Sunday, December 05, 2021

Jesus's Name Is God Name

Answering a question on Quora

"If Jesus was not the Archangel Michael in heaven, what was his name there?"

The question starts with an assumption that Jesus had a name in heaven. This is called “begging the question,” meaning that the assumption has not been shown to be true. (The term is almost always misused by people who mean “demands the question.”) Before asking what Jesus’s name was, one should first ask whether Jesus had or even needed a name.

This may sound like I start out on a tangent, but if you read patiently, you’ll see that it stays directly on topic.

Our names serve to distinguish us from one another. When a Being is unique in type, He does not need a name to distinguish Him from other, similar beings. So, since there is exactly one God, God does not need a name.

Also consider that having been named implies that a previous being must have created you and, thus, had the right to give you a name. Since no previous god created God, no being had the authority to name Him. So in heaven (more properly, in eternity), God was not given a name.

Instead of a formal name, God has assumed many titular names that tell us about Him. Examples include El (God), Adonai (Lord), YHWH* (I AM or I AM THAT I AM), and most interestingly, Elohim (Gods). Elohim is interesting because, although it is plural, it takes a singular verb. It hints about God’s nature in the very first chapter of the Bible.

(The pronunciation of YHWH was forgotten around 200 BC; Jehovah is an anglicized version of a Spanish version of the Latin version of the Greek version of the vowels from Adonai added to the consonants YHWH.)

Angels are created beings. Jesus / Christ / Messiah is the Creator.

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:3, NASB 1995

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16, NASB 1995

John clearly states that Christ created the universe. Colossians repeats that and specifically includes all personal beings, which includes angels. If Christ created the angels, then Christ cannot be a mere angel.

There’s a word for the Creator of all things: God.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 ESV

But of the Son [Jesus] He [God] says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. Hebrews 1:8 ESV

Many models of the nature of God exist. Only one such model resolves all the Bible’s claims. Physics and cosmology tell us that when God created the universe, He created even time and space. They’re facets of the universe.

The triune version of the Trinity fits with science. God, being timeless, used His creative power to exist in, experience, and interact with His creation, and with each other, as three temporal Persons. Each Person, or center of consciousness, is fully God, having the same essence in eternity, yet having a separate consciousness in time.

The three Persons voluntarily took on distinct roles: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (People often make a category error, confusing difference due to a hierarchy with difference in nature, but the inference does not hold up logically. Role does not necessitate a difference in nature because three co-equals can assume a hierarchy in order to create order among the roles that they assume, as well as to exemplify messages about love, authority, and obedience to their creatures.)

In the Father-role, God remains unseen in heaven.

Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. John 6:4, NASB 1995

In the Son-role, God represents and explains the Father to us.

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten* God who is in the bosom** of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18, NASB 1995

(* Translators are divided about whether monogenes, “only-begotten,” means literally only-begotten (a male counterpart to only-born) or is an idiom that meant unique, one-and-only as a result of having taken on a human body. Both descriptors lead to the same conclusion.

** “In the bosom” was a word-picture of one person resting his head on another’s chest, indicating platonic or familial trust and intimacy.)

In the Son-role, God added a human nature to HIs divine essence, and we call that earthly representation, Jesus of Nazareth. Yet the Son represents the Father because he has the same nature in every dimension.

Who [Jesus], being the radiance of His [the Father’s] glory and the exact expression of His substance, and upholding all things [Creation] by the power of His word…. Hebrews 1:3, Berean Literal Bible

So Jesus is the Creator who spoke the universe into existence and upholds it; and whose essence is exactly the same as the Father’s essence. In fact, since there exists exactly one God, they have the same essence. The theological word for this is “consubstantiality.” Thus, although there has been, is, and ever will be exactly one God, God chose to enter His creation three simultaneous times as three consciousnesses or personal Spirits.

(I have not addressed the Holy Spirit in this because the question is specifically about the Son. I don’t think He minds.)

Other models of the Trinity, such as
  • three Gods (a common false accusation from Muslims)
  • an angelic Jesus (Jehovah Witnesses)
  • a child-god (“Mormons” or Latter Day Saints)
  • a costume-changing God (Modalists or Oneness Pentecostals)
  • a human Jesus (Unitarians and “Progressive Christians”)
  • God plus little or developing gods (Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Word-Faith Pentecostals)
create numerous contradictions in the Bible. Only the triune model (one timeless God as three temporal Persons) reconciles all the biblical evidence.

Additional reason: If it is logical to ask the heavenly formal name of God the Son, then it is also logical to ask the heavenly formal name of God the Father and of God the Holy Spirit. If asking the heavenly formal name of God the Father or God the Holy Spirit is not logical, then neither is it logical to expect God the Son to have a heavenly formal name.

Although God has, for our sake, distinguished Himself from imaginary gods by taking on various descriptive, titular names, He has no need for a formal name in heaven.

Copyright 2021, Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use, but please give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Atheism's Dishonest Redefinition of Faith

Atheism's Dishonest Redefinition of Faith

Atheist popularizers dishonestly conflated faith with blind faith to support their dishonest argument that materialism has evidence while no religion has evidence.

It's human nature to get frustrated, even angry, when people use dishonest arguments to argue against your position. Atheists always irritate me by using a dishonest definition of faith to score rhetorical, but illogical, points. Most do so in ignorance, so I have to practice some self-control when responding. If I point out the dishonesty of the rhetoric, I have to emphasize that I'm accusing the originators of the trick of dishonesty, not them.

Faith is not necessarily decided in the absence of evidence. That definition was popularized over the couple of decades by promoters of Atheism such as Dawkins and Boghosian. Those pop-science writers equivocated by conflating faith with blind faith

Faith, honestly defined, is active trust in the absence of absolute proof. I use the redundancy in “absolute proof” for emphasis. Blind faith is a subset; classifying all faith as meeting the definition of blind faith and then relegating faith to religion, to the exclusion of other matters, especially science, was deceptive rhetoric on the part of the popularizers.

Belief overlaps faith because it is a decision about a claim. The difference is that faith is active. Faith influences decisions, whereas belief can be active or passive. That is, one can accept a claim “in theory” without letting it influence decisions. 

(Grammatically, believe is a transitive verb: one believes a claim. Sometimes, the believed claim is implied. In contrast, faith is a noun that labels an active belief.) 

Can anthropogenic climate change be proven? No. Can the claim be believed? Yes. Can one put faith in it? Yes. Is there sufficient evidence (e.g., long-term history or evidence that politically- or career-motivated managers in the science industry fudge the numbers) to create reasonable doubt? Also yes.

Since issues such as climate change depend on evidence in the absence of proof, believe and faith are perfectly applicable terms in the realm of science. Technically, they lie outside the rules of the process of science, but they certainly apply to scientists, the public, and the policies and cancel culture that rely on scientific issues and evidence. One can honestly conclude, based on observation,  that fearmongering over climate-change crosses into religious (or at least ideological) zeal. 

To say that faith applies to religion and not to science is to mislead — and on the part of Atheists who popularized the bad definition, to use such rhetoric is to deceive. 

Copyright 2021, Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Repentance, Calvinism and Works

I love Wretched Radio. I never miss an episode. Today, Todd took a stand that requires a response. It is a fundamental issue.

Repentance, Misdefined, Is Works

Todd Friel, Ray Comfort, and John MacArthur conflate repentance and reform. In today's podcast, Todd defended including repentance in the gospel. That is fine until they explain repentance as turning away from or ceasing from sins. Todd's reasoned today that repenting is "not works" because not doing something cannot be works. This is a flawed definition and an illogical excuse.

Before continuing, I want to point out that, in the Witness Wednesday episodes, Todd asserts his definition of repentance only a minority of the time, and when he does, he does not camp on it. 

Repentance versus Reform

John the Baptist clearly distinguished between repentance and the fruits of repentance. He challenged people who claimed to have a change of mind and heart toward sin, yet failed to demonstrate that change in their actions. Our word for fruits of repentance is 'reform'. 

The tight causal relationship between repentance and reform makes it easy to conflate them. However, 'metanoia', the change of mind and heart called repentance, is a cause. Reform is an effect and evidence of repentance's sincerity.

Moreover, the natural man cannot reform without God's enabling work of regeneration. So, while repentance is involved in the process of salvation, and genuine repentance motivates reform, reform cannot be part of that process. 

Restraint, an Element of Works

To justify turning from sin as a requirement of the gospel, Todd quoted Ray's explanation that not doing something cannot be a work. Thus, they admit that they define repentance as including reform.

Just as there are sins of commission and sins of omission, there are works of commission and works of restraint. "Not doing something," therefore, is indeed "works."

Ray and Todd frequently make use of the Ten Commandments. Five, and arguably six, of the ten are Thou-shalt-not's. What is obedience to those commandments if not works of restraint? If obeying the Ten Commandments is "works," then refraining from sins as part of "repentance" is an offering of righteousness to God in exchange for salvation.

Arminians say you must refrain from certain sins to maintain salvation. Calvinists say you must refrain from sins to enter salvation. It's like the extremes of both have wrapped around the back and met each other.

Calvinist Repentance

From a Calvinist's perspective, the natural man's spirit is dead, inanimate, nonfunctional, dead-dead. God must regenerate him, that is, must animate his spirit before he can have faith. Therefore, if God has already saved a man, then all of what God commands of Christians becomes presentable in the gospel. Under Calvinism, faith plus works is a result of salvation, not a cause, so commanding good works or restraint from sin is orthodox... under Calvinism. 

But if commanding works is applicable to the convert, who has already been saved so that he can believe, then why would Todd defend preaching repentance-reform? Why must he deny that his definition of repentance is works? His agreement that it would be heretical to preach works refutes his belief in Calvinism. 

A Moderate Calvinist View

A Moderate Calvinist sees problems with the Calvinist definition of spiritual death. How can a dead spirit be accountable for things it was not even conscious of, aware of, and in power over? How can a dead spirit suffer in Hades? How can a dead spirit go to Hades without regeneration that is reserved for Christians? 

A Moderate Calvinist also sees a contradiction between the Calvinist order of salvation processes and the explicit New Testament teaching that God uses faith as the means through which He works the grace of salvation.  

A Moderate Calvinist would define spiritual death as analogous to physical death, which is separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death is separation from God with an accompanying cognitive disability with respect to spiritual things, resulting from bondage to sin. The "dead" spirit, then, has awareness and influence over decisions and can be held accountable for sins. The order of salvation would be a bracing or healing of the cognitive disability and a conviction of sin, followed by receiving the gift of faith, followed by salvation by grace through faith. 

In other words, since spiritually dead means separation from God and not dead-dead, God does not need to regenerate the spirit before granting the gift of faith. Commanding the unsaved to perform works, then, mixes grace with wages and faith with works, leaving the "convert" unconverted. 

Copyright 2021, Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated us, provided credit is properly given. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Only God (Christ) versus Only God (Father)

Answering a question on Quora: 

Why does the ESV contradict itself in John 1:18 versus John 17:3 (John, contradiction, Christology, Trinity, ESV, hermeneutics)?

The question is a non sequitur. It presumes, without evidence or specificity, that there is a contradiction. There is, in fact, no contradiction.

The first verse is a declarative sentence in the author’s voice:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:18 (ESV)

The second verse quotes a prayer by Jesus:

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3 (ESV)

(The links take you to a page that lists over two dozen translations of the verses. Versions based on the five-century old Received Text, or Byzantine family of ancient manuscripts, have variations of “only-begotten Son” or “one-and-only Son.” The other versions, which include the ESV, are based on the oldest manuscripts, or Critical Text, which have variations on “only-begotten God” or “one-and-only God.”)

Most of the concepts in the two verses do not overlap. The parts that seem to conflict upon a superficial reading are the description of Jesus as the only God in 1:18 and the description of the Father as the only true God in 17:3.

To answer the question, one must understand the translation in 1:18 and how early Christians solved the paradox of three Persons or Personalities being identified as God, yet there eternally being a grand total of exactly one God.

The Quoran educated at the Theocratic Ministry School (i.e., the Watchtower, more commonly know as the Jehovah’s Witnesses) claims falsely that “The ESV dropped (Only Begotten). If you look the verse up in the Interlinear you will see that they dropped those (key) words.” This claim reflects a shocking lack of understanding of Koine Greek, or even of observing what the interlinear text shows.

The meanings of English words change over time; the same is true for Greek. According to qualified Koine Greek scholars, there’s uncertainty over whether monogenes, “onlybegotten,” had come to mean “unique” or “one and only” during the first century. Majority opinion had leaned toward “one and only” for a while, but opinion is swinging back toward “only-begotten.” In my opinion, “only-begotten” makes more sense in the context, but we should accept and live with the uncertainty.

“Only God” in the ESV, then, is an acceptable translation of monogenēs Theos (although it might suffer from under-emphasis of Christ’s uniqueness). The Watchtower-educated Quoran’s claim that the ESV dropped monogenēs is false.

Readers who resist the misdirection of attention toward monogenēs will notice that the verse calls Jesus, Theos, “God.” So, again, the Watchtower-educated Quoran’s claim that “Clearly because Jesus is not God” contradicts the text.

It’s tempting to go on a tangent showing how a triune God is the only solution to many scriptural claims that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God, yet there is exactly one God. It is sufficient in this context to state that, if the Creator of space-time could use His creative power to exist in space-time as God the Father and God the Son, then “clearly” it is presumptuous to say “Clearly because Jesus is not God.”

So, while there is exactly one Creator, God, recognizing that God could exist within space-time as multiple centers of consciousness or “Persons” allows us to reconcile John 1:18 and 17:3.

“Only God” in 1:18 abbreviates a larger concept born out by reading the entirety of the book, or even the first three verses of the same chapter. The abbreviation has obviously caused confusion because, for a shallow reading, Christ cannot be the “only God” and the Father being the “only true God.” That’s why immediate, book, and New Testament levels of context and digging deeper into the language underlying the translation matter.

One more detail from the larger context is needed. The Author of the New Testament anticipated Modalism and ruled it out. Modalism asserts that the one God is one Person who changes modes (roles and costumes) to give the appearance of being three Persons. For that reason, it uses three titles of God: God (the Father), Lord (Christ the Son), and Spirit (the Holy Spirit).

Thus, depending on context, “only true God” can refer either to the eternal, One-as-Three God or to the temporal Person called the Father. And monogenes Theos (only God, one-and-only God, or only-begotten God) refers specifically to the Person who added a human nature to His spirit nature.

When you understand how the writer meant the language, there is no contradiction, even if the ESV is less verbose than it needs to be to prevent confusion by people who take snippets of scripture out of context.

Copyright 2021 Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use, but please give credit where credit is due.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Tongues of Angels? Probably Not

Biblogic Series: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Part 2

Futility of Spiritual Gifts Without Love

Tongues of Angels? Not Likely.

If I speak in the languages of men and of angels,
but have not love, I am only banging brass or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and surrender my body that I may boast,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Pentecostal Claim: Languages of Angels

Pentecostals and their child movements, Charismatism, Word of Faith, and New Apostolic Reformation claim that the Holy Spirit still grants the spiritual gift of speaking in the languages of men and angels. They see glossolalia at several points in the book of Acts and extrapolate it to today without regard to other events in church history. Then they add their experience and interpret the rest of scripture in accordance with their experience.

Former Pentecostal pastor George Gardner told of how, when he was a ministry student, a Hebrew friend stood in chapel and recited Mary Had a Little Lamb in Yiddish. Another student with the gift of interpretation went into a long translation of the Holy Spirit’s message: The students were spending too much time in volleyball and other recreational activities and not enough time in their studies and ministries. That gave Gardner his first hint that Tongues, or at least Interpretations, was not always genuine. 

My wife’s uncle, by birth a Ukrainian Jew and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, had a similar story about visiting a Pentecostal church and reciting the 23rd Psalm in Ukrainian. The “interpretation” had nothing to do with the Psalm. 

I’ve heard stories, so nth-hand as to be rumors, about people who were understood by immigrants. Sounds like Navajo or Sounds like German. But is "sounds like" authoritative? The one story I’ve heard that sounded credible came from a Pentecostal co-worker. This man was a certified super genius. He understood the low priority that 1 Corinthians 14 assigns to the gift of tongues, so he attended a cessationist Baptist church for teaching that was better than in any of the local Pentecostal churches. 

While visiting another church, he was invited to give a message, which he gave in English. Afterwards, two ladies came to him. One explained that she heard his message in English, but the other, who had recently immigrated, spoke no English, and had heard the entire message in her native language. Due to being isolated by language, hearing the message in her own language had been a blessing that brought her to tears. Although my coworker spoke in tongues, the “tongues” in this case, was not in the mouth of the speaker, but in the ears of a listener. And it was not a spiritual gift, but a one-off miracle.

Since Pentecostals have not shown that they speak in human foreign languages, by process of elimination, they conclude, they speak in a heavenly, angelic language. But scriptural evidence for such a claim is extremely weak. 

Scripture Does Not Support Tongues of Angels

The chapter reads as very poetic, so one should expect metaphor and hyperbole. Verses 1 through 3 all pose hypothetical situations. Verse 3 describes extreme actions, and verse 2 describes attributes never held by any mere human. Considering this trio of verses as a unit should lead a reasonable person to accepting that the language of verse 1 is hyperbolic, as well. That is, the phrase that suggests glossolalia might include speaking in angelic language may be hypothetical to strengthen the following clause: 

but have not love, I am only banging brass or a clanging cymbal.

The warning in Verse 1 weighs against Pentecostals speaking in the languages of angels in two ways. First, speaking in the languages of angels is like banging brass and clanging cymbals because it conveys no information. Angelic communications with humans have, without exception, conveyed messages. Angels do perform tasks such as making war, but even the Greek word translated angel means messenger. Tongues may be exciting, but it imparts no long-term blessing. By its nature, speaking in an unintelligible, supposedly angelic language violates the test of love and the goal of members of the church edifying each other. 

Second, speaking in the languages of angels, without love, is no better than the sounds of a brass pot falling to the pavement or cymbals clanging in a Hellenist or Roman temple. The allusion to pagan religious practices links back to verses 2 and 3 of chapter 12. Pagans spoke in nonsensical tongues amid much chanting and rhythmic noise (such as from symbols) that was used to work up the worshipers into an ecstatic state of altered consciousness -- the same formula as the worked-up anticipation, long music services, shallow, repetitive lyrics, and trance-inducing songs in Pentecostal churches. 

The Pagans were not alone. To their company, we can add adherents of the heresies of Sacramentalism (Orthodox and Roman Catholic, and many Protestant denominations -- especially Pentecostals), Mariolatry (Roman Catholics), and Modalism (Oneness Pentecostals). In the 1800s, glossolalia was frequently practiced by Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Glossolalia is also practiced by shamans and certain branches of Hinduism. 

Around 2010, Justin Brierly, on the British Unbelievable? radio show and podcast, interviewed an Atheist who de-converted from Pentecostalism and still occasionally spoke in tongues just for fun. According to Pentecostals, abandoning his salvation canceled the blessings of being God’s son, forgiveness of sins, and the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit. So either the Holy Spirit failed to remove the gift of tongues along with the gift of salvation, and continued to manifest Himself through the ability, or the gift was a learned psychological phenomenon. 

The glossolalia of the pagans calls into question that of Christians. If the practice is a learned, altered state for pagans, it can be a learned, psychological phenomenon for Christians. If it results from demonic control for pagans, it can result from demonic control of false brethren among us. Some argue that it results from demonic control of genuine Christians, too; but I'm not convinced that it is possible for a demon to go beyond making suggestions to one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Rumors of legitimate glossolalia have, in fact, been countered by missionary accounts of demonic blasphemy through glossolalia. Although, without recordings and authoritative interpretation, neither type of account presents credible evidence, one must admit that the accounts cancel out each other.

A Pentecostal might point to 2 Corinthians 12:4 as evidence of angelic, non-human languages. Paul said he knew a certain man, probably himself, who was caught up to heaven where he heard inexpressible words. The term, inexpressible (arreta) meant not that the words were difficult to pronounce, but rather that they were too holy to be permitted. Indeed, the term is followed by that are not permitted for a man to utter

The word permitted (exon) means exactly that: permitted or lawful. It is used over 30 times in the New Testament to refer to permission. So the sense is not that the words in the vision were an unpronounceable foreign language, but that they were too holy to be spoken without negative consequences. The verse does not support the existence of angelic languages.

The “name” of God provides us with three examples of forbidden holy words. Some Christians consider even the title G_d too holy to even spell out. This echoes how the pronunciation of YHWH was lost. After the return of Judah from exile, the priests decided that God’s name was too holy to speak. As a result, the pronunciation was forgotten between 400 and 200 BC because written Hebrew had no vowels. Soon after, to make the name pronounceable during readings in synagogues, they added the vowels from Adonai, Lord, to the consonants, YHWH, I AM. Transliterating YaHoWaH from Hebrew to Greek, to Latin, and finally to English, gave us Jehovah. At the same time, Bible translators replaced most occurrences of Jehovah with the LORD (in all capital letters). It was assumed that any literate person would understand the meaning.

Consideration of genre, tone, and history undercut the belief that verse 1 promotes the idea that glossolalia comprises an angelic language. 2 Corinthians 12:4 is not even relevant. One avenue remains: Does the study of angels support a literal reading of the phrase, tongues... of angels in 1 Corinthians 13:1?

Angelology Does Not Support Tongues of Angels

Evidence that one or more angelic languages exists in physically expressible form is extremely weak. Logic weighs overwhelmingly against it. Assuming that tongues is a language of angels crosses into presumption. Translating spirit communication into audible form would involve human languages, and such translation would violate known historic precedent.

In native form, Angels, being spirits, lack physical bodies. When they have communicated with humans on earth, they have taken physical form to create soundwaves in air and have used human languages. In visions, human witnesses always heard angelic speech in their own human languages. Since human witnesses receive a gift of spiritual sight that enables the visions, it would make sense that they also receive a gift of interpretation. But that would be speculation, and it does not establish that angels have a unique language that can be expressed as “tongues.”  

A related point is that, since spirits lack organs such as tongues, resonant nasal cavities, and vocal cords, and do not live in a physical, sound-conducting atmosphere, their medium of communication would more likely be analogous to what we would consider telepathic. Telepathy would likely communicate thoughts directly without need for verbal protocols. Translating thoughts through a gift of tongues would require adding layers of grammatical, syntactical, and phonemic protocols defined by the natural human language of the speaker. 

The result of encoding angelic thoughts with human language protocols would be expression in human language. It would be easiest to use the language of the speaker. However, it would also be possible to use a human language unknown to the speaker, as happened at Pentecost. But would use of a foreign language be likely? The speech in foreign languages at Pentecost had an audience: people who understood those languages. The purpose of speech is to be understood, so if nobody is there to receive the message, use of a foreign language serves no purpose.

If tongues is used for prayer by the Holy Spirit and the audience is God the Father, human language would not be needed. Like angels, God is Spirit. This returns us to the fact that language, and even sound, would be redundant. Since the Father and the Spirit know each other’s minds, glossolalia is again redundant. Indeed, the Holy Spirit prays within each Christian (Romans 8::26-27) with wordless silence and is perfectly understood by God. So glossolalia as an additional form of prayer is redundant in three ways.

If angels have at least one language, God must have a language. Since God and angels communicate, they would probably share a single language. Being perfectly obedient to God, they would have no need to hide communication from God, so only one language is needed. The language would be labeled as belonging to the greater owner, so why would it be called the language of angels and not the language of God or of the Spirit? If angels had a separate language, why would the Holy Spirit translate His thoughts into an angelic language when speaking directly to the Father?

Why, without love, is speaking in the tongues of angels worthless? Love (agape) focuses outward. Loving speech conveys information that benefits the hearer. Unloving speech selfishly focuses on edifying ego at the expense of others’ time. God does not need to reward it; They have already rewarded themselves, who speak in tongues that do not inform, correct, or encourage others.


Copyright 2021 Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Futility of Spiritual Gifts Without Love

Biblogic Series: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Part 1

Futility of Spiritual Gifts Without Love

If I speak in the languages of men and of angels, 

but have not love, 

I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy 

and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,

and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, 

but have not love, 

I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor 

and exult in the surrender of my body, 

but have not love, 

I gain nothing.

(Berean Study Bible)

This passage introduces “the most excellent way” from which the Corinthians had deviated. While it seems self-explanatory, it has a surprising quantity of material to unpack. 

Chapter 12’s lists were just a warm-up for Paul’s poetry in chapter 13. Paul begins the chapter with three stanzas comprising a repeated thought in Hebrew poetic form. I strongly recommend reading the linked article about parallelism in Hebrew poetry and prose. Much meaning will pop out the next time you read the Old Testament.

Each stanza is an example of antithetical parallelism: The first line states a positive, whereas the second line counters with a negative. The repetition of the idea means Paul is emphatic about the message. He establishes that the lesson is an absolute truth. 

Paul states several things that, on their own, seem good. The opening stanza makes it clear that it is not a tangent; it directly addresses the Corinthian-Pentecostal error. As he often does, Paul states a principle before giving the reason. Since the phrases that follow give context to the opening statement, I’m going to save for last my notes on the opening statement.

Prophesying and discerning the depths of all mysteries and knowledge

This refers to exercising spiritual gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and wisdom. Since discerning all knowledge would make one omniscient, Only God is omniscient. The situation, then, is purely hypothetical. It’s presence in no way implies that “prophesying and discerning the depths of all mysteries and knowledge” is humanly possible.

Having absolute faith so as to move mountains

This refers to persistence in belief and trust, especially, in prayer. Again, having absolute, mountain-moving faith would be an attribute of God. The situation is hypothetical and not humanly possible.

Giving all possessions [to the poor]

This act would be possible. The verb literally means to feed morsels of food, or in modern English idiom, to spoon-feed, and by extension, to personally, carefully distribute. The word translated possessions means those things under one's ownership, so it might have a meaning even broader than physical possessions. The Greek text does not include the phrase “to the poor.” Personally, carefully giving away everything under one’s ownership would be no great work if the recipients had no need of it, so the phrase may reasonably be inferred. The 1769 edition of the KJV italicized it.

Surrendering my body that I may burn / that I may glory

Some Greek tests and English translations read I may burn while others read I may glory. The focus is on bodily self-sacrifice. There is one letter difference between the Greek words meaning I may burn (kauthesomai) and I may boast (kauxesomai). (“Th” is the single Greek letter theta.)

According to the commentaries, Rome did not begin burning Christians for at least another decade after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. However, many commentary writers point out that Paul could have had in mind the three young men thrown into the furnace in Daniel or the tortures described in some apocryphal books. Another possibility could have been a current-events reference described in Vincent’s Word Studies (see previous link). About that time, a man from India had burned himself to death in Athens to achieve immortality through the merit of self-sacrifice. However, since he performed the deed on himself, it doesn’t quite fit with “giving himself over.”

The contrast between the motive for giving oneself over and the motive of love for others, stated at the end of the sentence, weighs in favor of “that I may boast” 

Fanatical people have long sought death in order to redeem themselves, and the ego can drive a man to stubbornly accept a death sentence rather than recant and admit to having been wrong. I may boast seems to have the better evidence in ancient manuscripts. It says more about human nature, and specifying what would happen to one’s body (burning) adds little besides drama to the sentence. Either way, the sense of the conditional clause is, “If I give myself over in self-sacrifice for personal benefit....”

Speaking in the languages of men and of angels

The issue of speaking in the languages of men and of angels faces two issues in this passage:

  • Are the Corinthians practicing the gift correctly? (Part 1)
  • Since Pentecostals make the claim, do languages of angels exist? (Part 2)

Chapters 12-14, as a whole -- as do both epistles to the Corinthians -- corrects. That a correction is made implies that an error needs correction. Chapter 12 corrects unawareness of God’s sovereignty in consignment of roles and spiritual gifts in the church. Chapter 12 also corrects disunity caused by unlovingly elevating or denigrating different gifts. Chapter 14 corrects disorder and abuse of gifts caused by using gifts in an unloving manner. When Paul inserts an entire chapter about motive in the middle of a discussion, we can have confidence that the Corinthians had the wrong motives. 

In four situations mentioned immediately after verse 1 -- two abilities and two actions -- Paul says the lack of a loving motive renders the ability or action worthless. The results, “I am nothing” or “I am a nobody” and “I am profited nothing,” mean that the gifts have neither elevated the possessor nor benefited the actor.

Mere possession of the ultimate insight and faith serves no purpose if not lovingly used for the benefit of others. As 4:7 says, What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? The whole of chapter 12 teaches that God gives gifts for the church, not for our own sake. Mere possession does not mean you’re big stuff, it means you’re still nothing, a nobody, until you use the gift properly and with the right motives.

Similarly, mere action to sacrifice one’s possessions or to sacrifice your body brings no reward if not lovingly done for the benefit of others. Self-sacrifice for the sake of self-sacrifice or to acquire boasting rights is a meaningless loss. It is a futile discarding of a member of the body of Christ with accompanying opportunity cost. 

Now bring this awareness to verse 1. “If I speak in the languages of men and of angels, but have not love (agape), I am only a ringing gong (literally, more like a clanging brass pot) or a clanging cymbal.” Verses 4-7 define this love as outward facing, concerned with the benefit of others. A loving speaker always addresses his audience. He adjusts his vocabulary, grammar, cultural references, and message to the needs and culture of his audience. More importantly, he designs his message for their benefit. Without this loving, audience-sensitive composition and delivery of a message, the speaker makes meaningless noise. 

The clanging of brass or cymbals may excite the senses, but they convey no useful information; they do nothing beneficial for the hearers. Such is the effect of tongues practiced without love. They may produce excitement, but they give no actual benefit to the hearers because the speaker produces noise without consideration for the audience. 

Chapter 13 has begun with three implied questions.

Verse 1: If the speaker does not consider the audience and strive for their benefit, then whose benefit is he or she seeking at their expense? 

Verse 2: If the tongues-speaker is not motivated by love, then has the gift actually elevated him or her... or does the speaker remain a nobody?

Verse 3: If tongues do not serve the purpose of outward-directed, beneficial love, is the benefit loving, or is it selfish? And if the benefit is selfish, is it its own reward that excludes a heavenly reward?   

Copyright 2021 Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated us.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Binding Yourself to Salvation with Jello Cords

Binding Yourself to Salvation with Jello Cords

Imagine a chain binding you to your salvation. 

The Strong Chain

One gospel  has one link in it: God's grace through faith. This link is infinitely stronger than titanium; it will never fail.

The Weakest Possible Chain

Another gospel, commonly found among "Christian" churches, has two links. The first link is, again, God's grace through faith. Some churches in this group primarily preach about the first link, so, whether or not members later become convinced that there's a second link, they are kept secure by that first, titanium link.

The second link, however, is human merit. This link requires completing the earning of salvation by doing good, avoiding certain evils, or perseverance through character and will-power. In other words, the second link is works and wages. 

This other gospel puts the two links together, the titanium link of God's grace with the mercurious link of human merit. If your conversion depended on the first link alone, you are secure. If your "gospel" required both, your religion has already caused you to stumble, for the second link has no power to save nor to keep. It is time to repent of this false gospel of self-righteousness and trust God alone.

Copyright 2021, Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use, but please don't plagiarize like an SBC president.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Stop Desiring an Inferior Spiritual Gift

Biblogic Series: 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

Stop Desiring an Inferior Spiritual Gift

Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, and those with gifts of healing, helping, administration, and various tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. (Berean Study Bible)

Context: 1 Corinthians 12

Paul begins this section by reminding us that all Christians are, collectively, the unified body of Christ, and individually, specialized members of it. 

In verse 28, “God has appointed” reminds us of the Father’s authority as architect, the Son’s authority as agent, and the Holy Spirit’s authority empowering the members with spiritual gifts. 

Here, Paul lists some offices or functions among the called-out (ekklesia, translated “church”). I’ve distributed the verb to make the structure more clear:

In the church, God indeed

  1. First has appointed apostles
  2. Second has appointed prophets
  3. Third has appointed teachers
  4. Then has appointed miracles
  5. Then has appointed gifts of healing
  6. Has appointed helping
  7. Has appointed administrating
  8. Has appointed various languages

Comparing this list with other lists in Romans and Ephesians, we know that it is a sample list. For example, it omits the role of martyr that required a spiritual gift of faith, the role of patron that required a gift of giving, and the role of guardian of doctrine and practice that required a gift of discerning of spirits.

The verb is the same verb used in verse 18. It is also used in Acts 12:4, where Herod sovereignly “placed” Peter in prison. Whatever your role, the Father designed it into the church; the Father appointed you to or placed you in that role; and the Holy Spirit determined and gave you the spiritual gifts that empower you in that role. 

The adverbs first, second, third, and then could mean either sequence or rank. We can rule out chronological sequence because in Acts, we read of the spiritual gift of languages before we read of miracles, healing, helping, or administrating. So the structure of the sentence places languages at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Note the irony that Pentecostals place “tongues” at the top of both sequence in a Christian’s life and at the top of the hierarchy as an indicator of salvation, whereas scripture places it last in importance and assigns it to only select members of the body.

Paul poses a series of rhetorical questions. That is, the pattern establishes that the answer to each is “no.” 

  • Are all apostles? No.
  • Are all prophets? No.
  • Are all teachers? No.
  • Do all work miracles? No.
  • Do all have gifts of healing? No.
  • Do all speak in tongues? No.
  • Do all interpret? No.

In fact, the wording in the Greek is even less rhetorical. It reads literally, Not all apostles? Not all prophets? Not all teachers? Not all miracles? Not all have gifts of healing? Not all in tongues speak? Not all interpret?

The questions plainly establish for the nth time in this chapter that God does not assign any role, nor does the Holy Spirit consign any gift, to all members of the body. It is simply not God's plan to do so. The distribution of roles and gifts is not a matter of piety, pleading, or sacraments, but of God’s sovereign plan for the body of Christ. Any church or doctrine that imposes on all Christians a need for a particular gift such as “tongues” or even evangelism reflects either a disregard for scripture or an untrained method of interpretation that produces corrupt doctrines.

Paul told the Corinthians to eagerly desire the greater gifts. Individually and as a body, they had desired the least of gifts, "tongues" (or an imitation thereof), and had to be reminded to desire that the greater gifts be exercised in the body. 

Paul explains more about why tongues is a lesser gift and why the greater gifts should be exercised in the following chapters. Don’t skip over chapter 13. It bears directly on this issue. It reveals “the most excellent way” that the Corinthians had failed to follow in all their toleration of sin, personality cults, inequity, and misdirected “ministry.”

Copyright 2021, Richard Wheeler. Please give credit where credit is due. Permission granted for non-remunerated use.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Unity Reflects in Care and Empathy

 Biblogic Series: 1 Corinthians 12:18-26

Unity Reflects in Care and Empathy

But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we consider less honorable, we treat with greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty, whereas our presentable parts have no such need. But God has composed the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (Berean Study Bible)

This selection from 1 Corinthians repeats and expands on the message of the last passage. Applying the metaphors may be difficult due to differences between first century Greco-Judaic and modern western mindsets. Verse 18, discussed in the previous post, is repeated here because it overlaps and provides continuity between verses 19-26 to verses 12-7 and because its meaning connects to that of verse 24. 

Whereas the Greek verb in verse 18 focuses on how God places the members in the body, the verb in verse 24 focuses on how God combines the members into a single, united organism. Together, the verbs assert God’s authority and wisdom in the design of the church and in His placement of its members. That is, God has a design for the church and has already specially selected you for a unique role.

To place the members in the body of Christ means to assign the roles of the individuals and, referring to earlier in the chapter, to consign spiritual gifts in accordance with members’ individually assigned roles. Therefore, to lust after another member’s spiritual gift is to ignore one’s own role, question God’s authority, and second-guess the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. 

This passage repeats the idea that one-gift-for-all violates the wisdom of God’s design. If all members had the same role and accompanying spiritual gift, the body would comprise a monstrosity incapable of functioning as a whole, unable to fulfill God’s purposes, and unfit for the members who comprise it.

No member of the body of Christ has a right to denigrate the role or gifting of another member. 

To denigrate or ignore roles or gifts considered “lesser” by fleshly standards, or to elevate roles or gifts already considered “greater,” is to cause division within the body of Christ. That constitutes rejection of God’s plan and rebellion against God.

Denigrating some roles or gifts, as well as inordinately elevating others, runs counter to the unity and mutual care that God intended.

The passage divides body members among three criteria:

  • Strength or durability versus weakness or vulnerability (arms, feet versus brain, lungs, heart)*
  • Honorable versus less honorable (face, hands versus torso)*
  • Tasteful versus less presentable (head versus private parts)*

(*The examples in parentheses are not defined in the scriptures; they are inferred from commentaries on the passage).

The illustration in verses 22-23 states that we give the weak and vulnerable members of our bodies greater protection because they perform valuable functions; we give greater honor to less-honorable members and render tasteful the less-presentable parts by how we adorn them. Thus, our care for our bodies elevates the status of the weak, the less honorable, and the less presentable parts.

Likewise, in the church, we should elevate the weak, less honorable, and less presentable members. For example, those with greater knowledge and wisdom should edify and guard those with less opportunity or aptitude for learning and discernment; and we should elevate those who serve the church in roles that are indispensable yet  considered hidden, unglamorous, and “menial” by the world. 

When we realize that certain roles considered hidden, unglamorous, and “menial” by the world actually fulfil indispensable service to the body of Christ, we value others regardless of their roles and value the roles and gifts we already have.

When the strong honor and edify the weak and less visible, the weaker and less visible members perform their roles with greater vigor and faithfulness, and the whole body is edified.

God has already given greater honor to the less honorable members of the body. 

Since God has already given greater honor to the less honorable members of the body, failing to acknowledge that honor demeans what God has done.

It is not necessary to actively reject the weaker, less honorable, or less presentable members of the body. The same can be accomplished through inordinate elevation of people, roles, and spiritual gifts that are already strong, honored, or presentable. 

When we value the roles and gifts we already have, we cease from wasting time trying to acquire or exercise gifts that the Holy Spirit has not consigned to us.

The success of the church is measured not by the fame or reward of its stronger, more visible members, but by the edification and fulfillment of the whole. Since the weaker, less honorable, and less presentable members make up the vast majority of the church, their edification and fulfillment comprises the primary metric.

The sorrows and joys of each member are the sorrows and joys of the whole and of every other member. 

If we value others, their roles, and their spiritual gifts, and if we recognize the unity of Christ’s body, we should empathize with their sorrows and joys, their losses and triumphs.

The mutual empathy (emotion) and care (action) of the unified body ties in to chapter 13.

Copyright 2021 Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use. Plagiarism is stealing. Thou shalt not plagiarize.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Diversity By Sovereign Design

Biblogic Series: 1 Corinthians 12:14-18

Diversity By Sovereign Design

For the body does not consist of one part, but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design. (Berean Study Bible)

Context: 1 Corinthians 12

The collective body of all believers, while a unitary whole, has diverse members.

Differing parts depicts differing roles and, by extension, differing spiritual gifts to empower fulfillment of those roles. No part does all functions, and no ability is assigned to every part.

Lacking a certain spiritual gift does not make you any less a part of the body. The Pentecostal teaching that you must speak in tongues to be a full member of Christ’s body creates a schism between babblers and non-babblers.

When every member has the same role and accompanying gift, other roles go unfulfilled. If other roles go unfulfilled, then needs within the body go unmet. 

Obsessive interest in a single gift constitutes a failure to love the body.

Paul comes close to mocking the Corinthians. Imagine a going to someone’s door, and when it opens, you find yourself facing a 200-pound, 5’8” eyeball or ear. You would say, that poor person! He’s deformed! He’s a monster. Think of all the things he cannot do for himself.” 

Now imagine an eyeball marrying an ear; but after the honeymoon, the eyeball decides, “You are not an eyeball. Why did I marry you? I have no need of you.” (A lot of husbands and wives think that way.) The one who is not an eye can hear, but the eye denigrates the ear because it cannot see. Imagine how this hurts the ear. It pleads and begs God to make it an eyeball, but because God does not obey the requests, it gives up and leaves. So the body has lost its ability to hear, and the ear has lost having a body. That is how God sees the church that requires a single gift of all its members, whether that gift is evangelism, or giving, or tongues, or any other ability. 

God designs the body with differing functions performed by different members of the body. 

God designed the body.

God arranges every believer within the body -- according to His design. 

Pentecostalism, or any teaching that encourages every believer to seek a single gift, unintentionally denigrates God’s design, God’s assignment of the members. 

When we all travail in prayer to obtain a particular gift, we imply dissatisfaction with the roles that God has specially selected us to play and denigrate the gifts He has given us so that we could fulfill that role.

When we focus on a spiritual gift contrary to God’s design for us and the Spirit’s gifting to us, we become distracted from other matters such as learning, sanctification, and development of the gifts already given to us by the Holy Spirit. Even if the gift is a good thing, we miss ignore the best things that God has designed for us. 

Obsessive interest in a single spiritual gift constitutes a failure to love God’s plan, to love Christ’s church, to love ourselves. 

Travailing in prayer to acquire a role or spiritual gift not consigned to us constitutes correcting God's plan for us and His church, as well as correcting the Holy Spirit. This unintentionally insults God and elevates our desires above His ability and authority.  

Obsessive desire for any church role or spiritual gift unintentionally insults the Architect of the body. It becomes idolatry.

Copyright 2021 Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for non-remunerated use. If used beyond Fair Use, please give credit where credit is due using appropriate bibliographic format.