If someone claimed that the Declaration of Independence is a brilliant document, all we need to do is study the Declaration itself to draw our own conclusion. Similarly, all we need to do is read the pages of the Bible to determine if it is indeed supernatural.
The New Testament claims that the Old Testament is loaded with fuzzy pictures that are actually pictures of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Ark
Jesus is the Door
Jesus is the Water
Jesus is the Bread
Jesus is the Bronze Serpent
Jesus is Tabernacle
Jesus is the Sabbath
Jesus is 7 Festivals
Jesus is the I AM
Jesus Unmaskedreveals over thirty Old Testament stories that point to Jesus Christ Himself. What were once shadowy pictures of redemption in the Old Testament became a Technicolor reality when Jesus Christ was born.
Prepare to meet Jesus in the Old Testament. Prepare to take a whirlwind tour through the Bible and see the perfect, brilliant harmony that proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God wrote a book.
Only God could write one story through dozens of authors over thousands of years about one man without a single contradiction. Jesus Unmasked proves that God wrote a book and you can stake your eternity on it.
There is nothing my dog won’t do for food. There is no command she won’t obey when we are looking, and no rule she won’t break when we are looking away, if only she can get a bit of food in her belly. I guess it is hard to fault her since, as a Lab, every gene in her body drives her to gorge herself. It’s like Paul was writing about her and her breed when he said, ” Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Food is her idol, her god, the thing that will motivate her to do anything or everything.
I am no dog, but I, too, am hard-wired for something—for validation. Just as a dog will lie down or roll over or beg or bark on command to get a snausage—doesn’t she realize how pathetic she looks?—, there is not much I won’t do to receive validation, to have others affirm my self-worth according to my criteria. I want to feel special about myself, I want to feel big and important. And when I look for what makes me feel good about myself, I inevitably find my idols. The thing that validates me is the thing I worship, the thing that momentarily takes the place of God in my life.
Lately I have been pondering and listing those things—those things that make me feel so special that I will do irrational things and make poor decisions in order to have them or achieve them. It makes for a pretty ugly and embarrassing little note. I think most of them are best kept between myself and the Lord, but I will give you a couple of examples.
Distant travel validates me. I receive invitations to do a fair number of conferences or speaking engagements over the course of a year, and I make it a point to prayerfully consider each one of them, knowing that I can accept only a few. But I have learned that the farther away the destination, the better it makes me feel about myself. I don’t even know why it works this way, but I suppose I like the idea that people far away are interested in hearing me speak. It feeds my ego. This makes me tempted to accept speaking engagements that will come at the expense of my church and family, even if I can really make no unique contribution to the event, and even if it makes very little sense for me to be involved. I am tempted to accept the event for the worst of motives: for how it makes me feel about myself.
Big audiences at big conferences validate me. I hate to own this one, but it is true: A bigger audience makes me feel more important than a smaller audience. A big audience at a big conference makes me feel awfully good about myself while a small audience at a small conference (or, even worse, a small audience at a big conference) is the kind of thing that can cast me into self-doubt or even despair. Again, there is a temptation to accept an invitation on the basis of how many people will be at the event rather than on any better or more noble criteria.
The irony in these two examples is that I am the ultimate homebody—I find it difficult to be away from home for more than very short stints—, and I am intimidated by large crowds—I find it extremely stressful to be in front of people. Somehow the things that validate me are the things I naturally run away from. I love them and hate them all at once.
I should note that neither of these things is wrong. Traveling distances to preach or to encourage others can be good and noble. Turning down a small event to speak at a large event can be good and God-honoring. But it can also be pure idolatry, a way I look for others to receive what only God is meant to give.
I need to be aware of these things—each of those ugly things on my ugly list. And most of all, I need to remember what is mostly deeply true. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to have the approval of others, and especially to receive the affirmation of God. But the crucial fact is, I already have it through Christ. I am already accepted by God because of what Christ has done, and this acceptance is all I need. When I am at my best it means everything to me. But when I am at my worst, it means nothing.
It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.
I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.
But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.
I Will Deny What Jesus Taught
Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.
If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.
I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture
Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.
If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.
I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church
If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.
If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.
I Will Deny the Gospel
I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.
If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.
Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.
I posted a version of this article in 2011. Image credit: Shutterstock
“We discuss Islam on this episode with Emilio Ramos of Red Grace Media (www.redgracemedia.com) and Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries crashes the podcast and gives Len flop sweat. He and Emilio partner up to give us LOTS of meat. Topics discussed included:
Islam’s origins and the prophet’s ‘vision’ The history of Islam and the time between the death of Mohammed & The Crusades Proper use of apologetics in engaging with Muslims Evangelizing a Muslim trucker in ten minutes or less The “Truth and Love” conference May 2-3 (www.redgracemedia.com for details)
The Bible is a book. It may be called a collection of books compiled into one majestic volume. As a book it is designed to be read. In this respect it is like all other books. But in important ways, the Bible is not like any other book. It is the Book of books. We customarily call this book the Holy Bible. Its holiness is found in its otherness. It is a sacred book because it transcends and stands apart from and above every other book. It is holy because its ultimate Author is holy. It is holy because its message is holy. And it is holy because its content is designed to make us holy.
The Bible is an inspired book; that is, it is “breathed out” by God (2 Tim. 3:16). It is inspired in a way that reaches far beyond the inspiration of human artists. The Bible offers more than brilliant insight, more than human sagacity. It is called “inspired” not because of its supernatural mode of transmission via human authors, but because of its origin. It is not merely a book about God; it is a book from God. Therefore, the true church confesses its trust and confidence that the Bible is the vox Dei, the veritable “voice of God.”
The Bible is a normative book. The church has rightly declared that the Bible is the “norm of norms, and without norm.” A norm is a standard, a measuring rod by which things are judged. We may use many lesser standards to regulate our lives, but all such regulations must be subordinate to Scripture. To be the “norm of norms” is to be the superlative norm, the standard by which all other norms are measured. The Bible is not simply “first among equals”; other standards have no parity with it. As Jesus is exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords, so we submit to His Word as the norm of norms, the standard of truth, and the one infallible rule for the people of God.
God is the Lord of heaven and earth, and He alone is able to impose absolute obligation upon His creatures. He does this through the written Word. The Reformers of the sixteenth century recognized this unique authority of the Bible, expressing it in the motto sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone.” The Reformers did not despise other authorities or deny the value of tradition and the creeds, but they distinguished the singular authority of the Bible, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
God calls every Christian to pursue righteousness. Our trust is to be childlike, but our understanding must be mature. Such trust and understanding require study of God’s Word. The authentic disciple meditates on it day and night. Our goal is more than knowledge; it is wisdom, the fruit of inward and outward obedience. It is our prayer that the Reformation Study Biblewill aid students of the Bible in their understanding of Scripture that they might walk wisely before the Lord in all wisdom.
The Reformation Study Bibleis so called because it stands in the Reformed tradition of the original Geneva Bible of the sixteenth century. In modern Geneva, Switzerland, a memorial wall has been built and dedicated to the sixteenth-century Reformation. This International Monument to the Reformation is adorned with statues of the great leaders John Calvin, Theodore Beza, William Farel, and John Knox. Surrounding these figures is the phrase Post Tenebras Lux—“After darkness, light.”
The light of the Reformation was the light of the Bible. Luther translated the Bible, which in his day could be read almost exclusively by professionals who knew Latin, into everyday German that could be read by ordinary people. John Wycliffe and William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. Yet there was substantial opposition to these efforts in England. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536, and later, the Reformation was suppressed during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553–58). The Roman Catholic Mass was enforced, services could not be conducted in English, and priests were forbidden to marry. Two hundred eighty-eight people were burned alive, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
These persecutions drove exiles from Britain to the European Continent. Many of the most capable scholars among them came to Geneva. There they undertook the task of preparing a new translation of the Bible in English. This new translation, the Geneva Bible, was published in 1560 and was carefully designed to be accurate and understandable. It was the first English Bible to use verse divisions, as “most profitable for memory” and for finding and comparing other passages. It included study notes explaining Scripture based on the interpretative principles reclaimed during the Reformation.
The Geneva Bible was the most widely used translation in the English-speaking world for a hundred years. It was the Bible used by John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, and William Shakespeare. Though the King James Bible was published in 1611, it did not supplant the Geneva Bible until fifty years later. It was the Geneva Bible that the Pilgrims and Puritans carried to the shores of the New World. It was used by many American colonists who read it, studied it, and sought to live by its light.
Since the Geneva Bible was published, a multitude of English translations and study Bibles have appeared. This present volume intends to return to the clarity and power of that important translation. By presenting a modern restatement of biblical, Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes, the Reformation Study Bibleaims to carry on the legacy of the Geneva Bible in shining forth the light of biblical Christianity, which was recovered in the Reformation.
The Reformed tradition understands biblical Christianity as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This faith, we believe, is expressed in the ecumenical creeds common to all Christian traditions, together with the Reformation distinctives that are the result of accepting the Bible as the supreme and only infallible authority for faith and practice. We believe that these ecumenical creeds and the Reformation confessions provide the church with a full-orbed summary of the doctrine of Scripture. The words of the Bible are true, and its message is powerful. It conveys the infallible promise of God, its Author, that it will not return to Him empty but will certainly accomplish His intended purpose (Is. 55:11).
New from Reformation Trust. The new edition of the Reformation Study Bible has been thoroughly revised and carefully crafted by 75 theologians and pastors from around the world under the editorial leadership of R.C. Sproul. Pre-order by February 18 and receive free shipping anywhere in the continental U.S. Visit ReformationStudyBible.com.
Earlier in the week I came across a powerful quote, and one that came at just the right time, helping me formulate some thoughts I had been trying to express. This comes from John Frame’s Systematic Theology, and it challenges each one of us to understand, believe, and obey the sheer authority of God’s Word.
When God Commands, we are to obey. When he asserts, we are to believe him. When he promises, we are to embrace and trust those promises. Thus, we respond to the sheer authority of God’s word.
Adam and Eve had no way of testing what God told them about the forbidden fruit. They couldn’t work any experiment that would show them whether God had rightly predicted the effects of the fruit. They simply had to take God at his word. Satan interposed a contrary interpretation, but the first couple should not have taken his opinion seriously. They should simply have believed God. They did not, of course. They sided with Satan rather than God–or, perhaps better, they claimed that their own authority transcended God’s. That is to say, they claimed autonomy. They claimed that they themselves were the highest authority, the ultimate criterion of truth and right.
The NT praises Noah (Heb. 11:7), Abraham (Rom. 4:1-25; Heb. 11:8-19), and many others because of their faith, and their faith was grounded in God’s word. They simply believed what God said and obeyed him. So for new covenant believers: if they love Jesus, they will do what he says (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:7, 10, 14; 17:6, 17; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:22; 5:2-3; 2 John 6).
So we should think of God’s word as a personal communication from him to us. In DWG, I presented this as a general way of thinking about the word of God: the personal-word model. Think of God speaking to you as a real person would–as directly as your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends. Many in Scripture heard such speech from God, such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
And when God speaks, his word carries authority. This means that it imposes obligations. When God commands, he expects us to obey. When he brings information, we are to believe him. When he promises, we should embrace his promises.
If God really talked to you, as he did to Abraham, you would not (if you know what is best for you) criticize his words or disagree with him.
Last week GLH Publishing released a new Kindle edition of Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander. I barely got a page or two into the book before I came across such a helpful section that describes the connection between knowledge and piety—between what we know and how we practice our Christian faith. Here is what Alexander wants you to know.
If genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind by the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is evident that a knowledge of the truth is essential to genuine piety. Error never can, under any circumstances, produce the effects of truth.
This is now generally acknowledged; but it is not so clearly understood by all that any defect in our knowledge of the truth must, just so far as the error extends, mar the symmetry of the impression produced. The error, in this case, is of course not supposed to relate to fundamental truths, for then there can be no genuine piety; but where a true impression is made, it may be rendered very defective for want a complete knowledge of the whole system of revealed truth, or its beauty marred by the existence of some errors mingled with the truth, which may be well illustrated by returning again to the seal.
Suppose that some part of the image inscribed on it has been defaced or that some of the letters have been obliterated; it is evident that when the impression is made on the wax there will be a corresponding deficiency or deformity, although in the main the impress may be correct. There is reason to believe, therefore, that all ignorance of revealed truth, or error respecting it, must be attended with a corresponding defect in the religious exercises of the person. This consideration teaches us the importance of truth and the duty of increasing daily in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the true and only method of growing in grace. There may be much correct theoretical knowledge, I admit, where there is no impression corresponding with it on the heart; but still, all good impressions on the heart are from the truth, and from the truth alone.
Hence we find that those denominations of Christians which receive the system of evangelical truth only in part have a defective experience, and their Christian character, as a body, is so far defective; and even where true piety exists we often find a sad mixture of enthusiasm, self-righteousness or superstition. And even where the theory of doctrinal truth is complete, yet if there be an error respecting the terms of Christian communion, by narrowing the entrance into Christ’s fold to a degree which his word does not authorize, this single error, whatever professions may be made to the contrary with the lips, always generates a narrow spirit of bigotry, which greatly obstructs the free exercise of that brotherly love which Christ made the badge of discipleship.
If these things be so, then let all Christians use unceasing diligence in acquiring a correct knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and let them pray without ceasing for the influence of the Holy Spirit to render the truth effectual in the sanctification of the whole man—soul, body and spirit. “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth,” was a prayer offered up by Christ in behalf of all whom the Father had given him.