“Though he were dead” – A Controversial Understanding of John 11:25-26

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Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? – John 11:25-26 KJV

Like many other verses in the bible, John 11:25-26 uses certain words in multiple senses. This means that the reader needs to be extra careful when trying to understand such verses in order to avoid ending up with the wrong interpretation. What I am about to say will no doubt shock many readers, but after much study, I strongly believe that John 11:25-26 is referring to the idea that it is possible for (at least some of) the dead to believe the gospel. I am going to demonstrate this discovery by carefully revealing what I believe to be the true meaning of key words in this passage. Specifically, the words “dead” and “die” or “live” and “liveth” are terms to which these verses have ascribed multiple meanings. One of the reasons why I say this is because the usual meaning of the words “die” and “live” seem inadequate to account for the contrast required between verses 25 and 26. It’s as if the word “dead” in verse 25 and “die” in verse 26 refer to two different types of death.

Interestingly enough, the bible does tell us that there are actually two types of death that can happen to a man. Continue reading

Pastor Lon Solomon says Paul tried to get intellectual with the gospel and was “booed off the stage.” Really?

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The other day I was watching Ken Ham’s Foundation Series DVD entitled: “Revealing the Unknown God” where on the second half of the DVD Ken was talking about how he felt like crying after reading one of the devotions from a devotional booklet that was printed for a particular group of reformed churches in Michigan. The devotion stated:

Paul came to Corinth speaking the gospel in simple terms. He had just journeyed there from Athens where he had drawn on his education and tried to communicate the gospel in the style of a philosopher. He even quoted from the Greek poets. The result? The great missionary fell flat on his face. I can picture him entering into his diary, “Don’t ever try this again. The cross doesn’t need my verbal decorations.” – Chic Broersma, https://woh.org/word/devotionals/2010/01/03

Continue reading

Romans 1:20 – Thinking it through…

On October 17th 2010, My pastor preached a sermon entitled Thomas (The Exclusivity of Christ for Salvation) which is part of a series entitled: “People Jesus Met.” In the sermon, he poses a hypothetical objection to the exclusivity of Christ for salvation then proceeds to answer the objection. I have included an excerpt below:

“What about people who have never heard about Jesus Christ? Hmm? …Romans 1:20, says for since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities — what are they? Namely His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly on display so that people are without excuse. The Bible says that there is enough about God revealed in the natural world, revealed in creation, the stars, the moon, the trees, the human body, that any thinking person should be able to recognize and should be able to acknowledge that there is a mighty creator God out there.”

This view of Romans 1:20 is actually quite common. In fact, apparently, Thomas Aquinas thought that this verse was a proof text for his cosmological argument for the existence of God.  I had never encountered a different interpretation until I heard Dr. John Robbins (of the Trinity Foundation) speak about this verse during one of his lectures. After some serious thought, I’m convinced that the common view of this verse is in error for the following reasons:

Paul’s procedure in Romans, later followed by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae, was to raise a series of questions, and then answer them, both incorrectly and correctly. Paul, however, derived all his answers from revelation. His opening chapters have been much misunderstood by Thomas the Aristotelian, and by his many followers, both Romanist and Protestant. But Paul does not add any source of truth to Scripture. A careful reading of Romans 1:18-21 indicates that it has nothing to do with the so-called Thomistic proofs for the existence of God. Let us examine it line by line.

”For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven. . . .” Taking off one’s Aristotelian glasses, one might be surprised to note that Paul says the wrath, not the existence, of God is revealed from Heaven. Apparently our evidentialist friends have misread the verse. (Likewise, the Psalmist says the heavens declare the glory, not the existence, of God. Funny how the empiricism of Aristotle can make people hallucinate.) I have yet to come across an evidentialist argument proving the wrath of God on empirical grounds. This is a curious inconsistency. Evidentialists like to argue from experience and observation to the goodness, benevolence, or intelligence of some sort of god, but they are strangely silent about the rest of experience, which seems to imply, on their assumptions, the irrationality or wickedness of a god. If they are going to appeal to experience as proof of God, they must appeal to all experience, including the experience of Nazism, Communism, and Romanism.

Verse 19 says, “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” This, of course, is obviously a denial of empiricism, and an assertion of direct revelation in their minds. It is manifest in them. Calvin said that men are born with a sense of God. They do not learn about God’s existence through observation; when they are conceived they possess knowledge of God and his wrath. It is this immediately revealed knowledge that renders all men inexcusable. If our guilt depended on our knowledge (as it does), and our knowledge in turn depended on our senses, or on our ability to follow an intricate cosmological argument, then virtually all the human race would be innocent. Those whose senses are impaired are obviously excused, and those who cannot follow an argument, especially one that stretches for a thousand steps, are excused as well. Helen Keller and Forrest Gump get free passes to Heaven. Given the assumptions of evidentialist apologetics, their lack of senses or intelligence gives them a Get Out of Hell Free card. Paul, of course, was not endorsing the cosmological or teleological arguments. He taught that the rudimentary knowledge which renders men inexcusable is manifest in them because God has shown it to them; it is not something they gain by observation or discursive reasoning.

Verse 20 says, “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen. . . .” Obviously, invisible attributes cannot be seen with the eyes, so Paul was not teaching some form of empiricism.

Paul continues: “being understood”: “see” it seems, was a metaphor for “understand,” as it usually is in Scripture. “By the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” In this portion of the verse, Paul is simply repeating his statement: The things that are made include men. He is not teaching a novelty-that seeing trees (if one could, in fact, see trees) logically compels one to infer wrath, eternal power, and judgment in the Godhead. Thomas himself denied that creation could be inferred from observation. It was a truth he said, that must be obtained by revelation. Paul is no more an evidentialist than Christ. Instead, he defends revelation, both here and in other letters, such as 1 Corinthians and Colossians, as the only source of knowledge. – Dr. Robbins, The Apologetics of Jesus and Paul

In conclusion, I think a critical reexamination of Romans 1:20 would lead to the anti-empirical view that men are without excuse, not because of their ability to observe God’s creation, but rather because those “invisible” attributes which may be known of God (i.e. His existence, His Power, His Godhead) are manifested in every human being (for John 1 says that Christ lights every man that comes into the world). It is this innate knowledge of God, this truth, that man suppresses (from birth) in unrighteousness, and allows everyone to be deemed inexcusable.

Head knowlegde vs. Heart knowledge – a false dicotomy

This past Sunday our Pastor Lon Solomon preached a message entitled “People Jesus Met, part 15– The Five Thousand (Eating Fresh Manna Every Day)” which had some highlights but was ultimately worrisome.

The good:
I think that dispelling the common misconception that Christ in John 6:53  was referring to the Eucharist is noteworthy especially because of the tendency of readers to miss the contextual clues and commit eisegeses:

Eat His flesh and drink His blood?  What is He talking about?”  Well you know, a lot of commentators have said that what Jesus is talking about here is communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, where the bread symbolizes the body of Jesus and where the cup symbolizes the blood of Jesus, but friends, that won’t work, and let me tell you why. It won’t work, because when Jesus spoke these words here in John chapter 6, the Eucharist, communion didn’t exist yet.  It’s obvious whatever He’s talking about to these people, they were able to do right then and there.  Communion didn’t exist.  The Last Supper, where communion was instituted, is still several years away; He’s not talking about communion.

To drive home the point above, Pastor Lon introduces us to another important point, the parallelism in the two phrases of John 6:29 and John 6:54:

You say, “Then what in the world is He talking about?”  Well, put on your thinking caps now, and here we go.  Watch and look at the connection Jesus makes.  Here we are in John 6:29, 40, 47.  Jesus says, “Believe in Me, and you will have eternal life.”  Then here in verse 54, Jesus said, “Eat My flesh and drink My blood, and you will have eternal life.” Stick with me.  The point is that whatever eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood means, it’s clear that in Jesus’ mind, that was synonymous with believing in Him properly for eternal life.  Does everybody see that?  Those terms are the same in Jesus’ thinking.  In other words, Jesus uses this phrase, “eat My flesh,” to explain to us, to clarify for us exactly what kind of believing you and I have to do in order to activate God’s promise of eternal life.  Does everybody see that?  Do you see that?  That’s the fulcrum of this passage.  If you get this, we can make this passage make sense.

Pastor Lon also brings Christ’s analogy about manna into focus. He rightly points out that this analogy is essential to understanding Christ’s claim:

Listen, here in John chapter 6, look what Jesus says in verse 48.  He says, “I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, yet they died, but I am the bread that comes down from heaven, which if a person eats of, they will not die.  I am the living bread”—verse 51—“that came down from heaven.”  Verse 58, “Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” Would you notice here that Jesus compares Himself to the manna that God gave the Israelites to eat out in the desert?  There’s an enormous spiritual lesson there for you and me as followers of Christ…

The problems I had:
Pastor Lon’s non-biblical distinction between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge” has really got me confused. To be sure, nowhere in scripture is a distinction ever made between “head believing” and “heart believing” yet Pastor Lon mentions the following:

I mean, there’s head believing.  There’s heart believing.  There’s a scientific believing.  There’s an in-your-gut believing.  Jesus wants to make sure that these 5000 people and you and I all know exactly what kind of believing it takes to unlock His promise of eternal life.

I’m not sure where Lon is getting these different types of belief from but I think it’s safe to say that his referent is not the bible. As Lon further develops his dichotomy between head and heart belief, two problematic assertions come to light:
1. Apparently, Lon believes that there is a biblical distinction between knowledge in the head and knowledge in the heart although he does not provide a proof text for this claim.
2. Lon does not believe that saving faith is equivalent to affirming biblical doctrine. Yet, the bible makes it abundantly clear that saving faith is equivalent to the affirmation (both verbal and behavioral) of biblical propositions.

John 8:51 states: Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
Consider what Pastor Solomon says in the following excerpt:

The most common mistake that people make when it comes to the biblical word “believe” is that they limit that word to intellectual, in-my-head believing.  Yes, I believe Jesus was the Son of God.  Yes, I believe Jesus died on the cross.  Yes, I believe Jesus rose from the dead.  Yes, I believe Jesus is the Savior of the world . . . in my head, that is. It reminds me of the true story of the famous French philosopher Voltaire.  One day Voltaire was out walking in Paris with a friend, and they passed a Christian processional.  Voltaire immediately stopped, stood at attention, and tipped his hat to the procession.  His friend was shocked by this, and when his friend asked Voltaire why he did this, here’s what Voltaire said.  He said, “When God and I pass, we salute each other, but we never speak.” The point is that Voltaire had this kind of “I believe that God exists in my head believing,” but friends, Jesus said here in John chapter 6 that is not the kind of believing that God grants eternal life to.  This is not saving faith.  This is not redeeming faith.  Instead, Jesus said that saving faith, redeeming faith is like eating.  You say, “Well, yeah.  What does that mean?”  Think about it.  Think now.  When we eat food, what do we do?  Well, we take it in.  We don’t just take it into our head; we take it into every part of our being.  We assimilate it.  We digest it.  We absorb it.  We break it down and distribute it to every cell in our body, and it becomes an inseparable part of us, an indivisible part of us.  The point is that our relationship with food, my friends, is not an intellectual relationship.  It is an intensely personal relationship.  It is an experiential relationship.

So Pastor Lon claims that John 6 warns us against having a merely intellectual belief in God, yet, not even one verse in John 6 hints at this bizarre claim.  Let’s see what the bible has to say about the intellect before we move on.
In scripture, the capacity for rational thought (the intellect) is ascribed to the ‘mind‘, ‘heart‘, ‘soul‘ and ‘spirit‘ (See Ezekiel 38:10, Matthew 9:4, Mark 2:8, Proverbs 19:2 respectively).

Ezekiel 38:10
Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought:

Matthew 9:4
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

Mark 2:8
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?

Proverbs 19:2
Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with his feet sinneth

These four words are synonyms for the non-physical element (breath of life) infused into man in Genesis 2:7; as such, when these words appear together or in close proximity it is usually to provide emphasis.

  1. For example, in Matthew 6:25 and 10:28, man is said to consist of body and soul. But in Ecclesiastes 12:7 and 1 Corinthians 5:3,5, man is said to be body and spirit.
  2. Likewise, in Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:21, death is described as a giving up of the soul. But in Psalm 31:5 and Luke 23:46, death is a giving up of the spirit.
  3. In Daniel 5:20, Deuteronomy 2:30 and Exodus 8:15 the mind, spirit and the heart are hardened.
  4. In Proverbs 2:10Deuteronomy 11:18 and Romans 1:28 the heart, soul and the mind store wisdom or knowledge.
  5. In Philippians 1:27, Paul clearly uses the words spirit (pneuma) and soul or mind (psuche) synonymously.
  6. Another strong case is found in Luke 1:46, 47, where Mary, in biblical parallelism, uses spirit and soul as functionally equivalent terms.
  7. Finally, in Hebrews 4:12 the soul and spirit are presented as an indivisible unit.

The point of this all is to demonstrate that in most cases, when two or more of these synonyms occur within the sames sentence, they are used for emphasis. Consequently, and according to scripture, there is no such thing as “head knowledge;” our brain, contrary to popular opinion, is not the agent of thought, rather, our heart, soul, mind and spirit are, and these are all essentially the same thing.

Lon also seems to make a non-biblical distinction between claiming Christ as a personal savior vs. acknowledging him as the Savior of the world; consider the following:

So now in John chapter 6, what does Jesus tell us?  He tells these 5000 people and us that this is exactly the way it has to be with believing in Him.  Jesus says to these folks, “Look, I am not some theological theory to be intellectually debated in some classroom.  I am a personal Savior that is meant to be ingested and absorbed into every part of your life and made an indivisible, inseparable part of your being.  This is the kind of believing I’m talking about.” You see, friends, it’s not good enough to believe Jesus is the Savior.  In order to activate eternal life, we’ve got to believe that Jesus is My Savior.  It’s not good enough to believe Jesus died on the cross for the world’s sins; I’ve got to believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  It’s not good enough to believe that Jesus came to redeem the world; I’ve got to believe that Jesus came to redeem me, because I’ve reached out and ingested Him personally and experientially into my heart.  This is saving faith.  This is the kind of believing that activates Jesus’ promise of eternal life.

What does having a “personal relationship” with Christ mean? if the phrase means something more than assenting to true propositions about God, what is the lacking element? Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus but it didn’t seem to help him; it was his failure to believe the truth he learned from Christ that ultimately caused his demise. There is no biblical warrant for insisting that failure to use the word ‘personal‘ when referring to the Savior or failure to deduce that Christ died for my ‘own’ sins disqualifies me from eternal life (especially if I’ve assented to a more general and thus more inclusive proposition) but this is what Pastor Lon ends up saying. Furthermore, there is no biblical account of anyone ‘ingesting’ Christ ‘personally‘ or ‘experientially‘ into their heart. On the contrary, the scriptures say in 2 Timothy 2:25 that saving faith is attained by “the acknowledging of the truth.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 there are two categories of people for whom judgment awaits: people that don’t know God and people that are disobedient to the gospel; both categories of people transgress intellectually, no one is condemned for not having a personal relationship with God. In fact, salvation is only ever an intellectual exercise; adding emotions or personal encounters to the transaction confuses the clear teaching of scripture which says otherwise. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

Consider this final excerpt from Pastor Lon. In light of the preceding paragraphs, do you think this excerpt conveys an acceptable idea of  heart as the word is used in the Bible?

I had a man in my office a number of years ago.  After talking to him a little bit about his faith, I turned to him and said, “Sir, I don’t mean to offend you, but I need to tell you that you are 18” away from eternal life.”  He said, “What?”  I said, “You are eighteen inches away from eternal life, because everything you’ve got is right up here in your head.  You need to move it eighteen inches down into your heart if you want eternal life.  It’s not going to get you eternal life in your head.  You’ve got to embrace Christ.  You’ve got to absorb Christ.  You’ve got to receive Christ like you do food.”

Of course not! No one will miss Heaven by eighteen inches, for as discussed earlier there is no distance between the head and the heart: Proverbs 23:7 states “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” “Conduct, particularly habitual conduct, is the best criterion fallible men have for judging hypocrisy. What a man believes, really believes, even if he says the contrary, will show in his living.” 1

In the second chapter of the book of James, the human litmus test for a genuine profession of faith is the individual’s actions. In the analogy used by James, a person’s actions confirm or betray what they really believe. Jesus asserts as much in Matthew 7 with the fruit analogy; a person who is really saved should have corresponding fruit and vice versa. The key is really understanding how or what fruit to look for. Obviously, God doesn’t need to look at the actions or fruit of man; He sees directly into out hearts.

Instead of using the false dichotomy of the head vs. heart, Lon should have referenced the biblical dichotomy of the heart vs. mouth. “Consider instead what is contrasted with the word heart in the Bible. In Matthew 15:8, for instance, we read that the people honor God “with their lips, but their heart is far from” him. That sort of contrast is regularly made in the Scriptures. You find the same thing in the well-known passage in Romans 10 in which we are told that it is not enough to confess Christ with the mouth; the one making the profession also must believe in his heart. Notice the contrast: heart/lips, heart/mouth. In the important passage 1 Samuel 16:7, we are assured that “man looks on the outward appearances but [in contrast] God looks on the heart.” Plainly, in all of these pivotal passages there is a contrast between the heart as something inner and the lips, mouth, and appearance as something outer. That is the true Biblical contrast, not a contrast between intellect and emotion.”2


1. WHAT IS SAVING FAITH? Gordon H. Clark

2. Preaching to the Heart, Jay Adams

God’s decisions are not determined by our decisions. Really?

Certainly there are many examples where God’s decision are not based on our decisions
(i.e.

1 Corinthians 1:21:
“…in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” — In other words, it was solely the decision of God that the world through earthly wisdom would never be able to know God. In addition, it was solely God’s decision to save man using the God-ordained method of preaching the Gospel.

or

John 1:12-13
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” — In other words, the sons of God (or any person for that matter) were not born because of man’s decision but God’s decision.

)
but is this the case for every decision God makes? In regards to God’s foreknowledge, Dr. Henry Morris, founder of the modern day creationist movement states in his New Defenders Study Bible Commentary for Romans 8:29 that:

God “foreknew” that Israel would be His people (Romans 11:2), yet He later chose them by His own will. It clearly suggests planning ahead of time, not just knowing ahead of time. Nothing takes God by surprise; His decisions are not determined by our decisions. Yet in every case where God’s planning and predestining are involved (e.g., Acts 2:23), it is also true those who acted according to His foreknowledge carried out those acts of their own volition. He promises that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Yet He also says that “He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

Even if we were to stipulate (contrary to scripture) that knowing ahead of time also meant planning ahead of time, does this necessitate that our decision to believe was really God’s decision?

I agree that “those who acted according to [God’s] foreknowledge carried out those acts of their own volition” but why must we assert that knowing ahead of time (foreknowledge) also means planning ahead of time? Did not God (fore)know our decision before he planned (predestined us to be conformed to Christ) in Romans 8:29? Is it not the foreknowledge of God (regarding our obedience) that determines which persons are elected?
This means God must have known something ahead of time about these people that he’s going to elect. But what would God have to know? If He’s just favoring one person over another (solely according to the good pleasure of his will), then he doesn’t have to (fore)know anything.  The following verses clear up the matter:

Romans 8:29
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” — Notice the chronology, it is not listed this way arbitrarily.

1 Peter 1:2
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

It is abundantly clear that foreknowledge precedes fore-planning, predestination, or any other action that occurred before the creation of man on behalf of man.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking is also popular among Calvinists as they also suggest that man’s choices are irrelevant to God and His sovereignty especially in the area of Soteriology. To be sure, there are dozens of examples in scripture where God explicitly suggests that His decision is based on a decision that we have made, I have listed a couple below:

Hosea 4:6
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

Psalms 119:155
Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.

2 Thessalonians 2:10-11
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

Isaiah 27:11
… for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.

It is necessary to address one particular objection that is raised whenever anyone claims that God reacts based on our obedience to his belief mandate in verses like John3:16 and Acts 16:30. The skeptics refrain goes something like this: If God grants salvation based upon a human response (i.e. obedience to the Gospel) doesn’t this constitute works upon which someone may boast? The confusion that this question arises from lies in a misunderstanding of the efficacy of a non-God-ordained propitiation. In other words, we are saved because we believe in the solution (the Gospel) and everything that is implied by belief in that solution (belief in all biblical propositions). Our obedience to the Gospel, although required, is not ‘works’ because it not a valid or alternate solution and thus could never supplant the true solution. In fact, there is no alternate solution; this is why belief in the Gospel (Christ) is the only way to eternal life. So, although you could boast that you have believed and others did not, your boasting would have no merit, sort of like one American boasting to another American that he has the right of freedom, when all along he never died for the freedom (some brave soldier did) and the American to whom he is boasting can attain to the same freedom by simply believing in the reality that he too is free.