Why Trinity Analogies All Stink (With Help from Quantum Physics!)

“The Trinity is like…” Talk about a dangerous way to start a sentence. As Christians, we believe strongly in the strange and paradoxical truth that in some way, God is both one God and yet also exists three co-equal, co-eternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a deep mystery. Certain details of how this works will always be beyond the furthest limits of human understanding.

Of course, that’s not always a helpful thing to say around skeptics and curious new believers. They want answers that make sense to them. So naturally we try to use analogies. This is, in my opinion (though with the support of many Reformed theologians), a bad idea. Analogies for the Trinity have a huge flaw: the reality of the Trinity is so unique that all analogies will fall in line with some heresy or another.

Speaking of heresies about the Trinity, I should explain the two main kinds of heresies possible. The first group is called modalist or Sabellian heresies. In this kind of heresy, there is really only one person of God, and He acts or reveals Himself in different ways, modes, or means at different times. Sometimes He interacts with us as Father, other times as Son, and other times the Spirit. Some heresies in this group would say that God was the Father, then became the Son, and then became the Spirit. The defining point of these heresies is that God only exists as one person, and the Father, Son, and Spirit are all basically different aspects or parts of that person.

The other kind of heresy you can fall into with the Trinity is tri-theism. Tri-theism is simply a belief in three Gods. There are many ways of looking at the Trinity which basically say there is the Father God, the Son God, and the Spirit God, all separate beings who work together in creation and salvation history. This is also a serious heresy, since all tri-theism violates the basic creed of God’s earliest covenant revelation: “The LORD your God is One.”

So, here’s where analogies fail. All analogies for the Trinity end up basically agreeing with one of these two kinds of heresy. Want some examples? Here they are:

  • The Trinity is like an egg. This analogy says the members of the Trinity are like an egg: an egg has shell, white, and yoke while being one egg. But this acts like the members of the Trinity are basically just parts of one person, which would be a Sabellian heresy. Or, for that matter, you could interpret this analogy as a tri-theistic heresy, since the shell, white, and yoke are each totally different materials. 
  • The Trinity is like the three states of water. This analogy uses ice, water, and water vapor to explain the three members of the Trinity. Three forms but one substance. This is a blatant modalist heresy, since in this case the one substance of water just switches between different forms. Honestly, this is practically textbook modalism.
  • The Trinity is like mustard. Just one word, man: tri-theism. At best.
  • The Trinity is like someone being husband, father, and employee. This analogy is totally modalist, trying to make the different roles of one normal person comparable to one God substance existing eternally as three persons.
  • The Trinity is like three-in-one shampoo. I’m sure that sounds silly, but I didn’t come up with this one. Using three-in-one shampoo for the Trinity is basically tri-theistic, saying the Trinity is like three totally different substances mixed in one container.

I could go on, but the basic point should appear by now. Trinity analogies inevitably line up with one heresy or another. This happens because nothing we can see, touch, or understand is actually anything like the Trinity.

Here is where I drag in quantum physics. See, in quantum physics there is something called the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. According to this principle, having equally precise knowledge of both a particle’s position and the particle’s momentum (think “speed” for simplicity if you don’t understand) is impossible. The more you know one of them, the less you know the other. The only ways to precisely measure a particle’s position throw off the momentum too much to measure both, and the only ways to precisely measure a particle’s momentum make nailing down the location impossible. So there’s a trade-off: the more you drill into a particle’s position, the less knowledge you have of the momentum, and vise-versa. If you want to know both at the same time, you have to be content with only a very imprecise and vague knowledge of both.

I think the Trinity ends up in a similar situation. Our God is has revealed Himself both in one-ness and three-ness. Yet there is a trade-off in how precisely we can understand these two realities. The more we try to nail down God’s one-ness, the more we lose sight of His three-ness. The more we try to nail down God’s three-ness, the more we lose sight of His one-ness. If we want to balance these two realities Biblically, we find ourselves with no choice. We cannot try too hard to analyze or analogize, or we will end up seeing a God who is basically all one-ness and no three-ness (modalist/Sabellian heresy), or a God who is basically all three-ness and no one-ness (tri-theist heresy). If you want to have a God who is truly both three and one, who is three-in-one, we have to check our normal reasoning and analogies at the door. All we can do is humbly bow at God’s self-revelation.

This, of course, is the necessary way of faith. If we believe in a God who is greater than we are, we have to accept that sometimes truths about Him are greater than any truths we understand, and He cannot always fit into the categories and ideas we are used to. So how else can I conclude but to use the praise of the Apostle Paul?

Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His being and untraceable His essence! For who has known the nature of the Lord? Or who has ever explained Him? Or who has ever understood Him, and deserved to be renowned? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.

Why Trinity Analogies All Stink (With Help from Quantum Physics!)

You Are Not a Soul

You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.

C. S. Lewis

Or not. The above quote was supposedly said by C. S. Lewis, one of our favorite theologians of the modern age. The sentiment is echoed all over the place in Christianity. People complain about their bodies and long for the day that they will be free of them in Heaven. When people sin, they excuse or minimize their sin by saying that they didn’t mean to do something, but their passions or instincts got the best of them. People who struggle with body image are always reassured that the body doesn’t matter, but what’s inside counts. The promoted idea is clear: your body is not really you, just a temporary shell. Your soul is the real you, and you may even be better off without a body.

This is not Biblical.

They say that your body is not really you, just a temporary shell. Your soul is the real you, and you may even be better off without a body.

While I could go on for a long time on why this is wrong, I’ll focus on two points: Gnosticism and resurrection. First off, such a strict division of body/soul does not come from the Bible, but from the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics were a cult who came from the early church. They believed many problematic doctrines, but one of their core distinctives was their view of the physical and the spiritual, or the material and the immaterial. Matter and flesh, they believed, came from an inferior, perhaps evil, creator, whereas spirit and soul came from the true God. For this reason the body was seen as at best irrelevant and at worst an evil obstacle to salvation. The spirit, on the other hand, was considered the true and good self by which salvation could be attained through enlightenment. The difference between this Gnostic view and the “you are a soul and have a body” view is mostly only semantics.

The problems with this approach are numerous. For one, this kind of thinking is what led to the heresy that Jesus was not completely human, or only had the appearance of a body. Yet John calls them deceivers who “do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” or (as the NLT puts it) “deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body” (2 John 1:7). Jesus was God made flesh. Another problem is that this leads to one of two major moral errors in Gnosticism. On one hand, some felt that if the body was irrelevant to salvation, then we can do with it anything we please and not defile ourselves. Others, however, thought that if the body is so much less than spirit, then we should deprive and ignore our bodies, practicing strict asceticism at best or self-mutilation at worst. Yet these conclusions, as wrong as they are, follow rather naturally from such a deficient view of the body.

The difference between this Gnostic view and the “you are a soul and have a body” view is mostly only semantics.

The other main problem with the view that the body is secondary to the soul is resurrection. See, the resurrection is the hope of Christianity. Because Jesus died, but was raised to life everlasting, we also can be sure that we who trust in Him will be raised as well. This is not a mere spiritual restoration: it is the renewal and resurrection of our physical bodies. Paul explained well the importance of this. When there were some in the Corinthian church denying that we will be resurrected, Paul declared that if there is no resurrection, then Christ was not raised, and if Christ was not raised we are doomed and lost in our sins. This shows that the resurrection of the body, which is supposedly just a container for the soul, is core to Christianity. And if the body’s resurrection is core to Christianity, then the body cannot be dismissed as “merely” anything. The beginning of the new creation in eternity will be the resurrection of the body, after which we live physically on a renewed creation forever.

There is one more issue I would like to raise about the importance of the body to human nature. When Jesus became a man, He took on a body, lived in a body, and died in a body. In fact, the death of Jesus’ physical body is the event which sealed our redemption. If the body is not essential to human nature, then Jesus could have incarnated without a body and done His mission in spirit. That Jesus took on flesh to become a human means that we need flesh to be human. In fact, Paul himself says as much when He writes of the hope of the resurrection body. He says that while we are in “this tent” (our mortal bodies suffering from the curse) we groan and are burdened, for we do not want to be “unclothed” (without a body) but be clothed with a “heavenly dwelling” (a resurrection body). For the problem with our bodies now is not that they are flesh, but that they are mortal and suffer the curse. Yet human nature is meant for a body, one which is immortal and free from sin. This is what is coming.

If the body is not essential to human nature, then Jesus could have incarnated without a body and done His mission in spirit.

Now I realize there are some who would object on the basis of the war between the spirit and the flesh. After all, Paul says this: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Doesn’t this mean that your physical body is corrupt and that your spirit/soul is pure? Not really. For the acts of the flesh are “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21). While many of these are body with the body, they are all rooted in the heart, and some of these only take place within. Thus the flesh as Paul speaks of it against the Spirit is not the human body. What the flesh actually means is debatable, but it doesn’t mean human body by itself.

To conclude, let’s drop the Gnostic silliness. You are a body and a soul. Your body without your soul is dead, and your soul without your body is unclothed. God made us to be both. We cannot ignore the body, but must let our body and soul serve as instruments with which to glorify God. For we will be raised forever, to live bodily with Christ.

Oh, by the way, it is a myth that C. S. Lewis said the above quote. Thankfully.

[This is a repost of Stop Thinking Like a Gnostic.]

You Are Not a Soul

The Real Heavens of God’s Word

In my previous post Heaven Is a Myth. Sort Of. I began the question of what the Bible really teaches about heaven. I suggested that most popular ideas of heaven are myths, though I did not specify exactly what is mythical and what is real. Finally, I listed the three Biblical “places” people call “heaven.” My goal in this post is to continue explaining what each place is for real and give Scripture to back up what I’m saying.

Heaven #1: God’s World

The place in Scripture most often called “heaven” is the place where God and His angels dwell. The Bible says that God is in heaven 1, as well as the angels 2. Yet it does not appear to be some kind of uncreated, purely spiritual presence of God, like some people imagine. Instead, despite the ambiguity created by the use of the word “heavens” also to refer to the sky/space, it does appear to be the case that heaven is a place created by God alongside of “earth,” our physical world 3.

It is at this point we can see a concept of twin realities made by God in creation: earth as man’s place and heaven as God’s place. In heaven we see God and his subject angels 4, and on earth we see man in the image of God and their subject animals 5. God reigns in heaven directly, and His will is always done there 6. On earth, God rules through human beings 7, and because of that weak link His will is not always done here.

Nowhere in Scripture are believers said to go here after death. Indeed, if this heaven actually does have some kind of space, but the dead no longer have spatial bodies, then they cannot “go” there. In fact, they can’t “go” anywhere.

Heaven #2: Paradise

So what happens to believers when they die? They go to Paradise, which the Jews sometimes called Abraham’s bosom 8. We should not think of this place as somewhere physical. It isn’t, because we go there without bodies. After we die our bodies lie in the ground, and our spirits/souls/whatevers, which are not physical, experience whatever happens next. They are not our bodies, so they do not have eyes, noses, ears, skin, or tongues. They do not have senses. Moreover, they lack brains, which largely control the kind of consciousness we experience in our bodies.

What does this mean? Paradise is not at all a normal state that we could imagine. We do not have normal consciousness there, seeing and hearing and feeling and thinking. It has something in common with sleep, but is nonetheless different. This can be proved throughout the Scriptures 9.

Paradise is a peculiar state. It is, on one hand, somewhat abysmal and empty, due to our existence without the bodily half of our nature 10. We’re meant to be in bodies, not without them. Yet it is also blissful and in fact better than our current state of tension with sin and weakness 11. Once we’ve died, the last of the old man will be completely gone, which means we will be with Christ in a better way than now 12. At present we are incomplete and have sin, but then we will be incomplete and without sin.

Heaven #3: Resurrection and New Earth

The final and ultimate reality often called “heaven” (but not by the Bible) is the new creation coming at the last day. This is mostly testified by Isaiah and Revelation, though of course the hope permeates the Scriptures. In the end, when Christ returns to judge the world, everyone will be raised from the dead. Those who are in Christ and have His Spirit will be resurrected to eternal life 13, while the rest will be raised for condemnation 14.

This resurrection will be the second stage of new birth. What God did for our spirit when we first believed He will do for our bodies: a new creation, not starting from scratch but incomprehensibly transforming the old 15. Jesus’ resurrection body is the prototype of our future bodies, and His was not a brand new creation. It “used up” the matter of His original body, leaving an empty tomb 16. It still bore the scars of His saving death 17. God didn’t scrap the original body and make a brand new one; He renewed, restored, and glorified the first physical body. 18

Of course, even though these bodies will remain truly physical and tangible, they will be different than our current bodies. Apparently they can bypass certain normal spacetime restrictions 19. No longer mortal or subject to decay, they will be immortal and incorruptible 20. In some way, even though our bodies will be still physical human bodies, they will be radically changed and new as well 21. C. S. Lewis captured the picture well when he suggested we should “remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

As to the new earth, the same pattern of death and resurrection follows. Isaiah and John both wrote about the “new heavens and earth” 22. This world will die in fire 23, but the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will similarly raise the entire creation 24. Again, we’re not dealing with God scrapping the old creation and making a new one from scratch. It is recreation, restoration, renewal. It is resurrection, just like Jesus, who is the firstfruits of the new creation 25.

This place, our final destination, will be a completely physical world, somehow connected to the current one, for it will be where we live in our resurrected physical bodies. Its crowning capitol will be the New Jerusalem, described beautifully by John in Revelation 21-22. There God’s heaven (the #1 listing) and our earth will become one 26, since we see that there “God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them” 27. The new creation, not the Paradise where we go when we die, will be home to the “streets of gold” 28 and other beauties, though more than likely these are not literal details but a fanciful and symbolically loaded description meant to give off a particular picture of glory and wonder. It will be our home for all eternity.

Everything beyond this point becomes somewhat speculative. I do think that, since this will be a resurrection world and not some start-from-scratch creation or spiritual plane, there will be lots of stuff remaining from our present age. Art, architecture, music, and such made by Spirit-led believers to glorify God may well surviving the purification by fire. Church buildings hallowed to God’s glory where He has touched many lives may stick around. Natural wonders are sure to remain and be even more glorious than before. The world will dazzle with God’s brilliance, “for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord” 29.

So What?

Having said all of this, why does it matter? What difference does the Biblical picture of heaven make compared to the popular ideas? Much in every way. On the one hand, it is always worthwhile to speak Biblically instead of following unbiblical traditions (the same reason we Protestants pointedly reject certain Catholic doctrines about Mary, even though they’re unimportant). But there is more to it than that.

Framing the issues this way keeps our focus clear. God’s heaven is what we want to emulate and bring to earth, anticipating the way that they will become one in the new creation. Understanding Paradise reminds us how much God cares for our bodily existence, so that we will not neglect or undervalue them. If the physical world will be renewed for our eternal home, there is reason to get out and do real things, knowing that our labors can be preserved. Resurrection brings hope and a certainty towards the defeat of death. Honestly, I could go on, but it would be easier to simply point you to the book Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright, who covers all of this and the practical applications in much detail.

I’ll close with this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.

Revelation 21:3-8

The Real Heavens of God’s Word

Heaven Is a Myth. Kind Of.

“So now he’s saying heaven is a myth. What has gotten into Caleb’s brain today?” This is may be something like the reaction you had to the title of this post. And that’s probably justified. I’ve already pulled pretty well the same stunt with I Don’t Believe in Hell a while back. It’s just that heaven and hell are such deliciously popular topics that such titles always attract attention.

Anyway, what am I actually saying this time? Well, first off I’m certainly not saying that there is no such thing as heaven. That would be Biblically absurd. When I say “heaven is a myth” I mean specifically the popular conceptions of heaven that dominate books and movies, whether Christian or not. There is certainly a real heaven, but it’s not what most people imagine it is, and that is the message I mean to get across in this post.

Define “Heaven”, Please

What’s wrong with the common perceptions of heaven? Part of the problem is the lack of precision. People use the word “heaven” to refer to God’s presence, the place believers go after death, and the future state elaborated in Revelation 21-22. Because many Christians use the same word for all of these places, the differences get muddled to create a strange, murky, and unbiblical mix. My goal here is to distinguish between the different things and clarify the Biblical vision of heaven.

First off, the word “heaven” itself in the Bible is never used for where people go when they die, nor does it ever refer to the new creation after Jesus returns. It is used primarily in three ways (note that I’m only referencing the New Testament to make things easier for me, but what I say can also be seen in the Old):

  • “Heaven” can refer to the sky and/or space, e.g. Matt. 3:16, 16:2, Mk. 7:34, Lk. 9:16, Acts 11:6, Jas. 5:18
  • “Heaven” can be used as a substitute for “God.” This is clearly seen in Matthew. Everywhere the other gospels say “kingdom of God” Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven.” 
  • Finally, “heaven” can refer to the place where God and His angels are, e.g. Matt. 5:16, 22:30, Mk. 11:26, John 1:51, Acts 7:55.

Search the Scriptures and see for yourself: never is the word “heaven” used in relation to where a human is, with precisely two exceptions. The first is that of Jesus, who is exalted in heaven at the right hand of God and intercedes for us there. The only other exception is Paul in a vision being caught up to the third heaven. But these exceptions prove the rule. Heaven is never mentioned as the destiny of the dead righteous.

There is a word used in Scripture for the place where the dead righteous are. This word is “paradise.” Jesus Himself used it to the thief on the cross, and it is one of two direct names for the place where dead believers are. The other reference is “Abraham’s bosom” in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. These two references to the dwelling of dead believers are the only ones which name the place, and neither uses the word “heaven.”

Is it semantics I’m playing here? Not merely. What we must learn to make sense of the Biblical teachings on heaven is to distinguish between the three places associated with our concept of heaven. I’ll give a basic overview of each here, and later I’ll give details on the Biblical case for each.

The Three Things People Like to Call “Heaven”

First, heaven is the space God created alongside “earth.” Our visible world is parallel to the world of heaven, and both were created by God in the beginning. Heaven is flooded with the glory and presence of God, and His will is always carried out there. Angels also dwell there. This world is not the purely spiritual presence of God, but a created space with its own created order which parallels ours. Heaven and earth are distinct, but together. They are separate, but right beside each other. They occasionally intersect and get messily involved with each other. God reigns in this heaven, Jesus’ physical human body is currently present there, and angels go to and fro between there and here to accomplish God’s purposes.

Next, paradise is where believers are after death. It is not equal to heaven, but is something else. For believers, it is a place of rest and comfort until the last day when we are to be resurrected. This is not likely to be a physical or material place, because it is neither in heaven nor earth and the people who dwell there are without bodies for the time being. It is a truly immaterial existence, without sight, touch, smell, or sound. There are no mansions, streets of gold, or anything which can be physically sensed there. Paradise has bliss for the righteous, a bliss that results from God’s caring embrace by the Spirit, but there is still a degree of discomfort because they are “naked” and lack their bodies. This place is ultimately temporary, an immaterial existence which will no longer be relevant in the resurrection.

Finally, the new creation (also called the new heavens and earth) is where believers are destined to live in eternity. This is a physical world birthed out of our current one, a recreation. Just like the Spirit radically healed and transformed us at our new birth to make us a new creation, so will He do to the entire world in the last day. Just like Jesus’ dead body was restored to life and made altogether fresh and new, so will the entire cosmos die in flame and be restored to a new and fuller glory in Christ. This will still be our physical universe, but fixed, renewed, and brought to its true destined purity. 

Obviously, by this point I’ve said a lot that you may not have heard before, and very well may prove controversial. So be it. But alas, I’m nearing a thousand words here, so it’s not the time to go on. I’ll continue this series. In my next post, I’ll start defending and building with Scripture what I’ve said about these three places. In the mean time, try reading the Bible with these thoughts in mind and see if it makes sense. You may be surprised.

Heaven Is a Myth. Kind Of.

Misconceptions about Misconceptions about the Bible

People have a lot of funky ideas about the Bible. And it’s no wonder, given that it is the worldwide bestseller, was completed 2000 years ago, and is revered as God’s word by many millions of people. Anything with that kind of place in the world is bound to find several strange receptions.

One thing which frequently happens with the Bible is the publishing of articles in print and online which claim to reveal the truth about misconceptions people have regarding the Bible. A quick Google search proves this. This is unsurprising and often necessary. After all, there’s quite a bit of nonsense the average Joe, and even the average born-and-bred Christian, believes about the Bible that is not true at all. So let those with knowledge correct the ignorant. Deal with misconceptions about the Bible.

But there is a troubling trend which is evident from even the top search results. Many of the so-called “misconceptions” the top articles correct are in fact orthodox Christian teachings, or at least something closely related. Here’s an example from one of the articles on Google’s first page of results:

The character “Yahweh” in the Hebrew Bible should not be confused with the god of western theological speculation (generally referred to as “God”). The attributes assigned to “God” by post-biblical theologians — such as omniscience and immutability — are simply not attributes possessed by the character Yahweh as drawn in biblical narratives. Indeed, on several occasions Yahweh is explicitly described as changing his mind, because when it comes to human beings his learning curve is steep. Humans have free will; they act in ways that surprise him and he must change tack and respond. One of the greatest challenges for modern readers of the Hebrew Bible is to allow the text to mean what it says, when what is says flies in the face of doctrines that emerged centuries later from philosophical debates about the abstract category “God.”

Um, is that okay? Of course there are lots of people who argue this, even some within Christianity, but is that really a misconception about the Bible, or the result of different worldviews and how they address the questions surrounding the Bible, divine revelation, and the divine nature? After all, Calvin and Bavnick handled the OT weirdness pretty handily with their theology of accommodation. But here it is asserted without consideration of debate that a traditional view is one of people’s misconceptions about the Bible.

The problem I’m seeing is how many people use the guise of “Guess what you never knew about the Bible?” to promote skeptical, anti-Christian views as the facts. This is standard fare. I could multiply the examples:

  • Lots of articles says, “Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch!” (the first five books of the Bible), “We now know that it came way later from four distinct and contradictory sources edited into one book.” This is far from settled, except in the minds of people who have ruled out a priori the possibility that the Creator God really did reveal Himself to the people of Israel in word and powerful deeds. And this isn’t merely a conservative Christian vs. the rest of the world matter, either. The popular JEDP theory touted by blogs and magazines galore has been under increasing question in recent years, partially due to the way that a robustly historical and contextual reading of the Pentateuch seems to work best if it is taken as a whole.
  • Many will say, “Guess what? The word for ‘virgin’ in Isaiah 7:10 actually meant ‘young women’ and was mistranslated into Greek, so Matthew and Luke actually invented the virgin birth to fulfill a mistranslated prophecy!” In fact, a large number of people consider this a settled fact. Yet the debate continues, even among real scholars, over the meaning of the word almah and, perhaps more importantly, the way that the NT authors cited the OT. This is not a settled matter by any means.
  • Of course, there’s also the classic “The Bible has really changed from the originals,” which is patently false as far the evidence can lead us. Every new discovery leads towards the opposite conclusion, but that doesn’t stop bloggers and journalists from reporting it as a scholarly consensus and fact that the Bible we have is totally unreliable.

I could go on, but I would risk making a fool of myself by speaking on matters above my pay grade (as if I’ve completely refrained from doing so already). My goal here certainly isn’t to prove the skeptics and secular scholars wrong. I merely want to point out the secret you won’t find in popular writings: none of these misconceptions about the Bible are as settled or certain as people on either side of the aisle would like to pretend. 

I say “either side of the aisle” for good reason, too. There’s no airtight case for most of what we believe about the Bible and history as Christians. Yes, there are rational reasons to believe, but the evidence isn’t overwhelming and demanding. But likewise, the consensus among many who aren’t orthodox Christians is far from guaranteed. There are compelling arguments, but no proof which can force the hand away from faith.

This brings me to the crux of the matter, namely the spiritual perspective. Despite what we assume about matters of facts, proofs, and evidence in today’s scientific and technological world, there is no objective and impartial judge over all these matters. Everyone stands either from a place of faith or of unbelief, either thinking as one united to the mind of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit or thinking according to the wisdom of this world in resistance to the One who is Truth. Therefore we have to own up to that, and in the case of sensationalist bloggers and reporters claiming to know why classical Christianity is false we must hold them accountable. They are not objective, and their claims are not settled reality. There is debate and, although it sounds awfully silly to those without the rule of faith, spiritual warfare going on.

Basically, don’t believe the common misconception that basic Christian doctrine is a misconception about the Bible. ‘Cause that’s not necessarily true.

Misconceptions about Misconceptions about the Bible

How To Be a True Biblicist (Or, Unexpected Truth about Taking the Bible Seriously)

“I just believe the Bible.” People say this a lot, and in a previous post of mine I examined why that’s not really true for anyone. That said, there is a worthy ideal behind that statement. Pardon my Protestantism showing, but I believe we are called as Christians to subject all of our thoughts and beliefs to the teachings of the Bible. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the final authority for us. This means we have to accept what the Bible says in faith, at some points even just giving up on the use of our own reason.

This brings me to the term “Biblicist.” This word is usually only used by people who either don’t know, don’t care, or don’t understand major doctrinal systems, and wish to indicate that they simply believe what the Bible teaches. As an example, many people in the debate over Calvinism/Arminianism claim to be neither and call themselves “Biblicists” instead. Regardless of how true that is—most of the people I hear say this just agree with Arminianism without the name—there is an implied concept of what it means to just believe the Bible, and that concept is regarded as a worthy goal.

I, too, believe that we should be content to believe the Bible, and just take it for what it really says. But I do not agree with the popular idea that you can do this just by reading the Bible, thinking about it by yourself, and sticking with your first impressions. While many people do this, and many people would even say this is what you should do, I do not believe this is at all faithful to Scripture. The irony then becomes that in trying to respect the Bible, they end up abusing it.

So what does it really mean to take the Bible seriously? How can we “just believe the Bible” in a way that is neither naïve and ignorant nor critical and arrogant? Here are several points about what I think it means to be a true Biblicist:

  • A true Biblicist reads the Bible. As obvious as it sounds, actually reading the Bible is a must to really treat it faithfully. Brilliant theologians, angry KJV-onlyists, and the everyman believer alike all struggle with this. Reading the Bible is key, but way too often we don’t really do it. That makes a difference in both how we live and what we believe, since the more we read the Bible the more stuff we realize is in there that we didn’t even know about.

  • A true Biblicist reads about the Bible. What many people don’t realize is that you can’t read the Bible for all it is worth without also reading about the Bible. Why is this? See, the Bible was written for us, but not to us. Every book of Scripture was written to people of a totally different culture, in totally different cities, with totally different worldviews. So there are phrases, nuances of words, and even entire lines of thought which would make immediate sense to the original authors and audiences of the books of the Bible, but not to us (or, worse, they could give us a completely different impression than they did the original audience). This is why we have to read about the Bible in order to learn what they knew that we don’t know. Otherwise we’re likely to make the Bible say things it isn’t really saying.

  • A true Biblicist reads the Bible with trust. As opposed to the skeptic who suspects errors, biases, or political agendas behind the text of every page, the true Biblicist assumes the authors to be reliable, straightforward, and honest without good reason to think otherwise. When he runs into something that throws him off, he does research, uses real reading comprehension, and approaches it all with charity before shouting, “Error!” or “Contradiction!”

  • A true Biblicist reads the Bible honestly. As opposed to the fiery young apologist who uses his own creativity or fantasy to figure everything out, and accepts or promotes far-fetched answers to the perplexing problems of the Bible, the true Biblicist is willing to accept when the Bible doesn’t make sense. He won’t deny the difficulties, and he won’t go to absurd lengths to reconcile everything that doesn’t obviously connect (e.g. he won’t propose that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice). He’ll say, “I don’t know,” when he can’t figure out a passage.

  • A true Biblicist reads judges tradition by the Bible. I am fairly squarely within the broader Reformed tradition, theologically speaking. Most of my family and friends are in the Baptist tradition, or a closely related part of the evangelical Protestant tradition like Pentecostalism. All of these traditions must be judged by Scripture. The true Biblicist is willing to move from one tradition to another based on what he finds in the Bible. He will not force fit everything the Bible says into his tradition’s party lines.

  • A true Biblicist reads the Bible within a tradition. Reading the Bible without tradition is a quick way to fall into all kinds of heresy. The broader Christian tradition tells us about the Trinity and Jesus’ dual natures, and without this tradition you’d need to be a genius to sort this all out by yourself in a single lifetime. More specific doctrines like election, end times, baptism, and spiritual gifts are all interpreted differently in different traditions, and the true Biblicist recognizes this. He does not seek to understand the Bible all by himself, but instead joins forces with like-minded believers so that he can share in the wisdom and insight God has given them, both the fellow members of his tradition in the present and the formers of that tradition from the past.

  • A true Biblicist forms his own opinions on what the Bible says. Unlike the “my daddy taught me this” traditionalist, the true Biblicist reads and wrestles with the Bible personally. He doesn’t just inherit his ideas and beliefs from his parents, pastors, and teachers, because they are all fallible, normal /people. Instead, he checks the Bible himself to make sure that what he is hearing is true.

  • A true Biblicist never forms opinions on the Bible all by himself. Even though the Biblicist seeks to understand the Bible for himself and not just take the word of others as Gospel, he also listens closely to the words of others for help. The Holy Spirit works in all believers of all places and times, so the true Biblicist recognizes this valuable resource. He knows that he is not the smartest, most educated, most enlightened, or more spiritual reader of the Bible, so he is ready and willing to seek advice, insight, and answers from other Christians, even those from totally different traditions.

  • A true Biblicist respects the Bible as the word of God. The Bible claims for itself in various ways a special status as God speaking to people through human authors. It is filled with divine authority, and when we read the Bible we (through the power of the Holy Spirit) hear the voice of God. It comes from the Father through the Spirit working in human beings to testify about the Son. Therefore the Biblicist listens to God when He reads the Bible.

  • A true Biblicist recognizes that Jesus is the Word of God. There is a reason that I capitalize Word when referring to Jesus but not the Bible. The Bible does not seek to be the focus of our attention, the utter fulfillment of God’s revelation, but to make us see Jesus Christ—the Word who was in the beginning—in its pages. It is Jesus who is the exact expression of God’s nature and the radiance of His glory, God’s final revelation of Himself in word and deed. The Bible serves not to usurp Jesus’ role as final revelation and make us focus on itself, but to complement His role by unpacking and explaining Him with inspired authority. After all, the Scriptures themselves do not save and sanctify us. They lead us to the Son of God, the eternal Word, who accomplished it all!

And while all of this is necessary to be a true Biblicist (even if some of these points are rather counter-intuitive), there is a final and perhaps most important part of being a true Biblicist. The Bible is meant to be understood with the illuminating work of God’s Holy Spirit, and there is only one way to receive the power of the Spirit. This way is prayer. The true Biblicist prays that God the Father will give Him the help of the Spirit so that He can see the glory of the Son in the Holy Scriptures. Without this, all of the other efforts will fall short. The Bible, after all, is just words without the Spirit of the Living God bringing them to life in our hearts. So let us pray that He will do it! Amen.

How To Be a True Biblicist (Or, Unexpected Truth about Taking the Bible Seriously)

The Bible Calls Us Saints, Not Sinners

“I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” “The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that we’ve accepted God’s gift of forgiveness.” Ever heard anything like these? Stuff like this is a common sentiment. Everyone’s a sinner, and Christians are just sinners who’ve had their sins cleared from their record before God. There is also a strong reluctance among many Christians to call anyone “righteous” or “holy,” even when the Bible does. And on one hand, there is a valid point here. There is nothing about the believer’s own nature that makes him better or worse than an unbeliever. We all start from the same, utterly sinful ground. Even after we’re saved or have been saved for years, we deal with many of the same sins as everyone else, perhaps equally or worse on some of them. In and of ourselves, we are just as insufficient as all the rest.

But there is something very important we must not forget. Even though we are no better off than anyone else by ourselves, as believers we are not by ourselves at all. Instead, we’ve encountered the living God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and we have been brought into close fellowship with Him. His own Spirit lives inside us and has given us a new birth from above. So we are not—we cannot possibly be—the same kind of human that we were before, and by extension people who do not believe are still. We are, to quote Paul, part of a “new creation.”

This is not my idea, though. I did not come to this conclusion by applying my own logic to salvation. Instead, when I was first ran across someone saying this, I was struck by how profoundly Biblical it is. To understand why, I’ll start with the basic literal meaning of this post’s title. Statistically speaking, the Bible calls believers as saints all the time. Want a list? Here’s one:

Rom. 1:7, 16:2, 1 Cor. 1:2, 6:2, 14:33, 2 Cor. 1:1, 8:4, Eph. 1:1, 1:18, 2:19, 3:8, 3:18, 4:12, 5:3, Phil. 1:1, 4:21, Col. 1:2, 1:12, 1:26, 1 Thess. 3:13, 2 Thess. 1:10, Phil. 1:5, Heb. 6:10, Jd. 1:3, Rev. 5:8, 11:18, 13:10, 19:8. This list is not exhaustive, and does not even count the times believers are called “holy,” which is the same Greek word as “saint” in adjective form.

Yet in comparison believers are called sinners only very rarely (maybe Gal. 2:17, 1 Tim. 1:15, Jas. 4:8, 5:20). So the word the Bible usually uses for us literally means “holy person,” which is basically the opposite of a sinner.

Of course, this isn’t just a word game. The whole point of justification—God’s declaring us righteous—is that we are now legitimately called righteous by God. And if God can call us righteous, who are we to disagree (see Rom. 8:33-34)?

But still, a good question would be why we are called holy and righteous if we do indeed sin. Even though the Bible rarely calls believers sinners, Scripture also clearly acknowledges that we still have sin, even serious sin, in our lives (Ps. 143:2, Matt. 18:15, Jas. 3:2, 1 Jn. 1:8, 10, 5:16). The answer to this lies in Jesus Christ (what doesn’t, really?), what He did and who He is for us. Our righteousness is based on the faithfulness of Jesus, the God-man who lived in our place (Rom. 3:21-22, Gal. 2:16, Phil. 3:9). And this holiness, this perfect rightness of life before God, is not just a balance credited to our account. Jesus did not only make us righteous in God’s court documents. By the Holy Spirit—who is the Spirit of Christ, after all—living in us, we actually share in this righteousness in our inner self, the depths of who and what we are (Rom. 8:4, 10-11, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 2:20, 5:22-23). We are being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18), really being conformed to the utterly holy, pure, and blameless image of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).

Because of all this, we are truly saints, not mere sinners. Yes, we do sin, but that’s not our identity anymore. After Paul listed practically every kind of sinner in the book, he said, “some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). For in Jesus we stand before God holy because of the life Christ lived for us by the Spirit and the life He now lives in us through the Spirit. We are no longer merely dead in our trespasses, performing only filthy rags of righteousness, but we are alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5) and produce real righteousness by God’s power (2 Cor. 9:10, Phil. 2:12-13). In sum, the old has gone, the new has come, and we are new creation.

As a final note, I do not address this issue for the glory or dignity of us believers. I do not need to vindicate us. That is God’s prerogative. I address this for the sake of the Word and for the sake of Christ’s work. God’s Word testifies that our Father gives us a good place, a real rightness, and a pure holiness. God is a good Father who gives good gifts to honor His children, and the Biblical authors wanted us to know that. Moreover, this is a matter of what Jesus has accomplished. He lived, died, rose, and ascended for the sake of our salvation, every part of it. To make us righteous Jesus died like a sinner. To downplay the actual change He has made for us in light of the effort He took to accomplish salvation is quite unfitting. So for the glory of God alone and on the basis of Scripture alone, I repeat: By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we are saints, not sinners.

The Bible Calls Us Saints, Not Sinners