Monthly Archives: January 2011

Anger with God over illness and death

(public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear of people who get angry with God over the sudden death of a loved one or of a younger person diagnosed with a terminal condition. We see it on www forums like this one, “How can I not be angry at God for taking my wife away?” The best answer to this question, chosen by voters on the forum was, “You have to know that God did not take your wife away from you”. Really?

Then there is a mother who gives another perspective:

I am 69, Mum of three, grandma to 11 and great grandma to 10, but nearly 11. I have had cancer five times. In my neck, breast, face, bowel and ovary. I have experienced Radio therapy, chemotherapy, and operations.
People have asked aren’t you angry with God. The answer is no, I’m not angry with God, He has brought me through it all, I am well and look after myself. I do my best and God does the rest.
Through it all I have learnt so much.

Anger with God over tragedy comes in this story:

I just heard another story of a family’s lives being turned upside down.  Their son, who was preparing to graduate from college is now fighting for his life.  His illness came from out of the blue, and it leaves this Christian family devastated.  They want to know why this is happening and where the God who they’ve always believed in is.  Why doesn’t our all powerful, sovereign God intercede?  They are angry, confused, and hurt.

How should we respond to the news that a Christian man with a young family has been diagnosed with cancer, has been through chemotherapy, and the specialist has advised that he should get his house in order as he has only a few months to live?


(Cancer image Wikipedia)

Would the words of an old song say it the way it is or do we yearn for something other?

This world is not my home

I’m just a-passing through.

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue.

I have become aware of this situation in recent months. Here are some details (I have changed a few of the details to protect the innocent):

  • Please pray for a miracle for the healing of this man (aged in his 30s with 4 young children) who is an evangelical Christian.
  • This person has contacts around the world so there could be thousands praying for his healing. Please join these people and ask God to grant healing to this man who is in the prime of his life.
  • His condition is deteriorating and he is losing weight quickly. He may have only a few months to live.
  • Anger with God has been expressed over this illness.
  • Prayer was asked for God to perform a miracle and confound the medical profession and the logic of human wisdom.
  • May God be glorified!

Prayer Shield

How should we respond as evangelical Christian believers?

The natural human reaction is to become angry with God that a person in the ‘prime of life’ with children should die in this way. Is this a godly reaction? As those who have been born-again by the Spirit of God, what should be our response?

A well-known Scripture comes to mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). It is godly and not glib to say that with impending death of a loved one who loves Jesus, that God is working all things, including this possible death, “according to his purpose”. God would never ever do anything unjust or contrary to his perfect will. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

There are some fundamentals that we need to understand to get death into perspective, whether death in the womb, as children and teens, middle aged or in older age. These are some of those fundamentals: (1) the sovereignty of God in life and death; (2) the need for compassion towards the needy, and (3) the Lord who still has the ability to heal if it is according to His will.

A. The sovereignty of God in life and death

When we look at deaths through cancer, HIV, accidents, disasters, and heart disease, some people find it difficult to believe in the God of sovereign control. When we turn on the TV news and see the floods, other disasters and crime around the world, how is it possible to even consider that a benevolent, perfect Lord God is in control of the universe?

How can we talk of God’s sovereignty when we consider the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and Idi Amin?

clip_image002[1] clip_image004 clip_image006[1] clip_image008[1] clip_image010[1] clip_image012[1]

Hitler         Stalin          Mao             Pol Pot killing fields Cambodia Idi Amin

God always has authority over all nations. But wait a minute! How can this be possible in light of the genocides just mentioned, the slaughter in the Sudan, and the other evil in our world? For biblical perspectives on evil and suffering, see my article, “The ‘grotesque’ God, evil & suffering“. See also “Notes on the problem of evil” by Ron Rhodes and “The polemic shot in the foot” by Ravi Zacharias.

These are the core Christian beliefs regarding governments:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended” (Romans 13:1-3 NIV).[1]

However, there is this qualifier: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!'” (Acts 5:29). This means that when the laws of governments clash with the laws of God, we must obey God rather than human governments.

What is meant by the sovereignty of God?

“By the sovereignty of God we mean that as Creator of all things visible and invisible, God is the owner of all; that He, therefore, has an absolute right to rule over all (Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:20, 21); and that He actually exercises this authority in the universe (Eph. 1:11)” (Thiessen 1949:173).

This sovereign authority is not based on some impulsive, arbitrary, whimsical will, but on the wise and holy counsel of God Himself.

When it comes to understanding cancer, evil and disasters in our world, we need to consider another attribute of God. It is difficult for us to grasp the content of this verse from Psalm 139:16. It makes it clear that God is in charge of the times of a person’s beginning and end of life: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”.

This verse gives us just a glimpse of God’s attribute of omniscience. The omniscience of God means that “He knows Himself and all other things, whether they be actual or merely possible, whether they be past, present or future, and that He knows them perfectly and from all eternity. He knows things immediately, simultaneously, exhaustively and truly. He also knows the best way to attain His desired ends” (Thiessen 1949:124).

Therefore, God has knowledge of the possible and the actual. From our human perspective, we call God’s knowledge of the future, foreknowledge. But from God’s viewpoint, “He knows all things in one simultaneous intuition” (Thiessen 1949:125).

In Psalm 139:16, we see an example of the omniscience of God. From a human view, it is God’s foreknowledge and we find it difficult to get our mind around the fact that all the days of every human being from formation in the womb to the last breath drawn, are known to God. This applies to my friend who is dying of cancer before reaching an old age. It is clear that pre-natal forming by God is indicated by the use of the language of “my body”. A person’s life begins in the womb and continues after birth until physical death and beyond – into the intermediate state. God’s omniscience sees all those days and they are written in God’s “book”. What an amazing insight into God’s attribute and of human existence!

There are verses in the New Testament that cause us to think of God’s omniscience in relation to life and death. Matthew 10:28-31 states:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[2] And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

The one who determines what happens in life after death is the One Lord God Almighty. We are to fear Him with a godly fear.

Psalm 116:15 reminds us: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants”. God does not tell us that all will live to seventy[3] or eighty years (see Psalm 90:10). But he does assure us: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). The New Living Translation gives a beautiful rendition of this verse: “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better”. For dying of cancer at a young age to be seen as “even better” than living for Christ in the here and now, one must see life and death from God’s perspective. Too much of human misery is seen humanistically rather than theistically.

Corrie Ten Boom, a Nazi prison camp survivor and worldwide missionary, wrote in a letter in 1974:

Sometimes I get frightened as I read the Bible, and as I look in this world and see all of the tribulation and persecution promised by the Bible coming true. Now I can tell you, though, if you too are afraid, that I have just read the last pages.  I can now come to shouting “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” for I have found where it is written that Jesus said, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things:  and I will be His God, and he shall be My son.” This is the future and hope of this world. Not that the world will survive but that we shall be overcomers in the midst of a dying world.

Betsy and I, in the concentration camp, prayed that God would heal Betsy who was so weak and sick. “Yes, the Lord will heal me,”, Betsy said with confidence. She died the next day and I could not understand it. They laid her thin body on the concrete floor along  with all the other corpses of the women who died that day.

It was hard for me to understand, to believe that God had a purpose for all that. Yet because of Betsy’s death, today I am traveling all over the world telling people about Jesus.

What a beautiful way to see the meaning of death and its continuing impact for the good of the relatives who remain! Until we have the mind of Christ, we will not grasp God’s perspective on life and death. Paul reminded the Corinthian church:

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14-16 ESV).

If Christians are still thinking naturally and not according to the Spirit of God, they will not understand how death for the believer is “even better” than living in this wicked world. The growing Christian with “the mind of Christ” discerns God’s sovereign will and omniscience in death happening at any age.

The theology of life, death and life-after-death needs to be taught in our churches, otherwise people will be shocked by cancer or sudden death that happens in youth or mid-life, rather than old age. I recommend John Piper’s message, “The death of a Spirit-filled man” for a fuller understanding of death and what follows for the believer.

God is sovereign Lord of life and death and his omniscience knows all that will happen in the future. But there is a dimension to life on earth that needs Christian understanding. See the article, “Is it wrong to get angry with God?

B. The need for compassion towards the suffering & needy

In August 2008, The World Bank estimated that “at a poverty line of $1.25 a day, the revised estimates find 1.4 billion people live at this poverty line or below”. How should Christians respond to such a desperate need?

In this article I am discussing a Christian man with a young family and wife and he has only months to live. How should local Christians respond? Ephesians 4:32 provides insight: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.

“Compassionate” is also used by the NET and NAB Bibles. For “compassionate”, other translations use “tender-hearted” (KJV, NASB, NLT, ESV, NRSV). What is the meaning of the Greek, eusplagchnoi that is used here? It is a rare word that “indicates a very deep feeling, ‘a yearning with the deeply felt affection of Christ Jesus'”. A tender-hearted or compassionate person has “deep feelings of love and pity” (Hendriksen 1967:223).

We should not overlook the fact that Eph. 4:32 also exhorts Christians to “be kind”, which is a “Spirit-imparted goodness of heart, the very opposite of malice or badness mentioned in verse 31″ (Hendriksen 1967:223).

This deep love of Christ for the cancer sufferer must be expressed by believers through being alongside and caring for the sufferer. How can this be spoken to the sufferer? It involves being present, speaking and praying with the person who has cancer. This may involve practical actions to help the person and family at this point of need.

A parallel passage is Colossians 3:12-13:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”.

Remember Matthew 25: 37-40 and the link of caring for the needy and the final judgment:

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'”.

The Golden Rule provides fundamental instruction: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:41). If you or I were in need of compassion or assistance in any way, would we appreciate those who were tender-hearted towards us? Of course! Therefore, the Christian’s obligation is to be that kind of person to others. The Christian is one who must care for the needy and suffering.

Alan Redpath wrote this of Nehemiah: “You never lighten the load unless first you have felt the pressure in your own soul. You are never used of God to bring blessing until God has opened your eyes and made you see things as they are” (in Swindoll 1998:110).

Yes, we need compassion for those who are suffering physically. But what’s the part of God in healing the sick?

C. I believe that it is possible for God to heal today.

Jesus healed the sick when he was on earth, but He has returned to the Father in glory. What role has God given to Christians after Jesus’ personal departure? I am of the view that miracles, including miracles of healing, are meant to continue and I have expounded on it in this article, “Are miracles valuable?” See also Jack Deere’s article, “Were miracles meant to be temporary?

Here we have a few indications of the continuing ministry of miracles, including healing:

John 14:12 states, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”. First Corinthians 12:9 confirms that God has given “to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit” (see also vv. 28, 30). James 5:13-16 places a healing ministry within the church:

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.

The church needs to be taught that one of the roles of elders is to anoint the sick person with oil and “prayer offered in faith” (by the elders) will raise the sick person up if sins are confessed. The initiative is with the sick person to call for the elders for anointing and prayer.

What does it mean to say that prayer for healing is “offered in faith”? It is not prayer plus oil that leads to healing. God does bring healing in answer to prayer as is seen by the example of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:1-6. But what is the prayer “offered in faith”? It has to deal with the faith of the sick person who called for the elders and from the elders who prayed. It is prayer that depends on the sovereign Lord. The prayer’s answer is with the Lord who heals. His sovereign will is to be obeyed. James is very clear about actions that must be done in accordance with the Lord’s will: “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (James 4:15).

However, we must never overlook this fact that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). This is the Christian tight rope: Prayer to the Lord by righteous people is effective in praying for the sick, but faith of both the sick and the elders are required. Also, God’s will, unknown to those who pray, is also involved in the outcome. Nevertheless, we are called to pray for the sick.

The teaching on the prayer of faith is not a verse to support a concept that “all who are anointed with oil, prayed for by elders, will be healed by God”. See my article in opposition to “blab it and grab it” theology as taught by some extreme charismatic leaders. Evangelical, charismatic theologian, Wayne Grudem, states:

“I do not think that God gives anyone warrant to promise or ‘guarantee’ healing in this age, for his written Word makes no such guarantee, and our subjective sense of his will is always subject to some degree of uncertainty and some measure of error in this life” (1994:1067 n35).

Also note that this praying for the sick is extended beyond the role of elders. James 5:16 states: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. Individual Christians are authorised to confess their sins to one another and pray for each other that a person “may be healed”.

God can and does heal, but we cannot command him to do so when we want it to happen. He is sovereign Lord and answers prayers according to His will.

D. Can we change God’s mind through prayer?

Will the praying of thousands of people for my friend’s healing make more difference than if only only a handful are praying? Can God’s mind with regard to healing a person be changed through the prayers of one or a multitude of prayers?


God does listen to righteous people when they pray, but God does not do what the righteous demand. God does whatever His righteous will determines. God’s language with Sodom & Gomorrah came in the form of a question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25)

The Lord God Almighty will demonstrate His justice in the life and death of all who suffer and die. God’s perfect will must be done, but it is He who decides when the last breath is drawn, whether through a still birth, dying as a child, dying in middle age, or dying at a ripe old age. A Christian friend of mine died recently at the age of 103.

E. Catch a glimpse of heaven

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). To the thief on the cross, Jesus gave this assurance, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Therefore, the Christian assurance is that at death he/she is ushered into the presence of the Lord which is “gain” or “even better” than life on earth (Phil. 1:21).

Therefore, why do Christians want to stay longer on the earth? It is a very human desire to remain with a spouse and children. But God has an “even better” location for the believer who dies physically, that is described as a place of “many rooms” (John 14:2).

What are the experiences of atheists, agnostics and Christian believers at death?

It is reported that Professor J.H. Huxley, the famous agnostic, as he lay dying suddenly looked up at some sight invisible to mortal eyes, and staring awhile, whispered at last, “So it is true.”

Sir Francis Newport, head of the English Infidel Club, said to those gathered around his death bed, “Do not tell me there is no God for I know there is one, and that I am in his angry presence! You need not tell me there is no hell, for I already feel my soul slipping into its fires! Wretches, cease your idle talk about there being hope for me! I know that I am lost forever.”

Dwight L. Moody, the famous Christian preacher, awakening from sleep shortly before he died had just the opposite to say: “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.”

“No, no, Father,” said Moody’s son, “You are dreaming.” “I am not dreaming,” replied Moody. “I have been within the gates. I have seen the children’s faces.” His last words were, “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!” (from “What if there is a heaven?“)

Shortly before he died, John Bunyan, said:


“Weep not for me, but for yourselves; I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, through the mediation of His Blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner, where I hope we ere long shall meet to sing the new song and remain everlastingly happy, world without end” (in Lutzer 1997:141)


Far too much hope is placed on living in this wicked world. It is “far better” to be in the presence of the Lord at death.

God has provided means of healing in this present age through medical science (which is not covered here) and the ministry of the church. However, God does not guarantee healing in this life. He does guarantee his sovereign will for all true believers. See my article, “Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

The vision before the believer at death is:

Heaven’s Sounding Sweeter All The Time

Life has been so good, I can’t complain
When I’m down, God gives me strength to rise again
I get weary from the struggle of it all,
That’s when I listen, how I listen for His call

Heaven’s sounding sweeter all the time
Seems like lately, it’s always on my mind
Someday I’ll leave this world behind,
Heaven’s sounding sweeter all the time

2. Oh, it’s hard to lose a loved one to the grave
but we have the blessed hope that Jesus gave
God’s gonna wipe all the tears from our eyes
When we meet Him in that land beyond the skies

Works consulted

Grudem W. 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hendriksen, W. 1967. Ephesians, in New Testament Commentary: Expositions of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lutzer, E. W. 1997. One minute after you die: A preview of your final destination. Chicago: Moody Press.

Swindoll, C. R. 1998. Swindoll’s ultimate book of illustrations & quotes. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Thiessen, H. C. 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from The New International Version©2010, available from BibleGateway at:

[2] The NIV footnote is: “Or will; or knowledge”. The English Standard Version translates as: “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father”.

[3] The language of older Bible translations such as the KJV was “threescore and ten” for seventy.


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.

Whytehouse designs

Is Bible reading compulsory?

By Spencer D Gear

There’s a story in USA Today (17 January 2011) of the rate at which people are downloading a Bible to the iphone, Blackberrry, etc? See: “Okla. church’s popular Bible app takes faith to phones”. The article states:

The world’s most popular Bible program for mobile phones was developed by an Oklahoma church.

Since its introduction in 2008, 12.5 million people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible application and have spent 4 billion minutes reading the Bible with it, the designers calculate.

In an 11-day period in late December, a million people downloaded the app, which is available on iPhone, Blackberry, Android and other mobile phone platforms. Every 2.8 seconds, a new user installs the program and 12 people run it.

It ranked No. 7 in popularity last week among all 300,000 iPhone apps.

This raises the bigger issue of whether this will increase the number of people who will read the Bible. The article states that: “Studies indicate that today’s Americans are biblically less literate than past generations, and few hold a biblical world view”.

George Barna’s research has found that:

Here are the types of changes being forged by young adults:

  • Less Sacred – While most Americans of all ages identify the Bible as sacred, the drop-off among the youngest adults is striking: 9 out of 10 Boomers and Elders described the Bible as sacred, which compares to 8 out of 10 Busters (81%) and just 2 out of 3 Mosaics (67%).
  • Less Accurate – Young adults are significantly less likely than older adults to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. Just 30% of Mosaics and 39% of Busters firmly embraced this view, compared with 46% of Boomers and 58% of Elders.
  • More Universalism – Among Mosaics, a majority (56%) believes the Bible teaches the same spiritual truths as other sacred texts, which compares with 4 out of 10 Busters and Boomers, and one-third of Elders.
  • Skepticism of Origins – Another generational difference is that young adults are more likely to express skepticism about the original manuscripts of the Bible than is true of older adults.
  • Less Engagement – While many young adults are active users of the Bible, the pattern shows a clear generational drop-off – the younger the person, the less likely then are to read the Bible. In particular, Busters and Mosaics are less likely than average to have spent time alone in the last week praying and reading the Bible for at least 15 minutes. Interestingly, none of the four generations were particularly likely to say they aspired to read the Bible more as a means of improving their spiritual lives.
  • Bible Appetite – Despite the generational decline in many Bible metrics, one departure from the typical pattern is the fact that younger adults, especially Mosaics (19%), express a slightly above-average interest in gaining additional Bible knowledge. This compares with 12% of Boomers and 9% of Elders.

For the purposes of this research, the Mosaic generation refers to adults who are currently ages 18 to 25; Busters are those ages 26 to 44; Boomers are 45 to 63; and Elders are 64-plus.

In the year 2000, these were Gallup’s findings on Bible reading habits in the USA:

Although most Americans own a Bible, use of the Bible varies significantly. In a poll taken by the Gallup Organization in October, 2000, 59% of Americans reported that they read the Bible at least occasionally. This is down from 73% in the 1980s. The percentage of Americans who read the Bible at least once a week is 37%. This is down slightly from 40% in 1990. 3 According to the Barna Research Group, those who read the Bible regularly spend about 52 minutes a week in the scriptures. 4 Barna, “The Bible,” data is from 1997.
Which gender is more faithful at reading the Bible at least weekly? The prize goes to the women. Women (42%) are more likely than men (32%) to have read the Bible in the past week. What version do people prefer? As of 1997, those who read the Bible preferred the King James Version to the New International Version by a 5 to 1 margin.

Is Bible reading an important habit to develop for Christians? Personal Bible reading would have been impossible for most Christians in the early Christian centuries, not only because of illiteracy, but also because a Bible translation was not available to the populace. What’s the call on whether Bible reading is important today, or should more emphasis be placed on solid Bible teaching?

Free Clip Art Provided by Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright (c) 2015 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 20 April 2015.

But the Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness…. The Lord is known for his justice” (New Living Translation, Psalm 9:7-8, 16a)

Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

(public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

It has been a theologically contentious issue since the time of the Reformation, with even some dispute going back to St. Augustine. Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or did he die only for the sins of the elect – the church?

One supporter of limited atonement (Dr. C. Matthew McMahon ) wrote:

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is not limited in its power to save, but in the extent to which it reaches and will save certain individuals.

Limited atonement is a theological term that has been used for centuries to define a very important aspect of the Gospel.  It is a fundamental Christian doctrine which states that Jesus Christ came and died for a limited number of people.  He did not die, or redeem, every individual for all of time, but for some individuals, i.e. His sheep and His church.  This does not mean that the power of His death could not have saved all men if He wanted to.  The power and efficacy of His death in and through one drop of His blood could have saved a million-billion worlds.  That was not what God intended.  The Scripture does not dabble in “possibilities.”  It does, however, state that the scope of His death is limited.

R. C. Sproul (1992:175) prefers the term definite atonement to limited atonement and he states that it refers “to the question of the design of Christ’s atonement” and what God intended in sending Jesus to the cross. He explained:

Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers…. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some. This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement…. The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect (Sproul 1992:176).

I John 2:2 would seem to be an excellent verse to establish Christ’s unlimited atonement – dying for the whole world of sinners: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (NIV).

How does Sproul interpret this verse? He admits that “this text, more than any other, is cited as scriptural proof against definite atonement”. His view is that if this verse is taken in this sense, “it becomes a proof text for universalism”. His way of viewing the text is

“to see the contrast in it between our sins and those of the whole world. Who are the people included in the word our?…. In this text, John may merely be saying that Christ is not only a propitiation for our sins (Jewish believers) but for the elect found also throughout the whole world…. The purpose of God in Christ’s death was determined at the foundation of the world. The design was not guesswork but according to a specific plan and purpose, which God is sovereignly bring to pass. All for whom Christ died are redeemed by His sacrificial act…. The Atonement in a broad sense is offered to all; in a narrow sense, it is only offered to the elect. John’s teaching that Christ died for the sins of the whole world means that the elect are not limited to Israel but are found throughout the world” (Sproul 1992:176-177, emphasis in original).

Talk about confusion. There is not a word in context of 1 John to speak of the elect as limited to Israel. What does the Bible teach?

By contrast, Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski (1966:399-400), while preferring the term expiation to propitiation, states that the Righteous One (Jesus, from 1 John 2:1) “suffered for unrighteous ones” and this was effective regarding the whole world.

John advances the thought from sins to the whole world of sinners. Christ made expiation for our sins and thereby for all sinners. We understand [cosmos] in the light of John 3:16 and think that it includes all men [meaning people], us among them, and not only all unsaved men [i.e. people] (Lenski 1966:400).

Did John Calvin (AD 1509-1564) support limited atonement? In the early days of his writing when he was aged 26, he completed the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the Institutes, he wrote:

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice (Institutes 3.23.5).

Here Calvin affirmed that God willed the destruction of unbelievers. Calvin continues:

their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed (Institutes 3.23.8)

While this description is tied up with Calvin’s view of double predestination, it is linked with the doctrine of limited atonement in that it would be impossible for God to predestine unbelievers to eternal damnation and yet provide unlimited atonement that was available to them, unto the possibility of salvation. That is the logical connection, as I understand it.

Roger Nicole has written an article on “John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement”. This indicates that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement, but that it was a doctrine originated by Calvinists following Calvin.

Calvin’s first edition of The Institutes was in Latin in 1536 and this was published in a French edition in 1560.

John Calvin did progress in his thinking when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible later in life. His first commentary was on the Book of Romans in 1540 and his commentaries after 1557 were taken from stenographer’s notes taken from lectures to his students. He wrote in his commentary on John 3:16:

Faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.

And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (emphasis added).

Thus John Calvin himself is very clear. He believed in unlimited atonement.

The following verses also affirm unlimited atonement:

John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'”

John 4:42: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.'”

Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.”

1 Timothy 4:10: “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”

Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”

Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Theologian, Henry C. Thiessen’s, summary of the sense in which Christ is the Saviour of the world is:

His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his wilful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the Cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who die in infancy, and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself (Thiessen  1949:330).

Limited or definite atonement is clearly refuted by Scripture. Limited atonement is a false doctrine.

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (© 1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


Copyright (c)  2011 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

Whytehouse designs

Mother nature or the Lord God who sent the flood waters?

imagePhoto courtesy Queensland Government (link no longer available, 5 September 2016)

See Brisbane floods, January 2011, “What a difference a metre makes” (Brisbane Times).

By Spencer D Gear

I. Introduction

Why does God allow such devastation as we have seen in Queensland with the floods of December 2010 and January 2011? By 13 January 2011,

“About 19,700 homes and 3500 business premises are expected to be flooded in Brisbane and about 3000 homes and businesses in the Ipswich area, while some 3585 people have already been evacuated”.[1]

Have you been listening to or reading the mass media to hear their views? The secular media blame it on “mother nature”. These are some media grabs that I have read:

  • A Sydney newspaper stated: “ MOTHER nature has unleashed its fury in the state’s north with 18 rivers expected to break their banks by tomorrow night as the Queensland floodwaters run south”.[2]
  • Another newspaper headline was, “Australian floods ‘disaster of biblical proportions'”.[3]
  • Federal Opposition treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, stated: “Australia is a rich-enough nation to be able to handle the worst of mother nature – floods, droughts, you name it, all the horrible events that occur on a regular basis at this time of year”.[4]
  • Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, on 11 January 2011 at a press conference said: “This is our darkest hour of the past fortnight…. Mother nature has unleashed something shocking out of the Toowoomba region”;
  • “Mother nature has delivered something terrible in the last 48 hours but there’s more to go”, said Anna Bligh.[5]

So, who sends the rains? Is it “mother nature” or God Himself? God is very clear about this in the Scriptures. If it is God who sends this “disaster of biblical proportions”[6] (the language of the media), what is God up to and how can this come from an absolutely loving, just and good God?

These are some of the questions from both secular and Christian people. Under normal circumstances, I would choose to expound a portion of Scripture, but after so much devastation in Queensland and northern NSW, I believe it is appropriate for me to provide a Christian response to the question, “Why does God send or allow floods to devastate Qld?”

The answer is similar for: Why was there a Tsunami in 2004 in the Indian Ocean?[7] Who was responsible for the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1974?[8] What about the Brisbane floods of 1974? What about September 11, 2001 and the Muslim attacks on New York City and then Washington DC?[9]

This raises the theological issue known as theodicy, which asks: Since God is omnipotent (all-powerful), is absolutely good, and His sovereignty means that he controls everything in the created universe, how is God not the author of evil? How can evil exist in the world and allow such things as the suffering caused by the Queensland floods, cyclone Tracy, and the Indian Ocean tsunami?

These are some of the questions of theodicy. The word, theodicy, comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and dike (justice/right). It deals with the justification of the goodness and righteousness of God in the midst of evil in the world.[10]

imagePhoto courtesy Queensland Government (link no longer available, 5 September 2016)


1. Let’s establish some foundational layers:

A. First layer: We live in a violent and fearful world, but that does not mean that the Lord God is not sovereignly in control.

The Bible is very clear that God governs the entire universe, from the smallest bird to the wildest Queensland storm or tsunami. Let’s looks at a few verses from the OT and NT.

Amos 3:6: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” (NIV)[11]

Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me… I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please'”.

Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care”.

Matthew 8:27: Of Jesus, it was said: “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'”

No person or thing, no tsunami, September 11, or the Qld floods, can ruin the nature and actions of the sovereign will of God. They may cause people to doubt God and blame mother nature, but we need to get back to the fundamentals of God Himself. “I am God, and there is no other”. Will we scoff at Him or will we bow before Him?

B. Second layer: Satan and his demons are alive and well on planet earth.

When God created the universe, Gen 1:31 states that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”. But by the time of Genesis 3, we find that Satan, in the form of a serpent, was tempting Eve to sin. So, from a time perspective, between the events of Gen. 1:31 and Gen. 3:1, there seems to have been a rebellion among the angels with many turning against God and becoming evil demons, doing evil.

The head of the demons, Satan (meaning “adversary), is mentioned in 1 Chron. 21:1 when “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel”. In Job 1:6, “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them”.

We know from various passages in the Scriptures that the work of Satan and demons is to get people to sin and they engage in destructive activity (see Gen. 1:3-6; Matt 4:1-11; John 8:44; Rev. 12:9; Ps. 106:37). In John 10:10, their actions are described by Jesus this way: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

Satan and his demons are alive and well on planet earth and their motives are to destroy. BUT … there’s a

C. Third layer: The evil one, Satan, is in this world but he has to get permission from God to operate.

Job 2:6-7 states: ‘The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he [i.e. Job] is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”. So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head'”.

But it was with the permission of the sovereign Lord.

Luke 22:31 states: Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat”. This was Satan controlled by Jesus.

There is not a single person or thing in the universe, not even raging waters coming down from Toowoomba into the Lockyer Valley and then the Brisbane River that can frustrate the sovereign will of God. Satan is a powerful enemy and does a lot of evil in this world, but Satan has to get God’s permission to operate and all of Satan’s actions are within the sovereign will of God. Satan cannot break free from the harness that God has placed on him.

Remember who caused Job’s problems. Job 2:6-7 said it was Satan who was given permission by God to punish Job. When we come to the very last chapter of Job in 42:11, we read: “All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him…”

Job had the trouble of Satan in this world, but God used Satan, on a leash, to bring trouble to Job. Why couldn’t Satanic actions happen to us?

D. A fourth layer is the consequence of what happened to human beings as a result of Adam & Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden.

You know the story well from Genesis 3 of how Adam and Eve fell into sin and sin has infected the entire human race.

Original sin or original corruption is the language. The Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 6, states it so well:

II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.

III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.[12]

“Children of wrath” is a phrase used to describe the effects of Adam’s sin on all human beings. Read about it in Romans 5:12-21. This is the inheritance of every human being from the time of Adam and Eve. We inherit a sinful nature and it is passed from parent to child.

Eph. 2:3 says that we are “by nature children of wrath” (ESV). We are born separated from God and antagonistic towards God.

How is this applied to the Queensland floods?

My wife and I had a personal experience of this during the 1974 Brisbane flood. We, as sinful but redeemed human beings, were living on the banks of the Brisbane River at Graceville while I attended theological college. We were silly enough to live in our 20-feet caravan and had our car there in a flood-zone. We lost car and caravan because of our frail, sinful humanity, inherited from Adam. Call it our lack of planning, or stupidity, but it was a result of our frail, sinful humanity.

There was another example in The Australian newspaper of 13 January 2011,

POLICE were attempting to ensure the safety of thousands of homes abandoned by evacuees as reports emerged of looters using boats to rob riverside homes west of Brisbane…

The situation has prompted Premier Anna Bligh to appeal to residents to report any incidence of looting and prompted anger among some local councillors.

Ipswich councillor Paul Tully described the looters as the scum of the earth.[13]

The stealing of goods by looters is an example of the outworking of an inherited sinful nature of people in our community.

I was interacting this month with a person who has become a friend, Jim Parker, on a blog called “Christian Forums”. This is how he expressed it to me when I asked, “Why does God allow such devastation as we are seeing in Queensland with the floods of December 2010 – January 2011?”

Perhaps it would be more to the point to ask why people insist on building cities on flood plains.

San Francisco was destroyed by a massive earthquake because it is built on a major earthquake fault. So they rebuilt it on the major earthquake fault.

People build homes along the Russian River north of San Francisco. About every 5-7 years their homes are destroyed by floods. They rebuild….

People know the dangers of the places where they build cities and they choose to rebuild them after they are destroyed by “natural disasters” which, having happened once, should be sufficient data to decide to move somewhere else.

But when they don’t and another flood or earthquake just like the last one happened they ask, “Why did God allow this?”[14]

But how does what happened with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, relate to the destructive nature of flood waters, earthquakes and tsunamis? Let’s look at some biblical teaching that may help us to process floods, cyclones and other disasters in our natural world.

Teaching no. 1: God is the sovereign Lord who sends the rain.

Do you remember Matt. 5:45? “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

The rain we receive comes from the totally good, righteous and loving Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe. May I add that the lack of rain we receive is also from the sovereign Lord God.

There would be no rain unless God caused it to happen.

Teaching no. 2: Sin affects our natural world deeply.

We can see it in the tsunami, the Qld floods, cyclones, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and what the media love to call “mother nature’s” actions.

Let’s note a couple verses from the OT:

Gen. 3:17, ‘To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’  “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life”.

Lev. 18:25: “Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants”.

Please note especially Rom. 8:20-22, which reads: “20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (ESV).

What does it mean that creation “was subjected to futility[15]” or “vanity”? “Vanity” is a rare NT word found only here and in Eph. 4:17and 2 Peter 2:18. It means, “empty, futile, vain”.[16] In Rom. 8:20, Paul writes of the whole of creation subject to vanity, futility and v. 21 says that creation is in “bondage to corruption or decay” and what an analogy in v. 22: “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now”.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been groaning with tears welling up in my eyes as I saw cars and houses being swept away in the raging waters with people on their roofs and screaming for help. I’ve been grieved to hear of lives lost, including that of children. Talk about the whole creation groaning!

Do you remember Genesis chs. 6-9 and why God sent the flood to deluge the entire world in Noah’s time? Why did God do it? Gen. 6:11-13 states:

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

God said to Noah that he would never wipe out the whole human race like that again (Gen. 9:15): “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life”.

God sends the rain, but the creation groaning with disasters like this is related to sin entering the world. How do we know? God told us.

Teaching no. 1: The sovereign Lord sends the rain;

Teaching no. 2: Sin affects our natural world deeply;

Teaching no. 3: There will be suffering in our world.

Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, reminded me:

“And lest we think naively in response to these calamities, as though the cost of lives was something unusual, let’s remind ourselves of the obvious and the almost overwhelming fact that over 50,000,000 people die every year in this world. Over 6,000 ever hour. Over 100 every minute. And most of them do not die in ripe old age by sleeping peacefully away into eternity. Most die young. Most die after long struggles with pain. And millions die because of the evil of man against man.

“Sudden calamities shock us only to make more plain what is happening every hour of every day of your entire life. Thousands perish in pain and misery every day. Probably seven or eight thousand people will have died during this worship service. Some of them are screaming out in pain just now as I am speaking and as you sit there in relative comfort. If there is to be any Christian joy in this world, along with love, it will be sorrowful joy, broken-hearted joy. What person in this room, who has lived long enough, does not know that the sweetest joys, the deepest joys, are marked with tears, not laughter?”[17]

What is to be the Christian’s response to trials and suffering? I’ll mention just two:

Firstly, We are to show compassion to those in need.

Remember Matthew 25: 37-40 and the final judgment?

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Remember the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:41).

Secondly, for the Christian, the Book of James reminds us:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (that’s James 1:2-4).

This is a sermon in itself. Let me give it to you in brief and this is a tough one to learn. But it is thoroughly biblical: If you want to experience growth in your Christian life, accept the many trials that God sends your way because this is what they do:

  • They test your faith to find out what kind of stuff your Christian life is made of;
  • This testing causes you to persevere in your faith; and
  • When this perseverance is complete through enduring trials, you will be mature and complete in your faith, not lacking anything.

If that is what trials do to your Christian faith, why don’t you say to God, “Thank you for the trials with a purpose that you always send my way. Please send me more so that my faith will grow and I will mature”.

But let me warn you! God in his sovereign will does not warn you in advance what those trials will be. But if you are a true believer in Christ, they are always meant for your good – to cause your faith to grow up, to mature.

If you don’t believe me, you talk with those who have been tested through intense physical or emotional suffering. Talk with somebody who has been persecuted for his or her faith.

Remember Habakkuk 3:17-18:

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

We will experience suffering in our world. What is to be our response? “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior”.

Let’s review:

Teaching no. 1: The sovereign Lord sends the rain;

Teaching no. 2: Sin affects our natural world deeply;

Teaching no. 3: There will be suffering in our world.

Teaching no. 4: Tragedy should cause us to re-evaluate our priorities

Calamity, whether through cyclones, floods, earthquakes or other devastation, should jolt us to rethink and change priorities. If we build in flood-prone zones near a river, losing many possessions may cause us to see the damage that a materialistic lifestyle can do. I’m reminded of that Jesus said:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21).

If the floods in 2010-2011 in SE Queensland don’t cause people to re-evaluate their priorities in life and death, what will?

Teaching no. 5: There will be an increase in trouble and disasters as we approach the second coming of Christ.

We don’t know when this will be, but we know this from Luke 21:23-30:

“How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

Let me say it again, on the authority of Jesus: “So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!

Use your mind in discerning where to live.

To understand the impact of floods and cyclones, God has given us minds to discern which areas of Australia are the most prone to floods and cyclones. If we want to avoid being victims of floods and cyclones, we can choose to avoid living in those areas.

The Australian government’s, Attorney-General’s Department, Emergency Management for Schools, has compiled this graph of the most cyclone prone areas in Australia as Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. has located this range of maps to show the flood prone areas of Brisbane and District after the January 2011 floods.

May the Lord help us to be wise in making decisions about where we live in Australia.

Disasters and God’s judgment

I received an email with the content of this blog (below) under the heading, “Japan denounced Israel exactly 1 year before earthquake and tsunami”. This blog appeared at #257:

Ron Reese from 5 Doves has discovered that ON MARCH 11TH, EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, JAPAN DENOUNCES ISRAEL!!!…3/0311_01.html

Exactly 1 year ago March 11, 2010…The exact day of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan hit a year later in 2011.
Genesis 12:3 “I will Bless those who Bless (Israel), and Curse Those Who Curse you.”

Remember, America forced Israel to remove 8,000 Israeli’s from their homes in Gaza, then came Katrina where
America lost 800,000 houses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.

Japan demanded that Israel not build 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem. After the 9.0 earthquake Japan may
have to rebuild 1.6 million homes.

God is not mocked! Pay attention America!

A more detailed comment by Ron Reese is in, ‘Ron Reese (15 March 2011) “On March 11th, exactly one year ago, Japan denounces Israel!!!

What are we to make of those who want to link Japan’s actions (sins?) against Israel with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March 2011?

Jesus will not allow us to draw the conclusion that the Japanese, because of their response to Israel, are any more sinful than we are. This is clearly stated in Luke 13:1-5:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (ESV).

To paraphrase Jesus for Aussies today, based on Luke 13:1-5: There are people present today who speak about the Japanese who denounced Israel one year before the tsunami. Jesus answers these who see this as judgment against Japan: “Do you think that these Japanese are worse sinners than all Australians because they acted in this way? No, says Jesus. I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

We do not have the right to pronounce that the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown are God’s judgment on Japan – based on Luke 13:1-5. Providing judgment is God’s job and he will do it in our time. God has told us (Luke 14) that we all are sinners who need to repent and the Japanese crisis should be a reminder that all sinners need to repent.

Conclusion: The Judo Technique

I wrap up with an illustration that I learned when I was studying Jim Kennedy’s gospel presentation Evangelism Explosion.[18] I’ve adapted it for this message:

You are in discussion with non-Christians about the floods and other disasters and you begin to say what the Bible teaches about sin, disasters and the future. A person will say something like, “I don’t believe the Bible.  You’ll have to convince me some other way than referring to the Scriptures”.

Many people are devastated by this objection.  What happens to them?  Their attempt to share a biblical view of trials and disasters fizzles.

This need not be the case.  I want to encourage you to use this objection as a springboard into the Bible’s view of suffering and of the Gospel.  The Apostle Paul, when he preached in Greek cities that had no background in the Bible, appealed to the Scriptures even though the people who listened to him did not believe the Bible.

He proclaimed to them and the Holy Spirit used the proclamation to save some who then came to believe the Bible to be true.  When we witness and share Christ’s view on life, our primary function is to proclaim the gospel, not defend the Bible.  BUT when people object to the Bible, we DO NEED good answers to respond.  And there ARE EXCELLENT answers.

The judo technique works like this.  The objection, “I don’t believe the Bible,” is quite an easy one to deal with.  Don’t use the approach of a boxer who meets the blow head on and tries to overwhelm the opponent with counter punches.  Instead use the technique of the judo expert. The force of the opponent’s blow is used to throw the opponent.

Here’s how it works in presenting a biblical view on trials and disasters.  The person who objects, “I don’t believe the Bible,” usually has some university education, or has been exposed to some course in the Bible, biblical criticism or something like that.

There is often some intellectual pride that says or infers something like this: “I used to believe those fairy tales when I was in kindy, but now I am an educated person and am far above believing those things.”  It is this intellectual pride that can be used to turn this objection into an opportunity for presenting the gospel and a biblical view of disasters.  I suggest this kind of dialogue with the person who objects.

“You don’t believe the Bible, John?  That’s very interesting and it certainly is your privilege not to believe it, and I would fight for that right on your part.  However, if the Bible is true then obviously you must accept the consequences.

“I would like to ask you a question. The main message of the Bible, which has been unquestionably the most important literary work in human history, is how a person may have eternal life. So what I would like to know is: What do you understand that the Bible teaches about how a person may have eternal life and go to heaven?”

In addition, I’d like to ask you: “What is your understanding of what the Bible states is the reason for painful personal experiences and disasters in our world?”

He may say that he does not believe in eternal life.  He could say, “The Bible has a loony message about what causes disasters like floods and I don’t believe it”.

To this you could say, “I’m not asking you what you believe, but I am asking you what you understand. It would be a rather unintellectual approach to reject the world’s most important book without understanding even its main message and the reasons for disasters, would it not?  What do you understand that the Bible teaches as to how a person may have eternal life and what causes disasters like floods?  What is your understanding about what the Bible teaches on these subjects?”

My experience is that over 90% will respond by saying that it is by keeping the Ten Commandments or following the Golden Rule or imitating the example of Christ, doing good, or something like that. Or they’ll say that there is no answer and “mother nature” is the cause.

You might respond something like this: “That is just what I was afraid of, John.  You have rejected the Bible without even understanding its main message and the causes of disasters. Your answer is not only incorrect, but it is diametrically opposite to what the Bible teaches.  Now, don’t you think that the more intellectual approach would be to let me share with you what the Scriptures teach on this subject and then you can make an intelligent decision whether to reject or accept it?”

Now the tables have been turned.  Instead of being superior to the Scripture and even above listening to it, he now finds himself ignorant of even its basic message and the Bible’s reasons for disasters.  Now he must decide whether to listen to the message of the Scriptures or be found to be not only ignorant but also some obscure person who opposes intellectual advancement — and wants to remain in his ignorance.

This is the last thing in the world that his intellectual pride will allow him to be.  So, very often he will give you permission to tell him the gospel and give biblical reasons for suffering and disasters.  It is at this point that you pray with vigour that the Holy Spirit will take the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, and use it to awaken him from the deadness because of sin.

Brothers & sisters in Christ: God is sovereign. As the creator of all things visible and invisible, He is the owner of all. He has the absolute right to rule over all, and He exercises this authority in the universe. [19] All human beings are accountable to him.


[1] Rory Callinan 2011, “Anger rises as looters plunder homes”, The Australian, 13 January 2011, available at: (Accessed 13 January 2011).

[2] “NSW towns bracing for floods”, The Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2011. Available at: (Accessed 9 January 2011).

[3] “Australian floods ‘disaster of biblical proportions'”, National Post, Gracemere, Qld., available at: (Accessed 9 January 2011).

[4] “Qld floods damage Australia’s economic performance”, Lexi Metherall and staff, ABC Southern Queensland, 5 January 2011, available at: (Accessed 9 January 2011).

[5] “Now is not time to panic”, The Courier-Mail, 11 January 2011, available at: (Accessed 12 January 2011).

[6] “Australian floods ‘disaster of biblical proportions'”, National Post, Gracemere, Qld., available at: (Accessed 9 January 2011).

[7] See “2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami”, available at: (Accessed 12 January 2011).

[8] See “Cyclone Tracy”, available at: (Accessed 12 January 2011).

[9] See “September 11 Attacks”, available at: (Accessed 12 January 2011).

[10] Some of the information in the last 2 paragraphs is based on W. Gary Crampton 1999, “A biblical theodicy”, Trinity Foundation. Available at: (Accessed 12 January 2011).

[11] Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible 2010, available from at: (Accessed 12 January 2011).

[12] Available at: (Accessed 13 January 2011).

[13] Callinan, ibid.

[14] Jim Parker, Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, “Why does God allow floods to devastate?” #50, 10 January 2011, available at: (Accessed 13 January 2011).

[15] mataioteti (dative).

[16] E. Tiedike 1975. mataioo, in C. Brown (ed.), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 1. Exeter: Paternoster Press, p. 552

[17] John Piper 2005, Desiring God, “Where is God? The Supremacy of Christ in an Age of Terror”, September 11, available at: (Accessed 13 January 2011).

[18] The Australian edition of Evangelism Explosion (1983) is  published by Evangelism Explosion Ministries Australia, 81-83 Wentworth St, Port Kembla, NSW, 2505, pp. 84-85.

[19] Based on Henry Clarence Thiessen 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 174. See: 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 45:9; Ezekiel 18:4; Daniel 4:35;  Matthew 20:15; Romans 9:14-24; 11:36; Ephesians 1;11; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 4:11.


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 June 2016.


The King James Version disagreement: Is the Greek text behind the KJV New Testament superior to that used by modern Bible translations?[1]

Erasmus, courtesy Wikipedia

By Spencer D Gear

What moves a religious person to become a born again Christian? I was raised in the liberal Methodist church in Bundaberg, Qld., Australia and went to Sunday School and church religiously. But that religion didn’t change the parents and children in our sugar cane farming household.

The change came in 1959 when my parents attended a landline Billy Graham crusade rally at the Bundaberg Showgrounds. Billy was preaching in Brisbane and his voice was booming out of the loud speaker system at the showgrounds.

My religious parents were sitting in their old Ford Prefect utility in the arena of those showgrounds (called fair grounds in the USA). After Billy’s proclamation of the Gospel, he gave the invitation to repent and to receive Jesus Christ by faith. Both of my parents got out of the Ute and moved to the podium where trained people met them for counselling to receive Christ.

On that day in May 1959, a religious household became a Christian home where Christ dwelt. Of course, my parents had to grow in their faith and they shared Christ with the three children. I was the eldest of the children and received Christ as my Lord and Saviour in the early 1960s as a teenager.

As church goers, we had used only the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. All of my Bible reading and memorisation as a new Christian was from the KJV. I deeply appreciate the foundation to my faith that was bolstered by my reading and study of the KJV.

But this was not the language that an Aussie bloke spoke with thee, thy, thou lingo. It did not communicate with me and I felt hindered when I wanted to share my faith. It conveyed the idea that Christianity was assigned to a previous historical era (anachronistic) and out of touch with the ordinary folks.

When I went to Bible College in the early 1970s, a course in bibliology caused me to investigate Bible translations further. I am grateful for three resources that have helped me understand the Greek text behind the KJV New Testament and to assess it. The information below is gleaned from these resources:

D. A. Carson 1979. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix 1986. A General Introduction to the Bible (rev. & exp.). Chicago: Moody Press.

Bruce M. Metzger 1992. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press.

In recent decades there has been an emerging pro-KJV debate that has been promoted by organisations and people such as the Trinitarian Bible Society and Gail Riplinger. There is a recognised “King James Only” movement.

On a practical level, I experienced two recent examples of the promotion of the KJV over other translations. The first was in a local church where I preach by invitation from time to time. I preached at this church on 26 December 2010. When I sent the order of service to the elder who reads the Bible in the service, with a copy of the Old Testament and New Testament in the New International Version, I was told that only the KJV or the New King James Version was allowed for public reading in that church. However, I could use whatever translation I preferred in my preaching. I preached from the NIV. This church obviously has a policy that supports the priority of the KJV Only view.

A second example was in a response to some blogging that I did on Christian Forums. In the thread, “Do any of you believe tongues is necessary?“, one response by JEBrady was, “Jesus never said anything about speaking in tongues, to my knowledge. Most of what you can find on the subject in the NT will be in Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Recommended reading for you.”.[2] My response[3] was:

“For those Pentecostal/charismatic believers who accept that Mark 16:9-20 is in the Scriptures (these are generally KJV supporters), they could say that Jesus did speak about tongues in Mark 16:17: ‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues’ (NIV).

“I do not support Mark 16:9-20 as being in the oldest and best manuscripts of the NT”.

Then there was this reply by Alive_Again:

“That’s the problem with the Hort-Westcott translations. They’ve eliminated scripture. The Mark scriptures in question were quoted by early church fathers. Just because it was translated from an older copy doesn’t mean it was more accurate.
It’s not surprising that the 40 odd scriptures taken from the NIV and recent versions of the Word of God take out scriptures that demonstrate how to deal effectively with the devil and one of the most important demonstrations of the Holy Spirit – speaking with “new” tongues (new to you)”[4].

Another writer, Jimoh[5], wrote: “Problem is Oz, many other scriptures are not included in those same texts… like dozens of the Psalms and half the book of Hebrews”.

In light of the above details, I find it necessary to examine some background to the Byzantine text-type, the Textus Receptus behind the KJV, and the Greek text gathered by Erasmus. Is the KJV a superior Bible version and have the modern versions been corrupted by Westcott & Hort’s ideology of Alexandrian text-type in gathering NT manuscripts?[6]

A part of page 336 of Erasmus’s Greek Testament, the first “Textus Receptus.” Shown is a portion of John 18 (courtesy

1. The first Greek text to be published was that by Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (ca. AD 1469-1536) of Rotterdam, Holland. This was published in March 1516 and there were hundreds of printing errors in it. He published it as a diglot – in two languages, Greek and his own rather sophisticated Latin.

2. To prepare his Greek text, Erasmus used several Greek MSS but there was not one of them that incorporated the entire NT.

3. None of his MSS was earlier than the tenth century.

4. Erasmus consulted only one MSS for the Book of Revelation and the last leaf was lacking, so the last six verses were omitted in that Greek MSS. So what did he do? He translated the Latin Vulgate into Greek and published that as the last 6 verses of the book of Revelation. Therefore, in the Greek of the last 6 verses of the Book of Revelation, it contains some words and phrases that have been found in no other Greek MSS.

5. In other parts of the Greek NT, Erasmus introduced words he had translated from the Vulgate. Just as one example, in Acts 9:6 are the words from the KJV, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” These words have been found in no other Greek MSS. It is possible that Erasmus assimilated something that paralleled Acts 22:10.

6. Erasmus’s Greek NT testament is behind the King James Version NT. Yet it is based on only half a dozen minuscule MSS and not one of them is earlier than the tenth century. Erasmus’s text was printed by a number of publishers, the most important being Robert Estienne whose surname has been Latinised as Stephanus. He issued 4 editions and the third edition of 1550 is the first critical edition of the Greek text. It was Stephanus who introduced verse numbering into the text. The second edition was the one that was used by Luther for his German Bible (Carson 1979:34).

7. Theodore Beza, the successor to John Calvin, published a Greek text in 9 editions that varied very little from that of Stephanus.

8. The KJV translators relied on Beza’s editions of 1588-1589 and 1598. (The above information has been gleaned from Carson 1979:34-37). Carson explains:

“In 1624, thirteen years after the publication of the KJV, the Elzevir brothers, Bonaventure and Abraham, published a compact Greek New Testament, the text of which was largely that of Beza. In the second edition, published in 1633, there is an advertising blurb (Metzger’s term) that says, in Latin … (“The text that you have is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or perverted”). This is the origin of the term Textus Receptus (or TR, as it is often referred to): the Latin words “textum … receptum”  have simply been put into the nominative. The TR is not the “received text” in the sense that it has been received from God as over against other Greek manuscripts. Rather, it is the “received text” in the sense that it was the standard one at the time of the Elzevirs. Nevertheless the textual basis of the TR is a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late minuscule manuscripts. In about a dozen places its reading is attested by no known Greek manuscript witness” (1979:36).

9. Up until 1881, the TR, only with a few modifications, was the basis of all European translations. The most prominent MSS of the TR were from the Byzantine family and these were the dominant MSS for 2 centuries. It is true that Beza had access to codex Bezae, which is a Western text-type, but it had such significant differences when compared with the others, that it was not used with any significance by Beza.

10. The TR is not in total agreement with the Byzantine family of texts as the Byzantine text-type is found in several thousand witnesses, while the TR only refers to about one-hundredth of that evidence.

11. It is common for defenders of the TR and the KJV, to speak against the textual critical theories of B. F. Westcott & F. J. A. Hort. This has been happening for about a century. Westcott & Hort had available to them the newly discovered codex Sinaiticus and by 1889-1890, codex Vaticanus, along with other MSS. Westcott, Hort & Bengel presented a case for following text-types and they found that the Byzantine tradition did not go any further back than the fourth century and that it was “a conflation of earlier texts” (Carson 1979:40). Westcott & Hort considered that the Alexandrian tradition (e.g. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) was earlier than the Byzantine text-type, which only went back to about the middle of the fourth century.

Codex Vaticanus

Two columns of the Codex Vaticanus. Click for full-size image.
(courtesy Bible Research)

12. On this basis, the earliest text-type is not that of the Byzantine TR behind the KJV, but the Alexandrian tradition which is generally accepted today as being closer to the original manuscripts. Hence the RV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NASB, ESV, NLT and other translations since 1881 (except the NKJV) are based on the Alexandrian text-type. Carson (1979:52) is convinced from the evidence that “the Alexandrian text-type has better credentials than any other text-type now available”. Part of his assessment is:

“Not only is the Alexandrian text-type found in some biblical quotations by ante-Nicene fathers, but the text-type is also attested by some of the early version witnesses. More convincing yet, Greek papyri from the second and third centuries have shown up, none of which reflects a Byzantine text and most of which have a mixed Alexandrian / Western text. The famous papyrus p75, which dates from about A.D. 200 and is perhaps earlier, is astonishingly close to Vaticanus. This find definitely proves the early date of the Vaticanus text-type (Carson 1979:53).

13. There have been various KJV editions. The 1631 edition omitted the word “not” from the seventh of the Ten Commandments and so obtained the reputation of being called “Wicked Bible”. There was a 1717 edition printed at Oxford that has the reputation of being called the “Vinegar Bible” because the chapter heading of Luke 20 read “vinegar” instead of “vineyard” (Geisler & Nix 1986:567-568).

The 1769 revision of the KJV, which we use today, differs from the 1611 edition in about 75,000 details (Goodspeed in Geisler & Nix 1986:568). Many of these are minor changes of spelling. See: ‘Changes in the King James Version‘ from 1611 to 1769. A copy of the 1611 edition of the KJV is currently available for sale as The Bible: Authorized King James Version with Apocrypha (Oxford World’s Classics).

Concerning what Erasmus did in omitting the Trinitarian statement of 1 John 5:7-8, Bruce Metzger explains:

Erasmus replied that he [Erasmus] had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text. In an unguarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found–or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscripts had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscripts had been prepared expressly in order to confute him (Metzger 1992:101).

Thus, there are many good reasons for regarding the Textus Receptus behind the NT of the King James Version as not being superior to that used by the modern Greek critical text.

Jemand wrote a helpful summary in this area:

Websites that militantly defend the absurd notion that the King James Version of the Bible, and it alone, is “the preserved word of God” willfully and deliberately misrepresent the truth to make it appear that all other versions of the Bible are counterfeits of the real thing. The New Testament portion of the New King James Version (NKJV) is translated from the same Greek text that the New Testament portion of the King James Version is translated from. Here is a brief summary of the origin of that Greek text (I wrote this summary myself for use in another thread):

The first printed Greek New Testament was printed in 1514 as part of the Complutensian Polyglot which was not yet ready for publication. In 1515, publisher Johann Froben entered into a business agreement with the Dutch scholar and humanist Desiderius Erasmus in which Erasmus was to prepare for publication a Greek New Testament, the first to ever be published. Froben wanted his Greek New Testament to be on the market before the Complutensian Polyglot, so Erasmus had to very hastily put his text together. Very much to his dismay, he was not able to find a Greek manuscript that contained the entire Greek New Testament; therefore he used several manuscripts, but mostly two 12th century manuscripts from a monastic library at Basle—one of which contained the four gospels and the other the Book of Acts and the epistles. This resulted in a manuscript for publication that contained corrections between the lines and in the margins. The published work, not surprisingly, included hundreds of typographical errors, causing F. H. A. Scrivener to comment that it was, “in that respect the most faulty book I know.”

Yet other difficulties plagued Erasmus in the preparation of his Greek text of the New Testament. He had only one Greek manuscript that contained the Book of Revelation. This manuscript that Erasmus had borrowed from his friend Reuchlin was incomplete—it lacked the final leaf that had contained the last six verses—and it had other defects. It included a commentary on Revelation and in places Erasmus was not able to distinguish between the text and the commentary. Therefore, in those places where the text was either missing or in doubt, he used the Latin Vulgate and translated it into Greek to complete his Greek Text. The result was that his Greek text of Revelation includes readings that are not found in any Greek manuscript and even a word that does not exist in the Greek language, but which because of superstition are still included in the so-called Textus Receptus, proving that for some people superstition trumps manuscript evidence. And translations from the Latin Vulgate are not limited to the Book of Revelation, but are found in other parts of his Greek text of the New Testament. This is the reason why, for example, the text of Acts 9:6 in the King James Version is very different from the text in other translation that do not rely upon the mistakes of Erasmus, including all of them that are translated from the Majority Text or the Byzantine Text type.

Acts 9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (King James Version)

Acts 9:6 but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Revised Version of 1881 and similarly in every standard translation since then)

The first edition of Erasmus’ Greek text of the New Testament was published in 1516 with a second edition in 1519. The reception was mixed—the 3,300 copies sold quickly but the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford (and some others) forbade their students from reading them. A very important and historical objection to these two editions of Erasmus’ Greek text of the New Testament came from one of the editors Ximenes’ Complutensian Polyglot, Stunica. This objection was that the Greek text for the last part of 1 John 5:7 and first part of 1 John 5:8 were missing. Erasmus replied that he had never seen a manuscript of the Greek New Testament that included those words but very foolishly and very much to his regret later made the promise that he would include them in the third edition of his Greek text of the New Testament if Stunica could provide him with even one Greek manuscript in which the words were found. To the dismay of Erasmus, Stunica, a man lacking the moral fiber of which Erasmus was made, provided Erasmus with such a manuscript—a manuscript that was apparently written in Oxford in 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy who translated the words from the Latin Vulgate and inserted them into his Greek manuscript. Erasmus kept his word and inserted the words into the third edition of his Greek text of the New Testament which was published in 1522, but included a lengthy footnote in which he wrote that he believed that the Greek manuscript supplied to him containing those words was probably written for that very purpose. That manuscript is now known as Codex Greg. 61 and the words are known as the Comma Johanneum. The King James translation of the New Testament translates those words as “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8. And there are three that bear witness on earth:” During the nearly four centuries since Codex Greg. 61 was written, the Comma Johanneum has been found in only three other Greek manuscripts:

Greg. 88, a 12th century manuscript in which the Comma is found in a marginal note that was written in the 17th century

Tisch. w 110, a 16th century manuscript that is a copy of the Greek text of the New Testament in the Complutensian Polyglot

Greg. 629, a 14th century (or possibly 16th century) manuscript

Erasmus had now seen the Greek text in the Complutensian Polyglot and generously used it to revise his own Greek text, making changes to 90 passages in the Book of Revelation alone in his fourth edition of 1527. In 1535, Erasmus published his fifth and final edition in which he made only minor revisions of his Greek text.

Robert Estienne (also known by his Latin name Stephanus) published four editions of the Greek New Testament in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551. The Greek text in his third edition was very similar to the Greek text in the fourth and fifth editions of Erasmus. In his fourth edition, he introduced the numbering of the verses in the New Testament, the numbering system still employed (for the most part) today. The third edition, or Jean Crispin’s (sometimes spelled Crespin) much smaller reprint of it, became the textual basis for the New Testament in the Geneva Bible translated by William Whittingham and other English Protestants, the first English version to include variant readings in the margins.

Théodore de Bèze (commonly spelled Beza) published nine editions of the Greek New Testament and a tenth was published posthumously in 1611. Four of the nine included variations in the Greek text, those of 1565, 1582, 1588-89, and 1598. The editions of 1588-89 and 1598 were used to a significant extent by the translators of the New Testament portion of the King James Version, but the primary text used by the translators of the King James Version was the 1550 edition by Stephanus. The translators of the New Testament portion of the New King James Version consistently translated from the Greek text underlying the New Testament portion of the King James Version (Jemand, Bible Forums, ‘Is the NKJV corrupted?’ #106, 20 March 2009)

I know that this kind of post will not go down well with Textus Receptus and KJV Only supporters, but these matters need to be clarified.

I recommend the article by Daniel Wallace, “Why I do not think the King James Bible is the best translation available today”.

Appendix A

One of the finest histories of the Christian church is that by Kenneth Scott Latourette 1975. A History of Christianity (vol. 1, rev. edn.). New York: Harper & Row Publishers. Latourette states of Erasmus:

“He was ordained to the [Roman Catholic] priesthood…. He wished to see the Church purged of superstition through the use of intelligence and a return to the ethical teachings of Christ. He desired no break with the existing Catholic Church. He initiated no innovation in doctrine or worship…. He got out an edition of the Greek Testament [Textus Receptus] with a fresh translation into Latin” (pp. 661-62).


Appendix B

Bruce Metzger (1992:99-103) has summarised the situation:

Since Erasmus could not find a manuscript which contained the entire Greek Testament, he utilized several for various parts of the New Testament. For most of the text he relied on two rather inferior manuscripts from a monastic library at Basle, one of the Gospels … and one of the Acts and Epistles, both dating from about the twelfth century. Erasmus compared them with two or three others of the same books and entered occasional corrections for the printer in the margins or between the lines of the Greek script. For the Book of Revelation he had but one manuscript, dating from the twelfth century, which he had borrowed from his friend Reuchlin. Unfortunately, this manuscript lacked the final leaf, which had contained the last six verses of the book. For these verses, as well as a few other passages throughout the book where the Greek text of the Apocalypse and the adjoining Greek commentary with which the manuscript was supplied are so mixed up as to be almost indistinguishable, Erasmus depended upon the Latin Vulgate, translating this text into Greek. As would be expected from such a procedure, here and there in Erasmus’ self-made Greek text are readings which have never been found in any known Greek manuscript-but which are still perpetuated today in printings of the so-called Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament.

Even in other parts of the New Testament Erasmus occasionally introduced into his Greek text material taken from the Latin Vulgate. Thus in Acts ix. 6, the question which Paul asks at the time of his conversion on the Damascus road, ‘And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’, was frankly interpolated by Erasmus from the Latin Vulgate. This addition, which is found in no Greek manuscript at this passage (though it appears in the parallel account of Acts xxii. 10), became part of the Textus Receptus, from which the King James version was made in 1611.

The reception accorded Erasmus’ edition, the first published Greek New Testament, was mixed. On the one hand, it found many purchasers throughout Europe. Within three years a second edition was called for, and the total number of copies of the 1516 and 1519 editions amounted to 3,300. The second edition became the basis of Luther’s German translation….

Among the criticisms leveled at Erasmus one of the most serious appeared to be the charge of Stunica, one of the editors of Ximenes’ Complutensian Polyglot, that his text lacked part of the final chapter of I John, namely the Trinitarian statement concerning ‘the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth’ (I John v. 7-8, King James version). Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text. In a guarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found – or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to refute him.

Among the thousands of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament examined since the time of Erasmus, only three others are known to contain this spurious passage. They are Greg. 88, a twelfth-century manuscript which has the Comma written in the margin in a seventeenth-century hand; Tisch. w 110, which is, a sixteenth-century manuscript copy of the Complutensian Polyglot Greek text; and Greg. 629, dating from the fourteenth or, as Riggenbach has argued, from the latter half of the sixteenth century. The oldest known citation of the Comma is in a fourth-century Latin treatise entitled Liber apologeticus (ch. 4), attributed either to Priscillian or to his follower, Bishop Instantius of Spain. The Comma probably originated as a piece of allegorical exegesis of the three witnesses and may have been written as a marginal gloss in a Latin manuscript of I John, when it was taken into the text of the Old Latin Bible during the fifth century. The passage does not appear in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate before about A.D. 800….

Thus the text of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament rests upon a half-dozen miniscule [lower case script] manuscripts. The oldest and best of these manuscripts (codex I, a miniscule of the tenth century, which agrees often with the earlier uncial [upper case script] text) he used least, because he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text! Erasmus’ text is inferior in critical value to the Complutensian, yet because it was the first on the market and was available in a cheaper and more convenient form, it attained a far greater influence than its rival, which had been in preparation from 1502 to 1514….

Subsequent editors, though making a number of alterations in Erasmus’ text, essentially reproduced this debased form of the Greek Testament. Having secured an undeserved pre-eminence, what came to be called the Textus Receptus of the New Testament resisted for 400 years all scholarly efforts to displace it in favour of an earlier and more accurate text.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1979. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Metzger, B. M. 1992. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption,and Restoration (third ed). New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.


[1] By modern translations, I am referring to examples such as the New International Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New Living Translation and the New Revised Standard Version. The New King James Version is not included because of its dependence on the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine text.

[2] #12 of the thread.

[3] I’m OzSpen, #147 of the thread.

[4] #148 of the thread.

[5] #149 of the thread.

[6] I provided some of this information in #153 and #154 of the thread.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.   This document last updated at Date: 31 March 2016.


Is the Gospel of Thomas genuine or heretical?

Last page of Gospel of Thomas

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Is the Gospel of Thomas, discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, a representative sample of the writings of biblical Christianity? Is it an authentic gospel that should be considered for inclusion in the New Testament along with the four recognised Gospels? Or should it be rejected as heretical as some of the church fathers concluded (see below)?

On Christian Forums (December – January 2010-2011), there was this discussion on the Gospel of Thomas. The thread began with a post by Yoder777:

Mainstream Christians are often dismissive of Thomas as a Gnostic Gospel, without really trying to understand the history that surrounds it.

Scholars make a distinction between the Gospel of Thomas and Gnosticism. While Thomas’ focus is on restoring the nature of man as it was before the fall, Gnosticism is world-negating. Thomas is better seen in light of Jewish wisdom literature than Gnosticism.

Thomas was not universally rejected in the early church. For example, 2 Clement quotes from it. The Orthodox Christians of India and Mesopotamia trace their heritage to the Apostle Thomas. If he visited those regions, it could explain some of the Gospel’s eastern tinge.

Thomas can be a valuable resource for our spiritual lives, since it illuminates and expands on passages found in the canonical Gospels. It also goes into the deeper spiritual meaning of Jesus’ message, just as John does.

The following contain some of my (OzSpen) responses on this thread. DaLeKo (#15) wrote:

So girls aren’t in need all that grace and faith stuff to be saved, they just need to have an operation ..

114) Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I responded (OzSpen #36):

You have beautifully illustrated by this quote why the Gospel of Thomas is ‘another gospel’.

Nicholas Perrin in his assessment of The Gospel of Thomas, concludes that

The Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, ‘I am not your saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation, will be yours – in this life.’ Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. This is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus, that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach (Perrin 2007:139).

Originally posted by Yoder777:

What if Thomas was available in a different geographical region, isolated from Matthew and Luke? What if, like John, Thomas was written independently of Matthew and Luke?

I wrote (OzSpen #53) that the church father, Origen, writing about AD 233, mentioned that

there is passed down also the Gospel according to Thomas, the Gospel, according to Matthias, and many others.

This seems to indicate that in the early part of the third century, the Gospel of Thomas, was known in the region where Origen lived.

After this time, it was labelled as heretical. Eusebius (ca. 265-339) includes the Gospels of Thomas, Matthias, and Peter in his list of heretical writings. See Eusebius’ greatest work, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.6, where he wrote:

But we have nevertheless felt compelled to give a catalogue of these also, distinguishing those works which according to ecclesiastical tradition are true and genuine and commonly accepted, from those others which, although not canonical but disputed, are yet at the same time known to most ecclesiastical writers— we have felt compelled to give this catalogue in order that we might be able to know both these works and those that are cited by the heretics under the name of the apostles, including, for instance, such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles, which no one belonging to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has deemed worthy of mention in his writings.

The church father, Origen, lived ca. 185-254. These are his views concerning other gospels than the four canonical Gospels accepted by the church.

From Origen’s Homily on Luke (1:1), according to the Latin translation of Jerome:

That there have been written down not only the four Gospels, but a whole series from which those that we possess have been chosen and handed down to the churches, is, let it be noted, what we may learn from Luke’s preface, which runs thus: ‘For as much as many have taken in hand to compose a narrative’ . The expression ‘they have taken in hand’ involves a covert accusation of those who precipitately and without the grace of the Holy Ghost have set about the writing of the gospels.

Matthew to be sure and Mark and John as well as Luke did not ‘take in hand’ to write, but filled with the Holy Ghost have written the Gospels. ‘Many have taken in hand to compose a narrative of the events which are quite definitely familiar among us’ . The Church possesses four Gospels, heresy a great many, of which one is entitled ‘The Gospel according to the Egyptians’, and another ‘The Gospel according to the Twelve Apostles’. Basilides also has presumed to write a gospel, and to call it by his own name. ‘Many have taken in hand ‘ to write, but only four Gospels are recognized. From these the doctrines concerning the person of our Lord and Savior are to be derived. I know a certain gospel which is called ‘The Gospel according to Thomas’ and a ‘Gospel according to Matthias’, and many others have we read – lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine that they posses some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the Church has recognized, which is that only the four Gospels should be accepted (emphasis added).

The earliest mention we have of the Gospel of Thomas is from Hippolytus of Rome who was a martyr and died ca. 236. It is in, “The Refutation of all heresies. Book V”. He states:

And concerning this (nature) they hand down an explicit passage, occurring in the Gospel inscribed according to Thomas, expressing themselves thus: “He who seeks me, will find, me in children from seven years old; for there concealed, I shall in the fourteenth age be made manifest.” This, however, is not (the teaching) of Christ, but of Hippocrates, who uses these words: “A child of seven years is half of a father.” And so it is that these (heretics), placing the originative nature of the universe in causative seed, (and) having ascertained the (aphorism) of Hippocrates, that a child of seven years old is half of a father, say that in fourteen years, according to Thomas, he is manifested.

Hippolytus of Rome is said to have been a disciple of Irenaeus.

The evidence from the early church is that the Gospel of Thomas was an heretical gospel. Perrin has made his doctoral dissertation on the Gospel of Thomas available to ordinary folks (Perrin 2007). I recommend it as an excellent assessment of the origin and value of this “other gospel”. Perrin states that

the Gospel of Thomas was a Syriac text written in the last quarter of the second century by a careful editor who arranged his material largely on the basis of catchword connection. As far as his sources, Thomas drew primarily on Tatian’s Diatessaron , but also undoubtedly drew on his memory of a number of oral and written traditions. It cannot be ruled out that Thomas preserves authentic sayings of Jesus….

Our author Thomas was inspired not only by Tatian’s gospel harmony but also by Tatian’s Encratistic theology, which saw Jesus not as Saviour, but as the one who can show us how to be saved. Through abstinence and vegetarianism, the moral soul could aspire to be reunited to the divine Spirit….

By so clothing Jesus in a deeply Encratistic and Hermetic guise, the Thomas community no doubt incurred the displeasure of the Edessean proto-orthodox Christians, who were on the cusp of formalizing their connection with Serapion of Antioch. While accepted by some soi-distant Christians, the Gospel of Thomas was rejected by many others, but not before attaining international status and popularity. It continued to be used predominantly among the Syrian-based Manichaeans who were sympathetic to its stripping away of the Jewish elements of Christianity (Perrin 2007:137, URL links added to the quote).

What type of Jesus is revealed in the Gospel of Thomas? Perrin’s view is that

the Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, ‘I am not your saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation, will be yours – in this life.’ Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. his is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach (2007:139).

This is in contrast to John Dominic Crossan’s associating the Gospel of Thomas with the authority of the apostle Thomas, known as “doubting Thomas”. Crossan wrote of Thomas, the apostle:

This is the figure here immortalized as Doubting Thomas. We know about his leadership and authority, and his competition with alternative figures such as Peter and Thomas, from the Gospel of Thomas 13 (Crossan 1994:188-189).

Crossan then quotes Thomas 13 (Crossan seems to have used his own translation):

13 Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.”

2Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just angel.”

3 Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.”

4Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.”

5 Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.”

6 And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him.

7When Thomas came back to his friends, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?”

8 Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you.”

In contrast to Perrin, Crossan believes the Gospel of Thomas ‘may have been composed in two major steps’, the first stage being dated to ‘the the 50s and 60s of the first century…. The second stage has many sayings special to itself, dates to the 70s and 80s of that first century’ (Crossan 1995:26-31). How could it be that two scholars arrive at radically different conclusions concerning the writing of the Gospel of Thomas. For Crossan it is in the mid-late first century while for Perrin it is written in the latter part of the second century.

Could it have something to do with their presuppositions?

Based on the evidence from the early church (e.g. Origen & Eusebius), the Gospel of Thomas is to be regarded as an heretical document, another gospel.

What is heresy?

In New Testament Greek, the term from which we get “heresy” is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5. Of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (“destructive heresies” ESV).

The article on hairesis in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 182ff) states that its “usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis” but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use. When the ekklesia came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that “the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia” (Kittel Vol I:183).

From the NT, we see the term, heresy, being used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine,
doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine (See 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1;6:3; Ephesians 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God (See 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3;2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).


Crossan, J D 1995. Who killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of anti-semitism in the gospel story of the death of Jesus. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, trans. & ed. by G. W. Bromiley (vol 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Perrin, N 2007. Thomas, the other gospel. London: SPCK.


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2016.