Category: Columns

Does Ecclesiastes teach soul sleep?

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the so-called intermediate state, the conscious existence of the soul/spirit between death and resurrection.

Their governing organization, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, teaches that the soul dies with the body and goes to “hell,” which it defines as mankind’s common grave. As the Watch Tower website states, “Scripturally, death is a state of nonexistence. The dead have no awareness, no feelings, no thoughts.”

Faithful JWs, of course, look forward to a future resurrection, at which time they populate the millennial kingdom and, if they persevere, live forever in paradise on earth.

They often focus on Old Testament passages to support their doctrine of soul sleep. Ecclesiastes 9:5 is one example: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten” (New World Translation).

While several other passages in Ecclesiastes acknowledge the inevitability of death, this verse seems to say there is no conscious afterlife. Can this possibly be true?
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The gates of Hades

After Simon Peter makes his famous declaration that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus tells the apostle, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:16, 18 NIV).

Jesus’ reference to “this rock” has been the subject of much debate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares,“ The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him the shepherd of the whole flock …” In other words, Christ named Peter the first in an unbroken line of popes.

Other interpreters say Jesus meant that He will build His church:

  • On Himself (Jesus is “this rock”)
  • On Peter’s profession of faith, or
  • On the life and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the apostolic record

The third view has much to commend it. Christ’s life and teachings are the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. The prophets and apostles are the foundation as the bearers of God’s revealed truth preserved in the Scriptures.

As Michael F. Ross writes in Christian Research Journal, “Peter became ‘the rock’ not as an individual with an office, but as the leader of the apostolic band of men who received and recorded New Testament revelation…. The New Testament knows no Head but Jesus Christ.”

But there’s even more going on here, particularly with respect to Jesus’ reference to “the gates of Hades.”
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Why you can’t say “Mormon” anymore

Last month, Russell Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that God had impressed upon him the urgency of casting off the nickname “Mormon.”

Non-Latter-day Saints in the 19thcentury used the “Mormon” moniker disparagingly to identify members of the organization founded by Joseph Smith, whose followers came to embrace the name as a badge of honor. Even so, Nelson argued that “Mormon” does not do justice to the name that God, in 1838, gave Smith for his fledging religion.

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said in a statement. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.”

Other acceptable names, according to Nelson, include “the Church,” “Church of Jesus Christ,” and “restored Church of Jesus Christ.”
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Incarnational heresies

This is the sixth in a series of articles on the Incarnation. Previously: Six key passages on the Incarnation.

As we complete our examination of the Incarnation – the eternal Son of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – it’s important to identify a number of heretical views that have plagued the church throughout its history. Some of these heresies effectively have been countered, while others continue to rear their ugly heads and cause people who sincerely seek the truth to embrace “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4).

In God Among Sages, Kenneth Samples highlights eight historical heresies with respect to the Incarnation.

Docetism. This was an early form of Gnosticism, a heresy that threatened the fledgling church throughout its first three centuries. Docetism advanced a type of dualism, expressing the belief that spirit is good and matter is evil.

Docetists argued that Jesus only appeared to be human. In fact, their name comes from the Greek word dokeo, which means “to seem.” They asserted that Jesus had a “phantom-like body.”

Docetism denied the true humanity of Jesus, which undermined the reality of His death on the cross, burial, and physical resurrection – all necessary elements in the gospel message. The apostle John countered Docetism head-on in 1 John 4:1-3.
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Subordination and Scripture

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the Incarnation. Previously: Six key passages on the Incarnation

In the previous column, we examined six key passages of Scripture that help us understand the Incarnation – the eternal Son of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Bible is clear that Jesus is one person with two distinct, but undivided, natures: human and divine. This means, at least in part, that by adding sinless humanity to His deity, Jesus did not become less than co-equal with the other members of the Trinity.

At the same time, we must address several verses of Scripture that seem to say Jesus is a lesser being than God. Those who promote this false view of Jesus, and who use these Scriptures to support their position, are known as “ontological subordinationists.”

These are people who believe that Jesus is less than God by nature of who He is. Rather than the eternal Son of God, Jesus either is a created being, a lesser god, or both.

This should not be confused with “relational subordination,” a biblically faithful position also known as “economic subordination.” According to this view, the three persons of the Godhead are equal in nature, but they voluntarily submit to each other respecting the roles they play in creation and salvation.

We should embrace relational subordination and reject ontological subordination.

Counterfeit Christian groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) reject Christ’s deity, along with the doctrine of the Trinity. Instead, they believe Jesus is subordinate in nature or essence to the Father. JWs insist that Jesus is the first of Jehovah’s creations, Michael the archangel.
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