This Could Be Your Biggest Barrier [Hint: It’s in your head]


lockIt doesn’t matter if it’s in our personal lives, our families, or where we work, we all face barriers. Sometimes, those barriers are real. Other times, however, they’re not.

  • There’s a situation happening at work with a co-worker who is hurting the entire organization.
  • You want to start getting in shape and run a 5K this year, but you’re convinced you can’t because you’ve never followed through on previous fitness goals you’ve made.

The first barrier is an actual problem in the real world. There needs to be a conversation with that co-worker. The second barrier feels real, but it isn’t. Medically, there’s no reason you can’t run that 5K. The people around you are encouraging you to do it. The problem is in the way that you think. You’ve told yourself you can’t, so you probably won’t.

What if the biggest barrier in your life is the way that you…

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Revisiting the Doctrine of Incarnation



There is no other doctrine more important to Christianity than that of the incarnation. Any proposed theology which is sans doctrine of incarnation is simply not Christianity. John Walvoord states, “The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central fact of Christianity. Upon it the whole superstructure of Christian theology depends.”[1] Indeed, remove the incarnation from Christian theology and Jesus becomes just another failed revolutionary. It is little wonder, then, that so much Christian polemics and apologetics concern either directly or indirectly the incarnation.

Despite the significance of the incarnation, many Christians celebrate Christmas as the day Jesus was born without scarcely considering what it means that the Word (Greek: Logos) became flesh (Greek: sarx)[2] (John 1:14)[3] “Many who have a basic acquaintance with the events surrounding that birth fail to understand that it represented the merging of God and man into one human body.”[4] In fact, the general layperson accepts the traditional teaching as found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two distinct natures and one person forever.”[5] Scarcely does the laity stop to ask if this teaching is correct expression of truth or simply a church tradition? Furthermore, if the tradition is correct what does it mean in respect to the rest of Christian doctrine and theology which is built upon the foundation of this teaching?

It propose that the doctrine of the incarnation needs to be reexamined on the grounds of both modern biology and biblical considerations. The purpose, therefore, will be to demonstrate that insufficient biological knowledge led to the accepted teaching of the doctrine and that scriptural teachings may be correctly interpreted so as to offer a different understanding of the incarnation.

What Is the Incarnation?

The Gospel of John states, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was close beside God and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (1:1,14). This act of the Word becoming flesh is referred to as the incarnation. Although Elmer Towns understands this act to be a merging of two natures into one body; Paul Enns understands the incarnation to denote “the act whereby the eternal Son of God took to himself an additional nature, humanity, through the virgin birth.”[6] This latter definition is more in line with the traditional church teaching.[7] In other words, according to traditional church teaching the historical person of Jesus possessed a 100 percent divine nature and 100 percent human nature that were indivisible yet distinct.

Early Church Christology.

In order to grasp what the earlier church fathers understood to be the Incarnation, it is helpful to possess a basic knowledge of the history of debate surrounding the doctrine. However, before the history of the Incarnation can actually be discussed, it is prudent to examine briefly the Christology of the first century church.

Three Patterns in Early Christology

There are three basic patterns that emerge from the New Testament writings and the teachings of the early church in terms of the Christology of the church. The first of these patterns are the references of Jesus as Lord or Messiah. The early church began as sub-sect of Judaism. Indeed, one of Luke’s themes in the book Acts is the defense of Christianity as a protected religion under Rome as a sub-sect of second temple Judaism.[8] Yet, from very early on there is evidence of the early exalting of Jesus well beyond the sensibilities of any Jew. This is not to say that the early church immediately named Jesus as God; but already had begun a cultic devotion to the son of the carpenter within the first two decades. As Hengel states, “Thus the Christological development from Jesus as far as Paul took place within about eighteen years, a short space of time for such an intellectual process. In essentials more happened in Christology within these years than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history.”[9] Certainly Hurtado sees a pattern of early exaltation among the first century church:

The exalted claims made for Jesus, including pre-existence, participation in creation of the world, heavenly enthronement, unique role as eschatological redeemer, and honorific titles such as Messiah, Son of God, Lord, and even God, for all these we can find occasional parallels in the rich and diverse ancient Jewish tradition. But we find no such parallels for these phenomena of earliest Christian devotional practice. They comprise a genuine and highly significant innovation in Jewish monotheistic tradition of the time.[10]

The next Christological pattern is revealed in the New Testament in the form of a hymn quoted by the Apostle Paul to the Phillipians:

 Who, though in God’s form, did not Regard his equality with God As something he ought to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself, And received the form of a slave, Being born in the likeness of humans. And then, having human appearance, He humbled himself, and became Obedient even to death, Yes, even the death of the cross. And so God has greatly exalted him, And to him in his favor has given The name which is over all names: That now at the name of Jesus Every knee within heaven shall bow— On earth, too, and under the earth; And every tongue shall confess That Jesus, Messiah, is Lord, To the glory of God, the father. (Phil 2:5-11).

By quoting this hymn, Paul highlights the reversal of the concept of power. God, in his love, descends to become subservient to death. Yet it this shocking divine humility which raises Jesus to the level of Messiah and Lord. Humility becomes the source of pride. Weakness becomes the source of strength. Service becomes the source of authority. It is no coincidence that Jesus’s sermon on the mount offers the same reversal of power structure (Matt 5).

The final pattern of Christology in the early church is the incarnation of the Logos-Wisdom. Once again, Paul quotes an early hymn in his letter to the Colossians:

 He is the image of God, the invisible one, The firstborn of all creation. For in him all things were created, In the heavens and here on the earth. Things we can see and things we cannot— Thrones and lordships and rulers and powers— All things were created both through him and for him. And he is ahead, prior to all else, And in him all things hold together; And he himself is supreme, the head Over the body, the church. He is the start of it all, Firstborn from realms of the dead; So in all things he might be the chief. For in him all the Fullness was glad to dwell And through him to reconcile all to himself, Making peace through the blood of his cross, Through him—yes, things on the earth… (Col 1:15-20)

This hymn describes Jesus in verbiage usually reserved for the divine wisdom in ancient Judaism, which constantly employed personification. Here, Paul insists that Jesus not only personified divine wisdom, but also was divine wisdom in the flesh. “This image was a natural one for early Christians to describe Christ. Judaism personified God’s wisdom as divine and the roots of the image in Jewish tradition go back at least as far as Proverbs 8.”[11]

Additionally, John begins his gospel by weaving together ancient Judaism and Greek philosophical thoughts. It is within this passage that the first glimpses of an Incarnation Christology is revealed, John writes:

In the beginning was the Word (Logos). The Word was close beside God, and the Word was God.  In the beginning, he was close beside God. All things came into existence through him; not one thing that exists came into existence without him….He was in the world, and the world accept him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to anyone who did accept him, he gave the right to become God’s children; yes, to anyone who believed in his name….And the Word became flesh, and lived among us. We gazed upon his glory, glory like that of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:1-3,10-12,14)

The Greek word Logos had profound implications in the philosophy of a group known as Stoics. Logos was part of the triadic division of Stoic thought known as logic. “In Stoic tradition Logos is both divine reason and reason distributed in the world (and thus in the mind).” John uses this launching point to tell a narrative which aims to exclaim, “Here is Jesus, the pre-existent wisdom of God, who has come in human flesh to die and be raised again to life so that all might believe and live.” N. T. Wright accurately sums up early Christology this way, “The basic Jewish answer to the question, How is the creator active within creation, was, as we saw, to develop varieties of language that spoke of Wisdom, Torah, Spirit and Shekinah….The early Christians developed exactly the same ideas, transposing them again and again into language about Jesus and the divine spirit.”[12]

The Trinity

The major difficulty in studying the Incarnation, is that it requires studying Jesus Christ. “The study of the person of Christ is one of the most complicated and intricate studies that can be undertaken by a biblical theologian.”[13] Every other Christian doctrine is dependent upon the nature of Jesus Christ in both his preincarnate and incarnate forms. It is, therefore, a complete necessity that any study of the incarnation begins with a brief discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity. While this cannot be a full discourse, a quick survey will suffice for the purposes of this essay.

As has been demonstrated, the Church from very early on had an exalted view of Jesus.  However, as a sub sect of Judaism, Christianity maintained the monotheistic view of God. This was a problematic view especially since the teachings of Jesus, himself seemed to indicate a multiplicity about God. This is especially clear in Jesus’s teaching on baptism, where he commands, “So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit” (Matt 28:19). At least as early as 250 AD the trinitarian doctrine had been taught. The Athanasian Creed states, “There is therefore a trinity, or trine, or triunity, in the Lord—the Divine itself, which is called the Father, the Divine human which is called the Son, and the proceeding Divine which is called the Holy Spirit.”[14] The early Church fathers were faced with the challenge of reconciling the multiplicity that seemed inherent within Jesus’s teaching and the singleness of monotheism.

One of the first theologies posited which attempted to reconcile this seemingly contradictory position was Modalism (also known as Sabellianism or Patripassian Monarchianism). Modalism chief position was that “the Trinity was three manifestations of the same God.”[15] Two of the most prominent proponents of this theology were Praxeas and Noetus.

Concerning Praxeas, there is not much historical evidence. However, the early Church Father Tertullian wrote a lengthy treatise called Adversus Praxean, “which has become an important work of Western Theology on the Trinity before the time of Augustine.”[16] Praxeas seems to have been concerned about maintaining the unity of God. According to Tertullian, Praxeas says, “that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ.”[17] Tertullian attacks this position by criticizing the implication of the Father dying on the cross. He writes:

 “Nay, but you do blaspheme; because you allege not only that the Father died, but that He died the death of the cross. For “cursed are they which are hanged on a tree,”—a curse which, after the law, is compatible to the Son (inasmuch as “Christ has been made a curse for us,” but certainly not the Father); since, however, you convert Christ into the Father, you are chargeable with blasphemy against the Father. But when we assert that Christ was crucified, we do not malign Him with a curse; we only reaffirm the curse pronounced by the law: nor indeed did the apostle utter blasphemy when he said the same thing as we.”[18]

Another defender of Modalism was Noetus. Noetus taught the following: “When, indeed, at the time when the Father was not yet born, He was justly styled the Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation and be begotten, He, himself, became His own Son, not another’s.”[19]

Hippolytus strongly attacked Noetus for what he saw as heretical error. Noetus best known argument is his interpretation of Jesus’s “I and the Father are one.” Hippolytus argued that the verb “are” implies a distinction. He suggested that if no distinction were intended Jesus would have used the verb “am.”[20] Again, the distinction of the persons within the Trinity were successfully differentiated.

This differentiation, in time, would result in another teaching. This time it would be Origen. Origen would suggest a graded view of the trinity. His approach would be two offer a three-tier view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all God, but God existing at three different levels. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is lesser than the Son; the Son is lesser than the Father.[21]

Origen’s trinitarian views were not accepted by the orthodox church, but it did provide the basis for another view: Arianism. Arius taught that the Father, alone, was God. The Son was a created creature. Athanasius quoted Arius as teaching the following:

“God Himself then, in His own nature, is ineffable by all men. Equal or like Himself He alone has none, or one in glory. And Ingenerate we call Him, because of Him who is generate by nature. We praise Him as without beginning because of Him who has a beginning. And adore Him as everlasting, because of Him who in time has come to be. The Unbegun made the Son a beginning of things originated; and advanced Him as a Son to Himself by adoption. He has nothing proper to God in proper subsistence. For He is not equal, no, nor one in essence with Him.”[22]

It was in response to this teaching that Constantine would call the Coucil of Nicea (325 AD). It was at this council that the Church would settle the trinitarian debate by stating the Church’s official position. The Creed was written as follows:

“We believe in one God the Father all powerful, maker of all things both seen and unseen. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten begotten from the Father, that is from the substance [Gr. ousias, Lat. substantia] of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten [Gr. gennethenta, Lat. natum] not made [Gr. poethenta, Lat. factum], CONSUBSTANTIAL [Gr. homoousion, Lat. unius substantiae (quod Graeci dicunt homousion)] with the Father, through whom all things came to be, both those in heaven and those in earth; for us humans and for our salvation he came down and became incarnate, became human, suffered and rose up on the third day, went up into the heavens, is coming to judge the living and the dead. And in the holy Spirit.”[23]

This statement of faith became an important factor in later trinitarian debates. However, it did little in its own time to settle the matter. Still, it is important in respect to the doctrine of incarnation as it defines the preincarnate state of Christ. As Walvoord notes, “The person of Christ incarnate is best understood in comparison to the person of Christ before He became incarnate.”[24] The Council of Constantine would eventually settle the matter once and for all.

The Incarnation

The doctrine of the Incarnation hinges primarily on two verses, John 1:14 and Philippians 2:6-7. The latter passage being the most controversial. It is referred to as the kenosis passage from the Greek word, kenosis, used in verse 7. The passage reads as follows: “Who, though in God’s form, did not Regard his equality with God As something he ought to exploit. Instead, he emptied (kenosis) himself, And received the form of a slave, Being born in the likeness of humans” (Vs. 6-7).

The Problem of the Kenosis Passage.

The central problem of the Kenosis passage is the meaning behind God emptying himself. How could God exploit his own equality? Towns sums up the difficulty brilliantly: “For ages theologians have faced the dilemma of interpreting this one word, “kenosis.” They cannot deny that “Christ emptied Himself,” but “What was poured out? Can Christ give away part of his deity and remain God? Can God be less than God?”[25]

In other words, how can Jesus be both God and man without ceasing to be either? As stated previously the Church answered this question by declaring what is called the hypostatic union.

The Hypostatic Union

The early church fathers were faced with a challenging enigma: how to reconcile the Biblical teachings of both divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus. The divinity of Jesus has always been accepted since the earliest days of the church and is well attested to by Scripture. Additionally, scripture is equally emphatic that Jesus was equally human. As Walvoord notes, “The evidence for His human body in Scripture is seemingly even more compelling than the evidence for His deity”[26]

One of the earliest attempts to harmonize the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus was proposed by Nestorius. Nestorius argued that Jesus was human that merely had the Word indwelling with him. In other words, Jesus, for Nestorius, was separate from the Word. He believed Jesus “to be a man united with the Word in a unique and perfect way.”[27] This view of Jesus forced Nestorius to teach that Mary did not give birth to the Word, but rather that of the human body of Jesus.[28]

When Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, heard of this teaching, he sent several letters to Nestorius who was Bishop of Constantine at the time. Cyril responds simply by invoking the doctrine of the Incarnation – that the Word became Flesh. Cyril wrote the following in his response:

“You have written in this wise,

“Thus it says elsewhere too, He spoke to us in His Son Whom He appointed Heir of all things through Whom also He made the worlds, Who being the Brightness of His Glory:having put Son, it calls Him fearlessly both Brightness of His Glory, and appointed Heir; Heir, appointed after the Flesh, Brightness of the Father’s Glory after the Godhead: for He departed not, made flesh, from likeness to the Father. And in addition it again says thus, for the times of ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men to repent, because He fixed a Day in which He will judge the world by the Man Whom He appointed, having given assurance unto all men in that He raised Him from the dead. Having first said, By the Man, he then adds, In that He raised Him from the dead, that no one might suppose that the Godhead Incarnate had died.”

Who then is He Who was Incarnate, or in what way was He incarnate, what Godhead was incarnate…But if He was truly Incarnate and has been made flesh, He is accredited as Man, and not connected with a man, by mere indwelling or external relation or connection, as you say.”[29]

The dispute between Cyril and Nestorius culiminated in the Council of Epheseus. Called by Emperor Theodosius II in 431 AD, the Council was to settle the controversy between Cyril and Nestorius. However, the result of the Council was to actually cause a schism between some of the Antiochenes who supported Nestorius and the Bishops who supported Rome. Two years later in attempt to repair the divide, Nestorius accepted an Antiochene document which stated:

“We confess then our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and body; before the ages begotten of the Father according to his divinity, the same for us and for our salvation in the last days begotten of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity; the same cosubstantial with the Father according to his divinity and cosubstantial with us according to his humanity.”[30]

This became the final expression of faith in the doctrine of the Incarnation. The later Council of Chalcedon positively affirmed the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Nicaea. Although some scholars see the Council of Chalcedon in primarily negative terms against the heresies of Nestrorius and others.[31] Still the Council of Chalcedon provided an expository on the Incarnation in which the person of Jesus remained one person with two distinct but indivisibly united natures: the human and divine. The creed states as follows:

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”[32]

Challenges to the Doctrine of Incarnation

The orthodox definition of the Incarnation has had several challenges since the early Church first began to express it. The final orthodox form in which it now stands has certainly withstood several centuries of challenges and attacks. This, however, does not mean, nor should it indicate that the orthodox statement is not in need of revisitation.

While there are most certainly other challenges, I will highlight two significant biological challenges from the discovery of chromosomes which necessitate a review of the doctrine. Since the church fathers did not have such knowledge available, such discussions did not occur as to the biological nature of the Incarnation. Their focus was on the nature of the soul in the person of Jesus.


The Paternal Challenge

In the late 1800’s scientist first discovered the existence of chromosomes within organic life. In the early 1900’s Thomas Morgan Hunt research demonstrated the role of chromosomes in determining inherited traits. Scientist have determined that each individual living organism has a specific number of chromosomes that make it what it is. Therefore, part of what makes a human being a human being is the exact number of chromosomes. This means that humanity, at least as anthropology goes, is defined by the forty-six chromosomes that every person possesses. Out of these forty-six chromosomes half are given by the mother and the other half by the father. Both parents, then, are necessary to produce human life.

In the case of the person of Jesus, Scripture and the creeds tell us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit through the virgin Mary (Matt 1:18). This means that 23 of Jesus’s chromosomes were totally derived from the physical human in the form of his mother. However, the other twenty-three were derived from the divine third person of the trinity. In order for Jesus to be 100 percent human, he must have possessed all forty-six chromosomes. It is not an illogical leap to infer, then, that on the biological level, Jesus divinity and humanity were united into a single person through anthropology. Such a union, calls into the question the orthodox assertion of two distinct natures. For if there are two distinct natures, Jesus is not a distinct person but a hybrid of God and humanity. He would be neither God, nor man; but a demi-god of sorts.

The Challenge of Substance

God is Spirit” (Jn 4:24). Towns defines spirit as “inmmaterial, incorporeal, and invisible.”[33] This creates serious problems for the doctrine of the incarnation. How can Jesus be God if then He is a corporeal being and forever in humanity, for humans are biologically corporeal from creation. Jesus, Himself, recognizes the differences between spirit and matter. In referring to his resurrected body he said, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk 24:39).[34] Such a distinction implies then that Jesus is not spirit. In fact, N. T. Wright argues that Jesus resurrection came about in a “transformed physicality.”[35] If this is the case, how (as we have seen) did the early church develop such a high Christology. If God is spirit, and Jesus is in a transformed physicality (corporeal) state of existence, he cannot be God, can He?

A Proposed Solution

The biological challenges of the Incarnation are daunting, yet a solution maybe offered. The solution requires a slight shift of perspective for many Christians, still if accepted the view will clear many of the problems that are posed for the incarnation. God possess an eternal alternate physicality and the nature of the incarnation is one in which the incorruptible physicality of God assumes the corruptible physicality of creation.

Evidence for the Physicality of God

The physicality of God can be seen throughout the Scripture. Beginning in the first Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NKJV). Wright has argued that the Heavenly reality and the Earthly reality are “two overlapping and interlocking” spheres of realities.[36] Jonathan Edwards argued that the motivation behind God’s creative act was to expand himself.[37] It is, therefore, natural logic to assume that God, in expanding himself, would use a substance similar to himself. This even more so given that humans are made in the image of God (1:26). Concerning this verse, Von Rad notes, “The interpretations, therefore, are to be rejected which proceed from an anthropology strange to the Old Testament and one-sidedly limit God’s image to man’s spiritual nature, relating it to man’s “dignity,” his “personality” or “ability for moral reason,” etc.”[38] It is a definite possibility, if not probability, that God possess some sort of physicality although different from our own.

Additionally, God’s meeting with Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah may also hint at God’s physicality (18:1-10). In these verses, two points of physicality may be noticed. First, Abraham perceived God as physical. Immediately, after seeing the visitors Abraham commands his wife to fix a meal (v.6). While this does not guarantee physicality, it is suggestive especially given the later verse which states that the visitors ate (v.8).

Furthermore, Paul writing on the resurrection of the dead states:

“Not all physical objects have the same kind of physicality. There is one kind of physicality for humans, another kind for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. Some bodies belong in the heavens, and some on the earth; and the kind of glory appropriate for the ones in the heavens is different from the kind of glory appropriate for the ones on the earth. kind of glory appropriate for the ones in the heavens is different from the kind of glory appropriate for the ones on the earth… That’s what it’s like with the resurrection of the dead. It is sown decaying, and raised undecaying” (1 Cor 15:39-40,42, KNT).

While the Apostle John writes, “We know that when he is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 JN 3:2).

It may be concluded therefore that the troubling kenosis passage, may indeed refer to God emptying himself of his incorruptibility and assuming a physicality which is indeed corrupted unto death, in order that all may be transformed into a physicality in which there is no corruption.


The purpose of this was not to tear down the doctrine of the Incarnation as a falsity. However, this is not to say there are not reasons for church leadership and Biblical scholars to revisit the doctrine and modify it. The biological considerations offered provide such reasoning. Although an alternative proposal has been offered, there is much work within the sphere of Biblical scholarship that needs to be looked into before such an alternative can be deemed as both viable and truthful to Scripture. It is merely my hope and prayer that a discussion will begin by those esteemed and knowledgeable persons concerning the doctrine of the Incarnation.











“Definition of Chalcedon.” Last modified Accessed July 2, 2017.


Athanasius. De Synodis, Part Ii, Chapter 15.


Athanasius. The Anthanasius Creed. Translated by Samuel H. Worcester and John Whitehead. 1760.


Cyril. Five-Book Contradiction of the Blasphemies of Nestorius or Five Tomes of S. Cyril. Translated by P. E. Pusey. Cyril of Alexandria, Five Tomes Against Nestorius. Book 1. Oxford, 1881.


Enns, P.P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Moody Publishers, 2014.


Gould, Graham. “Cyril of Alexandria and the Formula of Reunion.” The Downside Review 106, no. 365 (1988): 235-52.


Hengel, M. Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.


Hippolytus. “Against the Heresies of One Noetus.” In Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Donaldson and James Donaldson, vol 5. Grand Rapids MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885.


Hurtado, Larry W. “Early Devotion to Jesus: A Report, Reflections and Implications.” The Expository Times 122, no. 4 (2011): 167-76.


Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.


Kelly, D.F., P.B. Rollinson, and F.T. Marsh. The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986.


Lane, T. and A.N.S. Lane. Concise History of Christian Thought, A. Baker Publishing Group, 2006.


Lee, J.Y. God Suffers for Us: A Systematic Inquiry into a Concept of Divine Passibility. Springer Netherlands, 2012.


Stevens, B. Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaptation. Tyndale House Publishers, 2014.


Tanner, N.P. and G. Alberigo. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils: Nicaea I to Lateran V. Sheed & Ward, 1990.


Tertullian. “Against Praxeas.” In Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Phillip Schaff and Allan Menzies, vol 3. Grand Rapids MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885.


Towns, E.L. Theology for Today. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001.


Von Rad, G. Genesis: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press, 1973.


Walvoord, J.F. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Moody Publishers, 1969.


Wright, N. T., “Jesus at the Crossroads of History.” N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology, 2016,


Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press, 1992.


Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Fortress Press, 2003.


Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.




[1] J.F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Moody Publishers, 1969), 96.

[2] The Biblical terminology will be dealt with later.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[4] E.L. Towns, Theology for Today (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001), 198.

[5] D.F. Kelly, P.B. Rollinson, and F.T. Marsh, The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986).

[6] P.P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Moody Publishers, 2014), 235.

[7] Even scholars who subscribe to the Westminster catechism concerning the incarnation disagree on the nuances as these two definitions demonstrate.

[8] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 315.

[9] M. Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 39-40.

[10] Larry W. Hurtado, “Early Devotion to Jesus: A Report, Reflections and Implications,” The Expository Times 122, no. 4 (2011),

[11] Keener and Press, 571.

[12] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress Press, 1992), 520-21.

[13] Walvoord, 106.

[14] Athanasius, The Anthanasius Creed, trans., Samuel H. Worcester and John Whitehead (1760).

[15] Towns, 145.

[16] J.Y. Lee, God Suffers for Us: A Systematic Inquiry into a Concept of Divine Passibility (Springer Netherlands, 2012).

[17] Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Phillip Schaff and Allan Menzies (Grand Rapids MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885), 1334.

[18] Ibid., 1401.

[19] This quotation is allegedly taken from Hippolytus’s Refutatio II, which is a missing manuscript. Hippolytus, “Refutatio II,” cited by Lee, 26.

[20] Hippolytus, “Against the Heresies of One Noetus,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Donaldson and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885).

[21] T. Lane and A.N.S. Lane, Concise History of Christian Thought, A (Baker Publishing Group, 2006), 23.

[22] Athanasius, De Synodis, Part Ii, Chapter 15.

[23] N.P. Tanner and G. Alberigo, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils: Nicaea I to Lateran V (Sheed & Ward, 1990).

[24] Walvoord, 106.

[25] Towns, 191.


[26] Walvoord, 110.

[27] Lane and Lane, 54.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Cyril, Five-Book Contradiction of the Blasphemies of Nestorius or Five Tomes of S. Cyril, trans., P. E. Pusey, Cyril of Alexandria, Five Tomes Against Nestorius. Book 1 (Oxford: 1881).

[30] Formula of Reunion cited in Graham Gould, “Cyril of Alexandria and the Formula of Reunion,” The Downside Review 106, no. 365 (1988),

[31] Lane and Lane, 451.

[32] “Definition of Chalcedon,” accessed July 2, 2017.

[33] Towns, 98.

[34] Holy Bible: New King James Version : New Testament (Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 1979).

[35] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003), 758.

[36] N. T. Wright, “Jesus at the Crossroads of History” (paper presented at the N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology2016), See also N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).

[37]See B. Stevens, Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaptation (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014).

[38] G. Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1973), 58.


Temple Theology and Eschatology: The Error of the Rapture



Eschatology is an important part of the Christian faith. It is the foundation upon which our hope is based. Yet, many Western Christians’ eschatology consists of an immortal soul escaping an eternal torture of hell below to a glorious heaven above upon death. Additionally, it contains the idea that Jesus’s second coming is simply to snatch those believers who are still alive to heaven while condemning the rest as sinners to hell. N. T. Wright commented on this widely held belief, noting “This is more or less exactly what millions of people in the Western world have come to believe, to accept as truth, and to teach to their children.”[1]

Such wide belief begs the question: Is this what the Bible teaches? This paper will argue that by examining the thread of temple theology which runs through the whole of Scripture does not support the escapist view of eschatology; rather it espouses a restoration view. The purpose of this discussion be to define what temple theology is. From there it will trace the thread of temple theology by offering a brief survey of the Scriptures. This will be done by looking at three phases of temple theology in scripture: building a temple, establishing sacred space, and a restoration project. Additionally, this discourse will highlight relationship between the thread of temple theology and the biblical view of eschatology in light of the rapture doctrine


What Is Temple Theology?

Before any proper discourse can truly begin on a subject, there must be a definition of terms. It is, therefore, imperative that a concise definition be determined of what temple theology is and is not. At this juncture, it is relevant to note that temple theology differs from exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. These three methods of studying God and his word are all dependent one another. As Enns observes, “Biblical theology is preliminary to systematic theology; exegesis leads to biblical theology, which in turn leads to systematic theology.”[2] Temple theology knows no such symbiotic relationship. Certainly, temple theology may include all three of these methodologies, however it is not dependent on them.

So, what is temple theology? William MacDonald suggests that temple theology is theology done in the temple “under conditions of continuous adoration and getting still before God.”[3] However, since MacDonald’s aim is to show the superiority of temple theology, his definition unnecessarily excludes exegesis, biblical theology and systematic theology.[4]

However, MacDonald is correct in asserting that the ultimate theological question is “what is God like?” This paper will offer the following definition: Temple theology is the attempt to answer of “who is God” by studying the centrality of the structures, objects and rituals used in the worship of God in his presence. This definition, by default, will necessarily will include all exegesis, biblical theology and systematic theology. Still as its name implies the focus will be primarily on the structures used rather than the objects and rituals. Still, when the objects and rituals occur within the structure itself it must not be ignored. Having set a working definition, this discussion will now move a brief survey of temple theology within the Scriptures.

Brief Survey of Temple Theology in Scripture

The writer of Psalm 119 says “The sum of thy word is truth; and every one of thy righteous ordinances endures forever” (V. 160, RSV).[5] In other words for the psalmist, truth can only be found in the totality of God’s word. Therefore, it is of the greatest necessity that any argument out of the Scriptures be shown to have a unified theme from beginning to end. While there is not space here to lay out every verse that presents a temple theology; it is only necessary to show a few verses from both the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate unilateral agreement. This is especially true when the Scriptures themselves are framed at the beginning and end by such agreement.

Genesis: Building a Temple

The book of Genesis says that God spent five days creating a structure (1:1-20, NIV)[6]. On the sixth day after putting on the finishing touches, God creates an image of himself – mankind (V. 24-27). Now the words “image” and “likeness” found in verse twenty-six carry the connotation of an “analogous idol.”[7] The purpose of an idol is for the praise and worship (religiously or politically) of a superior person or being. So, in the very opening of the Scripture, it is to be found that God builds a structure in which he places an image of himself for the purposes of worship; a clear espousal of temple theology.

Additionally, Genesis speaks of God resting (2:2). While this is not uncommon for ancient creation narratives around Mesopotamia, what make Genesis unique is the fact that “Israelite theology does not require rest from either cosmic or human disturbances but seeks rest in a dwelling place (see especially Ps 132: 7-8, 13-14).”[8] It is clear from the narrative that the author intended the readers of Genesis to assume the resting place was to be the Heaven and Earth reality spoken of in the very first verse of Genesis (1:1). That such an assumption can be made is verified later in the narrative as it speaks of God planting a garden and subsequently walking in that garden (2:8; 3:8). As Walton points out, “The major temple complexes in Mesopotamia featured, besides the temple itself (usually including several chambers) a ziggurat and a garden.”[9] The fact that Genesis does not mention a ziggurat may only indicate the unity of the two realms of Heaven and Earth since the purpose of such a structure was to allow access for the deity between the realms.[10] Still, the entire nature of the creation narrative indeed shows many remarkable features that speak of temple theology – namely the idea that God was building his own temple.

Exodus: Establishing a Sacred Space

Immediately following Genesis, is the Exodus narrative. Moses’s first encounter with God is in the form of a burning bush on Mt. Horeb (Ex 3:2-4). God tells Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (V. 5). Through this command, God was informing Moses of two pieces of information. First, God was announcing his presence. Second God was announcing his “sacred space.” “The residence of the deity in the temple required the recognition of sacred space;” in this case the Earth as established in Genesis.[11]

Later, God strikes the Egyptians through the hand of Moses with the ten plagues. The purpose of these plagues was not simply to cause physical and economic sanctions against Egypt and her pharaoh for refusing to let God’s people go. It was to demonstrate God’s sovereignty of the Earth as his temple.[12] Additionally, it was to drive the chosen people to the sacred space which God announced to Moses (c.f. V. 12).

The entire Exodus story moves forward to the building of the tabernacle (25:8). It is clear that from this point on the tabernacle and its replacement, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, take a feature and central role in the political, religious and daily life of the Israelites. Indeed, as Homan observes:

“The Temple in Jerusalem and its predecessor, are the two most important structures in ancient Israel according to the Bible. They both served as terrestrial homes for Yahweh, the primary deity of ancient Israel. The authors of the Hebrew Bible allotted nearly 470 verses to describe the form and furnishings of the Tabernacle and Temple, far more than any other structures in all of ancient Near Eastern literature.”[13]

It seems obvious, then, that, for at least the Old Testament, temple theology under girds the entirety of the Hebrew scriptures. This, in despite of the notable absence of discussion of Ezekiel’s vision of God’s departure from the temple (Ezk 10) or Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9). Temple theology was a mainstay of Israelite religion. It was at the tabernacle and later the temple where the unity of Heaven and Earth remained intact. It was at these structures where the Israelites experienced the presence of God. Still, this theological theme did not end with the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 701 BCE. It continued and shaped New Testament theology as well.

New Testament: The Restoration Project

The New Testament does not in and of itself speak directly to a temple theology. It, in fact, assumes it as an underlying current of thought by constantly referring or alluding back to the temple theology of the Old Testament. This assumption is seen in the Gospels (especially John’s) through the Pauline letters and finally in the book Revelations. Temple theology was not destroyed with either the destruction of Solomon’s Temple or the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 CE. It continued to shape the Biblical writers’ thoughts, intentions, and meanings within their various texts.

In the first chapter of his Gospel, John invites his readers to think back to the creation narrative of Genesis and the Exodus narrative. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was close beside God, and the Word was God. In the beginning, he was close beside God. All things came into existence through him; not one thing that exists came into existence without him.” (Vs. 1-3). In simulating the beginning of Genesis, John alludes back to the creation narrative which has already been argued is in reality a temple building narrative.[14]

Later in the chapter he writes, “And the Word became flesh, and lived among us.” (V. 14, KNT).[15] The Greek word translated by the English word “lived” is σκηνόω. This Greek word means to pitch a tent or tabernacle. John clearly wants his readers to think back to Exodus 25. In commenting on this verse, Towns correctly notes, “The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God and the meeting place of God and Israel, making it the most perfect type of Christ, the Word incarnate, in the Old Testament.”[16]

Paul also picks up on this thought of the temple as the dwelling place of God. Commenting on Colossians 1:19-20, Wright says, “It is the one God, in all his fullness that dwells in him [Christ].”[17] In a more direct statement of temple theology, Paul asks the Corinthians, “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit within you, the spirit God gave you, so that you don’t belong to yourselves?” (1 Cor 6:19). It simply cannot be denied that Paul did not have temple theology in mind when he penned these passages.

Finally, we come to Revelations. Written in the late 90’s BCE, over two decades after the destruction of Herod’s Temple, John continues to think in terms of temple theology.[18] Writing in the context of a prophetic vision of the end of the age, John declares, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). It seems the structure that becomes the dwelling place of God is Jesus. This agrees with Paul’s statement to the Colossians. John and Paul, clearly, are on the same thought plane in terms of their theology. It is totally consistent with one another. Additionally, John in the very next chapter, describes the restoration of Eden (23:1-5). The Scriptures end exactly where they began: a temple and its garden.

heaven and Earth

Temple Theology and Eschatology

So far, I have argued that temple theology underpins the theology of the scriptures in their entirety. It is important at this juncture, to demonstrate what effects such underpinning may have upon doctrinal ideologies. In some cases, these effects may call into question traditional orthodox views held by many Christians and denominations within the Church. One such doctrine is the “escape to heaven” view of Eschatology known as the rapture.

Towns defines the rapture as the moment at the second coming of Christ when Christians “will be caught up in the air and, instantaneously, they will receive glorified bodies and go to heaven to be with the Lord.”[19] He argues for this doctrine mainly on the strength of two key passages of scripture found in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4.[20] Temple theology sheds serious reasonable doubt upon the validity of such a doctrine in several ways.

The first way that reasonable doubt is cast there is limited scriptural evidence of the rapture compared to temple theology. Towns admits there are only two key passages, both of which are in the New Testament., which serve as a foundation for the doctrine. These are 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4. From the outset, the passage to the Corinthians may be rejected as the context does not support a rapture; but rather deals with idea of a bodily resurrection. However, the passage in 1 Thessolonians does seem to explicitly offer validity when it says:

“The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet. The Messiah’s dead will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up with them among the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And in this way we shall always be with the Lord” (4:16-17).

Yet, this verse may be rejected on the grounds that to use a single passage out of scripture may be justifiably labeled as proof-texting. As Kaiser and Silva point out, “This method, insofar as it ignores context, is completely inadequate…What is forfeited in this method is any divine authority for what is taught.”[21] Towns and others who teach the rapture completely remove the passage out of the Biblical context. Instead of viewing the whole of scripture, they telescope in to the individual letter and chapter. The passage becomes foundational rather than theology upon which the passage is built. However, Towns incriminates himself by being presuppositionalist and presuming God exists. He has just laid a theological foundation upon which all scripture is built.

By comparison, temple theology (as has already been argued) is theology upon which by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, all scripture has been built. It is unilateral from Genesis to Revelation in its underpinning. The Thessalonian passage must be seen in light of such theology. If the restoration of the temple which was built in Genesis 1 is the end game (cf. Rom 8), then the passage must speak of initial ascent into the physical clouds and return because of its assertion of being in the presence (in the temple) of God.

Additionally, the rapture doctrine places the power of sin on level footing with the power of God. In Genesis, God declares the creation to be good (1:31). Paul and Isaiah speak of a time when the creation will be restored to its original “goodness” (Is 11:6; Rom 8:20-21). If believers are to escape to heaven, then God has conceded that what sin has caused, he cannot restore. If then God cannot restore the effects of sin our whole salvation and hope is misplaced as Christians.

Finally, the doctrine of the rapture denies the whole purpose of creation. If God is seeking a place to dwell as argued from Genesis; and Christians go to where He is now; it begs the question: Why did God create the physical in the first place? The answer lies in what a person holds as the central thing of creation. If a person holds to the prideful view that God created out of love for man; then man becomes center. If a person holds to the view that God created for God; then God is central.[22] The centrality of man view presupposes the premise that God is only interested in salvation of man. The centrality of God view presupposes that God is interested in the salvation of all of creation and man has been given the opportunity to join in that process.


 Temple theology has largely been ignored by the academic world. However, it has recently been a strong voice by the likes of notable scholars such as John Walton and N.T. Wright. These voices have brought strong challenges to traditional and orthodox Christian beliefs especially within the Western Church.

I have argued, based on the theological underpinning of temple theology, that the doctrine of the rapture is subject to serious questions. I have offered a proper definition for temple theology and shown a unilateral theme of underpinning from Genesis to Revelation. I raised three serious objections to the doctrine of the rapture; while demonstrating how temple theology answers those same questions. It seems reasonable therefore that a serious discussion and re-visitation of this doctrine is called for. However, it is not only the rapture that must be reexamined in light of this crucial theology. All doctrines must be subject to the entirety of scripture and the totality of the word of God as truth. There is much work to be done by the present generation of scholars and teachers and the generations yet to come.





Dunnam, M.D. Exodus: Exodus. Thomas Nelson, 2004.


Enns, P.P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Moody Publishers, 2014.


Homan, Michael M. “The Tabernacle and the Temple in Ancient Israel.” Religion Compass 1, no. 1 (2007): 38-49.


Kaiser, W.C. and M. Silva. An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Zondervan, 1994.


Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.


MacDonald, William. “Temple Theology.” Pneuma 1, no. 1 (1979 1979): 39-48. (Subscriber access);


Stevens, B. Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaptation. Tyndale House Publishers, 2014.


Towns, E.L. Theology for Today. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001.


Towns, E.L., M. Couch, and E.E. Hindson. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. AMG Publishers, 2002.


Von Rad, G. Genesis: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press, 1973.


Walton, J.H. Ancient near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Baker Publishing Group, 2006.


Walton, J.H., V.H. Matthews, and M.W. Chavalas. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press, 2000.


Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.


Wright, N.T. Colossians and Philemon. InterVarsity Press, 2015.



[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008), 31-32.

[2] P.P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Moody Publishers, 2014), 26.

[3] William MacDonald, “Temple Theology,” Pneuma 1, no. 1 (1979 1979): 45, (Subscriber access);

[4] Ibid., 39.

[5] Ignatius Press, Catholic Bible-Rsv (Ignatius Press, 2006).

[6] Holy Bible (Niv) (Zondervan, 2008).

[7] G. Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1973), 57-58.

[8] J.H. Walton, V.H. Matthews, and M.W. Chavalas, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

[9] J.H. Walton, Ancient near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Baker Publishing Group, 2006), 119.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 118.

[12] M.D. Dunnam, Exodus: Exodus (Thomas Nelson, 2004).

[13] Michael M. Homan, “The Tabernacle and the Temple in Ancient Israel,” Religion Compass 1, no. 1 (2007): 38,

[14] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 249.

[15] N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[16] E.L. Towns, M. Couch, and E.E. Hindson, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (AMG Publishers, 2002), 4.

[17] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (InterVarsity Press, 2015), 79-80.

[18] For reasoning behind this date, see Keener and Press, 723-24.

[19] E.L. Towns, Theology for Today (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001), 753.

[20] Ibid.

[21] W.C. Kaiser and M. Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Zondervan, 1994), 33.

[22] For a detailed discussion on the reason for creation; see B. Stevens, Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaptation (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014).


Messianic Expectations, Temple Theology, and the Second Temple Period.


            In recent years, the role of historiography in the process of Biblical exegesis has been thrust into the academia spotlight. Biblical scholars such as E.P. Sanders and N. T. Wright, along with others, have demonstrated the need for a proper historical understanding of the scriptures in order to develop proper Biblical doctrines.[1] Such understanding becomes even more imperative with popular, but inaccurate, “historical Jesus” movements such as the Jesus Seminar infiltrating the world of scholarship.[2]

Perhaps this point of history is in more need of study for the purpose of Biblical exegesis than that period known as the Second Temple Period. This discourse will attempt to offer a brief survey of the chronological history of the second temple period beginning with the decree of Cyrus (538 BCE) and ending with the storming of Masada (73 CE).[3] In addition, this post will discuss the importance of temple theology during this period as such theology directly tied into the messianic hopes of Jewish people during this period.

Pre-Period Context

In order to grasp the significance of the Second Temple Period, especially on the messianic aspirations of the time, the context of the events and attitudes which directly preceded the period must be briefly discussed. In 597 BCE, the Babylonian Empire captured the city of Jerusalem and deporting some 10,000 Jews to the city of Babylon. From Biblical texts such as Lamentations, Job, and several, it is evident of the despair and loss the Jews were experiencing as their homeland and nation were disappearing. In 586 BCE, the nation of Judah which had been a separate nation from the northern ten tribes of Israel, finally disappeared, marking the official beginning of what has become to be known as the Babylonian exile.

The interesting feature of this exile is the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar settled the Jews in a single area within the city. This allowed them to maintain their cultural and religious identity. As result, although many Jews adopted some of the Babylonian culture, in general they maintained a faith within Yahweh as seen in literature like the Book of Daniel. Out of despair, a hope of restoration and salvation emerged. This hope is expressed in books like Ezekiel and Isaiah


Artist rendering of Solomon’s Temple

Chronological Survey of the Second Temple Period

The Second Temple Period refers to several decades of Jews from Mesopotamia, Judaea, and Egypt existing under the rule of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. It begins with the declaration of Darius, ruler of the Persian empire, allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (538 BCE) until its total destruction by the Romans in 70 CE (cf. Ezra 1:1-4).[4]

From Occupation to Independence (538-63 BCE)

In 538 BCE King Darius of the Persian empire issued a decree to allow some 50,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. There is some debate among scholars as to whether the decree recorded in the first chapter of the book of Ezra is a specific decree for the Jews or a general decree for all occupied peoples of the Persian empire. As Grabbe points out, “It seems very unlikely in his first year of reign, with all that had to be done in establishing a new empire, Cyrus took the time to issue an edict expressly on the behalf of a small ethnic community.”[5] Whatever the circumstances for the edict, over the next four centuries the Jews slowly returned to their homeland and enjoyed various degrees and time as autocratic nation. The beginning of the period had the Jews flourishing under Ezra’s leadership. His re-nationalization efforts, the construction of the temple, and the formation of the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly), which became the chief judicial and ruling institution, all played a crucial role in this early success.[6]

In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire. During the period under various Syrian Seleucid rulers, the Jewish people were able to maintain theocratic autonomy. However, in 166 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes decided “that all should be one people, and that each should forsake his own laws” (I Macc. 1:41). He desecrated the temple and attempted to transform it into Zeus Olympios (2 Macc. 6:2). He prohibited worship in the temple and worship of Yahweh.

This attempt to Hellenize the Jews led to revolt. In 164 BCE, two members of the priestly Hasmonean family, Matthathias and his son, Judah the Maccabee, entered Jerusalem and purified the temple. The Jews still celebrate this event each year during the festival of Hannuka. As result of continued Hamonean victories the Seleucid returned Jewish theocracy in 147 BCE, however they were still an occupied nation. Still, by this point the empire had begun to collapse and 129 BCE the Jews of Judea (which the land of Israel was now called) became independent. And remained that way for the next eight decades.[7]


Roman Rule (63 BCE – 73 CE)

Rome replaced the Seleucid empire as the dominant power in Judea. In Roman tradition, the new occupying power allowed the Hasmonean King, Hycanus II, to retain limited amounts of authority. Of course, he was always subject to the Roman governor of Damascus. The Jewish people resented this new occupying power and soon became hostile. Finally, in 40 BCE, led by the Hasmonean, Matthathias Antigonas, the dream of restoring the Hasmonean dynasty and Judea as an independent state was finally snuffed out. With his death, the rule of Hasmonean dynasty ended and Judea officially became a full Roman province.

Three years later, Rome installed Herod, Hycanus II’s son in law as the new King of Judea. During his reign, he had almost unlimited authority in Judea’s internal political and religious affairs. Enamored by Greco-Roman culture, Herod undertook large and grand construction projects. He built the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste. He also was responsible for the contruction of the military fortresses of Herodium and Masada. Perhaps, his grandest achievement was the rebuilding of the temple. “Although, the Greeks counted Ephesus’s Artemis Temple as one of the seven wonders of the world, Jerusalem’s temple was actually far larger and more magnificent. The Jewish temple was one of the most splendid structures of all antiquity and seemed strong and invincible.”[8]


Still, Herod’s strong ties with occupying Roman did little to endear him to the Sanhedrin (the ruling religious body evolved from the Knesset Hagedolah) and the populace at large. Jewish resentment continued to grow. Sporadic outbursts of revolutionary violence occurred throughout Roman occupation of Judea. Most of the revolutionaries responsible were usually caught and killed by Roman authorities.[9]

After Herod’s death in 4 BCE, Rome began to assume more and more direct control over the region. Tensions between the Jews and their Roman occupiers increased. Ten years following the death of Herod, Rome finally assumed direct authority over the province. During this time the seeds of revolt were sown as Rome increasingly infuriated the Jews through their appointing of High Priests.

It was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Caligula that the seeds of revolt began to germinate. In 39 C.E. Caligula declared himself to be a deity. He ordered that all the temples in the empire set up a statue in his image. Naturally, the Jews of Judea refused. In response to Caligula’s threat to destroy the Jewish temple, a delegation was sent to try and appease the infuriated emperor. He is supposedly to have responded by saying, “So you are the enemies of the gods, the only people who refuse to recognize my divinity.”[10] It was only the sudden and untimely death which prevented the emperor from carrying out his threats.

Following the death of Emperor Caligula, the Jewish religion found itself constantly exposed to various demeaning actions by Roman authorities. In one instance soldiers exposed themselves in the center of the temple. On another occasion scrolls of the Torah were destroyed by soldiers who burned them. Such actions, combined with financial exploitations galvanized even the most moderate of the Jewish people.

In 66 CE, the inevitable occurred. The last Roman procurator of the Judean province incited a riot by stealing vast quantities of silver from the Jewish Temple. This incited a riot of the Jewish people who subsequently over ran the garrison of soldiers that were stationed at Jerusalem. When a neighboring province’s procurator sent reinforcements, the mob defeated them as well.

For years, a small radical revolutionary group known as the Zealots had been undermining Roman authority through acts of violence and guerrilla warfare. Embolden by the recent victories, the Jewish populace flocked to this group, swelling its ranks exponentially. Many saw the victories as assurance of God’s hand and design. However, Rome was not to be so easily defeated.

Rome responded with a force of some 60,000 professional soldiers to attack the area of Galilee. Galilee had long been known to be the most radicalized region of Judea.[11] This offensive led to the death or slavery of some 100,000 Jews. The Jewish leadership at Jerusalem did not attempt to offer much in the way of assistance to the Galilean Jews. Instead, their aim seems to be one of Roman appeasement and the limitation of Jewish deaths.[12]

As Rome quickly moved through the region putting down the revolt with brutal efficiency, the refugees made their way to Jerusalem for a final stand. Zealot leaders put to death anyone who advocated Jewish surrender and peace with Rome. By 68 CE, moderate leadership of the Jewish people were all but wiped out by their fellow Jews. In 70 CE, Titus led Roman forces into Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. In 73 CE, the last Jewish resistance was overcome at the Masada Outpost bringing the second temple period to an end.


Messianic Expectations and Temple Theology

            The eleventh chapter of Ezekiel describes a vision of the presence of God leaving Solomon’s temple. Such a prophecy would have been very disheartening to Israelites of Ezekiel’s day. The Israelites had always experienced God’s presence in some form or fashion throughout their history up to this point. On Mt. Sinai it was fire, earthquakes and a thundering voice (Ex 19). In the desert, it was the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night which guided the Israelites (13:22). Even when the tabernacle was formed the cloud and fire remained in the middle of the tabernacle (40:38). So, it should not be strange when Solomon’s temple is completed that God’s presence filled it as well (2 Chr 7:1). So, when Ezekiel tells the people God is leaving them, it would have felt like part of their identity as people was being taken away. Especially when you combine Jeremiah’s admonition to settle into their captivity and build lives in a foreign land (Jer 29:4-9).

Still, Ezekiel does not leave the prophecy with God’s departure. He informs the people that God will return to his temple (Ezk 40-42). Ezekiel not only speaks of the temple being rebuilt, but of God’s presence returning to the temple. This combined with the image of the “one like the Son of Man” found in chapter seven of the book of Daniel would have shaped Jewish messianic expectations in such way that they would have been invariably linked together in the minds of the people. The temple and its ritualistic purity would have been seen as absolutely essential to the coming of the Messiah.

It is no accident that throughout Israel’s history of exile that the greatest revolts have been the result of desecration to the temple. It was the gross abomination by Antiochus Epiphanes that led to the Maccabean revolt. It is no accident that the revolt was led by a priestly family (1&2 Macc). It certainly, not by chance, that it was Jesus’s actions in the temple which provoked the religious establishment to want to kill him (Jn 7)[13]. It’s not a coincidence that the false charge brought at Jesus’s trial was concerning the temple (Mk14:58). Even Stephen’s stoning occurred after his speech on the temple’s inferiority (Acts 7). It was the pilgrimaging of the temple which led directly to the revolt that brought about its destruction. The temple for the Jewish people had become the place from where God’s salvation would emerge. It was the place where His presence would eventually reside forever. It was the symbol of their piousness. It was the mark of their faithfulness to Yahweh.

As noted scholar N. T. Wright has remarked, the temple is “the place where Israel’s true king would build, or cleanse, or restore for Israel’s God to come and dwell there.”[14] In other words, for the Jewish people there could not be a messiah without the God-filled temple, nor could there be a God-filled temple without the messiah. Again as Wright points out, “The last four books of the canon (Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), and in its own way the work of the chronicler all point to the restoration of the Temple under the leadership of a royal (Davidic), or possibly priestly figure.”[15]


The purpose of this post was to briefly discuss the history of the Jewish people during the second temple period. In doing so, it attempted to highlight the significance of the temple and its theology in the formation of messianic expectations. It has been argued that the temple and the coming messiah were so linked in the minds of the Jewish people that it was indirectly responsible for most, if not all of the major Jewish revolts during their exile. It certainly was a factor in the Maccabean revolt and the Great revolt of 66 CE. It played a large part in the crucifixion of Jesus who the religious denied as a Messiah. It is so invariably linked that it may be possible to argue that temple theology and messianic theology are essentially the same thing under different terminology.




“Ancient Jewish History: The Great Revolt (66 – 70 Ce).” JewishVirtualLibrary. Last modified 1998. Accessed 05/06, 2017.


“History: Second Temple Period-Return to Zion.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Last modified 2013. Accessed 05/06, 2017.


Akenson, Donald H. “Winnie the Pooh and the Jesus Seminar.” Queen’s Quarterly 104, no. 4 (1997): 644.


Grabbe, L.L. A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period (Vol. 1): The Persian Period (539-331bce). Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006.


Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.


Sanders, E.P. Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 Bce-66 Ce. SCM Press, 1992.


Wright, N. T., “Jesus at the Crossroads of History.” N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology, 2016,


Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press, 1992.


Wright, N.T. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Fortress Press, 2008.



[1] For examples of such work see E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 Bce-66 Ce (SCM Press, 1992); N.T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Fortress Press, 2008).

[2] For a critique on the inadequacy of the Jesus Seminar methodology see Donald H. Akenson, “Winnie the Pooh and the Jesus Seminar,” Queen’s Quarterly 104, no. 4 (1997): 644.

[3]The timeline comes from “History: Second Temple Period-Return to Zion,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed 05/06, 2017.

[4] All Old Testament references are NIV Looseleaf Bible (Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), unless otherwise noted.

[5] L.L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period (Vol. 1): The Persian Period (539-331bce) (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006), 275.

[6] “History: Second Temple Period-Return to Zion.”

[7] Ibid. Also see 1 Maccabees and Josephus.

[8] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 106.

[9] See the works of Josephus for more information.

[10] “Ancient Jewish History: The Great Revolt (66 – 70 Ce),” JewishVirtualLibrary, accessed 05/06, 2017.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] All New Testament scripture references are N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[14] N. T. Wright, “Jesus at the Crossroads of History” (paper presented at the N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology2016),

[15] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress Press, 1992), 265-66.


Sick is Sick

Recently, I began working at a facility which helps to support and care for mentally disabled adults. The work has been very rewarding in the sense that I get to live out the Gospel and provide for my family at the same time. However, it also has opened my eyes to a glaring error in many Christians way of seeing things.

It is strange to me that people will so easily excuse and forgive the inappropriate actions of mentally diminished. Many of these people would read the riot act towards someone with normal mental capabilities. Yet, they are all too willing to extend grace to someone to whom they feel “should know better.” For a Christian this is hypocrisy, plain and simple.

I can hear the objection already: “Wait a minute, a normal person with a functioning brain has more responsibility for their actions.”

Do they?

Jesus compared to sin to being sick (Mk 2:17). Sin is a disease that has infected the whole creation. It’s why the whole of creation groans for the revealing of the “sons of God” (Rom 8:19-21). The whole creation is sick and dying (Rom 6:23).

“But… But… those with diminished mental capabilities aren’t aware of what they are doing. Normal people are.”

Are they?

Some of the last words of Jesus on the cross were: “Father forgive them, for they are aware of what they do.”

Wait, that’s not right, is it?

It’s “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

It’s simple, we are all sick (Rom 3:23). Christians have accepted the medicine of the Gospel: salvation by grace through Jesus. The world at large still needs the medicine. We shouldn’t be holding people to the standard of condemnation. We should be holding them to the higher standard of grace.

The people I work with don’t realize what they are doing to themselves and others, it is my job as their support to guide them into ways (no matter how many times they commit the same inappropriate action) of behaving which is appropriate. At the same time, I am there to help them meet their goals and aspirations, however simple or complex they maybe. It is our job as Christians to do the same thing with sinners. Sure, we can tell them what they are doing is wrong, but are we redirecting them to what is right — namely, JESUS!




As Christians, we all talk about being righteous or wanting to be righteous. Theologians talk about Christ imputing his righteousness to us. But what is righteousness? What does it mean to be righteous?


A quick survey of dictionaries will give the definition of righteous as follows:

Characterized by uprightness or morality; in accordance with divine or moral laws.

Most of us in the Western Church have tended to view the Biblical concept of righteousness in these terms. However, as N. T. Wright has correctly noted:

Their word for justice, and similar ones like “justify”, and their word for “right”, and others like “righteous”, “righteousness” and so on, came from the same root. Unfortunately, as with “believe” and “faith”, there isn’t an easy way of expressing this in English. Part of the art of reading Romans is learning, when you see one of the words in the group, to hold the others in your mind as well.”[1]

Righteousness in the Bible is not merely the upholding of some divine or moral law (though it does include those things.) It is the faithfulness of God to do what He said he would do. Therefore I propose the following definition:

Righteousness is the faithfulness of God to set the world right through the Abrahamic Covenant and the life, work and ministry of Jesus.


What does it mean for believers to be righteous?

Paul tells us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21, NIV). Another translation puts it this way, “The Messiah did not know sin, but God made him to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might embody God’s faithfulness to the covenant (Wright, KNT). In other words, our lives, words, and deeds should demonstrate that God is “setting things right.” It means that as believers, we should see progress in areas of life where things have improved.

Now, I am certainly not advocating that coming to Jesus means instantaneous perfection. God works and sets things right on his own timing, not ours. Still, we and others should be able to look on our life and see the areas in which God has been working to mold you into the human being you were always intended to be.

Have you become God’s righteousness? Can others say, they see a marked change which they can’t explain? If not; we might want to consider where our relationship with God stands. But like always, He is standing there ready to start from where ever you are and “set things right.” Yes, you too can “become the righteousness of God.”


Wright, Nicholas Thomas. Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One: Chapters 1-8. Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.



[1] Nicholas Thomas Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One: Chapters 1-8 (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 12.


The Missing Equilibrium of the Church

In this post, I want to do something out of the norm. While all exegesis contains some subjectivity in one form or another, most serious biblical scholars attempt to stab at the truth through what they see as objective evidence. In this case, I am making no pretense that this is anyway an objective opinion. It is simply a gut feeling. It is subjectivity at the highest level. I won’t be offering much in the way of scriptural support. What little scriptures I do offer (if any) will be those passages in which I FEEL point to what my thoughts are. Plenty of you might find what I think to be wrong. I am okay with this. To paraphrase N. T. Wright, a quarter of what I think is wrong, I don’t know which quarter it is.


Here of recent, my wife and I have been reading Luke-Acts. As we are progressing through the books (we are on chapter 16 of Acts) I cannot shake this one strong impression: The modern church in America has lost an equilibrium which the Church of Acts possessed. This equilibrium was a balance of bold political opposition tempered with grace and a gospel driven mission empowered by the Holy Spirit. In my experience, churches have either fallen on side of the scale or the other.


Church’s today seem reluctant to rock the boat. They are afraid to announce that since the resurrection, we have been living in a theocracy. We (and I include myself in this) live under the delusion that America was a Christian nation. We are no more a Christian nation than Rome was a Christian Empire under Constantine. Sure, Constantine may have converted, but the reality was that the Roman empire was essentially pagan in culture and lifestyle. The reality is America never was a Christian nation. Our arrogance is astounding.

But I digress, some of today’s churches fight in meaningless legal battles (not to say all battles are meaningless) but many of them are a loss from the outset. Maybe its not legal battles maybe its picketing abortion clinics or some other cause. Energies and resources which may be better spent on improving social conditions from the ground up.

Now let me be clear, I am not saying that it is wrong to defend a living fetus who can’t defend its self. However, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the mother who is no less precious than the unborn child. Jesus didn’t spend three nights in the grave for us to pick and choose who is worth the effort and grace. He came to extend grace, love, and forgiveness to all.


On the other hand, some churches spend so much time and effort on sharing the love of God that they neglect announcing Jesus is Lord! They fail to announce the most basic message of the Gospel – The Messiah, the eternal king of the world, descendant of David has taken up his throne. This message should catapult the Church into the political arena. It is here where governmental oppression should be fought. They should push their governmental leaders to enact policies which show mercy to the poor and justice to weak. Yet too many times the church’s agenda is too simply deal with the symptoms and not be the solution Jesus called us to be. Ever wonder why Paul was so determined to get to Rome? He wanted to confront Caesar with the Gospel. Jesus is Lord! Caesar is not!

The Church needs to get back to the equilibrium expressed in Acts. We need to be ready to announce the subversive news that Jesus reigns without neglecting social issues of poverty, injustice, hunger etc.… Let’s get back to being the Church!


A Theological Quandry: Denying Christ

In this post I would like to invite my readers to post their opinions and thoughts. I will not necessarily be giving my own conclusion as I have not come to one concerning the problem I intend to present. Having said that, let’s get on with it…

I recently watched a movie called Silence. The movie follows two Jesuit priests who go looking for a lost priest who supposedly apostatized in medieval Japan. Without spoiling the movie for those who haven’t yet seen it, the movie asks a very provocative question: What does it mean to deny Christ?

Matthew’s Gospel records “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (10:33). But suppose you are in a country which has outlawed Christianity spreading the Gospel. You are captured by the authorities. You prepare yourself for martyrdom; instead of treating you cruelly they actually are somewhat kind. Sure, you are imprisoned; but you get three square meals a day. Yet day after day, for weeks or months, you are forced to watch the Christian you have brought to Christ tortured and killed in the most horrific ways. You are told by the authorities that if you deny Christ, they will stop killing the Christians. The authorities have also made it clear that you will not be killed because they have figured out that martyrdom only increases belief in the Gospel Now, you have been in the country long enough to know keeping their word is an integral part of their culture and you have every reason to believe that what they say they will do will come to past.

The question I pose to my readers is this: Is it denying Christ in public for the purpose saving the lives of an unknown amount of Christians acceptable before God, if in your heart you maintain your belief?

I would appreciate your candid and frank responses. However, I do ask that disagreements be handled in Christlike and Christian manner.


The Necessity of Baptism (A Response)


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I recently read a post entitled The Necessity of Baptism in which the author argues very convincingly that baptism is a necessary step in the process of salvation. Early on in my faith I, too, questioned whether baptism was necessary or merely optional. At the time, my decision to get baptism was determined less by a conviction of its necessity and more by a desire to follow Jesus’s example. However, for those out there who might be wondering what the scriptures say I feel a response is necessary.

The author cites many examples in the Bible where baptism immediately follows a confession in Christ. He then makes the following statement:

Before I get to the next common argument, let me also suggest to you since we were just looking at Acts, to go observe every instance of salvation in Acts. I’ve read the whole book of Acts very carefully, and I can confidently say that you will not find one instance of salvation, where baptism was not conducted as a part of the process.

However, Acts 10 gives us the story of Cornelius, the first converted Gentile. Verses 44-47 says:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

Now Paul tells us,

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14).

What does that tell us? It tells us that before the baptism of Cornelius, which does not occur until verse 48 of Acts 10, that he had received the deposit of his salvation. Hence, he was already promised salvation. In fact Peter says the reason for the baptism is because he had been saved. Therefore, salvation cannot be a part of the process of salvation.

In summing up, baptism is not required for salvation. It is the symbolic acceptance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is the announcement of committed faith. It is the sign of the New Covenant. Just as Abraham’s circumcision was not required his God-given promise to be fulfilled, but was a sign that he believed God would fulfill it. Baptism is not a requirement to be saved, rather it is an outward display that the believer truly believes he is saved.


Announcing the Gospel!


Jesus is Lord!


Christianity is not some “feel-good” inner spirituality. It is not some rescue operation for to save us from some horrible fate which occurs after death. It is not merely a religion which promotes social improvement projects. Christianity is the announcement of the gospel. But what exactly is the gospel? To be sure the gospel includes an element of inner spirituality. The scriptures are clear that Christ came to rescue us from sin and the second death. We are commanded to take care of the poor and the social outcasts (James 1:27). Yet, this is not what the gospel is. These are all consequences of the gospel. These are things which should happen because of the gospel. So, what is the gospel?

The gospel is the announcement that God’s along awaited, justice bringing, and creation restoring kingdom is here (Col 2:10). It is the redefining of power of and authority to claim that the world is now under a theocracy. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, Jesus is now the king of the world. This kingdom is a present reality and challenges the status quo. Certainly, you don’t have to believe this kingdom is real. You don’t have to want to be a citizen of the kingdom. You don’t even have to like the kingdom. All of which is your right. However, your right does not nullify the reality of the kingdom. IT IS REAL!

So, what does this mean for us who choose to be a part of this kingdom. It means we are included in its establishment. It means that we are called to hold governments to accountability. It means we, too, are to announce the theocracy of Jesus to family, friends, strangers, and government officials. It means we are to work to bring about God’s social justice and equality. It means we have the authority to achieve this end (Matt 28:18; Rom 8:17).

The question still remains: how are we to achieve this end? We are to be the meek. We are to be the ones who thirst and hunger for God’s justice. We are to be the comforted mourners. We are to be the persecuted We are to be the mercy obtaining merciful. We are to be the peaceful children of God (Matt 5:1-12). In short, we are to be the evidence of God’s faithfulness (2 Cor 5:21).  We are to announce Jesus is Lord!