I honestly wanted to say to her, “Shame on you! You’re a history teacher! You should know better!”

(To read my article on how claims that Christianity is from paganism are unfounded, click here.)

 

So, Was Jesus Influenced by Buddhism?

Uhh… What?

Here is another example of this unbridled speculation. The fact that this was even suggested on Bible Secrets Revealed illustrates just how much of what is offered on these shows are based not on serious academic investigation, but careless conjecture and even dishonest assumptions.

If this is a serious theory, the one making the claim has a mountain-sized burden of proof, because no serious scholar actually believes this because all evidence says otherwise:

Christianity’s founder was a Jew in the Jewish land of Judea. All evidence shows Christianity spread from Jerusalem, initially by Jesus’ Jewish disciples. The first Christians were Jews.

Are you noticing a pattern here? In order to understand Christianity, one must understand the Jewish faith. This is why Christians must read and understand the Old Testament, not just the New Testament.

In fact, this is exactly what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did. They constantly refer back to the Old Testament to put what is happening in the New Testament into context. To chase after unsubstantiated claims that Christianity originated from Roman paganism, Buddhism, or any other worldview other than the ancient Jewish worldview will lead to a dead-end.

But what about Jesus’ “lost years” between his birth and ministry, as was brought up on the History Channel? All evidence points towards him being a carpenter in Judea. Is it possible he traveled to the East and learned about Hinduism or Buddhism? Sure, it’s possible, but is it plausible based on the evidence? If we’re going to accept this theory, why not say Jesus traveled to northern Europe and became a Viking for a few years?

Everyone can speculate. But what does the evidence say?

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Conspiracy Theory Theories

One more thing to consider before moving on:

Homicide detective and former atheist, J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity explains what is needed for a successful conspiracy:

  • (1) A small number of conspirators. (Less people involved, less people to screw things up.)
  • (2) Thorough and immediate communication between the conspirators. (There’s a reason police separate suspects. Without this, they can’t keep their stories straight.)
  • (3) A short time span to keep the secret. (The more time that passes, the more likely the secret will come out.)
  • (4) Significant relational connections. (A strong bond between those involved, leading to an unwillingness to sell each other out.)
  • (5) Little or no pressure. (If no one cares about the conspiracy, no one is going to look into it or expose it.)

Wallace points out that even conspiracies with most or all of these 5 characteristics rarely remain hidden—and the first Christians had none of these things!

(We won’t be exploring this further here, but I recommend picking up Wallace’s excellent book.)

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Simply & clearly lays out the historical argument for the reliability of Christianity from an interesting perspective.

A Public Faith

From the beginning, Christianity has been a very public religion. Jesus preached in public and he performed miracles in public. Furthermore, the most important miracles of Christianity —Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection—were public.

Notice, this is very different than other religions that make miraculous claims. Often, only the founder witnessed a miracle or experienced an encounter with God or an angel.

Because of the public nature of Christianity, it should be the easiest faith to disprove, yet it has continued to grow for two thousand years.

Even today, two thousand years later, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is hard to refute, and when all the evidence is taken together the only plausible explanation is that God did something miraculous.

So we have to ask: If God decided to reveal himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, why would he keep other things concerning salvation secret?

I cannot think of a single reason.

If God went through the “trouble” to reveal himself to us, would he not reveal everything he wants us to know?

As I said, Christianity has always been a public religion, and it still is. There are no secrets to salvation that those outside of the church don’t know about. Outsiders and unbelievers are invited to join Christians in their worship services at all times; anyone can go into a book store and learn what Christians believe by picking up a Bible; no “secret knowledge” is given to those who “join,” and there are no secret rituals.

Those that claim to be Christian churches but do these secret things are cults on the fringe of the faith, and I wouldn’t consider them Christian in any biblical sense.

The History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed (and the like) are determined to make it appear that the exclusion of certain ancient writings from the Bible were an attempt to suppress some truth or to hide some secrets. But the truth is much less complicated, much less exciting, and much more starkly obvious: the church was protecting God’s Word from corruption.

(To read more on God From the Machine about the uniqueness of the Christian Scripture and Christianity’s “public-ness” click here.)

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But Did God Himself Hide Secrets in the Bible?

So, how should Christians think about divine secrets?

Scripture informs us quite clearly:

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  (Deuteronomy 29:29)

 

As finite, limited humans, there are things we simply cannot know — unless God has revealed them to us. And there are things God has not revealed. Why? I doubt we’ll ever know within this age or lifetime (but I’m betting primarily for our own good).

Here, we must trust the sufficiency of Scripture. God has revealed to us, through Scripture and Jesus Christ, all we need to know (and all he wants us to know).

Jesus Christ himself, as our perfect model, displays this humility concerning the acceptance of the revealed things and unrevealed things. In Matthew 24, we get these puzzling words from Jesus concerning the End Times:

 

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36)

 

But don’t Christians believe Jesus is God the Son? Doesn’t God the Son share the same nature as God the Father? How can Jesus not know the future?

The answer lies in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When God the Son took on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, he voluntarily limited himself, depending on God the Father (because, again, Jesus is our perfect model):

 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Thus, in his incarnate state as Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son accepted that any supernatural knowledge was dependent on whether God the Father gave it to him. This is a concept many Christians overlook or misunderstand, but the point that concerns us here is this: Christians need to humbly accept that there are things God simply has not revealed to us.

(In addition, the next time some misguided pastor or radio host announces that he has studied the Bible and figured out the date of the Day of Judgment, be sure to point out that not even Jesus knew.)

Does that mean we shouldn’t pour over the Scriptures, studying them intensely to understand all that God has revealed? Of course not! But it also means we shouldn’t be inventing “secrets” that simply are not there.

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MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: The Book of REVELATION (World Missions Society Church of God)

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

This continues my analysis of the Church of God’s use of the Bible to justify their belief in Mother God.  (See list of earlier articles below.)

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

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Revelation is a favorite book of the Bible for unorthodox sects, full-blown cults, and a general assortment of nuts because it’s highly symbolic and notoriously difficult to understand. Because of this, people can read all sorts of crazy things into the text that simply aren’t there.

The Church of God (COG) uses primarily two passages from Revelation, in chapters 19 and 21, to “prove” Mother God is in the Bible.  As always, before looking at these passages, we must first understand the context in which they appear.  Understanding cannot come without context, yet often verses are quoted alone by the COG and other groups that misuse and/or misinterpret the Bible.

CONTEXT: THE GRAND CLIMAX

The book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and Chapters 19 through 22 of Revelation are the last chapters of the Bible.  Thus, Chapters 19-22 are the grand climax of the story of salvation told in the Bible and the culmination of all history.  (For a quick overview of the story of the Bible, read my article “2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology – the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History” here.)

Chapters 19-22 foretell the final, ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, God the Son.  The “multitude” in heaven rejoice as Christ returns to live in peace with his creation, but first he must carry out the Final Judgment and the defeat of his enemies — evil, sin, Satan, and death — in easily the most gory, violent imagery of the whole Bible.  Afterwards, the old creation, which was corrupted by sin, passes away, and the New Heaven and New Earth come, where God the Son will live with his people eternally in peace.

MARRIAGE IMAGERY

Here’s the first verse the COG uses from Revelation:

Revelation 19:7

“Let us rejoice and exult

   and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

   and his Bride has made herself ready;”

Based on symbolic language used throughout the New Testament, including Revelation, the Lamb is clearly Jesus Christ.  Since the COG appears to agree here with orthodox Christianity and this interpretation is uncontroversial, there’s no need to discuss the Lamb imagery here.  But “his Bride” is not Mother God, as the COG believes, but the church.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is often referred to as a bridegroom (or “groom,” in modern terms) and the church – the united community of Jesus’ followers – is often referred to as his “bride.” Though Revelation contains a lot of baffling symbolism, this symbolism is extremely clear due to its wide use.

For example, in Mark 2:19, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.’”

In John 3:29, John the Baptist also describes Jesus as the bridegroom:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul uses marriage imagery. The Corinthian church is being led astray from the truth of Christ, but Paul says he has married them to Christ, the church’s “husband,” as if they were pure virgins.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”

Further, in Ephesians 5:22-33, the love of a husband and wife is compared to the love of Christ for his church. Just as a husband and wife join lives and become “one flesh,” Christ and the church become one flesh. In fact, God created marriage to symbolize Christ’s relationship to the church.

For instance, Ephesians 5:25-27 reads:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

And if that evidence doesn’t convince you, in Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells parables about a wedding feast to describe his coming kingdom.  Appropriately, when Revelation 19-21 tells us of the ultimate culmination of God’s kingdom, what sort of imagery does the writer use?  Wedding imagery!

Further, this imagery is not unique to the New Testament.  Like much of the imagery used in the New Testament — and especially Revelation — it goes back to the Old Testament.  For example, Isaiah 25:6-8 uses imagery of a celebration feast to describe the age-to-come under God’s victory and complete, perfect rule:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”

In fact, notice the similar language in Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4, proving a further connection between these passages…

“He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

(*Since it is so common for groups like the COG to take verses out of context to “prove” their misguided interpretations, I recommend reading all of the above passages in context so you can see clearly that I am representing the Bible accurately.)

In fact, marriage language is used throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship to Israel, his chosen people.  Israel is often portrayed as the bride of God, and likewise, often accused of adultery for being unfaithful to God.

All of these marriage images are important to what’s going on in Chapters 19-22 of Revelation, which describes Jesus’ Second Coming — bringing with him the New Heaven and New Earth, which is the culmination of God’s kingdom and the final, perfect union of Christ and his people, the church.

Earlier in Revelation, we already see this imagery in Revelation 14:4, where the church (Christ’s people) are depicted as pure virgins, who have remained faithful to Christ, and are, thus, ready to be wed:

“It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb”

Thus, when Jesus returns, it’s announced in Revelation 19:7 that the church, the Bride, is ready for her “marriage” to the Lamb of God, Jesus:

“for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;”

Therefore, it’s quite obvious, the Bride is not any sort of divine goddess, but the church.  Revelation tells of the final climatic union of Christ with his church, and the writers of God’s Word chose to use the earthly language of marriage to illustrate this joyous day.

DSC05216_3

NEW JERUSALEM: CITY or WOMAN?

The other passage from Revelation used by the COG is found after Christ’s victory over evil and death at the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, where Christ comes to live in eternal peace with his people and his renewed creation…

Revelation 21:9-10

“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,”

 

The COG calls Mother God, “Jerusalem Mother,” because in order for what’s written in Revelation to work in favor of the COG’s mistaken theology, Jerusalem must be understood to be not a city, but a divine woman, Mother God.

The COG uses similar thinking in interpreting Galatians 4:26 (“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother”), but we refuted this in our last article about Mother God.

This is an odd interpretation to say the least. As with the other verses we analyzed in earlier articles, there’s nothing in Revelation that leads us to conclude that Mother God is a biblical figure or that Jerusalem symbolizes a divine goddess.  The only way these interpretations work is if we start with an assumption — an already established idea — of Mother God and insert her into the text.

The “Bride” of Revelation 21:9-10 is not a divine female person to be literally wed to God.  The “Bride” is the New Jerusalem, the holy city of the New Earth, where Jesus will spend eternity with his church, his people.

Just before 21:9-10, in Revelation 21:3-4, we are given a description of the culmination of God’s redemption of creation — the climax of all of salvation-history and the climax of the whole Bible: the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth.  All of creation is made new; sin, evil, and death have been destroyed; and God can finally live in perfect shalom with his people.  It reads:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

 

Revelation is highly symbolic, so how literally we should take the description of the New Jerusalem that follows is debatable, but it’s clear we are dealing with a place here — not a person — a place where God will dwell with humankind.  New Jerusalem is certainly not a female deity marrying Jesus. In fact, just before 21:9-10, John, the author of Revelation, writes:

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:2)

 

Here, New Jerusalem is plainly explained to be a “holy city.” Further, it’s described as being “prepared as a bride.”  The city is not called a literal bride.  The use of “like” or “as” in a comparison shows it’s a simile – figurative language, not literal language. New Jerusalem is to be the dwelling place of God with his people.  Were it to be the other way around, where the bride was to be understood literally and the city was figurative, would it not read…

“And I saw the bride, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a holy city adorned for her husband”… ?

But that doesn’t quite work, does it?  In fact, why confuse everyone by naming the bride after a city in the first place?  Why not just call her Mother God if that is who the bride is?

As Craig Blomberg in From Pentecost to Patmos writes, “…a holy city will descend from the new heaven to adorn the new earth.  Whereas we began in a garden, we will end in a city — God’s people in perfect community.  That the city is called the new Jerusalem suggests the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel as well as to humanity in this revelation.  But the city is also a bride (just as Yahwah [God] and Christ are portrayed as bridegrooms to their followers throughout the Old and New Testaments, respectively.)”

FromPenttoPAtmos

Excellent read & resource.

When we come to Revelation 21:9-10, the verses the COG uses, the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” is still referring to the city:

“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,”

We are told right in the text that he is shown a city as “the Bride,” and what follows after 21:10 is a long description of that city. If Jerusalem is, in fact, Mother God, aka “Jerusalem Mother,” then she’s a divine woman with a high wall, twelve gates, and the length, width, and height of 1,380 miles; in fact, she is a perfect (and quite humongous) cube!

Now, someone may challenge me and say I admitted above that Revelation is highly symbolic so it’s difficult to know what should be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively.  Could the description of the New Jerusalem be poetically describing the splendor of Mother God?

As I showed above, from the context we can be confident that we’re dealing with a place here, not a person.  Further, as I’ve stated many times before, nothing in the Bible gives any indication of a divine mate for God, whether it’s referring to Jerusalem or anything else. There simply isn’t any evidence.  If we accept that the description of New Jerusalem in Revelation is Mother God, then what prevents us from also concluding – despite the obvious lack of evidence – that New Jerusalem symbolizes Darth Vader, George W. Bush, or the NY Jets?

“QUEEN OF HEAVEN”

 

Though I didn’t encounter this on the COG’s website, a friend of mine who had an interaction with a young woman involved in the COG said to him that the Bible speaks about the “Queen of Heaven.” I’m familiar with the verses she referred to, and they’re about a pagan goddess named Astarte (or Ishtar).

I’ve written an article about this before called “Did God Have a Wife?” Read it here.

CONCLUSION

 

As one video on the Church of God’s website proclaims, the “mystery of the Bible hidden for 6,000 years” has been revealed at last!

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If anyone claims to have a new understanding of the Bible that has never appeared before in the over 2,000 years of history since Jesus walked the earth, be suspicious – be very suspicious.

If any church hopes to convince us of another way of understanding the Bible, there better be a dump-truck load of evidence from the Scripture. Thing is, if there was that much evidence in the Scripture, someone would’ve seen it a long time ago.

The biblical verses the COG quotes to support their beliefs are scant and inadequate, and they crumble when looked at in context. If the COG is going to accept these verses as evidence of Mother God, then they also have to accept Hosea 4:5, which reads:

“I [God] will destroy your mother.”

 

Was God a domestic abuser?

Of course, the COG would not accept Hosea 4:5 to be anything about Mother God. Most likely, they’d say I took the verse out of context.

Exactly.

 MotherGod_Evidence

A STATEMENT OF CONCERN

If I come across blunt or even a bit harsh, it’s because I believe the Bible is the Word of God so I take it seriously when someone distorts it. That being said, I have the utmost concern for the members of the Church of God. I believe the members of the COG are hungry to know the true God, but false prophets and teachers have led them astray and their eternal souls are at risk. I pray these blog articles will lead them to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

***God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.***

A great book for helping with understanding of Revelation

A great book for helping with understanding of Revelation

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

My earlier articles on the Church of God & Mother God:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31

Also, I do not intend to debate here whether the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide. (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!) Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31 (World Missions Society Church of God)

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26)

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:31)

 

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

 

This continues my analysis of the Scripture the Church of God (COG) uses to justify their belief in Mother God.  (See a list of earlier articles below.)  To read the introductory article about the COG and Mother God, click here.

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

 MotherGod_IFollow

Above are two verses from the Bible (Galatians 4:26 & 4:31) that the COG quotes on their website as evidence for Mother God in the Bible.  Now, you may be thinking Galatians 4:26 even mentions the word “mother,” so it must be about Mother God! But let’s look at what Paul is writing about in Galatians.

Remember context is always the key…

 

What’s Paul So Angry About?

Galatians is considered Paul’s most angry letter. It even excludes Paul’s normal thanksgiving in his opening introduction for those receiving the letter.  Its absence is very noticeable because we see similar friendly openings in all of his other letters – even the more stern ones. So what’s Paul so upset about?

This is what Paul’s upset about: The Galatians had reverted back to legalism, believing that Christians must still follow the Jewish religious laws for salvation. This was a big issue with the first Christians because Christianity came out of Judaism, the first Christians were Jews, and Jews faithfully follow the Old Testament law.

But Christians have been set free from the law because Jesus Christ fulfilled it by his death and resurrection. The religious law was temporary until the good news of Christ came and freed us from it (See Galatians 3:15-25).

The Christians in Galatia had backslid and had gone back to believing and teaching someone must still follow the Old Testament law, even as a Christian (See Galatians 4:8-20).

When we come to Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses a story from the book of Genesis about Abraham’s wives Hagar and Sarah and their sons to support his argument. The idea Paul is arguing is that someone can choose to be a slave to the law or free through Christ, but one cannot be both.

 MotherGodGalatians

Abraham & his Wives = Domestic Trouble

Abraham (Abram) is the father of the Israelite nation, the Jews. In Genesis 12:1-3, God speaks to Abraham and promises him that he will make a great nation through Abraham’s descendants, through which the whole world will be blessed. (This promise was fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham.)

But later, in Chapter 15, Abraham and his wife Sarah (Sarai) still do not have a child. God reaffirms his promise, telling Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).

In Chapter 16, we get the story of Sarah (Sarai) and Hagar. Sarah has grown weary of waiting for God to give them a child, so she tells Abraham to sleep with their servant/slave Hagar. Abraham listens to his wife, and Hagar becomes pregnant and gives birth to Ishmael.

This was sinful for both Abraham and Sarah.  Beyond the obvious sexual sin, both Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust God to fulfill his promise and they took matters into their own hands.  As you can imagine, the situation also leads to domestic trouble.

Fourteen years later, in Chapter 21, Abraham is one-hundred years-old, and Sarah is in her nineties, and as God promised, Sarah becomes pregnant!  She gives birth to Isaac. Again, as you can probably guess, the birth of Isaac doesn’t help the domestic situation.

Sarah witnesses Ishmael, now a teen, mocking either her or Isaac, so Hagar and Ishmael are cast out of the home of Abraham. Though Ishmael wouldn’t receive an inheritance from his father, God cares for him and his mother and promises that Ishmael’s descendants would become a great nation as well.

 sarah-hagar

The Free Woman & The Slave Woman

Now, back to Galatians 4:21-31: Paul uses Sarah (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman) to make a point about being free through Jesus Christ or a slave to the Old Testament law.  (Take a moment to read Galatians 4:21-31 here.)

First, let’s take note that Paul clearly states in 4:24 that he’s using the story as an allegory, a symbolic tale to convey a message:

 

“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants.”

Thus, he’s clearly speaking figuratively here, not literally.

Basically, Paul’s whole analogy in 4:21-31 goes like this: God gave two covenants — one of slavery and one of freedom, symbolized by Sarah (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman).

Paul writes:

 

“One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (4:24-25)

The covenant of slavery is the Old Testament law, represented by Hagar and Mount Sinai (the place where Moses received the Old Testament law from God). This covenant of slavery is also represented by the “present Jerusalem” – the non-Christian Jews of Paul’s day, who still follow the Old Testament law.  They are the “children” of the slave woman because they’re enslaved by the Old Testament law.

Paul then writes the line used by the COG:

 

“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (4:26)

 

Following Paul’s analogy and argument, “Jerusalem above” is contrasted with the present, worldly Jerusalem, which is still in bondage to the Old Testament law. “Jerusalem above” is the heavenly Jerusalem – the true, free Jerusalem. This looks forward, past the present age to the future – to the New Heaven and New Earth where the New Jerusalem will come with Jesus’ Second Coming (See Revelation 21). Keeping with the Hagar/Sarah (slave woman/free woman) analogy, Paul states in 4:26 that the New Jerusalem is the “mother” of Christians because they’re not slaves; they are free.

Keeping with the imagery of Sarah (who was old and barren when she became pregnant) and the future victory of Christianity and the New Jerusalem, Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27:

 

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more

   than those of the one who has a husband.”

 

Paul goes on to explain in 4:28-30 that Christians, like Isaac, are the children of God’s promise. And just like Ishmael (“who was born according to the flesh”) showed contempt for Isaac (who was “born according to the Spirit”) when he was born, the non-believing Jews are persecuting the Christians of Galatia. Yet — Paul points this out by referring to Genesis directly — Ishmael was cast out and didn’t get the inheritance of his father Abraham, and the same will happen to the Jews who still hold to the Old Testament law and don’t believe the good news of Jesus Christ.

Then Paul concludes with the other line used by the COG:

 

“So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”

 

Thus, Christians are not slaves, but free. To be a child of “the slave” would make someone a child of Hagar. Likewise, the “free woman” is not some divine goddess, but Sarah.

This may help you to follow the argument made by Paul:

 SLAVERY

Slavery = Old Testament law = Mount Sinai =

“Present” Jerusalem =

Hagar (slave woman) =

Ishmael =

No inheritance.

 FREEDOM

Freedom = Salvation through faith alone = Jesus Christ =

Jerusalem above/New Jerusalem= 

Sarah (free woman) =

Isaac =

Receives the inheritance.    

***God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

 

NEXT:

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: REVELATION 19:7 & 21:9-10.

My earlier articles on the Church of God:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide. (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!) Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

apostles1

How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

enoch1

THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

Angels_Dove

THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

 Apocrypha

New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Other articles in this series:

Did Constantine compose the New Testament?

Did God have a wife?

Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write?

Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

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