Revisiting the Doctrine of Incarnation



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

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

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

What Is the Incarnation?

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

Early Church Christology.

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

Three Patterns in Early Christology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incarnation

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

The Problem of the Kenosis Passage.

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

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

The Hypostatic Union

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

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

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

“You have written in this wise,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges to the Doctrine of Incarnation

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

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


The Paternal Challenge

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

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

The Challenge of Substance

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

A Proposed Solution

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

Evidence for the Physicality of God

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

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

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

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

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

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


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











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


Athanasius. De Synodis, Part Ii, Chapter 15.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Keener and Press, 571.

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

[13] Walvoord, 106.

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

[15] Towns, 145.

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

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

[18] Ibid., 1401.

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

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

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

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

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

[24] Walvoord, 106.

[25] Towns, 191.


[26] Walvoord, 110.

[27] Lane and Lane, 54.

[28] Ibid.

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

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

[31] Lane and Lane, 451.

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

[33] Towns, 98.

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

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

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

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

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



Temple Theology and Eschatology: The Error of the Rapture



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

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


What Is Temple Theology?

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

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

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

Brief Survey of Temple Theology in Scripture

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

Genesis: Building a Temple

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

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

Exodus: Establishing a Sacred Space

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

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

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

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

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

New Testament: The Restoration Project

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

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

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

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

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

heaven and Earth

Temple Theology and Eschatology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 39.

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 118.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20] Ibid.

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

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


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


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

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

Pre-Period Context

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

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


Artist rendering of Solomon’s Temple

Chronological Survey of the Second Temple Period

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

From Occupation to Independence (538-63 BCE)

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

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

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


Roman Rule (63 BCE – 73 CE)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Messianic Expectations and Temple Theology

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

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

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

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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

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

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

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


Sick is Sick

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

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

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

Do they?

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

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

Are they?

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

Wait, that’s not right, is it?

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

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

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


What does it mean for believers to be righteous?

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

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

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


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



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


The Missing Equilibrium of the Church

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


A Theological Quandry: Denying Christ

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

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

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

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

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


The Necessity of Baptism (A Response)


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

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

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

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

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

Now Paul tells us,

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

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

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


Announcing the Gospel!


Jesus is Lord!


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

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

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

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




The Gospel and Nothing But

Colossians 1:9-14 is a significant passage for modern believers. Like many new Christians today, the believers of Colosse found themselves bombarded with a torrent of so called “Christian Truths.” In response to this, the Apostle Paul found it necessary to respond to these “truths” through correct teaching. Many mainstream commentators on the letter to the Colossians proceed on the assumption that Paul’s primary reason for writing was to combat Judaism and Gnosticism.[1] Yet, Paul never expressly states this as his purpose. Indeed, the New Testament writers, in general, do not address these issues, especially the issue of Gnosticism.[2],[3] While, Paul may have had specific heresies in mind as he wrote, he seems to be more concerned with the general contradictions of “false knowledge” verses “true knowledge” in relation to Church teaching (Col 2:8).[4] Verses 9-14 of the opening chapter of the letter provide the source and the method of obtaining true knowledge.


In order to correctly derive, interpret and practically apply any meaning of a Biblical text, the reader must first understand the context of the text. This means realizing that a specific passage “was written by a particular individual (or group of individuals) in a particular time in history and that it was motivated by some particular occasion.”[5]  In other words, the reader must cognitively assess the personal, historical, and literary context of a passage. While this occurs on many different mental levels, this paper will examine the passage in Colossians in the light of authorial, historical, and literary context.


It is perhaps unfortunate that most newcomers to the writings of the Apostle Paul do so with the preconception that Paul was a Christian who railed against the evils of Judaism. This reading of Pauline letters has directly contributed to the view that Paul was a supercessianist who saw God as rejecting the physical Israel for a new spiritual one made up primarily of Gentiles with a few Jewish converts thrown in. Such a view could not be more in error, especially “since “Christianity, at the time of Paul, was nothing else than a Jewish messianic movement, and therefore, Paul should be regarded as nothing other than a Second Temple Jew.”  This means Paul had Jewish parents, grew up in Jewish cultural, and shared Jewish sentiments.

However, Paul was not merely another Jew among those who were under subjection to the Roman Empire. He was a Pharisee, a member of the religious elite. Before his conversion to Christianity, he was trained under the Rabbi Gamliel (Acts 22:3). Since Pharisees saw themselves as the successors to the Old Testament prophets,[6] Paul would have certainly have felt that he was the possessor of divine truth and authority before his conversion. This self-assurance, combined with legal arrest warrants from the Sanhedrin, the religious authority of the Jews, directly contributed to Paul’s zeal in persecuting the followers of “The Way” as Christianity was known at the time (Acts 9:1-2).

Still, one should not conceive Paul as viewing his conversion on the Damascus road as one from Pharisaical Judaism to “The Way.” Indeed not, for Luke records Paul’s own words in which he identifies himself as a “Pharisee, the son of Pharisees.” (23:8) It is from this Pharisaical background and its emphasis on the divine authority of the Torah which Paul presents the true knowledge which is found in Christ Jesus as extorted in his letter to the Colossians. That Paul was writing from such a standpoint is most clearly evidenced in his introductory statements of the letter, where he tells the Colossians that they have heard what he is going discuss before in the Gospel (Col 1:5). He was not expounding some fresh revelation; neither was adding to what he had already taught them. For Paul, the Gospel is based upon the entirety of scripture coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-4). This is what he had originally brought to the people of Colosse: The announcement that Jesus is Lord as foretold by the entirety of the Jewish scripture. This dependence on scriptural authority precludes eliminating the pharisaical background of the Apostle.


While the authorial context deals primarily with the cultural background of the author, the historical context is the specific occurrence (or occurrences) in a time in and for which the text was written. Seeking the historical context of Colossians 1:9-14 means primarily answering two questions. Why did Paul write what he wrote? Why did Paul choose to write what he wrote when he wrote it?

The city of Colosse was in the valley of the Lycus River, approximately a hundred miles east of the city of Ephesus. At the time of the Persian wars of the fifth century, Colossi was a significant and influential city. However, by the time Paul would address the church there, it had become overshadowed by its two sister cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. It had degenerated into a small merchant route town, which survived from the trade between Rome and the cities in the east.[7]

It seems probable that the church at Colosse was founded by Epaphras at Paul’s instruction. It appears that Epaphras was converted during Paul’s three-year ministry at Ephesus.[8]  The result is he began a church at Colosse that was primarily Gentile in its makeup as seen by the references to “uncircumcision,” which Paul usually reserves for Gentile designation (cf. Col. 2:13, Rom. 2:24-27; Eph. 2:11). Being primarily Gentile in makeup makes it likely that this young church faced outside pressure from the pagan religions which characterized the Asian near east. However, it is impossible to say exactly which cults existed as Colosse has never been excavated and there is no archeological evidence.[9] However, it is well established that the Asian Near East religions were composed of classical Greek gods and Eastern mysticism which promised that through the right rituals and initiations one can gain knowledge of the world beyond the world.[10]  Over time these religions blended ideas from one another in a process known as syncretism. [11]

Some scholars believe it was some form of syncretism between Judaism and mysticism which motivated Paul to address the church. This seems unlikely as the religious purism fervor of Judaism does not allow for the blending of the pagan religions. Still Colossians presents us with a complexity of seeming contradictions. On one hand the letter seems to rail against the legalism of Judaism and at the same time seems to attack some seemingly pagan ideals. New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright sums up the problem brilliantly: “The problem, at its essence, could be stated as follows. There are clear Jewish elements in what Paul is opposing, and yet there are many things which look more pagan than Jewish – the actual worship of angels and ascetic practices which appear to deny the importance of the created order.”[12]

It is probably best to understand Paul as addressing all religions which do not hold Christ as the center of true knowledge. This includes even Judaism which Paul in ironic fashion makes out to be a form of paganism even though it was the preparation for the work of Christ.[13]


It is to the detriment of the modern church that many believers approach the New Testament, and indeed the Bible with the view that it is a source book of proof texts. Small, easily digestible snippets are learned and tucked away to be regurgitated at the right time. The Bible is a mix of literary genres which unless properly understood those regurgitated snippets lose their power and become nothing more than a catchphrase. It is necessary to understand that Colossians is a letter. It was intended to be read as a whole and the individual themes and passages were meant to be framed within that whole. As such it is proper to ask where it was written, why did they write it, and when did they write it.

Where and When Was the Passage Written

In verse three of chapter four in the letter to the Colossians, Paul refers to his imprisonment. This would seem to indicate that Paul wrote his letter during a period in which he was under arrest. Of course, it is possible that Paul may have been speaking metaphorically in which case the letter was probably written during a missionary journey. However, most scholars do not think this is the case and take the reference quite literally.[14] If the majority of Biblical scholarship is correct, there are three possible periods of imprisonment: in Ephesus (1 Cor 15:32; 2 Cor 1:8), Caesarea (Acts 27:24), and Rome (Acts 28:16ff.).[15]

Traditional Biblical scholarship has placed the writing of Colossians during the Roman period. This would place the date of the writing circa AD. 60.[16] This seems to be mostly based on Paul reference to the praetorian guard and Caesar’s household in the letter to Philemon which is believed to be written during the same period (1:13; 4:22). However, this possibly could also refer to Roman garrisons stationed at both Caesarea and Ephesus.[17]

It seems more proper, however, to place the date and location of Colossians at Ephesus during the early 50’s, for a number of reasons. First, Colossians has the feel of a letter written to a church young in the faith in need of teaching about what exactly happens at conversion.[18] Another factor in favor of Ephesus is the idea that it seems more likely that Epaphras would have visited Paul in Ephesus which was only 100 miles away from Colosse where he founded the church. (Col 1:7) Additionally, assuming the letter to Philemon, an overseer of a house church in Colosse, was written around the same period, it seems improbable that Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, would attempt to visit Paul in Rome.[19] It is even less probable that Paul would attempt to send him back to Philemon and have him return to him again. (Phlm 14) Simply put, it would be a lot to ask a man with a price on his head to make that kind of journey three times. Finally, Paul speaks of visiting Philemon after his impending release. (22) Since Paul saw Rome as a launch point for missions in Spain, it does not stand up to logic that he would backtrack to Colosse before embarking on the trip (Rom 15:22-29). Ephesus seems to be the more reasonable choice.

The Passage as a Prayer

The fact that Paul chooses to begin the main portion of his letter with a prayer is of great significance. The content of the prayer highlights how the Colossian should handle the problems of the invading heresies. It is almost as if Paul is praying, and God is answering the prayer which becomes the body of the letter. Paul, then, is introducing his themes by saying here is what I am praying that you receive and here is how God is going to give it.

Additionally, it must be noted that Paul’s habitual use of prayer in his letters should not be passed over (cf. Rom 1:9ff; Phil 1;9; etc.). Paul’s entire calling is prayer dependent. “[P]rayer brings the assurance that his ministry is being used within God’s overall plan, and consequently that characteristic confidence, outside this context, could sound like arrogance.”[20]

One last point of notice which should not go unremarked upon is the way in which Paul links the prayer with the thanksgiving at the opening of the letter. The phrase “for this reason” in verse nine of chapter one of the letter gives insight into motivation behind the petitions to God concerning the church at Colosse which follow. For Paul, what God had done made what he was going to do a true reality. It is from this basis that Paul even begins to offer petitions. God is going to continue the grace-filled work, he began in the beginning. Therefore, Paul can confidently approach God with the requests which follow.


The prayer which composes verses 9-14 of chapter one presents Paul’s request for God to bring the believers at Colosse into spiritual maturity. This request is done through three separate specific petitions: that the believers will be “filled with knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (1:9); that the believers be “all strength according to the power of glory” (1:10); and that the believers “learn to give thanks to the father” (1:12). Each one of these petitions is designed to achieve a specific character quality within the life of the individual believer. It is only by examining each petition separately can the reader understand how they all fit together.


Paul’s first petition is for God to fill the members of the church with the knowledge of his will. Many scholars and commentators agree with David Guzik’s assertion that the Apostle is merely saying, “To know God and what He requires of us is our first responsibility.”[21] In other words, what many scholars say is that Paul simply wanted the Colossians to seek out God’s plan for their lives. Of course, there is no denying the truth in that assertion; however, it is just too small of a view. Paul was evidently dealing with a church, still young in the faith, into which heretical doctrines were being introduced. He, therefore, wisely goes back to the basics- the gospel! Certainly, the gospel encapsulates God’s plan for the individual within it, but it doesn’t stop there. It is much more than a behavioral checklist, it is the entirety of the good news of Jesus.[22]

So, what is the gospel according to Paul? The gospel is simply the announcement that Jesus was the Jewish messiah declared to be king by his death and resurrection and confirmed by the entirety of scripture.[23] It is with this kingly inauguration that the new creation has begun to come about in which people become genuine human beings fulfilling their Godly vocation as image bearers (Gen 1:26; 2 Cor 5:17). Paul confirms this by declaring Jesus as “the start of it all, firstborn from realms of the dead” (Col 1:18).

This is the knowledge that Paul is asking God to give the Colossians. By doing so, the Apostle has effectively set the framework for which all doctrine is to be discerned by. He has preemptively denounced both Greek philosophy and Jewish legalism. Even Gnosticism (assuming Paul had it in mind) must be rejected. For if Jesus is the messiah and as such the true Israelite and genuine human being; then the divine theocracy has entered the world. And if this is so, then the failure of Adam has been undone and God’s great restoration project of the cosmos has begun (cf. Gen 3; Romans 8). If then this is the case, Jewish legalism is out because there is no need for further separation of the people of God (Gal 3:24; Rom 10:12ff.). Greek philosophy is now to be judged as it corresponds to the personification of truth, King Jesus (Jn 14:6). Gnosticism is rejected on the grounds of Paul’s expectations that God would fill them with all knowledge.[24]

Still, Paul does not simply leave it at mere knowledge of the gospel. He wants them to know it all wisdom and spiritual understanding. He wants the Holy Spirit to use the knowledge to practically apply the power of the gospel into their lives. This will result in the believers naturally discerning what God requires; thereby producing spiritual fruit as they become the genuine human beings that God intended. Which in turn, results in more knowledge of God as these genuine human beings reflect God into the cosmos according to the ordained vocation of image bearers. As God watches the transformation occurring, God is pleased in every way. “God looks on his new (albeit as yet incomplete) creation, and declares it to be very good.”[25]

The spiral of transformation continues as the people of God continue to transform into image bearing genuine human beings, they naturally learn more and more about who God is and what he wants. This is precisely because the purpose of image bearers is to reflect God and God’s authority out into the cosmos while simultaneously reflecting the praise of creation back to God.[26] As human beings learn to reflect God outwardly, they must increase in knowledge of God to achieve is purpose which is ultimately to have his glory known to all creation as the water covers the sea (Hab 2:14, NIV).[27]


Verse eleven is Paul’s second petition – the petition for “all possible strength, according to the power of his glory.” To arrive at Paul’s meaning the reader must understand the two parts of the request: “all possible strength” and “per the power of his glory.” To properly arrive at Paul’s meaning; it is necessary to discuss the latter first. It is only by discerning where the power derives from that it can be effectively and efficiently used to achieve its purpose.

For the purpose of arriving at Paul’s intended meaning, there is a central question which needs proper answering, namely, what is “his glory?”[28] For Paul, the glory of God was simply that Jesus as God’s son, and the true Israelite was raised from the dead and as such was the newly inaugurated king of the divine theocracy. In other words, God’s glory was the gospel! Yes, once again Paul builds his petition on the shoulders of what he considered central to the Christian faith. The Apostle saw the gospel as more than just the announcement of this reality, it is the might of God poured forth into the creation (Rom 1:16ff, KNT.).

It is, then, from the gospel that “all possible strength” is derived. This is not to suggest that Paul implied that there was strength which was not possible. Rather, Paul saw the amount of strength in relation to quantity upon which his first petition for knowledge had been fulfilled. Stating it another way, Paul understood to the degree that one knows God and the gospel, and actively applies them both to their lives is the degree to which gospel is able to give strength. This explains why Paul petitions knowledge before strength, as it is through the knowledge that strength comes.

As that strength comes, Paul fully expects certain characteristics to begin to show up in the Christian’s life: patience, steadfastness, and joy. Patience is antithesis of fear. “It is the forbearance, steadfast endurance, fortitude, and the capacity to see things through.”[29] Steadfastness is the “self-restraint, even-temperedness, holding out long.”[30] It is easy to see Paul’s use of these words as redundant or repetitive for the sake of emphasis. However, the nuance of difference is extremely significant. “The former is what faith, love and hope bring to an apparently impossible situation, the latter is what they show to an apparently impossible person.”[31]

Finally, Paul does not want the use of this strength to display bitterness or resentment; rather he wants the people of Colosse to experience joy. This is not merely a front that he puts on in front of others. It is true joy which enhances the strength which has been given (Neh 8:10, NIV). This relates back to the “possible strength” that will be given. Even new believers who have yet to acquire a great amount of knowledge and thereby limit their Godly strength can accomplish things beyond that strength through joy.


While it is easy to merely dismiss Paul’s request that the Colossian church simply learn to give thanks for a.) the filling of knowledge (v.9), b.) the providing of all possible strength (v.10), and c.) being made fit to share the inheritance of God’s holy ones (v.12). Paul, once again, has condensed a much larger meaning into a simple statement. Once again, Paul is building upon the foundation of the Gospel. Only this time, he weaves a thick strand of eschatology within it.

The idea that Paul, is continuing to lay the foundation of the gospel is clear from verse thirteen. This verse announces the theocracy into which God’s people have been transferred. Paul is very clearly stating that believers are now no longer subjects of Caesar but now are subjects of Jesus. However, thanksgiving to the father is appropriate as he is the one has brought about this transference through the sacrifice of his son (Jn 3:16).

Yet, Paul does not leave it merely with the immediacy of the gospel, instead he projects it forward with the phrase “who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of God’s holy ones in the light” (v.12). The wording of this phrase in the Greek is strange. It literally reads, “unto the portion/share which consists in the lot/inheritance.”[32] Not only is the Greek grammar awkward, but Paul seems to strangely be evoking the Israelite narrative of entering the promise land to a church composed primarily of gentiles. The most logical explanation for this is that Paul is referring to the New Earth which will come at the second coming of Christ (Rev 21:1).

Paul seems to fighting against the Platonian separation of the spirtitual realm or realm of forms and the physical realms. Paul, who as Pharisee, understood that Israel’s vocation per scripture was be a royal priesthood which brought about God’s worldwide government (Ex 19:6, NIV). This, he asserts, began to happen at Jesus’s death and resurrection (Col 1:13-14). It will see its fulfillment in the age to come. Just as the physical nations would inherit a portion of the earth had Israel kept faithful to her vocation, believers will inherit a portion of the new earth when the great restoration project of God is finished. Therefore, the thanksgiving is not merely directed towards what God has done or is doing; but includes what he will do.[33]


The prayer for the believers of Colossians 1 impacts the modern reader in three fundamental ways. First, the prayer reminds us that truth comes from God through the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13). A believer must spend his life in search of the knowledge of God. This requires prayer and the searching out of scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). Additionally, Paul simply does not want his readers to see these things as pointless exercises, but they are designed to bring about spiritual maturity and develop them into the new creation which they have become in Christ. Any teachings which do not produce the new creation within a believer are simply not from God and must be rejected.

Yet even more fundamental to these ideals, is the gospel. It is the gospel which provides the believer with strength. It is the gospel which provides the path of knowledge to the one true God-king. It is the gospel which provides the framework of truth while simultaneously being the source of truth. Paul reminds the reader that anything which does not announce God as king and the inauguration of God’s kingdom is simply heresy (2 Cor 11:4ff.)


In typical Pauline fashion, the Apostle packs an enormous amount of theological principle and truth into a few tightly woven statements. In a few simple lines of petitionary prayer Paul disarms any heresies which may infect a believer. He expounds the nature of being a new creation in Christ. He expresses his eschatology and expounds his theology.

Yet, all these things pale in comparison to what Paul finds really important. What he considers to be the absolute truth – the gospel. It is the gospel in which the truth is to be found. It is the gospel which releases the power of God into the world. It is the gospel for which believers must be thankful. It is the gospel which provides the source and method of obtaining divine truth. The gospel is the summation of scripture in which God restores human beings into the divinely ordained vocation of image bearers by reflecting the authority of Jesus into the cosmos and reflecting the praise of creation back to King Jesus.




Guzik, D. Colossians Commentary: Yahshua Publishing, 2005.


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


Koester, H. Introduction to the New Testament. Walter de Gruyter, 1995.


Patzia, A.G. and W. Gasque. Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series): Baker Publishing Group, 2011.


Pricopi, Victor-Alexandru. “From Ancient Gnostics to Modern Scholars – Issues in Defining the Concept of “Gnosticism”.” Romanian Journal for Multidimensional Education / Revista Romaneasca pentru Educatie Multidimensionala 5, no. 2 (2013): 41-56.


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.


Wellhausen, J. The Pharisees and the Sadducees: An Examination of Internal Jewish History. Mercer University Press, 2001.


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


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


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] 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), 1558.

[2]   Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second ed., s.v. “Gnosticism.”

[3] Pricopi suggests that Irenaeus was the first to tackle the heresy of Gnosticism, circa. 180 our era.Victor-Alexandru Pricopi, “From Ancient Gnostics to Modern Scholars – Issues in Defining the Concept of “Gnosticism”,” Romanian Journal for Multidimensional Education / Revista Romaneasca pentru Educatie Multidimensionala 5, no. 2 (2013),

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

[5] W.C. Kaiser and M. Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Zondervan, 1994), 176.

[6] J. Wellhausen, The Pharisees and the Sadducees: An Examination of Internal Jewish History (Mercer University Press, 2001), 17.

[7] Radmacher, Allen, and House, 1558.

[8] Ibid.

[9] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (InterVarsity Press, 2015), 24.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11] H. Koester, Introduction to the New Testament (Walter de Gruyter, 1995), 164-203.

[12] Wright, 26.

[13] Ibid., 27.

[14] Wright,37

[15] It can be inferred that there were other periods of Roman imprisonment than what Luke records in Acts based upon Paul’s writing in 2 Cor 6:5 and 11:23.

[16] Radmacher, Allen, and House, 1559.

[17] Wright, 38.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Wright, 170

[20] Wright, 61.

[21] D. Guzik, Colossians Commentary (Yahshua Publishing, 2005),

[22] Wright, 61.

[23] For a full discussion of this topic see N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress Press, 1992).

[24] See the previous discussion of Paul’s assurance under Context.

[25] Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 62.

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

[27] Holy Bible (NIV) (Zondervan, 2008).

[28] It is proper to note that most common translations have “according to his glorious might.” See NIV for example.

[29] Radmacher, Allen, and House, 1561.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 63.

[32] A.G. Patzia and W. Gasque, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) (Baker Publishing Group, 2011),

[33] For a full treatment of New Testament eschatology, see N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).