Category: Apologetics

How to Identify False Prophets

Apologetics 101: Part 8 — How can I identify false prophets?

This is session eight in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith

How to identify false prophets (audio)

How to identify false prophets (pdf)

“But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!” (2 Cor. 11:3-4 HCSB)

WolfThe words of the apostle Paul are clear: Those who are not grounded in the Word of God are subject to deceptive teachings about “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” – three distinctive markers that help us identify false prophets. Whether they are Muslim prophets like Muhammad, or self-proclaimed messiahs like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, these false teachers invariably promote an unbiblical view of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel. We will use these three markers, along with a comparative chart, to examine the teachings of Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in light of what God’s Word proclaims.

The Bible cautions us to beware of false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” and promote “doctrines of demons” (see Matt. 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). But before we go deeper, let’s define some key terms.

Defining our terms

False religion. From a New Testament perspective, a false religion is any system of belief that opposes the central teachings of the Christian faith. While all cults of Christianity are false religions, not all false religions are cults, because not all religions claim to be Christian. Islam, for example, is a false religion but not a cult, because Islam does not claim to be Christian.

Cult. A cult is a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity. Simply put, a cult is a counterfeit form of Christianity.

Heresy. This may be defined as a teaching strongly opposed to the doctrines of historical Christianity, for example the denial of Christ’s deity, full humanity, virgin birth, or bodily resurrection.

Sect. A sect is an otherwise orthodox group having established its own identity and teachings distinct from the group to which it belongs. In Jesus’ day for example, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were sects of Judaism.

Another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel

Every Christian can identify false belief systems by asking three important questions: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Who is the Holy Spirit? and 3) How am I saved? As we go to the comparative chart and place the teachings of God’s Word against the teachings of Islam, Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, let’s remind ourselves of some key biblical truths that address these crucial questions.

Key truths about the real Jesus

Jesus is:

  • The eternal Son of God, without beginning or end
  • God / deity
  • Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit
  • Virgin born
  • The God-Man / fully divine and fully human
  • Sinless in His humanity
  • Our substitute through His sacrificial death on the cross
  • Alive, having been raised physically from the dead
  • The only way of salvation
  • Seated today in heaven as our Mediator and Intercessor
  • Coming visibly and physically one day in power and great glory
  • The One who will judge all people and to whom, one day, all creatures will bow

Key truths about the real Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is:

  • The eternal Spirit, without beginning or end
  • God / deity
  • Personal (not an impersonal force)
  • Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son
  • The Author of Scripture
  • The One who convicts the lost of their need for Christ
  • The One who regenerates believing sinners, causing them to be made spiritually alive
  • The One who indwells, seals and sanctifies believers, and who places them positionally into the Body of Christ
  • The Giver of spiritual gifts
  • God’s down payment /guarantee of our home in heaven

Key truths about the real Gospel

  • All people are sinners
  • Sin separates us from holy God, resulting in spiritual and physical death and, ultimately, eternity apart from God in hell
  • People are incapable of saving themselves
  • Christ died on the cross for our sins and, as our Substitute, paid our sin debt in full
  • Christ was buried and rose physically from the dead
  • His finished work at Calvary conquered sin and death for us
  • As a result, salvation is by God’s grace through faith – not by works
  • Salvation is God’s gift – and everlasting, unbreakable, covenant relationship with Him

An exhortation from John the apostle

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4 HCSB)

The Bible not only warns believers about false prophets; it describes them graphically as:

  • Ravaging wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15; see also Acts 20:29)
  • Deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13)
  • Springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind (2 Peter 2:17)
  • Dreamers who defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings (Jude 1:8)
  • Liars (Rev. 2:2)
  • Antichrists (1 John 2:18)

How do we define a false prophet? Simply put, a false prophet is one who preaches, teaches, or foretells events contrary to the Word of God – sometimes claiming God as his or her source. As believers, we can guard our hearts from the teachings of false prophets by obeying three commands of the apostle John:

  1. Do not believe every spirit. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 1 John 4:1 puts it this way: “Stop believing every spirit.” The term “spirit” refers to those who claim to have divine gifts for service, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. We should beware. Jesus warns us of miracle-working false messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 24:24). Paul says Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his followers disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-5). Paul further cautions against “deceitful spirits” and “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). And he warns that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We should be like the Bereans who greeted Paul and Silas. Acts 17:11 says “they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (emphasis mine).
  2. Test the spirits. The Word of God is the yardstick by which all truth claims must be measured. Here are a few markers. True prophets: a) Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-2); b) Exalt God, not themselves or false gods (Deut. 13:1-4); c) Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Ezek. 13:22-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4); d) Proclaim salvation by grace through faith (Gal. 1:8-9); e) Set lifestyle examples (2 Peter 2:1-3).
  3. Know the Spirit of God. In his first epistle, John challenges the views of the “antichrists” about the identity of Jesus. The most important question Jesus ever asked – and the question upon which every person’s eternal destiny hangs – is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). Believers need to know who the real Jesus is. Indeed, He is:
  • The eternal Son of God, Creator and sovereign Lord (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-18; 2:9-10; Heb. 1:3).
  • Virgin born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).
  • Full deity and full humanity in His incarnation (John 1:14).
  • Sinless Savior whose death paid our sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Raised and ascended in the flesh; seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor; and returning Lord who will appear visibly and physically one day (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 4:15-16; Rev. 19-22).

John’s words are simple and effective. Christians are people of faith – not a blind, ignorant faith, but a reasonable faith based on the evidence God has given us in creation, Scripture, and in the Person of His Son. While there have always been false prophets, and while there will continue to be those who fleece the flock rather than feed it, we can guard our hearts – and protect our families and our churches – from false teachings if we follow John’s commands: Don’t believe every spirit (that is, every person claiming divine gifting); test the spirits (according to Scripture); and know the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the real Jesus as revealed in the Bible).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Was Jesus Both God and Man?

Apologetics 101: Part 7 — How can I identify the real Jesus?
JesusThis is session seven in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (audio part 2)

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (audio part 1)

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (pdf)

 

Keys to Identifying the Real Jesus

Apologetics 101: Parts 6-7 — How can I identify the real Jesus?

This is sessions six and seven in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (audio part 1)

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (pdf)

1. His origin

What Jesus says about Himself: He is eternal and uncreated.

  • John 8:58 – “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am” (I AM is the name God gave Himself at the burning bush [Ex. 3:13-14]).
  • John 17:5 – “Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed.”
  • Rev. 1:17-18 – “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He has always existed and is the uncreated Creator.

  • John 1:1-3 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.
  • Col. 1:15-17 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation; because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him.

What do you say about Jesus’ origin?

2. His deity

What Jesus says about Himself: He is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit

  • Mark 14:61b-62 – Again the high priest questioned Him, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
  • John 8:24 – “Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins.” (I AM is the name God gave Himself at the burning bush [Ex. 3:13-14]).
  • John 10:30 – “The Father and I are one.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He is God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; the fullness of deity in the flesh

  • John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  • John 5:18 – This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill Him: not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
  • Col. 2:9 – For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily …
  • Heb. 1:3 – He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

What do you say about Jesus’ deity?

3. His humanity

What Jesus says about Himself: He is fully human, sharing the full range of mankind’s experiences from thirst to temptation.

  • Matt. 4:1-11 – Jesus is hungry and tempted by Satan but responds to both with God’s Word.
  • Luke 19:41; John 11:35 – Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and at the tomb of Lazarus.
  • John 11:33, 38 – Jesus is “angry in His spirit.”
  • John 19:28, 30 – “I’m thirsty,” he says, and then He dies.

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He is virgin born, adding sinless humanity to His deity; His humanity enables Him to serve as our great high priest.

  • Matt. 1:18-25 – The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit…. Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
  • John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • Phil. 2:5-8 – Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
  • Heb. 2:17-18 – Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.

What do you say about Jesus’ humanity?

4. His purpose

What Jesus says about Himself: He came to bring God’s kingdom; to seek and save the lost; to pay mankind’s sin debt; to defeat Satan and his works; and to offer us eternal life.

  • Matt. 12:28 – “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
  • Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
  • John 10:10-11 – “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
  • John 12:32-33 – “As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all [people] to Myself.” He said this to signify what kind of death He was about to die.

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He came to die and rise from the dead in fulfillment of Scripture; to save sinners and reconcile them to God.

  • Rom. 5:6-11 – For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, [then how] much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
  • 1 Cor. 15:3-4 – For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …
  • 2 Cor. 5:21 – He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
  • 1 Tim. 1:15 – This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.
  • Heb. 2:9 – But we do see Jesus—made lower than the angels for a short time so that by God’s grace He might taste death for everyone—crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.
  • 1 John 3:8b — The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works.

What do you say about Jesus’ purpose?

5. His proof

What Jesus says about Himself: He fulfills Messianic prophecies, most notably by rising physically from the dead.

  • Matt. 12:39-40; 26:31-32 – “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights…. Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
  • Luke 18:31-33; 24:38-39 – “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished…. they will kill Him, and He will rise on the third day…. Why are you troubled …And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
  • John 2:18-22 – So the Jews replied to Him, “What sign [of authority] will You show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days.” Therefore the Jews said, “This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the sanctuary of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made.

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He fulfills Messianic prophecies, most notably by dying on the cross for mankind’s sins and rising physically from the dead.

  • Mark 15:25-28 – Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge written against Him was THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [So the Scripture was fulfilled that says: And He was counted among outlaws.]
  • John 19:33-37 – When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out…. For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of His bones will be broken. Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.
  • Acts 2:22-27 – “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the  Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says of Him: I saw the Lord ever before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. Moreover my flesh will rest in hope, because You will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow Your Holy One to see decay.”
  • 1 Cor. 15:3-4 – For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

What do you say about Jesus’ proof?

6. His uniqueness

What Jesus says about Himself: He is the Messiah/Christ; the Son of God; the Alpha and the Omega; the only means of salvation.

  • Matt. 26:63-64; 27:11 – Then the high priest said to Him, “By the living God I place You under oath: tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” “You have said it,” Jesus told him. “But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” … Now Jesus stood before the governor. “Are You the King of the Jews?” the governor asked Him. Jesus answered, “You have said it.”
  • John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
  • Rev. 1:17-18 – “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
  • Rev. 22:13 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He is the unique Son of God; divine; the Creator; the only means of salvation.

  • John 1:1, 14, 18 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son – the One who is at the Father’s side – He has revealed Him.
  • Acts 4:11-12 – This [Jesus] is The stone despised by you builders, who has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.
  • Col. 1:16; 2:9 – because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. … For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.
  • Heb. 1:3 – He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

What do you say about Jesus’ uniqueness?

7. His call to us

What Jesus says about Himself: He calls sinners to trust in Him for eternal life; He invites the weary to rest in Him; He beckons the spiritually thirsty to be satisfied in Him; He warns of the danger of rejecting Him.

  • Matt. 11:28 – “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • John 3:16-18 – “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.”
  • John 5:24 – “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.”
  • John 7:37b-38 – “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”
  • John 8:24 – “Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He calls sinners to receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life by believing in Him; He grants salvation by grace through faith, apart from works; He calls us to salvation and to service.

  • Acts 2:39 – For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.
  • Rom. 4:4-5 – Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares righteous the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness.
  • Eph. 1:18 – [I pray] that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints …
  • Eph. 2:8-9 – For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift …
  • Eph. 4:1 – I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received …
  • 1 Thess. 2:12 – [W]e encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
  • 2 Tim. 1:9 – [God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.
  • Titus 3:5 – He saved us— not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

What do you say about Jesus’ call to you?

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

The Debate Over Jesus

Apologetics 101: Part 5: –Who’s the real Jesus?

This is the fifth in the 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

The debate over Jesus (audio)

The debate over Jesus (pdf)

Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth is among the world’s most famous and admired people. Amazon.com has more than 175,000 titles about Him. Google lists about 145 million references to Jesus Christ. The world’s major religions hold a high view of Jesus, although they do not agree on who He is or what He accomplished. For example:

  • Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet who lived a sinless life; but He is not the Son of God or Savior.
  • Hinduism teaches that Jesus was an Avatar or incarnation of God, a great spiritual teacher, a guru, or even a major god in the Hindu pantheon of 330 million gods; but He is not unique as the Son of God or Savior.
  • Buddhism tells us Jesus was a teacher who may have possessed Buddha hood or enlightenment; but He is not unique and is not mankind’s Savior.
  • Judaism teaches that Jesus was a humble and insignificant prophet, a reformer who performed good deeds; but He is not the Messiah and certainly not divine.
  • Christianity, of course, professes that Jesus was and is the Son of God, Messiah and Savior, whose death and resurrection paid mankind’s sin debt and provided forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Even so, not all who profess Christianity agree about Jesus’ life and work. Mormons, for example, say Jesus was a man who became a god; and Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that Jesus was Jehovah’s first creation.

The debate over Jesus is nothing new. It raged 2,000 years ago in Israel and involved everyone from John the Baptist to Jesus’ own family members, many of whom did not believe He was the promised Messiah. Jesus was fully aware that His life and ministry produced tension, and He challenged His followers to examine the evidence and decide for themselves.

In Matthew 16:13-17, Jesus asks His disciples two questions. First, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” A loaded question to be sure, since by calling Himself “Son of Man” Jesus is claiming to be both divine and the Messiah (see Dan. 7:13-14). Second, Jesus asks a more pointed question, “Who do you say that I am?” Notice several keys in these verses:

  • There are many opinions about Jesus – all of them good. Some say He is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Today, members of every major world religion agree that Jesus is someone to be admired, even followed. But it’s not enough to have a high opinion of Jesus; one must have the right view of Jesus.
  • Peter offers a different answer – and the correct one: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
  • Jesus acknowledges Peter’s answer as the proper one and states that it was not revealed by human wisdom but “by My Father in Heaven.” Flesh-and-blood opinions about Jesus are subject to error because people are sinful and fallen and prone to mistakes. God the Father, however, is not. He sent Jesus to earth and reveals the Person and work of Christ to human hearts. In fact Jesus made it clear that no one can be saved unless he or she is drawn by the Father to the Son (John 6:44).

Today, we have God’s complete written revelation to us – the Bible – which features convincing evidence that Jesus is who He claimed to be: Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior, King of kings and Lord of Lords. So let’s go to the evidence in Scripture. We will use the Bible because it records the words of Jesus and features the accounts of eyewitnesses. Some may raise objections to using the Bible instead of other sources but keep in mind:

  • The New Testament is perhaps the most accurate set of ancient documents available to us (see the notes for sessions 2-4);
  • The eyewitnesses wrote their accounts in the presence of hostile witnesses, who could have refuted them if they were wrong, but didn’t.
  • The apostles willingly suffered – and most died – for their testimony.
  • Recent “new” gospels challenging the historical view of Jesus were penned much later (2nd – 4th centuries) and were recognized as false teachings or even forgeries; one has been proven to be a 20th century fraud.

So let’s turn our attention to “In Search of the Real Jesus” (comparison chart). Our premise is that everyone can find the real Jesus by asking three important questions:

1. Who does Jesus say He is?

2. Who do the eyewitnesses say He is?

3. And who do you say He is?

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Answering More Objections to the Bible

Apologetics 101: Part 4 — How do I know the Bible is true?

This is the fourth in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

Answering more objections to the Bible (audio)

Answering more objections to the Bible (pdf)

Objection 3: The Bible is full of contradictions.

When someone raises this objection, a reasonable first response is, “Show me one.” Often, the person cannot do so. However, it must be acknowledged that there are numerous places in Scripture where there are seemingly conflicting testimonies and apparent contradictions. If the Bible comes from God, and if God neither lies nor makes mistakes, how do we reconcile these Bible difficulties?

The law of non-contradiction

First, we should examine the Bible the same way we examine other documents, using the traditional rules of logic and reason. A good place to start is by applying the law of non-contradiction, which maintains that “nothing can both be and not be.” For example, it cannot be day and night in the same place at the same time. Therefore, if a passage of Scripture violates the law of non-contradiction, its trustworthiness is undermined. At the same time, two statements may differ without being contradictory.

For example, in Matthew’s Gospel we read that Jesus meets two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34). Mark and Luke, however, mention only one blind man. Are these contradictory statements? Not necessarily. If Jesus meets two men, He certainly meets one. In addition, when the three Gospel accounts are read in their entirety, it becomes clear that Bartimaeus picks up an unnamed blind companion during the time Jesus visits Jericho. Finally, “Matthew was concerned to mention all who were involved in this episode (just as he alone of the Synoptists recorded the fact that it was really two maniacs that met Jesus on the territory of Gadara [Matt. 8:28], whereas both Mark and Luke speak only of one demoniac possessed by the Legion demons)…. As for the second blind beggar, neither Mark nor Luke finds him significant enough to mention” (Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 333).

By the way, apparent contradictions such as this actually provide supporting evidence for the veracity of the eyewitnesses. They show that the New Testament writers didn’t “get their story straight” in order to concoct a hoax. Just as four eyewitnesses to an auto accident would report what they saw from their different vantage points, so the four Gospel writers sought to communicate to their readers the details they felt were most important. Their testimonies are consistent even though their stories vary in detail.

Translation and context

Next, we should consider translation and context. Some Bible passages appear contradictory because of the nuances of Bible translation. A case in point: The Book of Acts has two accounts of Paul’s conversion experience. Acts 9:7 (KJV) says the men journeying with Paul hear a voice but see no one. Acts 22:9 (KJV) says they do not hear the voice. The two passages appear contradictory, but the Greek clears it up, as do some modern translations. The construction of the verb is different in each account.

W.F. Arndt explains: “In Acts 9:7 it (the verb ‘to hear,’ akouo) is not the same in both accounts. In Acts 9:7 it is used with the genitive, in Acts 22:9 with the accusative. The construction with the genitive simply expresses that something is being heard or that certain sounds reach the ear; nothing is indicated as to whether a person understands what he hears or not. The construction with the accusative, however, describes a hearing, which includes mental apprehension of the message spoken. From this it becomes evident that the two passages are not contradictory” (Does the Bible Contradict Itself? quoted in “Bible Contradictions – Appearance or Reality?” found in www.allabouttruth.org.)

Some additional considerations

There are other considerations that may help clear up Bible difficulties:

  • Time. Some seemingly contradictory statements are separated by years – even hundreds of years – and must be seen in their proper time frames. For example, Gen. 1:31 records that God was satisfied with creation, while Gen. 6:6 says He was sorry that He made man. Contradictory? No. Keep in mind that hundreds of years, including the fall of man, came between the first and second statements.
  • Context. A careful study of the chapters and books in which the apparent contradictions occur often reveals subtle differences that aid understanding.
  • Sense. Words and phrases can be used literally or figuratively. For example, in Matt. 11:14 Jesus identifies John the Baptist as Elijah, yet John denies being Elijah (John 1:21). Contradiction? No. In Matthew, Elijah is described as the spiritual antitype of the great prophet (see also Luke 1:17).
  • Quotations. Many references to Old Testament passages are not word-for-word quotes in the New Testament. Rather, they are paraphrases or summaries. Many of the apparent discrepancies in the Gospels, Acts and the writings of Paul – minor as they are – disappear once we judge ancient historians by the standards of their day rather than ours. As Craig L. Blomberg writes, “In a world which did not even have a symbol for a quotation mark, no one expected a historian to reproduce a speaker’s words verbatim” (“The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 207).
  • Understanding. Some critics assume that passages they can’t explain cannot be explained by anyone. But lack of understanding does not necessarily imply errors in transmission.
  • Perspective. When two or more writers provide separate accounts of the same events, differences in names, numbers, and conversations may be accounted for by each writer’s perspective: What did he see? Who did he interview? What was most important to record? Who is the audience to whom he wrote? Should numbers be exact or rounded?

Rick Cornish summarizes: “Skeptics play a constructive role. Their challenges force us to study and sometimes reevaluate our interpretations. But until they improve their own game, we need not worry about their accusation that ‘the Bible is full of errors and contradictions.’ It’s not” (5 Minute Apologist, p. 68).

Objection 4: There are so many translations of the Bible that it’s impossible to know which one is right.

It’s true there is an alphabet soup of Bible translations available today, from the KJV to the NJB and the TNIV to the HCSB. This has led some people to ask, “Which version is right?” and others to conclude that because there is so much variation between translations, none of them is correct. Keep in mind, however, that the autographs, or original documents, of Scripture are inerrant – not the subsequent copies and translations. Even though there are dozens of English translations that differ in varying degrees from one another, we have a high degree of confidence that the source documents from which these versions come are accurate representations of the autographs.

Andreas J. Kostenberger writes: “[T]he task of translating the Bible from its source languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) into a receptor language such as English involves many issues related to the nature of language and communication….  The goal, of course, is the production of an English version that is an accurate rendering of the text written in such a way that the Bible retains its literary beauty, theological grandeur, and, most importantly, its message” (“Is the Bible Today What Was Originally Written?” found in www.4truth.net).

General translation classifications

There are four general classifications of Bible translations: formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, optimal equivalence, and paraphrase.

Formal equivalence. Often called a “word-for-word” or “literal” translation, the principle of formal equivalence “seeks as nearly as possible to preserve the structure of the original language. It seeks to represent each word of the translated text with an exact equivalent word in the translation so that the reader can see word for word what the original human author wrote” (The Apologetics Study Bible, p. xviii). Advantages of formal equivalence include: (a) consistency with the conviction that the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts but the very words of Scripture; (b) access to the structure of the text in the original language; and (c) accuracy to the degree that English has an exact equivalent for each word. Drawbacks include sometimes awkward English or a misunderstanding of the author’s intent. The only truly formal equivalence translation is an interlinear version that tries to render each Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word with an English equivalent without changing the word order. Translations that tend to follow a formal equivalence philosophy are the King James Version (KJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), and The Amplified Bible (AMP – a word-for-word translation that features additional amplification of word meanings).

Dynamic equivalence. Often referred to as “thought-for-thought” translation, dynamic equivalence attempts to distinguish the meaning of a text from its form and then translate the meaning so that “it makes the same impact on modern readers that the ancient text made on its original readers” (The Apologetics Study Bible, p. xviii). Strengths include: (a) a high degree of readability and (b) an acknowledgement that accurate and effective translation requires interpretation. Drawbacks include: (a) the meaning of a text cannot always be neatly separated from its form; (b) the author may have intended multiple meanings; and (c) difficulty in verifying accuracy, which may affect the usefulness of the translation for in-depth study. Examples of translations that tend to employ dynamic equivalence are the New International Version (NIV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the Good News Translation (GNT – formerly Today’s English Version [TEV] and Good News Bible [GNB]).

Optimal equivalence. Optimal equivalence as a translation philosophy recognizes that form cannot be neatly separated from meaning and should not be changed unless comprehension demands it, according to The Apologetics Study Bible: “The primary goal of translation is to convey the sense of the original with as much clarity as the original text and the translation language permit. Optimal equivalence appreciates the goals of formal equivalence but also recognizes its limitations” (pp. xviii – xix). The theory is to translate using formal equivalence where possible and dynamic equivalence where needed to clarify the text. The main advantage of optimal equivalence is the combination of accuracy and readability. The only drawback is that some people prefer either a more formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence translation. Translations that employ optimal equivalence include the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB); the NET Bible; and God’s Word.

Paraphrase. Paraphrased versions of Scripture are loose translations that are highly readable and contemporary but lack the accuracy of word-for-word translations and at times add meaning beyond what a thought-for-thought translation would allow. “These translations place primacy on clarity and are willing to skip some of the finer nuances in the text to make sure the reader is getting the main point of each verse,” notes Ray Clendenen, associate editor of The Apologetics Study Bible. Examples of paraphrased translations include The Living Bible (TLB) and The Message.

Today the Bible is translated into more than 2,000 languages, covering more than 90 percent of the world’s people – and 1,000 new translations are in the works, according to Rick Cornish in 5 Minute Apologist. As far as English translations go, there are good reasons for so many of them. “One reason relates to the original language,” writes Cornish. “As more manuscripts are discovered, scholars learn those ancient languages better and correct previous misunderstandings. A second reason is the changing nature of modern languages. What made sense in one generation makes less sense in the next and eventually, no sense or the wrong sense” (5 Minute Apologist, p. 73).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips