Stephen Hawking’s grand design

This is the first in a two-part series on Stephen Hawking’s contention that science has resolved the need for God.

Every so often, a renowned scientist captivates a global audience through a combination of brilliance, charisma, and an uncanny ability to communicate complex ideas in simple terms.

Carl Sagan comes immediately to mind. So does Neil deGrasse Tyson. And, of course, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose dazzling intellect and sense of humor, despite severe physical limitations, make him a popular author, speaker, and occasional guest star on television sit-coms.

So, when the Discovery Channel launched a mini-series, “Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design,” it captured the attention of millions around the world.

Narrated by English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, the series features numerous sound bites of Hawking, who is wracked by Lou Gehrig’s disease and speaks through a voice synthesizer. Hawking begins episode three, “Did God Create the Universe?” with this statement:

“I have no desire to tell anyone what to believe. But for me, asking if God exists is a valid question for science. After all, it is hard to think of a more important or fundamental mystery than what, or who, created and controls the universe.”

Fair enough. If the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1), and if God has revealed Himself to all people through His creation, leaving them with no excuse for rejecting Him (Rom. 1:20), then an exploration of the natural world should lead us to the conclusion that God exists.
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God’s seven promises in Revelation 22

There are at least seven promises given to us in Revelation 22 that confirm Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin and death. These promises also assure us that all the effects of the Fall are reversed in Christ’s finished work and the salvation He has provided for us by grace through faith.

In this regard, we should view Revelation not merely as a book of frightening – and often confusing – imagery, but as a book of warm and assuring promises about God’s sovereignty over human affairs and angelic conflict. In the end, we who read, hear and heed the words of this prophecy are indeed blessed because we know the God who created all things is faithful.

Promise No. 1: Living water (v. 1; see also Rev. 21:6; 22:17)

There was a river in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10) that served as the source of four other rivers. But when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden they lost access to this pure source of water and drank from streams now affected by the Fall. A person may live for up to 40 days without food but only three days without water. The body itself is made up largely of water, so water is absolutely essential to life. Jesus often spoke about water as an image of eternal life supplied by the Holy Spirit (see John 4:10-14; 7:37-39).

In the New Jerusalem, we see a river of pure, living water flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may drink freely from it. Ezekiel also had a vision of pure water in the glorious future temple (Ezek. 47:1-12; see also Zech. 14:8). This living water depicts the Holy Spirit who inhabits the human spirits of believers but is cut off from unbelievers (Rom. 8:9).
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Is the Bible literally true?

Christians are sometimes asked if we believe the Bible is literally true.

After all, whether eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood is a plunge into cannibalism, or a figurative expression of full devotion, depends on how we understand the language of Scripture.

In one sense, we might say the Bible is divinely inspired literature through which God speaks to human beings in our own language. This naturally includes a range of literary devices, from narrative to hyperbole.

So, what does it mean to take the Bible “literally”?

It means applying a natural reading as the author or speaker intended, with a goal of grasping the writer’s message. This requires context and may include approximations, analogies, metaphors, quotations, parables, apocalyptic language, etc.

In contrast, taking the Bible “literalistically” means adhering to a rigid understanding of the primary meaning of words, without allowing for figurative language or a possible range of meanings.

An example may help clarify this. In John 10:9, Jesus states, “I am the door.” A literalistic rendering of this passage means that Jesus is calling himself an actual wooden piece of hardware, which either is absurd, or communicates a failed grasp of reality for the One who claims to be our only hope of everlasting life.

A literal understanding of this verse, however, considers the figurative language of Jesus’ words and the context in which He speaks. In other words, Jesus is the one true hope of everlasting life.
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If anyone adds to them – Revelation 22:18-21

Previously: The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” – Revelation 22:17

The scripture

Rev. 22:18 – I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book. 20 He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!  21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. (HCSB)

If anyone adds to them

The Book of Revelation ends with a sobering warning. Verses 18-19 read, “I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.”

It’s doubtful that this passage applies to the entire canon of scripture, which at the time of John’s writing is not yet closed. More likely John is making it clear that the Book of Revelation must be read in its fullness – the foreboding warnings of wrath and the glorious promises of the new heavens and earth – without any tinkering with the text.

The HCSB Study Bible, however, cautions that “the wording does imply that all Scripture should be guarded as sacred, never tampered with. The immediate context in Revelation is of a ‘new Eden’ [vv. 1-5]. Also, in Genesis 3, Eve added to the Word of God [Gen. 3:3] and the Serpent took away from what the Lord had said [Gen. 3:4]. As a result, this ‘biblical bookends’ effect of Rev. 22:18-19 and Gen. 3:3-4 infers that, just as Genesis is the first book in the Bible, Revelation is the last” (p. 2230).

Although the warning of Rev. 22:18-19 is specific to the Book of Revelation, the principle applies to anyone who seeks to intentionally distort God’s Word, according to Got Questions Ministries: “Moses gave a similar warning in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, where he cautioned the Israelites that they must listen to and obey the commandments of the Lord, neither adding to nor taking away from His revealed Word. Proverbs 30:5-6 contains a similar admonition to anyone who would add to God’s words: he will be rebuked and proven a liar…. We must be careful to handle the Bible with care and reverence so as to not distort its message” (gotquestions.org).
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Who are you to judge?

This is the last in a series of 10 excerpts from the new MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available at mobaptist.org/apologetics.

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Jude describes certain false teachers as “merely natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19). He seems to be stating plainly that these professing Christians are unbelievers. How can he make such a judgment?

Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1)? Isn’t God the only one who may rightly search the hearts of people (Jer. 17:10)?

How can Jude possibly know that these interlopers are lost? Isn’t it possible they are merely deceived, or backslidden?

First, we should note that Jude describes these particular false teachers as “natural.” Literally, this means “animal-souled” and stands in contrast with “spiritual,” or “having the Spirit.” The apostle Paul describes the unbeliever as a “natural man” who “does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Cor. 2:14).

Clearly, Jude and Paul are depicting people outside the kingdom of God. Jude’s use of the term psuchikos – soulish, sensual, animal-souled – describes them in sensual rather than spiritual terms.

As John MacArthur puts it, “His [Jude’s] materialistic description exposed them for who they really were – religious terrorists who lacked such internal qualities as a proper self-perception, the ability to reason, and a true knowledge of God. Even though the false teachers claimed a transcendental understanding of God, they did not know Him at all.”
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