Irrelevance of the American Church: The Message

his-response-was-remarkable-for-its-irrelevance-if-for-nothing-else-quote-1In my last post, I suggested that the American Church had lost relevance with the culture. I promised that in the subsequent postings I would give what I considered to be the reasons this irrelevance has occurred.


First up: The Message.


The first reason the church has lost relevance is because our message has been watered down to an Epicurean, Platonic escapist salvation message. This message is not only watered down, it is not even the Gospel.


Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel is the power which brings about salvation. This means that it cannot be salvation, itself. A thing cannot both be the result of a power and be the power itself. This means that escaping to Heaven cannot be the Gospel. So, what is the Gospel Message?


Romans 1:3-5 tells us that “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”


So, the message is that Jesus is Lord, and no one else is. The Church has surrendered the Earth over to the enemy awaiting some miraculous escape, when the Bible tells us the exact opposite. Jesus has become Lord and inherited all things from the Father (Matt 28:18). The Kingdom has been inaugurated and is here. The crown of thorns, the scarlet robe, the broken reed his ordination. Jesus is King! Jesus is Lord! Not in some future, but now. We are his advance team announcing his reign.


However, in this age of personal Jesus’s and separation of Church and State the church has become timid in the political arena. Instead of working towards proper setting the world right justice, they have become more concerned about whether evolution or creationism is taught. Whether prayer should be allowed in school. They should be concerned about how they are going to find a permanent solution to homelessness, hunger, and lack of educational opportunities, ect…
Does the Church want to be relevant again? Start by bringing the Gospel which challenges the status quo. Start by announcing Jesus as Lord and not an escape pod. Start by saying Jesus in Lord!



The Irrelevance of the American Church


Look at the following statistics: [1]


  • 33% percent of Americans accept the idea of absolute moral truth.
  • Only 49% of Born-again Christians accept the idea of absolute moral truth.
  • 31% percent of Born-again Christians agree with the statement, “A good person can earn his/her way into heaven.”


Shocking, isn’t it?


Barna describes three kinds of Christians:


Evangelicals “say they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” that their faith is very important in their life today; believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; firmly believe that Satan exists; strongly believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; strong agree that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; strong assert that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.”[2]


Non-Evangelicals “say they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, they do not accept all of the remaining seven conditions that categorize someone as an evangelical.”[3]


Barna identifies a third group which are known as Notional Christians. However one would be hard pressed to find anything which one could use to identify them as Christian. According to Barna, this group “are people who consider themselves to be Christian but they have not made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” or believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.”[4]


Ready for more disturbing statistics?

  • Only 6% of Americans are Evangelical
  • 25% of Americans are Non-Evangelical
  • 40% of Americans are Notional


Can we honestly say that the Church is relevant in America today? I think one would be hard pressed to make such an assertion. It is my aim over the next few posts to identify what I believe to be the biggest areas in which the American Church has failed and to offer proposed solutions to these failures. The irrelevancy of the Church must not become just accepted part of life. We must and can do something. Jesus was single most important figure in human history. It’s a shame to think he is being reduced to nothing more than an academic exercise in spirituality. I pray that over the next few posts that God will wake some of the Evangelicals up and revival of Christian relevance will explode. In Jesus Name, Amen.


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Group, Barna. “How We Got Here: Spiritual and Political Profiles of America.” Barna Group. Last modified 2017. Accessed September 10, 2017.


Moreau, A.S., G.R. Corwin, and G.B. McGee. Introducing World Missions (Encountering Mission): A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Baker Publishing Group, 2015.



[1] Cited in A.S. Moreau, G.R. Corwin, and G.B. McGee, Introducing World Missions (Encountering Mission): A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 14-15.

[2] Barna Group, “How We Got Here: Spiritual and Political Profiles of America,” Barna Group, accessed September 10, 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


A Study of the Life of The Apostle Peter

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Peter may arguably be the second most important person named in the New Testament. Certainly, a case could be made for the Apostle Paul and his thirteen epistles, however, Peter is named over a hundred and fifty times in the New Testament, ranking him second, fittingly, to the name of Jesus. He was a man of an impetuous nature which caused him to him to be paradoxically suited and unfit for leadership at the same time. It is this essential quirk of his nature which makes Peter a perfect and interesting subject for the purposes of a biographical study.

The purpose of any biographical study is to more fully understand practical and applicable life lessons from the life of the subject under study. Therefore, this paper will systematically investigate the biographical information of the Apostle Peter which are reported within scripture. While the primary focus of the investigation will be centered on the nature of Peter’s experiences as related in the four Gospel accounts, this paper will supplement these accounts with appropriate scriptural references which fall outside of the Gospels. Additionally, outside scholarly sources will be investigated as appropriate. The goal of this methodology will be to demonstrate how God qualified Peter to be the leader of His Church and to provide a greater understanding of how Peter is portrayed in the New Testament.

 The Call to Discipleship

Customarily, a biographical study begins with an account of the subject’s birth or early childhood. At the very least, the study would present the reader with a genealogical list. While this tradition is beneficial as it provides historical and cultural background through which the reader may better understand the person being study. However, this paper will unorthodoxically begin with the “call of Peter”; since by the time the reader is introduced within scriptures, he is already a grown Jew with a wife. This literary difficulty necessitates that the study proceeds from the origination of Peter’s preparation which as will be discussed starts with his place within Jewish society.

Common Man

“Peter’s preparation consisted first of all in the fact that he was a man of the common people.”[1] In other words, there was nothing to necessarily separate Peter out as anything special. Peter was merely a Jew who lived in or around the city of Capernaum. His occupation was a simple fisherman. On the surface, there was nothing to indicate that Peter would accomplish anything other than to labor out a living for his family before eventually dying as a subject under Roman rule.

Still, Peter’s commonality shows God’s providence in preparing this future Christian leader in three significant ways. First, Capernaum was a significant commercial city. As Grey notes:

By the time of Jesus and Peter in the early first century AD, Capernaum was situated on the border of two realms: the Jewish tetrarchy of Herod Antipas to the west (in which Capernaum was located) and the predominantly Gentile tetrarchy of Herod Philip to the east. Because of its new status as a border town, Capernaum’s fishing and farming population expanded to include officials from Antipas’ administration, such as toll/tax collectors (see Mark 2:13–17; Matthew 9:9–13; Luke 5:27–32) and military officers (see Matthew 8:5–13; Luke 7:1–10). The growing village’s proximity to the lake and a local trade route also brought interregional traffic and may have attracted less reputable elements of society, such as prostitutes and beggars.[2]

Such an eclectic mixture of societal personages would have given Peter experience in dealing with people from various backgrounds. Such experience would be useful for a leader who would oversee an international organization.

The next way in which we find God’s providence in Peter’s call to leadership through his commonality is simply his Jewishness. Peter was a common Jew who shared the common expectations of the coming Jewish Messiah. This is can be seen by Peter’s quick (and perhaps impetuous) positive response to his brother’s assertion that “We’ve found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:40-43, KNT). [3] Such immediate response would be unlikely if Peter had no notion of the Messiah.

Finally, God’s providence in Peter’s preparation is seen in his occupation as a fisherman. Such an occupation, especially on the Sea of Galilee, required a certain amount of bravery and heroism. Also, the manual labor which such an occupation required would develop a hardy constitution for the experiences which the evangelistic and persecuted life that the church leader would later endure.[4] Additionally while Peter may or may not have been considered wealthy, fishing as an occupation provided a sufficient income to support his family during the three and half years in which he followed Jesus. Keener notes that the text in John’s account does not indicate any other exegesis other than Peter “left a behind relatively well-paying” occupation.[5]

The First Indication of Peter’s Impetuous Nature

The Gospel accounts present three different perspectives concerning the call of Peter. Matthew and Luke’s account are similar in that they place Peter’s call simultaneously with Andrew, his brother (Mt 4:18-22; Lk 5:1-11). However, Luke’s account implies that Peter was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah (vs. 8-11). Yet, John’s evidence suggests that Andrew prior to the call had introduced Jesus as the Messiah based upon John the Baptist recommendation (Jn 1:35-42). Peter, then, seemingly rejects this notion. It isn’t until later, as evidenced by Luke’s account, that Jesus is recognized by Peter as the Messiah. This occurs as a result of the miraculous catch of fish to which Peter replies, “Leave me, Lord! I’m a sinner!” (Lk 5:8) This reply echoes Isaiah 6:5;[6] after which Peter immediately responds to Jesus call.

This response gives the reader a glimpse of the impetuous nature of Peter which would re occur in later events. Peter’s initial rejection hastily turned to affirmation in a relatively short period of time. However, John’s Gospel may hint at second thoughts as Peter seems to disappear from the Gospel narrative. Indeed, Brad Blaine, suggests that an entire year may have passed in the Gospel timeline between Peter’s call to discipleship and his first vocal words.[7] This should not suggest that Peter was not being qualified by God. As Blaine also notes, “[H]e shows that he has not been idle in his discipleship.”[8]

There is one last factor that must be mentioned in regard to Peter’s call and his impetuous nature. The reader must not assume that Jesus’s request to follow him was a mere request. R. T. France suggests, “What Jesus issues here is not even an invitation, but rather a demand. Such a summons is more typical of a prophet than of a rabbi.”[9] It must also be remembered that such a summons would have required to most likely leave behind a wife and any kids Peter might have had. This would have made the decision to give up a sustaining job like fishermen in a society which consisted primarily of the “rich and powerful” and the “downtrodden poor.” The middle class was virtually non-existent in the Roman Empire. Additionally, the culture of both Jews and Greeks emphasized the taking care of one’s extended blood lines. “[S]uch abandonment could easily bring them dishonor in the community.”[10] Therefore, Peter’s quick decision to follow Jesus, highlights the impetuousness of his nature.


Two Key Points:

Peter, having decided to enter the discipleship of Jesus, experiences a number of successes and failures as part of his equipping to become the head of the future church. However, when examining these experiences, it is important to keep in mind two significant points. First, it is of tremendous significance to remember that Peter, like all of the disciples, had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Although it may be argued that the Spirit was given when Jesus sends the Twelve out to Israel with the authority to heal and cast out demons (Mt 10:1; Mk 6:7-13; Lk 9:1). However, this seems to be a temporary empowering of the Holy Spirit as was common throughout the Old Testament.[11] This seems especially true given the future events of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit indwells within the disciples (Acts 2).

The second significant point of remembrance is that Peter’s failures were not the result of some personal sin. While one may argue that any failures are the result of the sin nature common to all human beings through Adam (Rom 5:12-21); they certainly were not caused by any specific sin which Peter may have exhibited. In no way, did Peter transgress the law which is the Biblical definition of sin (1 Jn 3:4).

Failures and Successes

Continuing on the premise that Peter’s failures were not the result of some specific sin, nor was his success a result of the Holy Spirit; the impetus for these experiences must be the result of some characteristic which is to be found inherent within his nature. It has been suggested that this characteristic was Peter’s impetuousness. As noted previously, the Gospel accounts highlight this quality within Peter by offering a glimpse with their accounts of his call to discipleship. It is fitting, at this juncture then, to take a closer look at how this particular trait of Peter’s factored into his various decisions and experiences.

Walking On Water

Matthew’s account records this amazing incident where Peter walks on water. (Mt 14:22-36).  There are several unique features of this narrative which highlight both God’s equipping and Peter’s hasty nature. However, many have taught that Peter’s request was a moral shortcoming on Peter’s behalf. Barnes concurs with this exegesis: “Here is an instance of the characteristic ardor and rashness of Peter. He had less real faith than he supposed, and more ardor than his faith would justify. He was rash, headlong, incautious, really attached to Jesus, but still easily daunted and prone to fall.”[12] However, it must be noted that Jesus does not rebuke the request, rather he grants it. (v. 29) This would suggest then, that although Peter’s request was the result of his “characteristic impulsive manner,”[13] such a request was not sinful or Jesus simply would not have granted it.

Still others have suggested that this narrative is a commendation of Peter’s faith in stepping out of the boat. Boiling this narrative down to a simple keep your eyes on Jesus lesson.[14] The real point of this narrative is not that Peter walked on water and failed when he doubted by looking at the waves rather than Jesus (v. 29). This was Jesus teaching his disciples the essence of the Gospel, which is not that Jesus saves (although it’s true he does). No, the essence of the Gospel is simply this, Jesus is Lord; no one else is.[15] Jesus was demonstrating what the disciples would proclaim, “You really are God’s son!” (v. 33)

Peter’s Revelation

The revelation to Peter of the identity of Jesus is perhaps the crux of Peter’s life. Though it may be argued that his restoration was more significant. Still, it cannot be denied that without this revelation the restoration never comes about. It seems likely that this point in which Peter ends his second thoughts and commits to the Messiah.

Peter’s revelation served as an ordination of sorts. His proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah conferred upon him the authority of God’s kingdom (Mt 16:16, 18-19). It also signified that God had called Peter as the leader of the Church. Peter’s hasty nature led him to proclaim this faster than most of other disciples and in a fuller way than even that of his brother Andrew. The proclamation also signified the moment of revelation of Jesus’s death and subsequent resurrection (v. 21).

Once again, Peter’s initial success is short lived. Peter’s hastiness results in a rebuke. As Jesus begins to instruct his followers on His death and subsequent resurrection, Peter immediately get in the way of the death without hearing the resurrection. He cries out, “That’s the last thing God would want, Master! That’s never ever going to happen to you!” (v. 22) Jesus rebuke of Satan rather than Peter indicates that the impetuous nature of his lead disciple is being used to train him for leadership, Satan can use the same quality for his purposes. Peter was in step with Jesus’s identity, not his destiny (v. 23).


As noted, Peter (and presumably the rest of the disciples) had come to accept Jesus’s identity, but still had to accept his destiny. The purpose of the transfiguration was to train the three most prominent leaders of the first Christians on that destiny. This explains while Peter, John, and James were chosen to experience the event. These three, especially Peter, were going to need to see Jesus in his glory if they were going to persevere through the trials and persecutions of the early church. Without this vision, it seems unlikely that the early church would have remained unified as long as it did. Still, by the late first century and early second the breaking up of the early fellowship has already begun.[16]

Despite the extraordinary significance of the transfiguration appearance to these disciples, Peter’s impulsiveness makes the scene almost comical. Jesus is standing there in full shekinah glory, talking with Moses and Elijah (17:1-3). Here is the first stage of the two-stage post-mortem resurrection being demonstrated and instead of listening, what does Peter do?[17] He talks. He wants to do something. Sitting there watching and learning is just not an option for Peter (v. 4). One can almost imagine the others rolling their eyes as Peter speaks out of turn. Certainly, neither Jesus nor the Father acknowledge the request. The command afterwards to tell no one of the vision is as much for Peter as anyone (v.9).

Washing of Feet

The washing of feet by Jesus was more than a simple demonstration of servant love (Jn. 13:1-17).  It is in John’s gospel the means by which power will be redefined in God’s kingdom.[18] The kingdom will not come by force but through sacrificial love. In typical Petrine fashion, Peter first tries to rashly prevent Jesus from performing such a degrading act (v. 8). After Jesus rebukes Peter once more, Peter then hastily over compensates. Peter now wants Jesus to wash his entire body (v. 9). Jesus responds that this is unnecessary (v. 10). The important thing here for Peter is not that Jesus washed anything. God is training Peter as well as the rest of the disciples to understand the power shift of God’s kingdom. Force will not be necessary. Nor will the Kingdom advance through political assaults and connections. No, it is the simple act of love which will storm the gates of Hades, and depose Caesar as lord. This why Jesus commands the washing of feet as a reminder of how kingdom people are to advance in hostile territory (vs. 12-15).

Garden of Gethsemane

The garden narrative has several interesting features concerning Peter development. First, Jesus takes the three disciples who are to be the cornerstone of the early church with him to the garden. He commands them to keep watch while he prays (Mt 26:36-39). When he returns, he finds all three disciples asleep (v. 40). This is a little odd seeing how it was Passover, and Jews were accustomed to staying up on this particular night in their celebrations. Keener notes: “It was customary to stay awake late on the Passover night and to speak of God’s redemption. They should have been able to stay awake and keep watch; they had probably stayed up late on most other Passovers of their lives.”[19] Yet upon his return, Jesus only calls out Peter (vs. 40-41). The reason for this simple, with the experience of the revelation, Peter had been placed in a role where he was now held responsible for their actions of the entire church. Jesus’s church had been inaugurated at the moment of proclamation. Peter’s leadership role held him as the responsible party.

The next momentous experience for Peter in the Garden is the cutting off of the High Priest’s servant ear. (Jn 18:10). Peter rash action here shows that he certainly did not understand the lesson of the washing of the feet; nor did he learn with his revelation of Jesus identity. Yet Jesus’s rebuke here is an interesting one. He does not rebuke Peter for trying to stop the will of God. Instead, he says, “Don’t you realize that I could call on my father and have him send me more than twelve legions of angels, just like that? But how then can the Bible come true when it says this has to happen” (Mt 26:53-54). Peter did not do wrong by attempting force. Again, he did not sin. Rather, Jesus tells him that the methodology of the advancement of the Kingdom is His prerogative. If it was not, Jesus would not have said that the Father would have honored His request. Again, Jesus is demonstrating the Gospel. He is showing that the methodology of his kingship will be through the suffering servant. This is by His choice, not the Father’s; nor the Holy Spirit. It is by this definition of Power that He will be coronated as Lord. This is what the disciples must come to understand, especially Peter.

Denial and Restoration

It may be correctly noted that the discussion so far as skipped over the prediction of Peter’s denial. For the sake of clarity and unity, this essay will discuss this experience in conjunction with actual event predicted and the subsequent restoration. Other than perhaps the receiving of the revelation, no other event affected Peter than of course his denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest. Such an important event was this that all four Gospel accounts give evidence to it (Mt 26:31-35, 69-75; Mk 14:27-31, 66-72; Lk 22:32, 54-62; Jn 13:31-38, 18:15-27). However, it is Luke’s account that is most relevant for this study.

Luke’s account describes an interesting paradigm in that it seems that the satan wanted to use Peter to betray rather than Judas (22:31). However, this reality does not absolve Peter of his only failure as a result of sin – lying (vs. 54-62). Still, the satan is known as the accuser (Rev 12:10). Up until now, he had nothing upon which to build his case; however, the satan must have also had foreknowledge of Peter’s up-coming sin for he demanded that Peter be turned over to him (v. 31). This event rocked Peter to the core that all four gospels describe him as “weeping” (Mt 26:75; Mk 14:72; Lk 22:62; Jn 18:27). Peter most certainly must have thought what right did He have to lead the others.

While all four gospels focus on the prediction of Peter’s denial, only Luke mentions that Jesus also predicts his restoration (Lk 22:31). This restoring event occurs after Jesus has suffered the cross and been raised from the dead. Peter and John had already examined the empty tomb (Jn 20:1-10). Jesus had already shown himself to the disciples twice (vs. 19-29). Apparently, Jesus had left again and the disciples were waiting for his return. Peter decides to go fishing with some of the other disciples (21:2-4). The unique thing about John’s narrative here is that none of the disciples recognize Jesus as He calls out to them from the shore (v.4). It isn’t until the miracle of the catch of fish that John recognizes Jesus as Jesus. Peter does not recognize Jesus, but at John’s recognition Peter acts typically Peter by jumping into the water and swimming to shore (v.7).

Once all the disciples are on shore, Jesus begins the process of restoring Peter (vs. 15-17). He does not condemn Peter. He simply forces Peter to admit that He did not act in full love towards the Messiah. He commissions Peter to take care of his fellow Christians. Once again, restoring Peter to his role, in front of the others of authority and leadership.

The Selection of Matthias

This study of Peter must fittingly conclude with Peter’s first act as church leader – namely the selection of Matthias to replace Judas. This account is not found in the Gospels, but rather in Luke’s second volume, The Acts of the Apostles. Jesus final command to the disciples before his ascension was “not to go away from Jerusalem, but to wait… for the father’s promise, which I was telling you about earlier” (1:4, author’s emphasis). Peter being Peter, simply could not sit back and wait. He rashly felt that the number of Apostles had to be fulfilled right then and there. A replacement for Judas had to be chosen “for its symbolic message about the restoration of God’s people” (vs. 15-26)[20]

The rest of the disciples agreed despite the fact Jesus had clearly told them to wait. So, under Peter’s guidance the disciples chose Matthias. While it may be argued that replacing Judas was a logical step, it does not appear to be God’s design. This is evidenced by the amount of historical evidence that have been preserved on Matthias in comparison to God’s choice, Saul (Paul) of Tarsus.[21] While thirteen of the letters of Paul have been canonized, there is very little historical data outside the first chapter of Acts concerning Matthias. It must be conceded that God did not prevent Peter’s action, however, this may only imply that God’s sovereign choice was to honor Peter’s authority rather than condemn act.


 The biographical study of Peter, as discussed in this essay, has demonstrated three very important features about the apostle. First, it shows that Peter was an ordinary man. He was a common Israelite, with a common occupation that provided a sufficient income for his family and nothing more. Peter was not a man of wealth and influence. He was not a natural born leader. He made rash decisions that usually got him rebuked or in trouble. Second, except for the denial of Jesus, these rash decisions were not the result of any specific sin, such as pride or faithlessness. No, rather, they were inherent within his personality. His rashness was no more wrong than a negative outlook by a person who is inherently pessimistic. Finally, despite all the failures, there were also success which point to the providence of God to develop the leader He had chosen. Lewis sums up Peter’s life brilliantly:

“To be sure, his ability may have been merely the happy complex of that variety of talents and experiences which have just been recalled. If so, all the better, since we thus see that efficiency is not a detached, unrelated endowment, but rather the union of ordinary qualities in a ready and responsive soul. Even Peter’s so-called fickleness became a means of might, for the fickleness was really an index of the enthusiastic nature that carried him over difficulties before which calculating minds would have stopped appalled. No other except the impulsive Simon could have been at once both the embodiment of the Adversary and the incarnation of the Rock on which the church should rest (Matt. 16: 16-23).”[22]

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Niv Looseleaf Bible. Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Barnes, A. Barnes Notes on the Nt (Barnes). Kregel Publications.

Blaine, B. Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple. Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.

Guzik, D. Matthew. ENDURING WORD MEDIA, 2012.

Jr., Walter Kaiser. “The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.” In Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies, edited by Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies, 38-47. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Judd, F.F., E.D. Huntsman, and S. Hopkin. The Ministry of Peter, the Chief Apostle: The 43rd Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. Deseret Book Company, 2014.

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

Lewis, Frank Grant. “Peter’s Place in the Early Church.” The Biblical World 33, no. 3 (1909): 191-200.

Radmacher, D., R.B. Allen, and H.W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Wood, L.J. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998.

Wright, N. T., “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels.” January Series, Calvin College, 2012.

Wright, N. T., “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story.” Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California, 2016.

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

Wright, N.T. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. HarperCollins, 2011.



[1] Frank Grant Lewis, “Peter’s Place in the Early Church,” The Biblical World 33, no. 3 (1909): 191,

[2] Matthew J. Grey, “Simon Peter in Capernaum: An Archaeological Survey of the First-Century Village,” in F.F. Judd, E.D. Huntsman, and S. Hopkin, The Ministry of Peter, the Chief Apostle: The 43rd Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Deseret Book Company, 2014), 27-66.

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

[4] Lewis,  191.

[5] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 130-31.

[6] Unless otherwise noted, all Old Testament References are  Niv Looseleaf Bible (Hendrickson Publishers, 2004).

[7] B. Blaine, Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 30.

[8] Ibid.

[9] R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press, 1985).

[10] Keener is referencing James in John with this quote. However, the same societal pressures would apply to Peter as well. Keener and Press, 54-55.

[11] The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is strongly debated among biblical scholars. For more on this debate, see Walter Kaiser Jr., “The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament,” in Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies, ed. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). L.J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998).

[12] A. Barnes, Barnes Notes on the Nt (Barnes) (Kregel Publications), 69.

[13] D. Radmacher, R.B. Allen, and H.W. House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1167.

[14] Guzik offers this exegesis, see D. Guzik, Matthew (ENDURING WORD MEDIA, 2012).

[15] N. T. Wright, “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels” (paper presented at the January Series, Calvin College2012).

[16] Paul deals with these issues in several of his letters. See 1 & 2 Corinthians, Phillipians, and Colossians

[17] For explanation of the two-stage post-mortem resurrection, See N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003).

[18] N. T. Wright, “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story” (paper presented at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California2016).

[19] Keener and Press, 115-16.

[20] Ibid., 320-21.

[21] Paul’s selection as Apostle is recorded in Acts 9:10-42

[22] Lewis,  193.


A Response to Barton Jahn

In a previous post entitled, Jesus’ Trinitarian Freedom,  I suggested that Jesus was free not to go to the Cross, in the sense that it was not ordained by the Father, but was freely ordained by the Word through the Holy Spirit in the form of scripture. I suggested this on Matthew’s Gospel which suggests that the father would allow Jesus to use force to bring about salvation and the kingdom. I, further, suggested that “thy will be done was not a response to a response of “no,” but rather part of the question itself (See Matt 26:39). It seems likely that the Father’s response was either a “yes” or “whatever you decide” rather than no in light of the events which occur after the prayer (vs. 47-53).(vs. 47-53).

Barton Jahn states in his post, No Shadow of Turning in Perfect Love (James 1:17):

In Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus loses some of His individuality…His personal request to the Father to “remove this cup of suffering.”  But in the highest and most sublime sense, in doing so, He gains back His individuality in defining Himself as the sacrificial atonement for sin, the Lamb of God Savior for all eternity.

In what way did Jesus lose his identity? Jesus identity was bound, by his self-determination, to the scriptures. Jesus said that scriptures revealed his identity both as God and the incarnate man (Jn 5:39-40). This is why Jesus says to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel so that scripture might be fulfilled He won’t use force. At no point did Jesus ever lose his identity, if such were the case he would cease to be the Word and the man. His deferment to the Father’s overall plan of a temple-kingdom, did not require; nor need Jesus to lose his identity. Jesus was perfectly capable of bringing about the Kingdom by any means He chose. While the Cross demonstrates God’s love for his creation; it does not make it a necessity; except that the scriptures which ordained it as the methodology required being filled (Rom 5:8). This ordination was a choice, self-imposed by the Word. Which is why Paul would say that Jesus became obedient even to death on a cross. (Phil 2:8)

While I concur with most of Jahn’s claim in his post. I think there is a serious theological flaw in some of his reasoning. I invite others to enter into this discussion and share their thoughts, including Jahn, himself.


Jesus’ Trinitarian Freedom


Most of the time, when I write a blog, I am at least 85% sure of the truth behind its content. At the very least, I feel as though I have shown something by the Holy Spirit to discover and seek out. This post is different in that I am not exactly sure what it is that is disturbing my Spirit. With that being said, I want to describe a challenging scripture which has rocked me to the core. I hope those you of who read this will be kind enough to give me your feed back and opinions. Without much more ado, what follows is my line of thinking:


In Matthew’s account we read the following: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt 26:53-54)[1]


To put in context, Jesus and his disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas has just betrayed Jesus. In typical Petrine fashion, Peter acts without thinking and cuts off the High Priest’s servant’s ear. This is Jesus’ rebuke to Peter.


So now, Jesus previously before that has asked the Father to remove the cup from his lips. During his prayer, he utters the famous words. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (v. 39). He then prays a second time asking, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (v.42)



Here’s the conundrum: If the Father had already said “NO” to Jesus when praying why then did Jesus say the Father would send angels if He asked. This would mean that the Father would go against His own decree.


The logical answer is simply this: Jesus had freedom to decide to use force and not go to the cross. Jesus does not say that He won’t ask for angels because the Father had said “NO.” Rather He says it’s because of the scriptures.Legion


This means that the absolute final decision to go to the cross was made by Jesus in the garden. Up until that time, Jesus had the freedom of will to use other means to accomplish the goal of establishing the Kingdom.


Now, I realize that what I am writing goes against conservative exegesis. I am not even 85% percent sure I am right. But as N. T. Wright is fond of saying, “A quarter of what I say is wrong, I just don’t know which quarter it is.”[2] Still, If Jesus spoke only truth (which He did) and he says the Father would send them if He asked, then that is what the Father would do. He had a freedom of choice concerning the methodology.


Conclusion: There is a freedom within the Trinitarian relationship that has been overlooked in conservative Biblical scholarship and exegesis. The Father is less domineering than has been traditionally taught, and Jesus less submissive (in the sense that He only did what the Father had already decided, not in the submission of will) than has been taught.


I look forward to your comments and thoughts on this.



Holy Bible (Niv). Zondervan, 2008.


Wright, N. T., “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story.” Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California, 2016.



[1] Unless otherwise noted all scripture is Holy Bible (Niv) (Zondervan, 2008).

[2] N. T. Wright, “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story” (paper presented at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California2016).


The Incarnation in Reverse

I would like to begin this post with a listing of several scriptures:


John 17:21- that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Romans 8:14-17- For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

1 Corinthians 3:21-22- So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

12:44-49- it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

1 John 3:2- Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.


Now, what do all these scriptures have in common? They all speak of our future glory. They are the New Testament writers attempts at describing what it will be like once we are transformed. The common theme in all of them is that we will be DEIFIED!

 Now before I get the ranting comments saying that I am heretic, let me clarify what I mean by deification. Deification is the state of existence in which human beings bear the image of God so closely that only in two respects will there be a difference.

First, we will differ in that we will never be eternal. Only God has no beginning or end. We by definition as created creature can only be everlasting. Second, and most importantly, we will never have preeminence. This means we will never be worshiped. Let me say that again. WE WILL NEVER BE WORSHIPED! Jesus will be worshiped. The Father will be worshiped. The Spirit will be worshiped. We will never be worshiped.

So what does being deified mean? Being deified means being indwelt by God to such an extent that we are divinely physical image bearers. We will be what N. T. Wright has called transformed physical beings just as Jesus is.[1] It means that our transformation is Jesus’s incarnation in reverse.

It means we have the same power and authority Jesus does. It means we will know what Jesus does. It means we will have the same will as Jesus does. It means that all this will be done to restore creation as Jesus did. This is an amazing thought. God is so much bigger than the Western Church has given him credit for. This excites me and fires me up for Jesus, does it you?


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



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

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.